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Dialectical and Historical Materialism

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DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL MATERIALISM: A REVIEW

Third Episode of Marxism-Leninism:
An Introduction in the ND Line Online School
Questions Seyra Rico
Answers by Jose Maria Sison
January 24, 2021

1. What is the objective of studying Dialectical and Historical Materialism? How will it help shape the political and personal life of activists and revolutionaries?

JMS: The objective of studying dialectical and historical materialism is to provide the proletariat and the people with the materialist-scientific outlook in comprehending nature and society and with the materialist dialectical method in cognition or acquiring knowledge from such social practice as production, class struggle and scientific experiment.

The study of dialectical and historical materialism is necessary for activists and revolutionaries in order to shape further their political and personal life and remold themselves as proletarian revolutionaries, whatever is their class origin. Even workers are not born Marxist-Leninists or proletarian revolutionaries. They have to study dialectical and historical materialism and other components of Marxism-Leninism in order to strengthen themselves as proletarian revolutionaries or communists.

2. What are the two world outlooks?

JMS: The two fundamentally different and opposite world outlooks are the idealist and the materialist world outlooks.

The idealist world outlook starts from consciousness rather than from the objective material reality itself in understanding and explaining material phenomena. It ascribes to the supernatural or to the Platonic Absolute Idea or the Hegelian self-development of thought as responsible for the origin and development of nature and society. It can also be as subjectivist as narrowing reality to a mere complex of sense data or to personal experience rather than to social practice as the source of knowledge.

The materialist world outlook starts from the objective material reality as the basis and source for acquiring a consciousness of it in terms of perceptual knowledge and rational knowledge. Consciousness reflects first natural and social phenomena through perceptual knowledge and then developed further by rational knowledge which comprehends the laws of motion that operate in said phenomena.

3. Where does the existence of two diametrically opposed world outlooks come from? Can you expound on
a. Condition of production;
b. Class struggle;
c. Creation of dialectical materialism

JMS:
a. In most of primitive communal society, the stone tools and other rudimentary tools of production and the level of production were so low that the people in production interpreted the forces of nature and their beneficial and destructive consequences as the manifestations or workings of the supernatural, ranging from the animistic to the polytheistic.
At the same time, the people in production were not merely superstitious but were practical materialists who had to use their own wits, muscles and rudimentary tools in order to produce their means of subsistence, from the stage of food gathering and hunting in the stone stages to the tillage and animal breeding at the onset of the use of bronze metal tools in the late barbaric stage of primitive communal society.

b. Upon the use of iron metal tools and the rise of the surplus product beyond the level of tribal self-subsistence, private ownership of the means of production and patriarchalism emerged and consequently classes and class struggle developed in a series of exploitative class societies: slavery, feudalism and capitalism.
In the course of the slave and feudal societies, the slave masters and then the feudal lords favored the idealist philosophers and philosophies that ranged from the Platonic idealism to Christian theology. Even then there were rudimentary materialist philosophers who sought to explain natural phenomena as such, like Democritus and Heraclitus did.
The slave system was discarded after the slaves expanded the land for cultivation and engaged in class struggle against the slave owners who ultimately resorted to converting them into serfs. Subsequently, the serfs engaged in class struggle against the feudal lords. Eventually, the bourgeoisie emerged in towns with more efficient means of production, rising from the stage of handicrafts to the stages of manufacturing and industrial production.
In the rise of the bourgeoisie, the dominance of ancient idealism and Christianity was steadily breached by humanism against divinism, scientific discoveries and secular philosophies, especially the French Enlightenment and liberal democracy. The French Revolution was the first successful revolution to overthrow the idealist philosophical and political dominance of the feudal aristocracy and became a platform for secular but petty bourgeois ideas.

c. By the 19th century, German philosophy, British political economy and French social science became available for Marx and Engels as the best of received knowledge and as the object of their critique. They critiqued these, rejecting the dross and adopting the truthful and rational kernels, in order to lay down the fundamental principles of Marxism from the viewpoint of the revolutionary proletariat. They were able to define dialectical materialism by critiquing Hegel’s idealism and Feuerbach’s materialism.
Marx thoroughly applied dialectical materialism in the critique of the industrial capitalist mode of production and Engels ranged over the scientific advances of his time to draw up and put forward the basic laws of contradiction. Marx demonstrated the validity of dialectical materialism by applying it in the Communist Manifesto and in the proletarian class struggles up to the Paris Commune of 1871, summed up in the Civil War in France.

4. What is the great importance of dialectical materialism to the proletariat and the Marxist-Leninist Party?

JMS: The great importance of dialectical materialism to the proletariat and the Marxist-Leninist Party is that it is the philosophical outlook and method of cognition and practice that recognizes and advance the revolutionary role of the proletariat as the most advanced productive and political force against the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system.

