The Scientific Value and Current Significance of Marx’s Historical Materialistic Viewpoint
Abstract: Since mid-19th century, Marx’s philosophy has been recognized for its great significance in the development of human history, not only for its cognitive value but also its practical value. It has endured myriad ups and downs of social history, all the while developing its intrinsic unification of dialectical and historical materialism. Marxist philosophy has reflected and expressed universal values of history, changing times, and in reality, the fate of all human beings. Compared to any other philosophy in history, Marxist philosophy has consistently pointed out the power of its theories and methods of unification. In turn, the scientific methodology of Marx’s philosophy, with the nature of ‘complete philosophical materialism,’ has outlined an inescapable development path for all societies of the world.
Marxist philosophy is the dominant achievement of social theory. It is not only historical in its philosophical thought, but also in its advancement of human intelligence. In terms of practical value, Marxist philosophy’s achievements in its system of dialectical and historical materialism have become the theoretical basis for practical guidance. It created a turning point for the development of social history, expressly marked by the Great Russian October Revolution of 1917. This practical application of its theories brought social history to a new level. In comparison with all other social philosophies in history, Marxist philosophy was not only responsible for ‘interpreting the world,’ but also in ‘transforming the world.’ In other words, having significantly shaped history, Marxist philosophy should be credited for creating the theoretical basis of human perception and formulating the theoretical basis of all practical human activity.
However, interpreting its dogma and implementing Marxist philosophy into the reality of a socialist construct in some countries that were sympathetic to its doctrine has caused a backlash of opposition by nations intent on abolishing Marxist philosophical views. However, the truths of Marx’s philosophy, dialectical materialism, and historical materialism are confirmed through its historical influence. It continues to exert a significant influence on many ideological movements in the contemporary world. From a perspective of reality, we are obligated to continue to appropriate Marxist philosophy’s essential truths. Simultaneously and unceasingly, it is to the benefit of the people to protect Marxism by supplementing and developing the essential tenets of Marx’s philosophy, summarizing it from its practical activities of socialist construction.
1. Marx’s philosophy of dialectical materialism - the theoretical premise of the materialist view of history
Marxist philosophy constitutes one of the three parts of Marxism, as defined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Their work resulted from the critical inheritance of the achievements of human philosophical thought. In particular, its final form was the result of Marx and Engels’ surmounting of their original shortcomings. They pushed the philosophy further by critically absorbing it, and then including improvements in the definitions of both materialism and the dialectics of German classical philosophy. The achievements of dialectical materialism as the fusion of materialism and dialectics were their premise for forming the materialist point of view of history which resulted in historical materialism.
By emphasizing the foundation of revolutionary development in Marxist philosophy, Vladimir Lenin first acknowledged that Marxism is materialism. Furthermore, Marx did not stop at the materialism of the 18th century. He asserted that its main shortcomings were mechanical, metaphysical, and idealistic in the context of social phenomena.(1) With dialectical materialism as its foundation, Marx also contributed a revolutionary step by establishing the reality of historical materialism. By generalizing this development, Lenin emphasized, “While deeply studying and developing the philosophical materialism, Marx put forward a complete doctrine and expanded it from the understanding of natural world to the understanding of human society. Marx’s historical materialism is the greatest achievement of scientific thought. A very complete and rigorous scientific theory has replaced the disorder and arbitrariness that has always prevailed in the conceptions of history and politics so far”.(2)
Thus, together with materialism, the dialectics of Marxist philosophy, both as a world ideology and in its perception of a social narrative, has given birth to historical materialism. While discussing the methodological role of dialectics as the basis of historical materialism, Lenin emphasized, “Dialectics is the theory of development, in the form of the most complete, profound and multi-sided consciousness”.(3) While affirming the development of dialectics in Marxist philosophy surpassing the limitations of Hegel’s dialectics in perceiving the unification of the objective and the subjective, Lenin emphasized “Dialectics…, the relativity theory of the human perception, which reflects the ever-evolving matter”.(4) It makes clear that by building upon Hegel’s idealistic dialectics, it simultaneously overcomes the limitations of the old materialism and also includes the achievements of the natural sciences and social reality as it was known in the 19th century. Marx and Engels did not stop at creating the materialist dialectics to give birth to dialectical materialism but saw it as a step toward creating the greater theory of historical materialism.
