Dialectics in Marx and Engels

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dialectic in Marx and Engels is the method of investigation and theoretic presentation that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed from the critical reception of Hegel's philosophy , especially his dialectic , with the aim of addressing the central questions of philosophy and political economy apply.

Marx and Engels followed Ludwig Feuerbach 's criticism of Hegel's objective idealism and distinguished themselves from the “ Hegelei ” of the Young Hegelians , striving to use their dialectical method on the basis of materialism .

The most important passages in the text can be found in Marx's economic-philosophical manuscripts from 1844 , in the Holy Family , the misery of philosophy and in Das Kapital .

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels attempted to discover the laws of movement of social development and to theoretically grasp the self- generation of people who produce in society in dealing with material nature. To do this, they used - together with so-called historical materialism - the method of materialistic dialectics based on a critique of bourgeois political economy and the historical situation.

Starting points of a dialectical approach

Karl Marx around 1860

Forerunners and models of dialectical thinking have existed in philosophy since its beginning in antiquity. Engels sees “masterpieces of dialectic ” in Rameau's nephew von Diderot and in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's treatise on the origins and foundations of inequality among people .

In the dialectic of Marx and Engels one can distinguish the following starting points:

Dialectic between man and nature

The self-confident man submits to nature as his known world. The world was not created by a god, but the environment created man; so man also changes himself by changing the environment. This self-generation and progressive emancipation of man from inorganic nature becomes increasingly more conscious and systematic, but cannot completely shake off the bond with nature as the material basis.

Dialectics as a method of ascending from the abstract to the concrete

Marx speaks of his “dialectical method” as the dialectical interpretation of the appropriated material and its categories. In particular, “ Capital ” as a whole is considered an executed dialectic, comparable to Hegel's science of logic .

Dialectics as the mediation of logic and history

In the illustration of how the capital ratio develops from goods and money, one can observe how Marx made the distinction between logical and historical derivation.

Dialectics of nature
Friedrich Engels around 1856

Engels tried to apply the materialistic dialectic in the field of natural sciences and the theory of the movement of matter.

Dialectic between man and nature

In contrast to Hegel, who proceeds from the world spirit as the creator of the world (idea) and whose dialectic is one of the terms (term> negation> negation of negation), Marx refers to the real world with real people, and this relationship “nature ↔ Man as part of nature ”is the basis of his“ dialectical method ”. The relationship “nature ↔ man” is a practically active, material object-changing relationship. As man - shaped by his environment - increasingly consciously changes this being (environment), he changes himself, and also materially, i.e. H. not just his consciousness. The previous development of the world, that is always only the human world, the one that is known to man, marks an ascending tendency from the simple to the complex. In Marx and Engels, however, this evolutionary tendency has no teleological character. In nature, no end works towards an end goal, nor does any mechanism work towards higher quality. For Marx and Engels, nature , the world, is real. But it is nothing for humans as long as it cannot be appropriated through social work . The time of the Incarnation is assumed - with Benjamin Franklin - as that when man appeared as a "toolmaking animal". The labor of man has thus become a manifestation of a force of nature, by the well-planned change in the nature started (though at first only in the narrow local scope). In contrast to the bee, for example, which instinctively builds the honeycomb, people only build what they want to produce in their heads. Man becomes an active subject in relation to nature as the object . And the dialectic is fundamentally one of the components of nature, is the mutual penetration of two moments, human nature (object) and natural man (subject).

In the context of social production (within the tendencies of its respective concrete conditions), the possibilities of mastering nature and shaping society expanded as long as the economic foundations (the economic basis) with the political and cultural conditions (the superstructure) shaped by it continue to exist broad agreement could be brought. Politics and culture (superstructure) as dialectical elements also belong to the economic social basis.

In this process, the natural growth of man decreases, he emancipates himself from natural constraints and produces a "second nature" of man; that is the processed nature, in which the degrees of freedom for the planned organization of human life grow. The organic nature of man emerges more and more from the inorganic world. Within the constraints of the respective human nature, a human history develops through social practice, whose "tendencies" cannot be equated with the laws of (extra-human) nature.

