This blog piece includes the first few pages of the 1953 edition of Maurice Cornforth's Materialism and the Dialectical Method, written while he was a Marxist-Leninist. I have also woven in quotes by Howard Selsam, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, V.I. Lenin, William Z. Foster and Gus Hall, former leaders of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).
Cornforth's Materialism and the Dialectical Method is part of a three volume series on Dialectical Materialism (which includes the books Historical Materialism and the Theory of Knowledge) and is based on his 1950 lectures for the Communist Party of Great Britain. These works were long-appreciated by the socialist movement around the world.
"The party of the working class needs a philosophy which expresses a revolutionary class outlook. The alternative is to embrace ideas hostile to the working class and to socialism.
"This determines the materialist character of our philosophy." (Maurice Cornforth, Materialism and the Dialectical Method, 1953)
"A revolutionary working-class party needs a revolutionary working class philosophy, " Maurice Cornforth begins, "and that philosophy is dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism has been defined by Stalin as: ’The world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist Party.’ (Joseph Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism)
"This definition must appear a strange one, both to many politicians and to many philosophers. But we will not begin to understand dialectical materialism unless we can grasp the thought which lies behind this definition. Let us ask, first of all, what conception of philosophy lies behind the idea expressed in this definition of party or--since a party is always the political representative of a class--class philosophy.
"By philosophy is usually meant our most general account of the nature of the world and of mankind’s place and destiny in it--our world outlook." (Maurice Cornforth, Materialism and the Dialectical Method, 1953)
In other words, philosophy is "the whole body of thought concerning the kind of world we live in, the kind of beings we are, and our relation to the world." (Howard Selsam, editor, Handbook of Philosophy, 1949, International Publishers)
Cornforth continues: "that being understood, it is evident that everybody has some kind of philosophy, even though he has never learned to discuss it. Everybody is influenced by philosophical views, even though he has not thought them out for himself and cannot formulate them.
"Some people, for example, think that this world is nothing but ’a vale of tears’ and that our life in it is the preparation for a better life in another and better world. They accordingly believe that we should suffer whatever befalls us with fortitude, not struggling against it, but trying to do whatever good we can do to our fellow creatures. This is one kind of philosophy, one kind of world outlook. Other people think that the world is a place to grow rich in, and that each should look out for himself. This is another kind of philosophy.
"But granted that our philosophy is our world outlook, the task arises of working out this world outlook systematically and in detail, turning it into a well-formulated and coherent theory, turning vaguely held popular beliefs and attitudes into more or less systematic doctrines. This is what the philosophers do.
"By the time the philosophers have worked out their theories, they have often produced something very complicated, very abstract and very hard to understand. But even though only a comparatively few people may read and digest the actual productions of philosophers, these productions may and do have a very wide influence. For the fact that philosophers have systematized certain beliefs reinforces those beliefs, and helps to impose them upon wide masses of ordinary people. Hence, everyone is influenced in one way or another by philosophers, even though they have never read the works of those philosophers.
"And if this is the case, then we cannot regard the systems of the philosophers as being wholly original, as being wholly the products of the brain-work of the individual philosophers. Of course, the formulations of views, the peculiar ways in which they are worked out and written down, is the work of the particular philosopher. But the views themselves, in their most general aspect, have a social basis in ideas which reflect the social activities and social relations of the time, and which, therefore, do not spring ready-made out of the heads of philosophers.
"From this we may proceed a step further.
"When society is divided into classes--and society always has been divided into classes ever since the dissolution of the primitive communes, that is to say, throughout the entire historical period to which the history of philosophy belongs--then the various views which are current in society always express the outlook of various classes. We may conclude, therefore, that the various systems of the philosophers also always express a class outlook. They are, in fact, nothing but the systematic working out and theoretical formulation of a class outlook, or, if you prefer, of the ideology of definite classes.
"Philosophy is and always has been class philosophy. Philosophers may pretend it is not, but that does not alter the fact.
"For people do not and cannot think in isolation from society, and therefore from the class interests and class struggles which pervade society, any more than they can live and act in such isolation. A philosophy is a world outlook, an attempt to understand the world, mankind and man’s place in the world. Such an outlook cannot be anything but the outlook of a class, and the philosophers function as the thinking representatives of a class.
"How can it be otherwise? Philosophies are not imported from some other planet, but are produced here on earth, by people involved, whether they like it or not, in existing class relations and class struggles. Therefore, whatever philosophers say about themselves, there is no philosophy which does not embody a class outlook, or which is impartial, as opposed to partisan, in relation to class struggles. Search as we may, we shall not find any impartial, non-partisan, non-class philosophy.
"Bearing this in mind, then, we shall find that the philosophies of the past have all, in one way or another, expressed the outlook of the so-called ’educated’ classes, that is to say, of the exploiting classes. In general, it is the leaders of society who express and propagate their ideas in the form of systematic philosophies. And up to the appearance of the modern working class, which is the peculiar product of capitalism, these leaders have always been the exploiting classes. It is their outlook which has dominated philosophy, just as they have dominated society." (Maurice Cornforth, Materialism and the Dialectical Method, 1953)
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, great Communist pioneers, exposed the fact that "the class which is the ruling material force in society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force." For "the class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that, thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it." (Marx and Engels, German Ideology)
Thus Marx and Engels declared in the Communist Manifesto: "the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class."