It can be seen that materialist dialectics is the foundation of Marxist philosophy, but it plays the fundamental role of dialectical materialism and historical materialism. Marx himself asserted, “My dialectic method is not only fundamentally different from Hegelian method but also in stark contrast to it”.(5) Later, appreciating Marx’s great contributions to the critical inheritance of the achievements of human philosophy, Lenin continued to affirm, “Marxism’s fundamental point is Marxism revolutionary dialectics”.(6) Marxism’s vitality and sustainable values originate from the objective dialectics, as the philosophical process of Marxist philosophy, which has always been inherited, supplemented, and developed in practical activities of the socialist construction since Marxist philosophy’s early days.
Thus, materialist dialectics is the organic synergy between a materialistic worldview and a dialectical methodology; objectivity married to subjectivity; perception partnered with reality. In order to highlight the actual value of materialist dialectics created by Marx and Engels that is not only meaningful in cognitive study but also in practical activity, Lenin described its core value by emphasizing, “Applying materialist dialectics to fundamentally reform the entire science of the political economy, applying that dialectics to the history, the natural science, the philosophy, the policies and tactics of the working class. That was paid the most attention to by Marx and Engels; it was their latest and most radical contribution, and therefore their genius step in the history of the revolutionary thought”.(7)
Through the revolutionary and scientific values of Marxist philosophy embodied in the role of dialectical materialism and historical materialism, it can be asserted, as a cognitive method and path to world reform, the materialist dialectics of Marxist philosophy becomes the theory that penetrates into all the components of Marxism. It has become the core of a consistent and indivisible Marxist theory, the living soul emerging from single components, thesis, and principles that all show the unification principle between the theory and the reality, objectivity and subjectivity in service to social reform.
The dialectical unification between theory and method, between worldview and methodology, has made Marxist philosophy always unbiased and constantly open to innovation and development. Accordingly, the method is always expressed in the theory, but at the same time, when being shown from the perspective of the same theoretical system, the method has penetrated back into the entire theory that creates the essence, the soul of the theory of the Marxist philosophy’s methodology. Pointing out the profound unification between materialism and dialectics as the basis of the formation of the scientific methodology in Marxist philosophy, a revolutionary and scientific philosophy that demonstrates the unification between dialectical materialism and historical materialism, Lenin emphasized, “Marxist philosophy is a complete philosophical materialism, it provides the human and especially the working class great tools of perception”.(8) Put another way, the “complete philosophical materialism”, including the dialectical materialism and the historical materialism, together are the basis of the scientific methodology of Marxist philosophy. And so it plays the worthy role as the ideological foundation and the source of guidelines for action by the Communist Party.
2. The sustainable value of the foundation of Marxist philosophy is formed by the unification of dialectical materialism and historical materialism
From this discussion, it can be seen that the entire methodological basis of the unification of materialism and dialectics is also the unification of dialectical materialism and historical materialism. In other words, it is the ‘complete philosophical materialism’ that is the sustainable foundation of value of Marxist philosophy. Thus, on applying dialectical materialism to the study of the social history of man, Marxist philosophy has become a revolutionary breakthrough expressing tremendous historical significance in the entire conception of human social interaction that is the foundation of historical materialism. In addition to this remarkable development, Marxist philosophy not only explained history, but also became the methodology for Marx to study economics, discover the theory of surplus-value, and understand the inevitable growth, development, and destruction of the capitalist socio-economic form. Consequently, Marx’s creation of historical materialism is his greatest contribution to this revolution in philosophy.
Regarding the revolutionary significance of the birth of historical materialism, Engels wrote, “Just as Darwin discovered the development rule of the organic world, Marx did find out the development rule of human history, a simple truth had been covered up to now by many layers of ideas”.(9) In order to confirm the breakthrough made by historical materialism as founded by Marx, in comparison with the previous materialistic view explaining history, Engels said, “Every time there is an invention making sense of the times, even in the historical-natural science, the materialism inevitably changes its form; and with the materialist interpretation, the history itself also opens a new development path”.(10)
Emphasizing the remarkable development of Marxist philosophy in the materialist view of history, Lenin continued to affirm, “Marx’s historical materialism is the greatest achievement of the scientific thought”.(11) With this great invention, historical materialism became a scientifically tested system of reasoning, and since then, “For the first time, history has been established on its real basis”.(12) In the sense of the ‘complete philosophical materialism,’ if dialectical materialism is the standard methodology of the entire Marxist philosophy, historical materialism based on developing from the dialectical materialism of social awareness and reform has become the methodology in the social field more than any previous philosophy.
