Dialectic and Logic Since the War

Herbert Marcuse

Nothing is perhaps more revealing for the basic trends of Soviet Marxism than its treatment of dialectic. [1] The dialectical logic is the cornerstone of Marxian theory: it guides the analysis of the prerevolutionary as well as of the revolutionary development, and this analysis in turn is supposed to guide the strategy in both periods. Any fundamental “revision” of the dialectical logic that goes beyond the Marxist application of dialectic to a new historical situation would indicate not only a “deviation” from Marxian theory (which is only of dogmatic interest), but also a theoretical justification for a new strategy. Interpreters of Stalinism have therefore correctly drawn attention to events in this sphere. They have concluded that Soviet Marxism has toned down and arrested the dialectic in the interest of the ideological justification and protection of a regime which must appear as regressive and to be surpassed by the dialectical development. Chief support for this conclusion is seen in the Soviet Marxist reformulation of the concept of dialectical contradictions (following the disappearance from the dialectical vocabulary of the “negation of the negation”) and of the relation between base and superstructure, and in the reintroduction of formal logic.

The first and most fundamental of these apparent revisions predates the Second World War. Antagonistic and nonantagonistic contradictions are already distinguished in the representative articles of the Bol’shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia (Great Soviet Encyclopedia) on Historical Materialism [2] and on the Law of the Unity and Conflict of Contradictions. [3] The distinction becomes central in Zhdanov’s ideological offensive in the Aleksandrov controversy (June 1947) [4] and has since remained a decisive feature of Soviet Marxist dialectic. In Stalin’s last article, the doctrine of nonantagonistic contradictions is made the theoretical foundation of the “transition to Com-

1 This paper is part of a larger study on Soviet Marxism, written under a grant by the Russian Institute, Columbia University.

2 Vol. XXIX (1935).

3 Vol. XLVII (1940).

4 Bol’shevik, no. 16 (1947); Voprosy filosofii, no. 1 (1947)-



munism.” [5] The two other events in the development of Soviet Marxist dialectics belong altogether to the postwar period and are closely connected in substance. The official statement of the relation between base and superstructure is given in the context of Stalin’s “Marksizm i voprosy iazykoznaniia” (Marxism and Linguistic Problems), 1950; the reintroduction of formal logic in the schools was decreed in 1944, but the broad discussion begins only in 1948 and culminates in 1950-51. [6]

The attempt to evaluate the significance of these developments requires brief consideration of the function of dialectic within the system of Soviet Marxism as a whole. By themselves, they reveal neither their philosophical nor their political implications— they do not even appear as “revisions”; we shall see that each of the three reformulations could pass as a perfectly legitimate and “orthodox” inference from the Hegelian as well as Marxian dialectic. But while not a single one of the basic dialectical concepts has been revised or rejected in Soviet Marxism, the function of dialectic itself has been significantly changed: it has been transformed from a mode of critical thought designed to guide Marxist practice into a fixed universal system no longer inherently connected with the actual practice. This transformation itself is part of the reorientation of Marxism in terms of the development of capitalist society since about the turn of the century. Presently we shall try to indicate some of the factors which altered the relation between Marxism and the reality which Marxism was designed to change.

The historical ground for the transformation of Marxism was provided by the transition from the free capitalism of the nineteenth century (the liberalistic period) to the “organized capitalism” of the twentieth century. The tremendous growth in productivity led to a considerable rise in the standard of living in the advanced industrial countries— a rise in which organized labor participated. Consequently, the class position of the Marxian proletariat changed: a large part of the laboring classes acquired a vested interest in the society whose “absolute negation” they were supposed to represent. To the Marxist theoreticians, the trend toward class cooperation, the growth of trade-unionism and social democracy appeared not only as a false strategy but as a threat to the basic Marxian conception of socialist theory and practice. In his struggle against revisionism and economism, Lenin answered this threat with a decisive reorientation. His theory of Bolshevism amounted to acknowledging that the revolutionary forces had to be re-created and organized outside and even against the “immediate interest” of the proletariat whose class consciousness had been arrested by the system in which they functioned. The Bolshevik doctrine of the predominant role of the Party leadership as the revolutionary vanguard grew

5 “Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.,” in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Special Supplement (1952).

