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Jun 4, 2024

Contradiction is one of the most important concepts in Marxist philosophy. When we think about Marxism, we typically think about the contributions that Marx, Engels, Lenin (and many others since) have made specifically to the study of political economy—but there are also deep philosophical underpinnings that form the foundation of Marxist political economy, and one of these foundational philosophies is dialectical materialism. 

Dialectical materialism brings together two important components of Marxist thought: dialectics and materialism. Broadly speaking, dialectics is grounded in the idea that in order to understand the world, we must look at things in relation to one another and not as isolated and separate phenomena. And we must also understand that those relations include opposing forces that act in contradiction to one another. For example, the two opposing forces at play in capitalism are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat—or capitalists and workers. 

The other part of dialectical materialism, the materialism part, is grounded in the idea that in order to understand the world, we must start by understanding our material reality, and that material conditions are primary over ideas. It’s not the ideas of great men that drive society forward, but the material conditions that give rise to those ideas in the first place. We’ll walk you through all of this in much more detail throughout this episode.

Theory is an essential element of the revolutionary work that we do, and it’s crucial that we familiarize ourselves with Marxist theory to help inform and guide our revolutionary practice. As Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” Understanding the foundational theories and philosophies that underlie the work that we do helps take our work to the next level. Familiarizing ourselves with theory and grounding our practice in it elevates our work and gives us unique tools and specialized knowledge that helps us sharpen the tools in our revolutionary toolbox and understand the world around us with more clarity and focus.

This is why we’re going to be sharing a few episodes over the coming months to explore Marxist theory in depth. And in this episode, we’re taking a deep dive into dialectical materialism. And we’ve brought on the perfect guest to help us through this.

Josh Sykes is a writer and an activist organizing with Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). He’s the author of the book The Revolutionary Science of Marxism-Leninism published last year by Freedom Road. Josh’s book is an introduction to Marxism-Leninism split up into seven sections, and in this episode, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the second section of the book which explores the philosophy underpinning Marxism-Leninism: dialectical materialism.

Further resources:

Related episodes:

Intermission music by Fugazi. 

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