Dialectics as the method of ascending from the abstract to the concrete

If, in particular, Volume I of “Capital” gives the impression of an a priori construction or a deductive-logical course of evidence more geometrico , 1. it must be remembered that the individual volumes of “Capital” are in the reverse order to their elaboration have appeared and 2. the intended form of representation is based on the model concept of a dialectical totality .

Marx's method of ascending from the abstract to the concrete mediates between experience and logical-constructive thinking. To take empirical reality as it is would initially be nothing more than a chaos of ideas. Empirical analyzes lead to the formation of abstract terms; these must be arranged logically in a system. Starting from the basic concepts (Marx speaks of “economic categories”) of such a scientific system, the theoretician must reproduce concrete reality in his head as a concrete totality of determinations.

Marx made a distinction between the method of representation and research. In the method of research, the dialectical method shows itself in the confrontation of traditional theoretical approaches with one another as well as with historical facts, which, through critical reception, leads to a progressive process of resolving the emerging logical contradictions.

The presentation of the economy starts with objectively social contradictions, as they are particularly effective in economic relations. Basic contradictions such as the one between value and use value or the dual character of work drive further development and branch out to other contradicting forms.

Obviously, Marx is based relatively closely on Hegelian modes of expression; It is controversial to what extent these not only inspired the linguistic form but also the theoretical content, but also influenced them logically.

See also the article under Dialectical Representation Method

Dialectics as the mediation of logic and history

Capital's approach must be seen as a suspension of Hegel's dialectic on the one hand and the economic model methods of Adam Smith and David Ricardo on the other. The relations of production are constructed as a concrete totality in the mind of the theorist; H. reduced to economic categories that reflect a social reality that is historically determined, d. H. are theoretically related to a very specific social formation. The categories are contradictory in themselves and, in the analysis of the forms of value, reflect a conflict-ridden socio-economic dynamic that precedes and enables them to be quantified.

“To make the division evidently in such a way that 1. The generally abstract determinations, which therefore apply to more or less all forms of society, but in the sense explained above. 2. The categories which make up the inner structure of civil society and on which the fundamental classes are based. Capital, wage labor, property, their relationship to one another. Urban and countryside. The three great social classes. Exchange between them. Circulation. Credit (private). 3. Summary of civil society in the form of the state. Viewed in relation to oneself. The "unproductive" classes. Taxes. National debt. Public credit. The population. The colonies. Emigration. 4. International relationship of production. International division of labor. International Exchange. Export and import. Exchange rate. 5. The world market and the crises. "

The actual story is reflected in the categories; they find their concrete content in the real story. But the order in the logical development of the economic categories does not coincide with the real order in history.

“It would therefore be impractical and wrong to allow the economic categories to follow one another in the order in which they were historically decisive. Rather, their sequence is determined by the relationship they have with one another in modern bourgeois society, which is exactly the opposite of what appears to be natural or corresponds to the sequence of historical development. It is not a question of the relationship that economic relationships historically assume in the succession of different social forms. "

In order to further illuminate and work out the dialectical development of the economic categories in Marx, it is u. It may be helpful to contrast this with an analytical interpretation of it.

But what remains is the original beginning of this then permanent process of self-reproduction of industrial capital outside of the model observation carried out in “capital”.

Dialectics of nature

In dealing with Eugen Dühring , Friedrich Engels undertook in the Anti-Dühring to present his and Marx's “dialectical and at the same time materialistic conception of nature”. It was to be demonstrated “that in nature the same dialectical laws of motion prevail in the tangle of innumerable changes that also govern the apparent randomness of events in history; the same laws which, also forming the thread running through the history of the development of human thought, gradually come to the mind of thinking people; which was first developed by Hegel in a comprehensive way, but in a mystified form, and which was one of our endeavors to peel out of this mystical form and to bring it to consciousness in all its simplicity and general validity. "

For Engels it could not be a question of an a priori system construction in the tradition of the old natural philosophy or a construction based on logical thinking as in Hegel. Rather, it is about tracking down the dynamic laws of development, and unlike Hegel's also the historical development of nature, in reality, whereby orienting oneself to the basic dialectical laws can be very fruitful. For Engels, dialectical thinking was particularly helpful in the natural sciences in order to overcome metaphysical-dogmatic conceptual thinking and to depict dynamic-relative relationships of interaction. If the materialistic dialectic had performed all these midwifery services, there would basically no longer be a need for a special natural philosophy, since the natural sciences themselves would encompass the real dialectics.

