In Defense of Dialectical Materialism

Roger Perkins

“People for the most part (99% of the bourgeoisie, 98% of the liquidators, about 60-70% of the Bolsheviks) don’t know how to think, they only learn words by heart.” – V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 35, p. 131.

Dialectical materialism is the scientific world outlook of Marxism-Leninism. Without a sound comprehension and application of this revolutionary philosophy, communist practice will not be successful.

The Constitution of the Communist Party of Canada (Article 3, section one) correctly states that “any resident of Canada regardless of religious belief shall be eligible for membership.” People who are not materialists, i.e., who hold various religious views, can, under certain circumstances, be members of the CPC. This should not, however, be interpreted as a strategic goal, but only as a tactical necessity – mostly in the period of transition from a smaller “cadre” party to a mass party during occasions of revolutionary upsurge. During our quick-changing times, workers can and do arrive at socialist views unevenly; some may retain religious vestiges while in most other respects, attaining a high level of class and socialist consciousness. It would then be the duty of the party to give these new comrades a materialist education, to change their world view. Any long-term “co-existence” between materialism and idealism inside the party would be revisionism.

Very few, if any party members guide their daily actions on the basis of horoscope predictions, tarot card readings or other widespread mysticisms typical of late-stage capitalism. While such practices can occasionally be found among members of the non-communist “ broad left”, it would be a strange anomaly for a Communist to believe in such nonsense. So, by and large, we are materialists. But are we dialectical materialists?

In answering the above question most communists reply with an automatic reflexive “yes”. But is our “ yes” qualitatively different from the “ yes” of the player we cleric who believes in “God or the successful entrepreneur who believes in “Free Enterprise”? Is not our “yes” actually a superficial “yes” and don’t many, if not most, of us understand dialectics little better than the viewers of Star Trek and “understand” warp drive”? If this is indeed the case, the Party must take immediate measures to ensure that the vast majority of Party members are able to think and act dialectically.

In solving any problem, Communists must ask: What is the class nature and what is the dialectical nature of the problem? If we don’t do this, if we don’t learn to think dialectically in our daily practice, very serious errors will be made. It is only through correctly analyzing the contradictions of present-day capitalist society that a strategic line of march can be formulated and stages correctly identified. It is only through a dialectical communist practice that the fight for specific quantitative changes can lead to a desired quantitative change. Because the ideology of any epoch is that of the ruling class, we cannot just pragmatically “go with the flow”; we must consciously counter the “formal logic” of the bourgeoisie with dialectical logic. If we confine ourselves to using the same “logic” as the enemy, do not negate it, go beyond it, we will not only be unable to transcend the bourgeois system, but our “socialism” will become the type of “socialism” compatible with capitalism – that is, we will inevitably turn into a social-democratic/ revisionist party!

The holding of study classes on dialectical materialism, while necessary, is not sufficient. Our classes must be qualitatively different from the type of educational experience encountered in the bourgeoisie school system both in content and pedagogical presentation. A dialectics class should not be viewed as just another class among many – Marxist economics, dialectics, the national question, etc. – but as the key class for understanding the others. (Marx’s Capital is the most dialectical of books). The knowledge obtained from a series of compartmentalized unconnected classes, as well as that learned by rote and regurgitated is of little lasting value. The listing and memorizing of the three main laws of dialectics in serial order while formally “correct” would also be incorrect because we would be learning dialectics formally and undialectically. Knowledge of dialectics is different from knowing the formula for raspberry vinegar. The formula for the latter, if followed correctly, can produce raspberry vinegar. Applying a formula to dialectics does not produce dialectic insight, but a truncated “knowledge” distorted by mysticism and/or vulgar materialism.

One can finish a labour history class and years later some of the facts may have been forgotten. A dialectics class, however, is never “finished”! Gorbachev once took a class in dialectics; Hewison* once taught such educationals in our own party. Unfortunately events proved that these two misleaders exhibited the most superficial and ephemeral of dialectical practices. They “forgot” and no longer had a feeling for what they had been trained to know. Some of us took trigonometry or Latin in school. How many of us still remember and can apply the various trigonomic functions? Can we speak Latin today? Most likely not, because these skills were not used in daily practice. They were superficially “learned” and soon forgotten.

The importance of a dialectics class is not in the fact that we have one, or “finish” one, or can still list the three main laws of dialectics years later. The importance of a dialectics class lies in the fact that those taking the class are qualitatively altered forever in the way they view the world, that is, they begin to think dialectically! This revolution in outlook should ignite a life-long process of application and relearning on a higher level. The learning of dialectics is an ongoing dialectical unity of theory and practice a scientific struggle against the class enemy. Dialectics must not only be cognized by the mind; it must also be absorbed by the “heart” becoming part of the revolutionary zeal necessary to change the world. Anything short of this will result in our new consciousness being sucked back into the bourgeois box the newly learned dialectics disappearing like trigonometry and Latin.