6 Summary of the discussion in Voprosy filosofii, no. 6 (1951).


out of the new conditions of Western society (the conditions of “imperialism” and “monopoly capitalism”) rather than out of the personality or psychology of the Russian Marxists. The increasing power of advanced capitalism, the coordination of Western social democracy with this society, Leninism, and the idea of “breaking the capitalist chain at its weakest link” are parts and stages of one and the same historical trend. But although the Leninist reorientation foreshadows the development of “socialism in one country,” that is to say, outside the centers of advanced industrial civilization, and thus implies a basic modification of Marxism, Lenin did not follow up his strategic reorientation. He remained “orthodox.” In line with Marxist orthodoxy, he first regarded the Bolshevik Revolution as preliminary to the revolution in one of the advanced capitalist countries, namely, Germany. The Leninist policy during the first years of the Bolshevik dictatorship was tentative in the sense that it relied to a great extent on the working of the revolutionary dialectic within the capitalist world. “Socialism in one country” became definitive only after the failure of the Central European revolutions had become definitive, that is to say, after 1921. The building of socialism on a backward and (for a long time to come) isolated base found no theoretical guidance in Marxian theory. Lenin, and also Stalin, never abandoned the notion that “socialism in one country” could be ultimately victorious only through the triumph of socialism in the advanced industrial society of the West. In this respect, Stalinism remained as orthodox as Leninism.

Then, however, the growth of the Soviet state into a strong national and international power led to a unification and integration of the Western world which made the expectation of an indigenous collapse of capitalism appear more unrealistic than ever before. This “uneven development toward socialism” inside and outside the Soviet Union generated the rift between theory and practice which is characteristic of Soviet Marxism. The goal remained the same, but the ways and means for attaining it had become very different. As a result of the historical changes in the international arena, the historical carrier of the revolutionary dialectic was no longer the industrial proletariat in the advanced industrial countries but the Soviet state. Its development was to be interpreted in terms of a socialist rather than capitalist dialectic, of nonantagonistic rather than antagonistic contradictions. And outside the Soviet orbit, there was still the dialectic of capitalism. During the Stalinist period, the interrelation between the two remained almost taboo. Only recently, there are indications that, in line with a general reorientation of Soviet policy, the problem of dialectic is redefined. In order to understand the implications of this development, a restatement of the original function of the Marxian dialectic will be necessary.

Marx elaborated his dialectic as a conceptual tool for comprehending an inherently antagonistic society. The dissolution of the fixed and stable