From the sphere of philosophy to that of political economy and social science, dialectical materialism upholds and promotes the revolutionary role of the proletariat in overthrowing the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, establishing socialism and developing the conditions for the emergence of the classless communist society.

5. Where do correct ideas come from?

JMS: As the great Mao has explained, correct ideas come from social practice. This consists of production, class struggle and scientific experiment. These terms, as formulated, are so well sequenced.

First of all, for any kind of society to exist from primitive communal times to civilization, there must be production to ensure the basic subsistence of the community and in the long run to create the surplus product that enabled civilization to arise. Man is the only animal that makes tools for production and does not depend merely on picking the fruits of nature.

Civilization became characterized by the use of metallurgy, class struggle and literacy. The class struggles between the slaves and the slave masters, between the serfs and the landlords and between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie have resulted in economic, political and social advances as well as advances in scientific experiment and technology.

6. How is the process of development of knowledge? Can you explain more on
a. The stage of perceptual knowledge
b. The stage of rational knowledge
c. Stage of applying theory in practice
d. The whole process of development of knowledge

JMS:
a. The stage of perceptual knowledge involves the initial gathering of facts through the sense data and personal experience of individuals as social investigators and through conversations with other persons who are presumed to know their own locality and circumstances.

b. The stage of rational kanowledge begins when the reports based on perceptual knowledge are subjected to class analysis by the responsible collective unit or organ of the Party, conclusions and judgments are made and the tasks for further investigation and mass work are defined.

c. Application of theory is already at work when the individuals carrying out social investigation are activists and cadres with knowledge and training in the theory and the task of social investigation. But the application of theory and class analysis become more pronounced at the stage of rational knowledge because the facts gathered are subjected to further analysis by a collective with cadres who have a wider resource base of information and knowledge.

d. The whole process of developing knowledge, as illustrated by the great Mao, looks like advancing wave upon wave. Perceptual knowledge leads to rational knowledge, theory applied to practice leads to a higher level of knowledge and practice benefited by a higher level of knowledge leads to a higher level of practice.

7. What about historical materialism? What is the fundamental difference between historical materialism and the idealist outlook on history?

JMS: The fundamental difference between historical materialism and the idealist outlook on history is that the former analyses the mode of production, the class struggle and the scientific and technological level of development to account for the relative unity and equilibrium of a certain kind of society as well as for the revolutionary change that occurs from one kind of society to a higher kind. Insofar as class struggle is the motive force of history, the masses are the makers of history and main determinant of revolutionary change.

The idealist outlook on history ascribes to supernatural beings, divine providence or fate the persistence or development of a certain kind of society. It also makes outstanding individuals like kings, generals, philosophers, religious leaders and geniuses the main determinants of history and exaggerates their roles against the revolutionary classes and masses that are truly the ones responsible for the revolutionary change of social system.

8. Can you explain the
a. The issue of the ultimate basis of the existing social structure and the ultimate cause of change in society and the forward motion of history
b. The issue of the possibility of fundamental changes in society
c. The issue of class struggle
d. The issue of the role of exceptional individuals—kings, generals, leaders or geniuses

JMS:
a. The mode of production is the material base of a society. When the forces of production grow and render the relations of production outmoded, then the class struggle between the exploiting and exploited classes intensify. In the capitalist mode of production, the social character of the forces of production are in constant contradiction with the private mode of appropriation by the bourgeoisie.
While the class struggle in the mode of production is of basic importance, it extends to the superstructure. The capitalist uses the state and the instruments of class coercion to subdue the proletariat as well as the bourgeois cultural institutions and instruments of propaganda to distract or mislead the proletariat and the rest of the people.
While the capitalist class is still dominant in the superstructure of capitalist society, the proletariat develops its own own political and cultural instruments which can gain strength from the crisis of the ruling system that disables the capitalist class from ruling in the old bourgeois-democratic way and at the same time from the intensification of the all-round revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, its revolutionary party and the organized and spontaneous toiling masses.

b. In capitalist society, some basic pre-socialist reforms are possible. These improve the wage and living conditions of the proletariat and appease the proletariat for a certain period. But the capitalist class will never agree voluntarily to make fundamental reforms or changes that transform capitalist society to socialist society.
Basic reforms to improve wage and living conditions are always welcome. But it would be reformism to rely indefinitely on such reforms. It is even more outright reformism to hope for the capitalist class to voluntarily give up its economic wealth and state power. Just as it is ready to use reformist social democracy to mislead the proletariat, it is also ready to use fascism to suppress the proletariat and prevent it from establishing socialism,

c. The class struggle is fought between the capitalist class and the proletariat in the economic, political and cultural fields. It is at its highest point when it becomes a struggle between armed revolution and the armed counterrevolution in the political field. It is settled by the overthrow of the capitalist class and the establishment of socialism.

d. The capitalist class can have exceptional individuals—kings, generals, leaders or geniuses. But the proletariat and its revolutionary party rely mainly on the masses of the proletatiat and other working people to win victory in the revolution even as they have their own outstanding political and cultural leaders and revolutionary heroes.