Students experiencing a dialectics class should be absolutely amazed, imbued with awe, exclaiming: “wow! I never knew the world was like this!” This liberating, revolutionary leap from ignorance to knowledge should evoke and should continue to evoke passionate outbursts of discovery. The new student, upon “finishing” a dialectics class and beginning to think dialectically, might proclaim: “I never knew that...

Motion and change are law governed!

The ruling class not only tries to control what we know, but also tries to control the logical process of how we know!

There exist two different logic systems, one static and one not fully reflecting material reality; the other dynamic and accurately reflecting the contradictory nature of the real world!

The logic of matter in motion, dialectical materialism, corresponds to the views and needs of a particular class the working class while the static formal, non-contradictory system corresponds to that of the bourgeoisie! Wow! Two systems. Two classes. One revolutionary and scientific, the other not!

All things and processes contain contradictions which exhibit the unity and struggle of inter-penetrating opposites!

In order to know something one must also know its opposite! The only way to know socialism and the working class is to also know capitalism and the bourgeoisie!

The student may further assert that...

The entire world about us is essentially bi-polar and the logical structure of the universe is and can only be “dialectics” and not “mono-lectics”, or “tri-lectics” or “quanta-lectics”.

All “elementary” particles in physics have an opposite and equal particle; matter itself is found not only in the form that dominates our immediate world, but also in the form popularly known as “anti-matter”.

A bar magnet, like a battery, has both a positive and negative pole, but cannot have only one pole or a third pole!

There is no “third way” between the working class and the capitalist class, for either the one or the other must eventually rule. Nor can there be a stable “hybrid system” half-way between capitalism and socialism, for either the one or the other must prevail!

Gorbachev’s abandonment of socialism in favour of Perestroika (a utopian, non-dialectical, social democratic scheme for introducing a hybrid “mixed” economy) could not lead to a “third way” but did lead to the restoration of capitalism and the demise of the USSR. There is no third way in nature when fundamental contradictions are involved!

The student might further extrapolate by asking “But what about Deng Xiaoping’s “market socialism” approach in China! Is this the creative application of the universal principles of Marxism to Chinese conditions a stage of socialism with a Chinese face? Or is it “Marketism-Lemmingism” the Chinese road to the restoration of capitalism?”

The above student, although perhaps over-simplifying and perhaps sometimes applying dialectics mechanically, is nevertheless light years ahead of those who know little about dialectics. Further analysis will show the importance of the simple/complex dialectic, the phenomena of stages and the role of catalysts in evolving processes, as well as the ascertainment of main and secondary contradictions, and the discrimination of antagonistic form non-antagonistic contradictions, Dialectics, in and of itself, does not supply answers; it is the method that shows the way. Answers come from concrete analyses of concrete situations combined with revolutionary practice.

Unfortunately there are those who pragmatically dispense with dialectics. They consciously or unconsciously believe that knowledge is not necessary in everyday political work. Do not “A=A” and “2+2=4” work very well in daily activities? Is not thinking dialectically all the time something like using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity when Newton’s Laws of Motion will do? After all, they claim, a radar cop does not need to understand Einstein to issue a speeding ticket. True, but the realms of applicability of dialectics and relativity are quite different. Relativity become necessary as the speed of light is approached. Dialectics is always necessary for revolutionaries in the normal day-to-day-world if we want to change that world. For those who do not want revolutionary change, formal logic works just fine! E=mc2 But “communist” practice minus dialectics = the status quo, an empirical, economistic, pragmatic, formal, day-to-day practice will never go beyond the bounds of capitalism.

For a log time the Party has not given sufficient emphasis to materialist dialectics. True, we paid lip service and performed the required perfunctory acknowledgments: “Yes, of course, dialectics is important, but...” The but was usually followed by various economistic and pragmatic arguments which revealed that dialectics although “important” was not of core importance, but only of “fringe” importance. The dialectics question was often accompanied by a certain uneasiness, a furrowing of the brow, a quick facial tic, a shuffling from foot to foot, a hesitancy not unlike that of a follower of social credit when asked to explain “funny money”.

Either we don’t understand the importance of dialectics, dialectics itself or unconsciously reject dialectics in favour of metaphysics “If only Marx had tossed Hegel out instead of standing him upright!” If we don’t quite understand dialectics or the importance of dialectics, corrective measures must be found. If there are still members of the party (most have left) who view dialectics as the Communist equivalent of “funny money” please say so in order for debate to commence!

In conclusions: Dialectics must be reaffirmed as being of core importance.

* - George Hewison was CPC General Secretary from 1988-91, and one of a group of reformists who gained majority control of the Central Committee at the time and attempted to liquidate the Communist Party.

Spark! #11, pp. 38-42