notions of philosophy, political economy, and sociology into their contradictory components was to “reflect” the actual structure and movement of this society: the dialectic was to reproduce in theory what happened in the reality. To reproduce it adequately, in order to provide the true theory of this society, the traditional categories had to be redefined since they concealed rather than revealed what happened. The theory of society had to be elaborated in its own terms. But the dialectical relation between the structure of thought and that of reality is not merely that of reflection and correspondence. If Hegel consistently transgresses the clearly established distinction between thought and its object, if he talks of “contradictions” (a “logical” term) in the reality, of the “movement” of concepts, of quantity “turning” into quality, he indeed stipulates a specific identity between thought and its object—he assimilates one with the other. But it may be assumed that the wisdom of his critics, who note that Hegel confuses two essentially different realms, was not beyond the reaches of his intelligence and awareness. According to Hegel, the traditional distinction between notion and reality is “abstract” and falsifies and prejudices the real relation. Thought and its object have a common denominator, which, itself “real,” constitutes the substance of thought as well as its object. This common denominator, this structure common to thought and object is the structure of Being as a process comprising Man and Nature, Idea and Reality. The process of Thought, if true, that is to say, if it “comprehends” the reality, if it is the Notion (Begriff) of its object, is the process in which the object constitutes itself, becomes what it is, develops itself. As such this process appears in three different realms of Being: in Nature, in History proper, and in “pure” Thought (Logic). They are essentially different stages of “realization,” essentially different realities. Hegel’s Logic, far from obliterating these differences, is their very elaboration. But their common structure and common Telos (Reason—the realization of the free Subject) establishes for Hegel the supremacy of the Notion, the reality of the Logos. The (true) thought process is in a strict sense an “objective” process. Thus, when Hegel speaks of one notion turning into another he says that the notion, thought through, reveals contents which at first seem alien and even opposed to this notion; thinking only reproduces the movement of the objective reality of which the notion is an essential part. What happens in the thought process is not that one notion is replaced by another one more adequate to the reality, but that the same notion unfolds its original content— a dynamic which is that of the reality comprehended in the notion. The reality has (or rather is) its own Logos and thus its own Logic. This is not just a manner of speech. Since the Greeks first defined the essence of Being as Logos, the idea of the logical essence of reality (and of the reality of logic) has dominated Western thought; the Hegelian dialectic is only its last great development.


The Marxian “subversion” of Hegel’s dialectic remains committed to this idea. The driving forces behind the social process are, not certain conflicts and antagonisms, but contradictions because they constitute the very Logos of the social system from which they arise and which they define. According to Marx, (the Logos of) capitalist society speaks against itself: its economy functions normally only through periodic crises; growing productivity of labor sustains scarcity and toil, increasing wealth perpetuates poverty; progress is dehumanization. Specifically, as Marx claims to show in Capital, it is the free wage contract and the just exchange of equivalents which generate exploitation and inequality; it is the realization of freedom, equality, and justice which turns them into their opposite. [7]

The rationality of the system is self-contradictory: the very laws which govern the system lead to its destruction. These laws originate in the basic societal relations which men enter in reproducing their life: with this materialistic foundation, the Logos is conceived as a concrete historical structure, and the logical dynamic as a concrete historical dynamic.

This brief restatement of some of the basic concepts of dialectic may serve to illustrate the hypostatization it underwent in Soviet Marxism. Here, dialectic is identified with the method and “theory of knowledge” of Marxism, and the latter with the only true scientific “world outlook” of the Communist Party. [8] Marxian theory may perhaps be called a “world outlook,” but as such it claims to validate the abstract-philosophical generalities by their concrete historical content. To be sure, dialectical materialism can be presented as a series of general assumptions, categories, and conclusions— but the general scheme immediately cancels itself, for its categories come to life only in their dialectical use. Consequently, in trying to present dialectic “as such,” Soviet Marxists can do nothing but abstract from the concrete dialectical analysis of the “classics” certain principles, to illustrate them, and to confront them with “undialectical” thought. The principles are those enumerated in Stalin’s “Dialectical and Historical Materialism” which, in turn, are only a paraphrase of Engels’ propositions in his Dialectics of Nature. [9] In terms of Hegel’s and Marx’s dialectic, they are neither true nor false — they are empty shells. Hegel could develop the principles of dialectic in the medium of universality, as a Science of Logic, because to him the structure and movement of Being was that of Thought and attained its Truth in the Absolute Idea; Marxian theory, however, which rejects Hegel’s interpretation of Being in terms of the Idea, can no longer unfold the dialectic as logic: its medium is now the historical reality, and its universality is that of history.

