Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Mises Versus Marx—On Dialectical Materialism

The Marxist metaphysical doctrine of Dialectical Materialism is an idealist tripe. At the root of this theory there lies Hegelian spiritualism which can never be compromised with Marxist materialism. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were misleading their followers when they claimed that they had transformed and improved Hegelian dialectics and transplanted it to Marxism.

In Ludwig von Mises’s Theory and History an entire chapter (Chapter 7) is devoted to the analysis of Dialectical Materialism. Mises feels that it was nonsensical to uproot dialectics from its idealistic ground and transport it to a system that was labeled materialistic and empirical.

So why did Marx and Engels propose the illogical theory of Dialectical Materialism?

According to Mises, in the 1840s Hegel’s ideas enjoyed a huge prestige in Germany, and Marx and Engels “were afraid to deviate too radically from the only philosophical system with which they and their contemporary countrymen were familiar.”

Here’s the excerpt from Theory and History:

“They [Marx and Engels] were not audacious enough to discard Hegelianism entirely as was done a few years later even in Prussia. They preferred to appear as continuators and reformers of Hegel, not as iconoclastic dissenters. They boasted of having transformed and improved Hegelian dialectics, of having turned it upside down, or rather, of having put it on its feet. They did not realize that it was nonsensical to uproot dialectics from its idealistic ground and transplant it to a system that was labeled materialistic and empirical. Hegel was consistent in assuming that the logical process is faithfully reflected in the processes going on in what is commonly called reality. He did not contradict himself in applying the logical a priori to the interpretation of the universe. But it is different with a doctrine that indulges in a naive realism, materialism, and empiricism. Such a doctrine ought to have no use for a scheme of interpretation that is derived not from experience but from a priori reasoning. Engels declared that dialectics is the science of the general laws of motion, of the external world as well as of human thinking; two series of laws which are substantially identical but in their manifestation different insofar as the human mind can apply them consciously, while in nature, and hitherto also to a great extent in human history, they assert themselves in an unconscious way as external necessity in the midst of an infinite series of apparently contingent events. He himself, says Engels, had never had any doubts about this. His intensive preoccupation with mathematics and the natural sciences, to which he confesses to have devoted the greater part of eight years, was, he declares, obviously prompted only by the desire to test the validity of the laws of dialectics in detail in specific instances.”

The bizarre thing about Dialectical Materialism is that this doctrine does not provide a definition of its basic concept—it does not tell us what are the material productive forces? How do the material productive forces come into being?

Mises says that we may “summarize the Marxian doctrine in this way: In the beginning there are the "material productive forces," i.e., the technological equipment of human productive efforts, the tools and machines. No question concerning their origin is permitted; they are, that is all; we must assume that they are dropped from heaven.”

Being aware of the fact that the doctrine of Dialectical Materialism had no legs to stand on, Marx and Engels never tried to defend it through logic. If someone tried to unmask the absurdities and contradictions in Dialectical Materialism, Marx and Engels would attack him furiously and depict him as a scoundrel and a monster who wanted to deny that all men should have enough to eat.

After 1917, the control of Marxism passed into the hands of Lenin and Stalin who used their brutal state power to kill anyone who tried to refute the Marxist theories.

Mises says that Dialectical Materialism has survived primarily because “the "idealist" critics of Marxism were too dull to expose any of the fallacies of dialectical materialism. They did not even notice that the Marxians resorted to their class-interest interpretation only in dealing with phenomena which were generally condemned as bad, never in dealing with phenomena of which all people approve. If one ascribes warring to the machinations of munitions capital and alcoholism to machinations of the liquor trade, it would be consistent to ascribe cleanliness to the designs of the soap manufacturers and the flowering of literature and education to the maneuvering of the publishing and printing industries. But neither the Marxians nor their critics ever thought of it.”


  1. I love Mises's point about cleanliness being due to the machinations of the soap industry. It's basically like: bad stuff we can attribute to the machinations of industry. Good stuff, well, that's just not connected to the machinations of industry. With capitalism came, e.g., the end of normalized slavery in the West. Now, on non-Marxian grounds, we can certainly contend that this was due to an improvement in human moral reasoning first and foremost. For Marxists, it's the material dog that wags the moral tail, so they don't get to advance the moral-reasoning cause as a primary but as an effect.

    In Mises's 'Notes and Recollections,' an intellectual autobiography written ca. 1940 (I think to be published after his death by his wife?), he mentions that he had encountered nearly all the major Marxist thinkers of Europe in the early 20th century, and only one of them, Otto Bauer, was a man of real intellectual stature and someone Mises could reason with. That's a pretty low signal:noise ratio there. :(

    1. Few decades from now people will wonder how a nonsense like Dialectical Materialism and Marxism got accepted by millions of people as the ultimate truth.

      Anoop Verma