In the presentation of his “dialectics of deductive and inductive conclusions” for the examination of scientific theories, Engels is not particularly precise in the manuscripts on the dialectics of nature published after his death . In any case, he kept all doors open to a scientific methodology and was nevertheless able to reject absolutizations such as that of “all-inductionism”.

Reception and criticism of the dialectic

Basic reception and criticism

The arguments against “the” dialectic range from the accusation of obscurity, confusion and a trivial schematism to the obvious or hidden irrationality. The focus is in particular on the relationship between dialectics and logic and the question of whether dialectics violate the principle of excluded contradiction . One cannot deny this criticism a certain plausibility insofar as many self-proclaimed “dialecticians” (also in the succession of Marx and Engels) fail to position themselves clearly on this question.

The controversy over the foundations of logical thinking: To what extent can the principle of contradiction be disputed? one must properly separate from the question: To what extent can certain dialectical arguments be reconciled with the principle of contradiction? Not infrequently, however, an author just wants to shine rhetorically with paradoxical expressions that, on closer inspection, can be brought into a logically flawless form. From such literary sources it cannot be inferred that all dialectics as a whole can only be about sophism .

While Hegel's treatment of the laws of thought and nature is the same because of the identity of thinking and being, Marx and Engels have to distinguish between the subjective and the objective dialectic. In spite of the borrowing of the categories from Hegel (especially logic ), dialectic gains a completely different, peculiar meaning and mode of application. Some critics see nonsense raised to potency in this; but that only proves a dogmatic conviction that only a Hegelian dialectic can be fundamentally understandable and feasible.

Analytical interpretations of the Marxian dialectic such as that of Ulrich Steinvorth or Jon Elster can be seen as a criticism of Hegelei as a merely disturbing ingredient in Marx (according to Schumpeter's criticism). On the other hand, however, they can also be interpreted as proof that a non-contradictory formulation of Marx's economic hypotheses is basically feasible. Above all, representatives of Analytical Marxism reject the idea that there is a specific type of dialectical thinking in Marx that could also be called a method.

The school of New Dialectics around Christopher J. Arthur , on the other hand, endeavors to link Hegel's dialectics with that of Marx and Engels and to use it for further analyzes. Above all, the fundamental importance of the Hegelian dialectic for the thinking of Marx is emphasized. Hegel's philosophy of history, however, is rejected.

Individual points of criticism

The “Engelsian” dialectic of nature is viewed critically. According to Jean-Paul Sartre , only human societies can be understood dialectically as a totality, even if he admits that in biology the transition from dead matter to life is still unexplained and that this might also require a dialectical method in biology. That "could" be, but it doesn't have to be. Even Georg Lukács is attributed to a critique of the "Dialectics of Nature" by Engels.