In turn, the above revolutionary development also verifies that the historical materialism and the theory of socio-economic formation form its core because it points out that the rules of development of human society become the steps from one socio-economic form to another greater socio-economic form. Therefore, with that philosophical basis, the theory of socio-economic structure indicates that social ontology also known as the activity of material labor production in turn regulates the direction and development of social history. This is the core value of Marxist philosophy, which marked a significant turning point in the entire history of philosophical thought in explaining the natural dynamics for the development of human society.
A methodological contribution of Marxist philosophy in the materialistic view of history with the theory of socio-economic forms has become a model of forecasting for the movement and development of social history that “is a natural-historical process”.(13) Affirming the values in the historical materialistic view of Marxist philosophy in comparison with previous philosophical views, Lenin points out, with “chaos and arbitrariness so far dominating the conceptions of history and politics it has been replaced by a very complete and rigorous scientific reasoning. It explains how a mode of social life arises and develops to a higher mode owing to the development of the productive forces”.(14)
Thus, the methodology drawn from the whole general system of philosophical reasoning, especially in the theoretical system of the historical materialism with Marxist philosophy at its core is the reasoning of socio-economic form. It forms the basis for Lenin’s claim that the development path will lead from “today’s imperialism to tomorrow’s socialism.” He said, “The human will pass through various paths. All nations will advance to socialism”.(15)
To protect and creatively develop Marxist philosophy’s fundamental values, Lenin himself struggled against the revisionism of the Second Communist International that separated Marxist theory from the animated revolutionary struggle of the masses and turned it into dogma. He tried to preserve Marxist philosophy’s fundamental and breakthrough values. He tried to do this first and foremost through the principle of unification between theory and practice, and through the practice of the masses’ revolutionary struggle to test the Second International’s dogmatic reasoning. Therefore, Lenin turned his attention to developing the methodology of Marxist philosophy, which he saw crystallized in the unification of dialectical materialism and historical materialism at a new level.
In short, the birth of socio-economic theory based on historical materialism in particular and Marxist philosophy in general, is a breakthrough revolution in human society’s whole point of view. Through the test of reality and time, Marxist philosophy has sustained its value. It remains the cornerstone of creative Marxism. Moreover, other great discoveries were made based on the socio-economic form including the surplus-value theory of capitalism and the theory of the working class’s historical role and mission.
3. Evaluation of the world’s ideological trends in light of the scientific value and continuing significance of Marxist philosophy
Since its formation, development, and ancillary contributions, Marxist philosophy’s vitality, significance, and influence with its methodological core values in dialectical materialism and historical materialism have contributed significantly to the transformation of mankind’s social history.
Both the theoretical and practical values of Marxist philosophy have influenced various philosophical, ideological views throughout time. In the turbulent mid-twentieth century, with Marx’s methodological basis for solving dramatic problems of contemporary society, many famous Western thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, Richard Rorty, Francis Fukuyama, Anthony Giddens, and others identified themselves as Marxists.
On assessing the vitality of Marxist philosophy, the French Existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre said that Marxism did not seem outdated but still in the development stage of youth, and thus remained the philosophy of our time(16). On the assessment of the future of Marxism, French postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida said that it would always be an irresponsible mistake, theoretically, philosophically, and politically if philosophers failed to continue reading, rereading, and debating Marx’s works. He observed that there would be no future without Marx.(17)
More profoundly, Martin Heidegger, a major German existentialist philosopher who lived from 1889-1976, believed that Marxism penetrates historical nature and its expression corresponds to many different historical periods, showing that the historical perspective described in Karl Marx’s thought are superior to other historical viewpoints.(18)
The historical materialism of Marxist philosophy with its system outlining the motivations and historical trends has also profoundly influenced the political philosophies of Western scholars. Notably, Anthony Giddens, a British thinker (born 1938), acknowledged that his views on political philosophy were derived from Marx’s historical materialism. To some extent, Anthony Giddens could be considered a western Marxist because he directly criticized capitalist realism and insisted that capitalism should come to an end. Moreover, Anthony Giddens believes that society’s impetus is built on the total motivation of each human being as they are integrated into a social organization. Thus, according to him, society is the unifi ation of the objective and the subjective.(19)
