Workers Vanguard No. 947

20 November 2009


Marxism and Science

(Quote of the Week)

Anti-scientific quackery and all forms of religious and superstitious backwardness, including on sexuality and abortion, are on the rise in this period, marked by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92. Referring to the great German philosopher Georg Hegel, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky defended the scientific nature of Marxism in a 1939 piece written against an opposition in the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party that shrank from defense of the USSR on the eve of the Second World War and included elements who renounced dialectical materialism.

Hegel wrote before Darwin and before Marx. Thanks to the powerful impulse given to thought by the French Revolution, Hegel anticipated the general movement of science. But because it was only an anticipation, although by a genius, it received from Hegel an idealistic character. Hegel operated with ideological shadows as the ultimate reality. Marx demonstrated that the movement of these ideological shadows reflected nothing but the movement of material bodies.

We call our dialectic, materialist, since its roots are neither in heaven nor in the depths of our “free will,” but in objective reality, in nature. Consciousness grew out of the unconscious, psychology out of physiology, the organic world out of the inorganic, the solar system out of nebulae. On all the rungs of this ladder of development, the quantitative changes were transformed into qualitative. Our thought, including dialectical thought, is only one of the forms of the expression of changing matter. There is place within this system for neither God, nor Devil, nor immortal soul, nor eternal norms of laws and morals. The dialectic of thinking, having grown out of the dialectic of nature, possesses consequently a thoroughly materialist character.

Darwinism, which explained the evolution of species through quantitative transformations passing into qualitative, was the highest triumph of the dialectic in the whole field of organic matter….

Marx, who in distinction from Darwin was a conscious dialectician, discovered a basis for the scientific classification of human societies in the development of their productive forces and the structure of the relations of ownership which constitute the anatomy of society. Marxism substituted for the vulgar descriptive classification of societies and states, which even up to now still flourishes in the universities, a materialistic dialectical classification. Only through using the method of Marx is it possible correctly to determine both the concept of a workers’ state and the moment of its downfall.

All this, as we see, contains nothing “metaphysical” or “scholastic,” as conceited ignorance affirms. Dialectic logic expresses the laws of motion in contemporary scientific thought. The struggle against materialist dialectics on the contrary expresses a distant past, conservatism of the petty bourgeoisie, the self-conceit of university routinists and…a spark of hope for an after-life.

—Leon Trotsky, “A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party” (1939), printed in In Defense of Marxism (Pathfinder, 1973)