  1. “My dialectical method is fundamentally not only different from that of Hegel, but its direct opposite. For Hegel, the thought process, which he even transforms into an independent subject under the name of an idea, is the demiurge of the real, which only forms its external appearance. Conversely, for me the ideal is nothing else than the material converted and translated in the human mind. I criticized the mystifying side of the Hegelian dialectic almost 30 years ago, at a time when it was still fashionable. But just when I was working out the first volume of Capital, the morose, presumptuous and mediocre epigonism, which is now the big talk in educated Germany, in treating Hegel as the good Moses Mendelssohn treats Spinoza in Lessing's time, pleased itself has, namely as a 'dead dog'. I therefore openly confessed myself to being a student of that great thinker, and even flirted here and there in the chapter on value theory with his idiosyncratic language. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands in no way prevents him from first presenting its general forms of movement in a comprehensive and conscious way. It's upside down with him. You have to turn it inside out in order to discover the rational core in the mystical shell. "[Marx: Das Kapital, p. 26. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 3335 (cf. MEW Vol. 23, p. 27 –28)]
  2. “In its mystified form, dialectic became German fashion because it seemed to transfigure what existed. In its rational form it is an annoyance and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinal spokesmen, because in the positive understanding of the existing it also includes the understanding of its negation, its necessary downfall, every developed form in the flow of movement, thus also according to its perishable side, does not allow itself to be impressed by anything, is critical and revolutionary in nature. The contradictory movement of capitalist society is most strikingly felt by the practical bourgeoisie in the vicissitudes of the periodic cycle which modern industry goes through and of its climax - the general crisis. It is on the march again, although it is still in the preliminary stages, and through the all-roundness of its scene and the intensity of its effect, it will teach dialectics even to the lucky ones of the new, holy, Prussian-German Empire. ”[Marx: Das Kapital, p. 27. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 3336 (cf. MEW Vol. 23, p. 28)]
  3. As Dieter Henrich tries to demonstrate, as a true student of Hegel, Marx consistently goes beyond his philosophy, but nevertheless remains caught in certain preconditions of it. See Dieter Henrich: Karl Marx as a student of Hegel. In: ders .: Hegel in context. Suhrkamp Frankfurt am Main 1st edition 1971 (es 510).
  4. as considered by: Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk: To the conclusion of the Marx system. in: Friedrich Eberle, (Ed.): Aspects of Marx's theory 1. On the methodological significance of the third volume of 'Capital'. Frankfurt 1973, p. 25ff.
  5. Marx: Introduction [to the critique of political economy]. , P. 34 ff. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 2791 ff. (See MEW Vol. 13, p. 631 ff.)
  6. “However, the method of representation must be formally different from the method of research. Research has to acquire the material in detail, to analyze its various forms of development and to track down their inner bonds. Only after this work is done can the real movement be represented accordingly. If this succeeds and the life of the material is now ideally reflected, it may look as if we are dealing with an a priori construction. ”[Marx: Das Kapital, p. 25. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, P. 3334 (see MEW vol. 23, p. 27)]
  7. Schumpeter speaks of the “unity of social vision” and says of Marx: “He loved to give testimony to his Hegelianism and to use Hegelian language. but that is all. Nowhere did he betray positive science to metaphysics. ”(Joseph A. Schumpeter: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Tübingen 6th edition 1987, first: 1942, p. 24f)
  8. Werner Becker: Critique of Marx's theory of values. The methodical irrationality of the basic economic theories of “capital”, Hamburg 1972, claims to have discovered a fundamental logical error in order to finally refute the Marxian theory because of its irrationality.
  9. Christopher J. Arthur (2004) starts from a dialectical representation according to the science of logic .
  10. Marx: Introduction [to the Critique of Political Economy], pp. 49f. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 2806f (see MEW Vol. 13, p. 639f)
  11. As a counter-thesis, the quote from Engels is given: “The logical treatment was therefore the only thing in place. But this is in fact nothing else than the historical, only stripped of the historical form and the disturbing contingencies. With what this story begins, the train of thought must also begin, and its further development will be nothing but the mirror image, in an abstract and theoretically consistent form, of the historical course; a corrected mirror image, but corrected according to laws that the real historical course itself provides, in that every moment can be viewed at the point of development of its full maturity, its classicism. " Karl Marx, 'Zur Critique der Politischen Ökonomie' MEW 13, P. 475. Cf. also Hegel: "After this idea I now assert that the sequence of the systems of philosophy in history is the same as the sequence in the logical derivation of the conceptual definitions of the idea." Lectures on the history of philosophy , A. , 3: results for the concept of the history of philosophy ; on the other hand, Hegel: “Civil society is the difference which occurs between the family and the state, even if the development of the same takes place later than that of the state; because as the difference it presupposes the state, which it must have in front of it as an independent entity in order to exist. ” Basic lines of the philosophy of law, third part, second section“ Civil society ” , but in the scientific presentation a third follows later Section 'The State' ; see. also Chris Arthur 2002, p. 17ff.
  12. Marx: Introduction [to the critique of political economy]. P. 47f. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 2804f (see MEW Vol. 13, p. 638.f.).
  13. Evald Ilyenkov: Dialectics of Abstract & Concrete. 1960
  14. Ulrich Steinvorth: An analytical interpretation of Marx's dialectic. Meisenheim 1977; Jon Elster: Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge 1985.
  15. ^ "Forms that precede capitalist production", [Marx: forms that precede capitalist production. S. 1. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 2814 (cf. MEW Vol. 42, p. 383)].
  16. Engels: Mr. Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, p. 13. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 7644 (cf. MEW Vol. 20, pp. 10-11)
  17. Engels: Mr. Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, p. 14. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 7645 (cf. MEW Vol. 20, pp. 11-12)
  18. “So Hegel fell far behind Kant, whose nebular theory had already proclaimed the origin and whose discovery of the inhibition of the earth's rotation by the sea tidal wave had already proclaimed the downfall of the solar system. And finally for me it could not be a question of constructing the dialectical laws in nature, but of finding them in nature and developing them from it. "(Engels: Mr. Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, p. 15. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 7646 (see MEW vol. 20, p. 12))
  19. “People have become so stuck in the opposition of induction and deduction that they reduce all logical inference to these 2 and do not even notice that they are unconsciously using 1, under those names completely different inference, 2. the whole wealth of Conclusion forms are dispensed with insofar as it cannot be forced under those 2, and 3. with it the two forms: induction and deduction, transforming themselves into pure nonsense. "[Engels: Dialektik der Natur, p. 349. Digital Library Volume 11: Marx / Engels, p. 8668 (cf. MEW vol. 20, p. 494)]
  20. Dialectics for Popper
  21. See the overview by Hermann Vetter on the representatives of "Dialectical Materialism".
  22. See: Marco Iorio: Analytischer Marxismus, in: Michael Quante / David P. Schweikard (ed.): Marx Handbuch. Life - Works - Work, Stuttgart 2016, p. 349ff.
  23. See: Michael Quante: New Dialectics, in: Michael Quante / David P. Schweikard (ed.): Marx Handbuch. Life - Works - Work, Stuttgart 2016, p. 352f.
  24. Critique of Dialectical Reason - Volume 1, Theory of Social Practice, Reinbek (January 1981), ISBN 3-498-06058-9 . Introduction, Part A: Dogmatic Dialectics and Critical Dialectics
  25. ^ Laszlo Illes "Introduction to the Hungarian edition (1996)" in: Georg Lukacs Tailism and the dialectic - a defense of history and class consciousness . Translated by Esther Leslie. Verso, London, New York. 2000. ISBN 1-85984-747-1 . S. 40. The German original Chvostismus und Dialektik , Aron Verlag Budapest 1996, does not seem to be available at the moment (2008). Not so with John Rees: John Rees : The Algebra of Revolution - The dialectic and the classical Marxist tradition. Routledge, London and New York 1998, ISBN 0-415-19876-3 , pp. 251 f . (or ISBN 0-415-19877-1 ).