9. What are the forces of production, and the relations of production?

JMS: The forces of production are the people in production and the means of production. And the relations of production in an exploitative economy and society are determined by the private ownership of the means of production and private appropriation of the surplus product above what is paid to the toilers for their bare subsistence. The forces and relations of production constitute the mode of production.

10. What is the basis in the economy for the division of society into classes? Can you give a differentiation on
a. Primitive communal system
b. The slave system
c. The feudal system
d. The capitalist system

JMS:
a. In primitive communal society, the stone tools were freely available and could not be monopolized by any part of the community, food gathering and animal hunting were a collective effort of the small community in the form of clan or tribe. There was no class yet owning the means of production and depriving another class of these.

b. In slave society, the slave masters owned the slaves, the metal tools, the land and livestock and deprived the slaves of these so that they were bound to give all that they produced to their masters who merely gave them rations for their subsistence. Private ownership of the means of production was instituted by the force and law of the state and by patriarchal tradition.

c. In feudal society, the feudal lords owned the large landed estates and made the serfs to work on them. The serfs were required to pay most of the crop to the lords as land rent and retain a small part for their subsistence. Previously, the landed estates were opened and expanded by slaves or acquired through colonial conquests. As a result of slave revolts and runaways, the slave masters decided to adopt the feudal system, with them as the lords and the slaves as serfs.

d. In the capitalist system, the capitalist class owns the equipment, the raw materials and the factory site. The proletariat sells its labor power to the capitalist class and receives wages for its subsistence. The wages amount to a small part of the total value created by the workers and the rest, which is called the surplus value, is divided as profit for the capitalists, rent for the land owner and interest payment to the bank.

11. What is the state? And when did the state emerge in the history of society?

JMS: The state is the organization of violence by the exploiting class to subjugate the exploited class. It consists of the army, police, the courts and the prisons. It emerged upon the advent of the private ownership of the means of production in slave society and the class differentiation of the class of slave owners and the slaves who were treated as work animals and could be bought and sold and could be killed at will by the slave owners.

12. What is the role of the working and exploited classes in the development of production and of society?

JMS: No means of production drop from the sky and they cannot produce anything without the working and exploited classes using them. In fact, the working and exploited classes have in the course of history created and developed the means of production and have used them to create the surplus product for the benefit of society. But the exploiting classes assert and maintain with the use of the state power their private ownership of the means of production and private appropriation of the product of labor.

13. What is meant by the absoluteness, or universality and particularity of contradiction? How can you apply this principle to the people’s war? What is the relation of the universality and the particularity of contradiction?

JMS: The laws of contradiction or materialist dialectics are absolute and universal in the sense that they operate in all forms of material reality and they have a particularity in different forms of things. Engels was the first to define the three laws of contradiction in his Dialectics of Nature: the law of the transformation of quantity into quality, and vice versa; the law of the interpenetration of opposites; and the law of the negation of the negation.

In his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin would subsequently point to the unity of opposites as the most fundamental law of contradiction in natural and social phenomena and in the various fields of study thereof. In his own contribution to materialist dialectics, Mao in his On Contradiction elaborates on the unity of opposites as the most fundamental law, as may be observed in various social contradictions and transformations. At any rate, the laws of contradiction operate in various kinds of motions and measures in the different forms of natural and social phenomena as well as in the human cognition that reflects these objective phenomena.

The law of contradiction or materialist dialectics applies on the people’s war wherever that there are social conditions that require it. The people’s war and the armed counterrevolution are extensions of the class struggle in the economic, political and cultural field. The people’s war is the highest form of political struggle because it decides whether the communist party and the worker-peasant alliance are able to overthrow the state power of the exploiting classes. The term “people” denotes and connotes the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, as in the October Revolution of 1917 and in the Chinese revolution.

Nowadays, however, there are infantile Maoists, who wrongly assert that people’s war or even protracted people’s war is universally valid or applicable even in the most advanced industrial capitalist countries where the farmers (mostly rich ones) are only 5 per cent or less of the national population. In such countries, the big agri-corporations and rich farmers are dominant over the farm workers; and the poor peasants of the third-world type are non-existent. However, in most countries of the world, especially in the underdeveloped countries, the peasant population exceeds 50 per cent of the national population and the worker-peasant alliance is still a major and decisive factor in the conduct of armed revolution.###

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