Marx's Dialectic

HS 002: Cultural and Institutional History of Modern Europe

Although rigously trained in the Hegelian dialectic, the young Ph.D. Karl Marx disagreed with Hegel's definition of the actual forces with which the dialectic operated. For Hegel, it was ideas! For Marx, it was economic relationships to the methods of production. For a comparison of these two approaches, see Comparison of Hegel's and Marx's view of the dialectical situation.

In the first diagram on this page, please note how Marx had changed the thesis from an idea to a group which shares a similar relationship to the methods of production. In this illustration the "thesis" is the feudal lords; who in order to maintain themselves have to "call into existence" their very opposite, the serfs and peasants.

The struggle between thesis and antithesis thus becomes primarily an economic struggle, and both are destroyed in the process, and a new synthesis comes into existence.

Please note that Marx has thus turned the elements of the dialectic into economically defined "classes." This materialistic orientation has given risen to the correct name for Marx's approach; Dialectical Materialism.

And as with Hegel, as soon as the synthesis appears, it will automatically and of necessity turn into a new thesis, producing its own anti-thesis as shown in this second chart..

But note that unlike Hegel, Marx believes the dialectical process will come to an end. When the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat destroy each other and a Classless Society emerges, it cannot produce an antithesis! If all people have the same relationship to the methods of production, there can be no further evolution and we will have reached the "end of history."

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