August Thalheimer

Introduction to

Dialectical Materialism

- The Marxist World-View

Written: 1927
Source: August Thalheimer "Introduction to Historical Materialism - The Marxist World View", Covici Friede, 1935
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive ( 2004
Transcription: Edward Crawford
Markup: Mathias Bismo


Preface to the German Edition
Preface to the American Edition

1. Religion: I

Diversity of "modern" world-views. The unity of the natural sciences. The unity of dialectical materialism. Its opponents. The problem: Presentation of dialectical materialism in its historical development. Two basic trends in the modern world-view: the proletarian and the bourgeois. An intermediate trend: the petty-bourgeois, a variety of the bourgeois trend.

Outline of the lectures. Religion: the oldest of the world-views. Essential characteristic of religion. The religious and the natural-scientific explanations of natural phenomena. The chief sources of religion: 1. Relation of man to nature; 2. Social relations. The emergence of the priestly caste from the social division of labor; class structure. The erstwhile progressive role of the priesthood.

2. Religion: II

The development of religion and its relation to the forms of production and of society. Local, tribal, national gods. Christianity as a world-religion. Early Christianity: the religion of slaves and oppressed nations. Feudal Christianity. Religion in capitalist society and its class bases. Social anarchy of capitalism. Religiosity, wars, and revolutions. The revolutionary bourgeoisie as opponents of religion and the church. Religion as a means of authority. Religion and the agricultural class. Religion and the modern working class.

3. Greek Materialism

Rationalist and historical-materialist position on religion. Anti-religious enlightenment as an accessory part of revolutionary preparation. Position of the Communist Party on religion. The Soviet Union and religion. Religion and fully developed socialist society. The "substitute" for religion. Development of the modern world-view. Its beginning in Greece. Prerequisites for the disintegration of religion and the development of philosophy and the natural sciences. Progress in the mastery of natural phenomena. Relation to the development of slave-economy. Greek natural philosophy and the development of the Greek commercial cities of Asia Minor. Tyrants, the people, and the city-nobility. Slave trade and slave-economy. Free artisans and wage-laborers. Thales of Miletus: the beginning of a materialistic explanation of the world. Water as the cosmic principle.

4. Greek Idealism

Anaximander. Matter as the starting-point of cosmic development. Heraclitus. The law of the universal development of things. The beginnings of dialectics. Difference between classic and modern concepts of development. Opposition to the notion of the immortality of individual souls. Heraclitus and the class-relations of his time. The people seek refuge in a religion of redemption. The theory of atoms: the most consistent product of ancient materialism. Idealistic turning-point.

Plato and Aristotle. Beginning of the decline of society based on slave-economy and the transition to idealism. Hindering of technical progress by slave-economy. Supremacy of the Idea and the supremacy of the "rational." Ancient, bourgeois, and proletarian democracy. Reactionary and progressive aspects of ancient idealistic philosophy.

5. Ancient Logic and Dialectics

A few facts about Plato and Aristotle. Athenian society and logico-scientific interests. The subject-matter of formal logic. Significance of formal logic for science. Two main laws of formal logic:

i. The law of identity; 2. The law of contradiction. Evidence for two main laws of formal logic. Proof of two main laws of logic from the standpoint of dialectics. The law of identity postulates the changelessness of things. Limited significance of the law of identity. Dialectical proof of the law of contradiction. Universality of contradiction as the expression of universal change. Examples. Meaningful and meaningless contradictions. Criterion of the actual change of things. Oppositive relation of formal logic and dialectics. Limited field of application of formal logic. Dialectics as the universal and exact comprehension of things in their motion and their interrelations. Materialistic and idealistic dialectics. Sources of dialectics in antiquity: 1. Heraciitus; 2. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Synthesis of two in modern dialectics: historical dialectics. An example: Marx's Capital. Dialectics of a totality of relations and its changes. Slave-labor and the limitations of ancient dialectics. The extension of dialectics to complete universality in materialistic form and its social conditions.

6. Indian Materialism

Elements of materialism in the East as a point of departure for dialectical materialism. The religious crisis of the epic period. Brahman priesthood. Social relations in the Vedic period. Emergence of class-oppositions in the primitive communist village communities. Emergence of great landed estates and slave trade. The Sudras. Sharpened class-oppositions in the North-east. Class relations in the sixth century. The social upheaval and the religious crisis. Great merchants as bearers of materialism. The castes. The four main castes. Caste-structure and basic problems of Indian thought. 1. The cycle of regeneration: Sansara. Caste-structure and ideas on regeneration in ancient Egypt. 2. Karma. Buddhism as a rebellion within the bounds of religion against castes and priestly supremacy. Upheavals in primitive Buddhism. Its qualification as a world-religion. Indian materialism as the most radical critic of Brahmanism. Lokayata or the theory of laymen. The main tenets of Indian materialism.

