Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: dialectical materialism from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Political, philosophical, and economic theory of the 19th-century German thinkers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, also known as Marxism.


Summary Article: dialectical materialism from The Columbia Encyclopedia

official philosophy of Communism, based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as elaborated by G. V. Plekhanov, V. I. Lenin, and Joseph Stalin. In theory dialectical materialism is meant to provide both a general world view and a specific method for the investigation of scientific problems. The basic tenets are that everything is material and that change takes place through "the struggle of opposites." Because everything contains different elements that are in opposition, "self-movement" automatically occurs; the conflict of opposing forces leads to growth, change, and development, according to definite laws. Communist scientists were expected to fit their investigations into this pattern, and official approval of scientific theories in the USSR was determined to some extent by their conformity to dialectical materialism (see Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich). Use of these principles in history and sociology is sometimes called historical materialism. Under these doctrines the social, political, and intellectual life of society reflect only the economic structure, since human beings create the forms of social life solely in response to economic needs. Men are divided into classes by their relations to the means of production—land and capital. The class that controls the means of production inevitably exploits the other classes in society; it is this class struggle that produces the dynamic of history and is the source of progress toward a final uniformity. Historical materialism is deterministic; that is, it prescribes that history inevitably follows certain laws and that individuals have little or no influence on its development. Central to historical materialism is the belief that change takes place through the meeting of two opposing forces (thesis and antithesis); their opposition is resolved by combination produced by a higher force (synthesis). Historical materialism has had many advocates outside the Communist world.

  • See G. Wetter, Dialectical Materialism (1958, repr. 1973);.
  • Spirkin, A., Dialectical Materialism (1983);.
  • Yurkovets, I., Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism (1984).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article dialectical materialism
The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Science

An adaptation by Marx of Hegel 's theory of the Dialectic, further developed by Engels. The dialectic of Marx and Engels is concerned with...

Full text Article dialectical materialism
The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology

MATERIALISM rejects idealist explanations of social and other phenomena and suggests that all phenomena are material. The notion of ...

Full text Article dialectical materialism
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

The official philosophy of Marxism . Materialism, as opposed to idealism , Marx and Engels derived from contemporary (1850) science;...

See more from Credo