This presentation was given at the AWTW discussion weekend of 1-2 September 2007.

Colour coding:
material world independent of consciousness;
thought processes;
sensation (direct connection with external world)

Materialist dialectics as the key to changing the world

Presentation notes by Corinna Lotz

We, of all people, need to understand how change happens – so that we don’t limp behind reality and get taken by surprise by events, crises and political change.

Why? to help us bring about revolutionary transformation

What is materialist dialectics?

Materialist: Assertion of the primacy of the external world. Consciousness is dependent on being. Just as we are dependent on the material world for our existence. Eco-crisis reveals this.

To avoid reducing the world to our image of it

Dialectical: the movement of the world, society and our thought through the contradictory forces, strivings within it.

To discover the “new” (or “now” - LC) as it arises through “negation” of the past into the present

For this we need a methodology - theory of knowledge: the relation between being and consciousness and the path of development of knowledge.

Starting point – the moving source, independent of consciousness

Recognition of the external world and its reflection in the human mind is the basis of the theory of knowledge of materialist dialectics.

The movement of the external world independent of consciousness is the source of thought

The material world is in constant movement, transition and change through the dynamic of opposing forces and tendencies, which are the source of self-movement (from within the object itself)

In today’s image-oriented ideologies - the material world and all its contradictory richness including society and ideas, is reduced to our consciousness or our image of it, eg marketing and advertising

We are led to focus on images but they are separated from their source.

e.g. the image of fundamental economic health and stability when the credit  system is in meltdown due to unrecoverable debt

The essence of dialectics (one of the essential, if not the principle, characteristic part or feature) is the splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts. (Lenin’s essay)

Non-dialectics + “common sense” thought versus materialist dialectics (see pages 311-318 of AWTW)

Non-dialectical Materialist dialectics

sensation as a barrier to knowledge

sensation as direct connection between matter and thought

scepticism about, or denial of, the existence of world independent of consciousness

affirmation of the external material world independent of consciousness

doubt about possibility of knowledge

world as knowable

things are isolated, torn out of context
the individual has no connection with the universal

the infinite world exists in finite parts which interact amongst themselves. Parts are parts of a whole;  individual as part of the universal

things as fixtures

things as a sum and unity of opposing tendencies

reality is unchanging, full of eternal truths, unchanging human nature and permanent existence of capitalist social system

reality (in all its aspects) is a process of development and negation, in which the old contains seeds of new

either / or

not either/ or but both in process and transformation

the source of movement, change seen as external (supreme being)

internal self-movement through contradiction, negation

“contradiction” as an aberration, problematic and subjective

contradiction is normal and natural, and a source of development

change takes place in smooth, bit by bit, evolutionary way

change is uneven, contradictory - sometimes slow and quantitative, other times in revolutionary leaps and bounds, building up slowly and suddenly bursting out


What a dialectical approach seeks to do

Dialectics has been called “the pulse of freedom” because it helps us:

Dialectical theory of knowledge

Dialectical path of knowledge is from the living perception of material world through sensation to abstract thought, to ideas and then to practice

A dialectical theory of reflection and knowledge defines and explains the relation between our ideas and the world that exists outside our consciousness

For a scientific development of knowledge, the path/practice of cognition does not stop, or short circuit at empirical perceptions or impressions, patchworks of images and jump to conclusions.

Developing knowledge through an infinite process of approximation, through flexible concepts –

“A better understanding of the ‘now’ as a movement of becoming which names both the process of the ‘now’ and the making of that ‘now’. As such, it is both the process and the concept [consciousness of the subject] of the constantly shifting ‘now’ as a mobile process that moves with it. … thus to understand something, particularly something constantly changing, is to follow its unfolding as a continual process.” (Lorna Collins)

Actual (empirical) developments are tested against theories and results of practice, to expand, modify or change earlier concepts.

Our answer to the question: “Is our thought capable of knowing the real world, are we able in our ideas and concepts of the real world to form a true reflection of reality” is positive.

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