7. Hegel and Feuerbach

Characteristic of scholasticism of European Middle Ages. Transition from feudal to bourgeois development. The Reformation.

Main purpose and substance of bourgeois philosophy. Criticism of Christianity and of religion in general. Making way for the development of the natural sciences. Peak of French materialism of the eighteenth century. Diderot. Helvetius. Voltaire. Rousseau. The religion of reason. German philosophy. Hegel as the pioneer of the bourgeois revolution. The rediscovery and further development of the dialectical method. Dialectics as the universal formula of resolution. Hegelian absolute or objective idealism. Hegel undermines religion from within.

The young Hegelians and the open break with the Christian religion. Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity. Transition from idealism to materialism. Overthrow of supersensual knowledge or metaphysics. The negative destruction of philosophy. Natural-science materialism and historical idealism. Feuerbach as the exponent of the radical, left bourgeoisie of his time.

8. From Natural-Science Materialism to Dialectical Materialism

Contributions and defects in Feuerbach. The sources of the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The materialistic explanation of history and the destruction of religion and of philosophy. Materialistic dialectics as the positive outcome of the history of philosophy. Theory of knowledge: the independent existence of the external world. The idealistic conception. Consequences of the idealistic conception. The relation of being and non-being and self-consciousness. Subjective and objective ideas. The materiality of the external world. Thought and brain.

9. The Materialistic Theory of Knowledge

The infinite variety and the infinite unity of matter and its functions. The relation of thought to reality. The idealistic view. Thought as a special case of the universal interaction of things. The specificity of human sense-organs. The limitations of human sense-organs. Transcending the specificity and limitations of human sense-organs through thought. The criterion of truth. Note the absence of contradiction. Observation and research as the touchstone of truth. Is a complete or absolute knowledge of things possible? Dialectics and the special sciences. Mutual conditioning of dialectics and the special sciences. Are there innate ideas? The natural characteristics or functions of thought.

10. Dialectics: I

Stages in the development of dialectics. historical materialistic dialectics - Marx and Engels. The Hegelian synthesis of the two ancient stages of dialectics. Bourgeois dialectics. Revival of Hegelian dialectics. Bergson's dialectics. Definition of dialectics. Three sources of dialectics. The three main laws of dialectics. First law: Law of the permeation of opposites, or law of the polar unity of things. The infinite or absolute unity or identity of things. Obstacles to dialectics. The infinite or absolute diversity of the opposition of things. Every proposition that is not without content contains the law of the permeation of opposites. The sources of the first law of dialectics.

11. Dialectics: II

Second law of dialectics: Law of negation. All things are processes or events. Change occurs through opposites or contradictions. Negation indicates the motion or change of things. Negation and affirmation as polar conceptual operations. Emergence of the new through double negation. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Two distortions of the law of the negation of the negation: (1) the opportunistic; (2) the anarchistic. Examples. The relation of the second main law of dialectics to the first. The permeation of opposites as process or succession. Third main law of dialectics: Transformation of quality into quantity and of quantity into quality. The third main law of dialectics as a special case of the first main law.

12. Theory of History and Dialectical Materialism: II

Theory of history and revolutionary practice. The fundamental difference between materialistic and idealistic theory of history. Materialistic theory of history and common sense. The idealistic theory of history explains nothing.

What is the mode of production? The capitalist mode of production. Simple commodity production. Production and distribution. What determines the development of the mode of production? The development of the productivity of labor. Classes.

13. Theory of History and Dialectical Materialism: II

The class struggle. Social division of labor and class structure. Class opposition is something objective. Class opposition in action. The class struggle no invention of Karl Marx. Forms of class struggle. Content of class struggle. Class consciousness, class ideology. True and false class consciousness, class illusions, class deceptions. Class membership and class consciousness. Classes and other social groupings. Revolution and evolution.

14. Ancient Chinese Philosophy: I

Ancient Chinese philosophy from the view-point of dialectical materialism. The ancient Chinese popular and state religion. Why no struggle of ancient Chinese philosophy against religion? Class relations in the period of ancient Chinese philosophy. Lao-tse. Interrelation of social and natural order: "universism." Kung-tse.

15. Ancient Chinese Philosophy: II

Sophists or dialecticians. Chinese philosophy and the basic tendencies of philosophy. Presentiments or elements of dialectics in Lao-tse; in Yih-king. Primitive materialism of Mo'-ti'. Sophists. Ancient Chinese philosophy and the requirements of the Chinese revolution.

16. Pragmatism

The progressive, democratic, and unprejudiced appearance of pragmatism. Characteristics of bourgeois philosophy in Europe after Feuerbach. General character of post-war philosophy. Pragmatism is subjective idealism. Affinity of pragmatism with empirio-criticism. Evidence from F. C. S. Schiller. Literature on dialectical materialism. Conclusion.