"We can only conclude from this that the working class, if today it intends to take over leadership of society, needs to express its own class outlook in philosophical form, and to oppose this philosophy to the philosophies which express the outlook and defend the interests of the exploiters." (Maurice Cornforth, Materialism and the Dialectical Method, 1953)
Marxism is a revolution in philosophy. V.I. Lenin, the outstanding head of Russia’s proletarian revolution, hit the nail on the head: "the Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true! It is complete and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world conception which is irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction or defense of bourgeois oppression." (Lenin, Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism, 1913)
Maurice Cornforth cites Lenin and draws some lessons: "’the services rendered by Marx and Engels to the working class may be expressed in a few words thus: they taught the working class to know itself and be conscious of itself, and they substituted science for dreams, ’ wrote Lenin.
"The great world-wide historical service of Marx and Engels lies in the fact that they proved by scientific analysis the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism and its transition to communism, under which there will be no more exploitation of man by man...that they indicated to the proletarians of all countries their role, their task, their mission: to be the first to rise in the revolutionary fight against capital and to rally around themselves in this struggle all the toilers and exploited.’ (Lenin, Speech at the Unveiling of a Monument to Marx and Engels, 1918)
"Teaching the working class ’to know itself and be conscious of itself, ’ and to rally around itself ’all the toilers and exploited, ’ Marx and Engels founded and established the revolutionary theory of working-class struggle, which illumines the road by which the working class can throw off capitalist exploitation, can take the leadership of all the masses of the people, and so free the whole of society once and for all of all oppression and exploitation of man by man.
"Marx and Engels taught that without its own party, the working class certainly could not win victory over capitalism, could not lead the whole of society forward to the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. The working class must have its own party, independent of all bourgeois parties. Further developing the Marxist teachings about the party, Lenin showed that the party must act as the vanguard of its class, the most conscious section of its class, and that it is the instrument for winning and wielding political power." (Maurice Cornforth, Materialism and the Dialectical Method, 1953)
From capitalism to socialism, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party must be the vanguard of the working class. "By educating the workers’ party, " V.I. Lenin said, "Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat which is capable of assuming power and of leading the whole people to socialism, of directing and organizing the new order, of being the teacher, the guide, the leader of all toilers and exploited in the task of building up their social life without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie.’ (Lenin, State and Revolution, 1917)
After the victory of socialism, as the great Communist William Z. Foster pointed out, "the leader and organizer of the proletarian dictatorship is the Communist Party." (William Z. Foster, Toward Soviet America, 1932)
"To fulfill such a role, " Maurice Cornforth concludes, "the party must evidently have knowledge, understanding and vision; in other words, it must be equipped with revolutionary theory, on which its policies are based and by which its activities are guided.
"This theory is the theory of Marxism-Leninism. And it is not just an economic theory, nor yet exclusively a political theory, but a world outlook--a philosophy. Economic and political views are not and never can be independent of a general world outlook. Specific economic and political views express the world outlook of those who hold such views, and conversely, philosophical views find expression in views on economics and politics.
"Recognizing all this, the revolutionary party of the working class cannot but formulate, and having formulated, hold fast to, develop and treasure its party philosophy. In this philosophy--dialectical materialism--are embodied the general ideas by means of which the party understands the world which it is seeking to change and in terms of which it defines its aims and works out how to fight for them.
"In this philosophy are embodied the general ideas by means of which the party seeks to enlighten and organize the whole class, and to influence, guide and win over all the masses of working people, showing the conclusions which must be drawn from each stage of the struggle, helping people to learn from their own experience how to go forward towards socialism.
"And so we see why it is that in our times a philosophy has arisen which expresses the revolutionary world outlook of the working class, and that this philosophy--dialectical materialism--is defined as ’the world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist Party.’
"Experience itself has taught the party the need for philosophy. For experience shows that if we do not have our own revolutionary socialist philosophy, then inevitably we borrow our ideas from hostile, anti-socialist sources. If we do not adopt today the outlook of the working class and of the struggle for socialism, then we adopt--or slip into, without meaning to do so--that of the capitalists and of the struggle against socialism.
"This is why the working class party--if it is to be the genuine revolutionary leadership of its class, and is not to mislead its class by the importation of hostile capitalist ideas, and of policies corresponding to such ideas--must be concerned to formulate, defend and propagate its own revolutionary philosophy." (Maurice Cornforth, Materialism and the Dialectical Method, 1953)
Gus Hall, a Communist founder of the United Steelworkers, was right: "Marxism-Leninism is the philosophy and world outlook of the working class because it is a philosophy of social progress!" The future belongs to the scientific, Marxist-Leninist world outlook! (Gus Hall, Karl Marx: Beacon for Our Times, 1983)
Read Howard Selsam & Harry Martel's stellar book Reader in Marxist Philosophy. This text with excerpts from Marx, Engels and Lenin is available from International Publishers.
Dig these sections from Marx, Engels, Lenin For a Better World: Excerpts from the Classics : Historical Materialism & Dialectical Materialism.