  • Hermann Vetter: The position of dialectical materialism on the principle of excluded contradiction, Berlin 1962
  • Gert Schäfer , On the problem of dialectics in Karl Marx and WI Lenin , 21, Studium Generale, 1968, p. 934ff
  • Otto Morf: History and Dialectics in Political Economy. On the relationship between economic theory and economic history in Karl Marx. Frankfurt Vienna 1970 (first: 1951)
  • Werner Becker: Idealistic and materialistic dialectics, Stuttgart Berlin Cologne Mainz 1970
  • Jindrich Zelený: The logic of science in Marx and 'Das Kapital', Frankfurt Vienna 1970
  • Collective of authors (MM Rosental, NN Trubnikow, GS Batistschew, WP Kusmin, SM Orudzhev, EW Ilyenkow , AA Sorokin, IA Mankowski, IA Shdanow, BA Tschagin , WW Keschelawa): History of Marxist dialectics. From the emergence of Marxism to the Lenin stage. Dietz Verlag 1st edition Berlin 1974 (Russian Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Institute for Philosophy, Moscow 1971)
  • Werner Schuffenhauer: Feuerbach and the young Marx, Berlin 1972
  • Heinz Kimmerle (editor): Models of the materialistic dialectic , The Hague 1978 ( [1] )
  • Alfred Schmidt : The concept of nature in the teaching of Marx, Frankfurt 1978
  • Judith Jánoska / Martin Bondeli / Konrad Kindle / Marc Hofer: The 'method chapter' by Karl Marx. A historical and systematic commentary , Basel 1994
  • Sahra Wagenknecht : From head to toe. On the criticism of Hegel by the young Marx or the problem of a dialectical-materialistic scientific method, Bonn 1997
  • Dieter Wolf : Selection from: The dialectical contradiction in capital (PDF; 478 kB) The dialectical contradiction in capital. A contribution to Marx's theory of value. Hamburg, 2002, ISBN 3-87975-889-1


Web links