Japanese-Americanscholar Francis Fukuyamaidentifiedhimselfasa Marxist by asserting that he believes in the universal process of economic development and social modernization. He confirmed his break with NeoConservatism by emphasizing that he would no longer support NeoConservatism regardless of what direction it developed.(20)
Eminent American philosopher of the ‘New Pragmatism’ school of thought Richard Rorty emphasized that Marx and Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto” has an even stronger attraction than the “New Testament” because it is more secular than the Bible. He concluded that Marxism had encouraged people to establish a society of equal ideals.(21)
The influence of Marxism, especially the materialist view of its philosophy, even occupies a particular position in Western economics. Some Nobelawarded economists, including two influential American economists, Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915-2009) and William D. Nordhaus (born 1941) have expressed their appreciation for Marxism and Marxist philosophy. In their book, “Economics,” they admitted that no other philosopher had a more significant and profound ideological influence in the 19th century than Karl Marx. The two Nobel laureates also said that Marxism is still alive and strongly influential today because of its important historical role, and the economic thought of Marx and Engels is one of “long-term contributions in the economic history. As Marx pointed out, the conceptions of value are determined by the roles of economic interests, those belonging to the superstructure such as beliefs, laws and social consciousness forms all reflect the material living conditions and material interests of the class. In fact, Marx’s economic method is not in opposition to the existing major economic thought”.(22)
Since its birth, the sustained vitality of Marxist philosophy in general and Marx’s historical materialism in particular, has become a worthy foundation for the contemporary development of Marxism itself. Moreover, the values of Marxist philosophy continue to influence different ideological currents in the contemporary world. However, most of all, in practical terms, the scientific value and current meaning of Marxism is that its foundation is philosophical. It is based on the materialist view of history and continues to have a valuable influence on both the perception and the reality of the development of progressive humankind.
(1), (2) See: V.I. Lenin (1980), Complete Works, Vol.23, Progress Publishing House, M., p.53, 53.
(3), (4) V.I. Lenin (2005), Complete Works, Vol.23, Progress Publishing House, M., p.53,53.
(5) K. Marx and F. Engels (1993), Complete Works, Vol.23, National Political Publishing House, H., p.35.
(6) V.I. Lenin (1981), Complete Works, Vol.45, Progress Publishing House, M., p.430.
(7) V.I. Lenin (1980), Complete Works, Vol.24, Progress Publishing House, M., p.326- 327.
(8), (11), (14) V.I. Lenin (1981), Complete Works, Vol.23, Progress Publishing House, M., p.54, 54, 4950.
(9), (12) K. Marx and F. Engels (1995), Complete Works, Vol.19. National Political Publishing House, H., p.499450, 166.
(10) K. Marx and F. Engels. Op. cit., Vol.21, p.409.
(13) V.I. Lenin (1974), Complete Works, Vol.1, Progress Publishing House, M., p.163.
(15) V.I. Lenin (1981), Complete Works, Vol.30, Progress Publishing House, M., p.160.
(16) Jean-Paul Sartre (1998), Critique of dialectical reason, (translation by Lam Tuong Hoa), Published by Hefei-Anhui Arts, p.28 (in Chinese).
(17) Jacques Derrida (1994), Specters of Marx, National Political Publishing House and General Department II, Ministry of National Defense, H., p.190, 191, 42.
(18) Seen in: Martin Heidegger (1996), Anthology, Upper Volume, Publishing House of Shanghai (Sanlian Bookstore), p.383.
(19) Seen in: Tran Hoa Hung (2005), Evaluation of the political philosophy of Anthony Giddens, Publishing House of Chinese Social Science, p.7274.
(20) See: Sarah Baxter (March 21st, 2006), F. Fukuyama: Iwas wrongtobeaneoconservative, British Daily, [Sarah Baxter, F. Fukuyama: I was a neocon. I was wrong, The Sunday Times, 2006325].
(21) See: Richard Rorty (February 24th, 1998), Failure of prophecies, halo of hope, Frankfurt German Newspaper, [Richard Rorty, Gescheiterte Prophecies, Glorious hopes. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1998.02.24].
(22) Paul Anthony Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus (1992), Economics, Vol. 12, Published by Chinese Development. Beijing, p.1290, 1293.
Abstract: Marxist-Leninist philosophy, founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was successfully actualized and developed by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. It opened a new era in political thought and initiated an era of transition from capitalism to socialism worldwide. Currently, taking advantage of the collapse of the socialist model in the Soviet Union and some Eastern European countries, many reactionary forces have rejected Marxism-Leninism which considered the ideology of the working class and the ideological foundation of Communist Parties in the world including Vietnam. This article clarifies the lasting value of Marxist- Leninist philosophy including its doctrine of unity of scientific, revolutionary, and humanistic values, thereby contributing to protecting the ideological foundation of the Communist Party of Vietnam. It also outlines the fight against wrong and hostile views against Vietnam.