The problem whether or not the Marxian dialectic is applicable to Nature

7 Capital, Vol. I, ch. iv.

8 See the report on the results of the discussion of the problem of logic in Voprosy filosofii, no. 6 (1951).

9 For the “omission” of the “negation of the negation,” see below, p. 355.


must here at least be mentioned because the emphasis on the dialectic of Nature is a distinguishing feature of Soviet Marxism — in contrast to Marx and even to Lenin. If the Marxian dialectic is in its conceptual structure a dialectic of the historical reality, then it includes Nature insofar as the latter is itself part of the historical reality (in the Stoffwechsel between man and Nature, the domination and exploitation of Nature, Nature as ideology, etc.). But precisely insofar as Nature is investigated in abstraction from these historical relations, in the natural sciences, by that very token it seems to lie outside the realm of dialectic. It is no accident that in Engels’ Dialectics of Nature the dialectical concepts appear as mere analogies, figurative and superimposed upon the content—strikingly empty or commonplace compared with the exact concreteness of the dialectical concepts in the economic and socio-historical writings. And it is the Dialectics of Nature which has become the incessantly quoted authentic source for dialectic in Soviet Marxism. Inevitably so, for if “dialectic reigns everywhere,” [10] if dialectical materialism is a “scientific world outlook,” then the dialectical concepts must first and foremost be validated in the most scientific of all sciences—that of Nature. The consequence is a dehistorization of history.

The Soviet Marxist hypostatization of dialectic into a universal scientific world outlook entails the division of Marxian theory into dialectical and historical materialism, the latter being the “extension” and “application” of the former to the “study of society and its history.” [11] The division would be meaningless to Marx, for whom dialectical materialism was throughout historical materialism. In Soviet Marxism, historical materialism becomes one particular branch of the general scientific and philosophical system of Marxism which —codified into an ideology and interpreted by the officials of the Party—justifies policy and practice.

The significance of this transformation for the Soviet state is so obvious that some important implications are generally overlooked. The dimension of History which, in Marxian theory, is the determining and validating dimension of dialectic, is, in Soviet Marxism, a special field in which supra-historical laws assert themselves. The latter, arranged into a universal system of propositions, become the ultimately determining forces in History as well as Nature. The dialectical process thus interpreted is no longer in a strict sense a historical process—rather is History reified into a second Nature. Soviet developments thereby obtain the dignity of the objective natural laws by which they are allegedly governed and which, if correctly understood and taken into consciousness, will eventually right all wrongs and lead to final victory over the opposing forces. If there is anything which strikingly distinguishes Soviet Marxism from previous Marxian theory, it is—apart from

10 K. S. Bakradze, “On the Relation Between Logic and Dialectic,” Voprosy filosofii, no. 2 (1950).

11 Stalin, “Dialectical and Historical Materialism,” History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: Short Course (New York, 1939), p. 105.


the codification of Marxian theory into an ideology— the interpretation of socio-historical processes in terms of objective determinism. For example, in Rozental’s Marksistskii dialekticheskii metod (Marxist Dialectical Method), the capitalistic development, the transition to socialism, and the subsequent development of Soviet society through its various phases are presented as the unfolding of a system of objective forces that could not have unfolded otherwise. Stalin’s emphasis on the superstructure as a “powerful active force” which helps the base to assume its adequate form [12] does not contradict this trend. Not only is the activity of the superstructure itself derived from the base, but two years later Stalin insists that the “laws of political economy under socialism are objective laws . . . which proceed irrespective of our will,” and that the state can “rely” on them and utilize them consciously and according to plan, but not abolish or even change them. [13] To be sure, strong and constant emphasis is placed on the guiding role of the state and of the Communist Party and its leadership, which holds the monopoly of interpreting and formulating the dialectical laws, and on the patriotic heroism of the Soviet people, but their action and success are made possible only by their understanding of and obedience to the laws of dialectic. At a first glance, this seems to be “orthodox Marx.” Marx and Engels maintained throughout that the historical process is governed by objective laws, operating with the inexorable force of the laws of nature. However, as objective laws, they remain historical laws, laws of history; they express the dialectical relation between man and nature, freedom and necessity. The objectivity of these laws preserves the “subjective factor”: they contain the Subject as conscious agent— not merely as the obedient servant and executor of the laws, but as the medium through whose actions and thoughts alone the his¬ torical laws become laws. Marx’s statement that “man himself is the basis of his material as well as of any other production” [14] is more than an incidental remark; it proclaims indeed the first principle of the materialistic interpretation of history, which begins to take shape in formulations like these:

