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Historical and Dialectical Materialism

Engels And Marxism

Marx's friend and sometime collaborator Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) coined the term materialist conception of history (later shortened to historical materialism). In a review (1859) of the first published version of Marx's critique of contemporary economic science, Engels strove to introduce Marx to the public as a powerful intellect and polymathic systematizer. In his short narrative, Engels simplified a selection of Marx's ideas and presented them in a doctrinal form. In Engels's account Marx was said to have a method coincident with both Hegelian philosophy and contemporary physical science. On the latter point Engels identified Marx with a mechanistic materialism of matter-in-motion, and on the former with "dialectical" thought that was said to mirror this ontological universal. Engels repeated those views much more famously in his Anti-Dühring (1878; excerpted as Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, 1880) and Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1886).

Marxism as a comprehensive worldview, allegedly based on these twin pillars of materialism, was developed only after Engels's death. This doctrine was said to be applicable to human history and to unify philosophical with scientific thinking. It attracted numerous adherents in the intellectual world and drew millions into political movements. This process was abetted by even simpler versions, such as those by Georgi Plekhanov, V. I. Lenin, Nikolai Bukharin, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong. Further millions learned this kind of Marxism from anti-Marxists pursuing an opposing politics. However, Marx and Engels were by no means completely known quantities because further works from both appeared posthumously during the twentieth century, and the complete works are not yet published in full. Engels's notebooks on "dialectics" were published in 1927 as Dialectics of Nature, and were said to account for nature in a way consistent with the work that he had left on history (summarized as historical materialism) and on thought itself (a vastly simplified reworking of Hegelian logic). Dialectical materialism (or "dialectics" or diamat) was thus said by the 1930s to be the master doctrine of Marxism, summarized into three laws: transformation of quantity into quality, interpenetration of opposites, and negation of the negation. Overall it was a doctrine of "becoming" rather than "being" in a fixed and static sense, and one that emphasized development and progress through contradictions, whether in logical relations or in political struggles. Historical materialism was a specially interesting instance of this overall view, given its directly political character.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHistorical and Dialectical Materialism - Engels And Marxism, Economics, History, And Materialism, Analytical Marxism And The Future, Bibliography