Man has only to learn to know himself, to measure all existential conditions against himself, to judge them according to his own essence, to organize his world in a truly humane manner, in conformity with the demands of his nature —and he will have solved the riddle of our time ... We see in history, not the revelation of God, but of man, and of man only . . , [15]

Nor are these formulations characteristic only for the early period in the development of Marx and Engels. [18] If, after 1848, and especially in Capital,

12 “Marksizm i voprosy iazykoznaniia.”

13 “Economic Problems . . . ,” ref. 5, p. 2.

14 Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert, ed. Kautsky (Stuttgart, 1910), I, 388.

15 Engels, “Die Lage Englands, 1844,” Marx/Engels Gesamtausgabe, ed. Marx-Engels Institute (Moscow, 1930), II, Part I, 427-428.

16 For a discussion of this problem, see Leonard Krieger, “Marx and Engels as Historians,” Journal of History of Ideas, XIV, no. 3 (June 1953) 396ff.


the subjective factor seems to be completely absorbed by the determining objective factors, this shift in emphasis and weight is caused by the concentration of Marxian theory on the “critique of the political economy” of capitalism. It is one of the main propositions of this critique that the economic laws of capitalism assert themselves “behind the back” of the individuals. The blind supremacy of the objective factors, the victimization of the Subject appears to Marx as the result of “man’s enslavement under the means of his labor.” But the reestablishment of the Subject remains the aim.

In contrast, Soviet Marxism subjugates the subjective to the objective factors in a manner which transforms the dialectical into a mechanistic process. Characteristic is the interpretation of the relation between necessity and freedom: it is the key problem in the Hegelian as well as Marxian dialectic, and we have seen that it is also a key problem in the idea of socialism itself. Soviet Marxism defines, freedom as “recognized necessity.” [17] The formula follows Engels’ restatement of Hegel’s definition according to which freedom is “insight into necessity.” [18] But for Hegel, freedom is not merely “insight” into necessity, but comprehended (begriffene) necessity. As such, necessity is realized and cancelled (aufgehoben) in freedom. Mere “insight” can never change necessity into freedom; Hegel’s “comprehended” necessity is “not merely the freedom of abstract negation, but rather concrete and positive freedom” — only thus is it the “truth” of necessity. The transition from necessity to freedom is that into a fundamentally different dimension of Being, and Hegel calls it the “hardest” of all dialectical transitions. [19]

Soviet Marxism minimizes this transition and assimilates freedom to necessity— in ideology as well as in reality. This assimilation is expressed in the Soviet Marxist interpretation of dialectical change, that is, of the socio-historical development from one stage to another. The interpretation itself adheres to the inherited theoretical conception. The Marxian dialectic stipulates that the contradictions which determine the structure and course of a social system change with a change of the system. Soviet Marxism correlates “antagonistic contradictions” (“conflicts”) to class societies, and “nonantagonistic contradictions” to classless and socialist societies. The former are irreconcilable and can be “resolved” only through explosion; the latter are susceptible to gradual solution through “scientific” social and political control. [20] But in both cases the contradictions tend toward a qualitative change of the social system— only on the basis of a classless society is the turn from quantity to quality “nonexplosive.”

17 For example, M. D. Kammeri, in Voprosy filosofii, no. 6 (1952).

18 Anti-Dühring, Part I, ch. xi.

19 Encyclopedie . . . , Vol. I, pars. 158-159. Science of Logic, Book I, sec. iii, ch. iii, C.

20 See in addition to the references above, M. M. Rozental’, Marksistskii dialekticheskii metod (Moscow, 1951), pp. 283ff.; S. P. Dudel, “K voprosu o edinstve i bor’be protivopolozhnosti kak vnutrennem soderzhanii protsessa razvitiia,” Voprosy dialekticheskogo materializma (Moscow, 1951), pp. 73ff.


The elimination of “explosions” from the dialectical development is inherent in the Marxian conception itself. According to Marx, the “catastrophic” character of the transition from quantity to quality belongs to the realm of blindly operating, uncontrolled socio-economic forces; with the establishment of socialism, these forces come under the rational control of society as a whole, which self-consciously regulates its struggle with nature and with its own contradictions. Moreover, the change in the mode of transition from one stage to another is already stipulated in Hegel’s system: once the level of free and self-conscious rationality has been reached (“Being-in- and-for-itself”), such rationality also governs the further transitions at this level. Similarly, Marx applied the notion of the “negation of the negation” specifically to the capitalist development. It is the “capitalist production” which, with the necessity of a “law of nature,” engenders its own negation: socialism is this “negation of the negation.” [21] Soviet Marxism claims that the Bolshevik Revolution has created a qualitatively new base— the base for socialism. Consequently, Stalin drops the “law of the negation of the negation” from his table of dialectical laws. Moreover, according to Soviet Marxism, the socialist base renders possible, within the framework of the central plan, a constant and conscious adjustment of production relations to the growth of the productive forces. Even the basic contradiction becomes amenable to control. The treatment of the dialectic merely reflects these fundamental propositions. The Soviet Marxist “revision” is “orthodox.” Since Soviet Marxists maintain that Soviet society is a socialist society, they consistently invest it with the corresponding dialectical characteristics. What is involved is not a revision of dialectic, but the claim of socialism for a nonsocialist society. Dialectic itself, in the transmitted orthodox form, is used for substantiating this claim.

All this seems to confirm that the Soviet Marxist treatment of dialectic just serves to protect and justify the established regime by eliminating or minimizing all those elements of the Marxian dialectic which would indicate a continuation of the socio-historical development beyond this regime — toward a qualitatively different future. In other words, Soviet Marxism would represent the “arresting” of dialectic in the interest of the prevailing state of affairs— the ideology would follow the arresting of socialism in reality. However, the situation is more complicated. Neither the Soviet ideology nor its application are immune to the objective historical dynamic which the regime claims as its supreme law and basis. Even the most centralized and totalitarian plan remains subject to this dynamic, which, to a great extent, operates outside the reaches of the planning powers. It appears that the international development after the Second World War, especially the internal stability and the intercontinental integration of the Western world, drives the Soviet Union toward a general reorientation which calls for inten-

11 Capital, Vol. I, ch. xxiv.


sifted efforts to solve the “internal contradictions” in order to break the stalemate in the field of the “external contradictions.” [22] In Soviet Marxist language, the internal contradictions derive from the still persisting lag of the production relations behind the productive forces, [23] and the gradual correction of this lag is to be undertaken by measures for preparing the “transition to Communism.” This trend would also lead to changes in the “superstructure.” In line with the assimilation of the ideology to the reality, the trend would not only be noticeable but perhaps even anticipated in the ideology. Recent developments in the Soviet Marxist treatment of dialectic seem to corroborate this assumption. It appears that ideological preparations are being made for increasing the flexibility of the regime — ideological preparations which would parallel a new adjustment of production relations and consumption standards to the growing productive capacity, and a corresponding adjustment of international strategy.

This trend seems to be reflected precisely in that Soviet Marxist position which appears as a defense against the application of dialectical logic to the present state of affairs—namely, the reinstatement of Formal Logic. The recent discussion of the relation between Formal and Dialectical Logic was linked throughout with Stalin’s “Marxism and Linguistic Problems.” There Stalin had pointed out that it is “un-Marxist” and incorrect to talk of the “class conditioning” of language and to envisage a specifically “socialist language.” He had maintained that language “differs in principle” from a “superstructure” in that it does not change with the basis but outlives this or that basis: it is created by and “serves,” not certain classes, but society as a whole over the course of centuries. By the same token, Soviet Marxism now holds, it is incorrect to treat Formal Logic as “class conditioned” and to envisage a specific “Soviet Logic” corresponding to the new basis of Soviet society. [24] The report on the results of the discussion on Logic sums up: “the logical forms and laws of thought are no superstructure over and above the basis . . .” “Formal Logic is the science of the elementary laws and form of correct thinking.” “There are no two Formal Logics: an old, metaphysical, and a new, dialectical Logic . . . There is only one Formal Logic, which is universally valid . . .” [25] Dialectical Logic does not deny, cancel, or contradict the validity of Formal Logic; the former belongs to a different dimension of knowledge and is related to the latter like higher to elementary mathematics.

We are not concerned here with the course and conclusions of the discus-

22 I have tried to develop this thesis in my study on Soviet Marxism. For the distinction between internal and external contradictions, see Stalin’s K ilogam rabot XIV konferentsii RKP(b). Doklad aktivu moskovskoi organizatsii RKP(b), 9 maia 1925 g. (Moscow, 1933).

23 Stalin, “Economic Problems . . . ,” ref. 5, p. 14.

24 V. I. Cherkesov, in Voprosy filosofii, no. 2 (1950).

25 Voprosy filosofii, no. 6 (1951).


sion. [26] Significantly, the changing trend announces itself in a return to Marxian orthodoxy after the Leftist “Marrist deviations.” In terms of Marxian theory, neither language nor logic as such belong to the superstructure: they rather belong to the preconditions of the basic societal relationships themselves: as instruments of communication and knowledge, they are indispensable for establishing and sustaining these relationships. Only certain manifestations of language and thought are superstructure, for example, in art, philosophy, religion. Following the Marxian conception, the Soviet discussion distinguished between Logic itself and the sciences of Logic: as a specific interpretation of Logic, some of the latter must be classified as ideological. [27] But neither the Hegelian nor the Marxian dialectic denied the validity of Formal Logic: they rather preserved and validated its truth by unfolding its content in the dialectical conception which reveals the necessary abstractness of “common” as well as “scientific” sense.

Compared with this tradition of dialectic, “Marrist” linguistics and logic must indeed appear as a gross “Leftist deviation,” as an “infantile disease” of Communism in its age of immaturity. [28] It seems to be an ideological by-product of the first phase of the Stalinist construction of socialism in one country. The violent struggle to overcome the technological and industrial backwardness of the country, imposed by terror upon a largely passive and even hostile population, found its ideological compensation in the various doctrines of the uniqueness and superiority of Soviet man, deriving from his “possession” of Marxism as the only true and progressive “world outlook.” But Marxian theory is in its very substance international: within its framework, nationalism is progressive only as a stage in the historical process— a stage which, according to Marx and Engels, had already been surpassed by the advanced Western World; Soviet Marxism never succeeded in reconciling the contradiction between its own nationalism and Marxian internationalism either in its strategy or in its ideology, as is demonstrated by the painful distinctions between “bourgeois cosmopolitanism” and genuine internationalism, between chauvinism and “Soviet patriotism.” Moreover, the emphasis on a special Soviet mentality, logic, linguistics, etc. was bound to impair the appeal to the international solidarity in the ultimate revolutionary objective which neither the doctrine of socialism nor of Communism in one country could altogether discard. The “Marrist” theories may have fulfilled a useful function in the “magical” utilization of Marxian theory, but with the technological and industrial progress of Soviet society, with the growing political and strategic power of the Soviet state, they came into conflict with the more fundamental objectives. As Soviet policy began to be oriented to the

20 They are summarized in Voprosy filosofii, ibid., and in Gustav Wetter, Der Dialektische Materialismus (Vienna, 1952), pp. 544ff.

21 I. I. Osmakov, in Voprosy filosofii, no. 3 (1950).

22 We are here concerned only with the Stalinist evaluation of Marr’s doctrine—not with this doctrine itself.


transition to Communism, the Marxist doctrines had to give way to more “communist,” more universal and internationalist conceptions. Far from signifying the “arrest” of dialectic in the interest of the stabilization of the attained level of development, the recent reiteration of the common human function and content of language and logic seems to be designed to bring the ideology in line with the drive toward the “next higher stage” of the development, that is (in Soviet terms), the second phase of socialism, or (in more realistic terms) the intensified effort to improve living conditions in the Soviet Union and to stabilize the international situation.

SOURCE: Marcuse, Herbert. “Dialectic and Logic Since the War,” in Continuity and Change in Russian and Soviet Thought, edited by Ernest J. Simmons (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955), pp. 347-358.

Other treatments of dialectics by Marcuse:

“Zum Problem der Dialektik I,” Die Gesellschaft, 7:1 (1930): 15-30; translated by Morton Schoolman as “On the Problem of the Dialectic,” Telos, 27 (Spring 1976): 12-24.

“Zum Problem der Dialektik II,” Die Gesellschaft, 8:2 (1931): 541-557; translated by Duncan Smith as “On the Problem of the Dialectic,” Telos, 27 (Spring 1976): 24-39.

Hegel’s Ontology and Theory of Historicity [1932], translated by Seyla Benhabib. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987.

Reason and Revolution: An Introduction to the Dialectical Thinking of Hegel and Marx [1941] with a new preface by the author and “A Note on Dialectic.” Boston: Beacon Press, 1960.

“Zum Begriff der Negation in der Dialektik,” Filosoficky casopis, 15, no. 3 (1967): 375-379. Translated by Karl Bogere as “The concept of Negation in the Dialectic,” Telos, 8 (Summer 1971): 130-132.

“The History of Dialectics,” part of the entry on “Dialectics” in Marxism, Communism and Western Society: A Comparative Encyclopaedia. Volume 2: Class, Class Struggle - Disproportions; edited by C[laus] D[ieter] Kernig (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), pp. 132–152. See excerpt on this site: Herbert Marcuse on the dialectic of Hegel & of Marx, pp. 142-152.

The Dunayevskaya-Marcuse-Fromm Correspondence, 1954-1978: Dialogues on Hegel, Marx, and Critical Theory, edited by Kevin B. Anderson, Russell Rockwell. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. Includes debate on dialectics and Hegel.

Other texts:

Marcuse, Herbert. Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

Marx, Karl. Texts on Method, translated and edited by Terrell Carver. New York: Barnes & Noble Books; Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1975. Includes Introduction (1857) to the Grundrisse; Notes (1879-80) on Adolph Wagner; with notes and commentary.

On this site:

Herbert Marcuse on the dialectic of Hegel & of Marx
by Herbert Marcuse

Ushenko (Logic), Frye & Levi (Logic), Wood (Knowledge) reviewed
by Herbert Marcuse

Marx & Engels on the Science of History

Karl Marx on commonsense, unity, & distinction

Marx on good & bad abstraction in political economy

Marx’s mirrors

Marx & Engels on elliptical motion & dialectical contradiction

V.I. Lenin: Their Abstraction & Ours

Louis Althusser on Hegel’s Expressive Totality

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right
(1843, the full originally unpublished ms)
by Karl Marx

Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General
from Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
(on Hegel’s uncritical positivism & idealism)

The Mystery of Speculative Construction (by Marx)
in The Holy Family by Marx & Engels (1845)

“Criticism” and Feuerbach (by Engels)
in The Holy Family by Marx & Engels (1845)
(on ‘History’)

Chapter 3: Saint Max: The Old Testament: Man: 4. The Moderns
in The German Ideology (1845-6) by Marx & Engels
(on Stirner’s degraded speculative philosophy of history)

The Method
in The Poverty of Philosophy (1847)
by Karl Marx

The method of political economy (1857)
by Karl Marx

Marx to Lasalle, in Berlin, 16 January, 1861
(on Darwin & teleology)

Notes on Wagner
by Karl Marx

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