Short Handbook of Communist Ideology



Chapter I



The unshakeable foundation of the whole Marxist‑Leninist doctrinal structure is its philosophic doctrine, dialectical and historical materialism. This philosophic doctrine takes the world as it is and carries out its investigations in accord with the results of progressive science and social practice. Marxist philosophic materialism is the law‑bound result of the century‑long development of scientific knowledge. (13)


Materialist philosophy begins with the recognition of the fact that nature (stars; sun; the earth with its mountains and plains, seas and woods; beasts and men who are gifted with consciousness and the power to think) exists. Supernatural phenomena or forces do not and cannot exist. (15)


The question of the relationship of human consciousness to material being is the basic question of every philosophy . . . Which is basic—nature or thought? According to the answer given this question, philosophers are divided into two large camps. Those who accept a material principle, nature, as fundamental and consider thought or spirit as a property of matter belong to the camp of materialism. On the other hand, those who maintain that thought, spirit, or the idea existed prior to nature, that nature has—in one way or another—been made by and is dependent on a spiritual principle form the camp of idealism. (15)


In Marxist philosophical materialism the concept ‘matter’ is used in its widest sense—to indicate all that which objectively, i.e. independent of consciousness, exists and is reflected in human perceptions. (22) Matter is the philosophic concept for the designation of the objective world. The physical structure of the world and its physical properties are the object of physics. (23) Matter is uncreatable and indestructible. It changes constantly but not even one of its particles can cease to exist. (23)


Motion (change, development) is the eternal and inalienable property of matter. . . . The multiformity of matter bespeaks the multiformity of the forms of its motion. The simplest form of the motion of matter is the mechanical change of place of a body in space. A more complex form of motion is to be found (for example) in thermal processes and the unordered motion of the molecules which make up physical bodies. Science has established that light, electro‑magnetic rays and physical fields are also specific forms of self‑moving matter. The motion of matter also comes to light in the chemical processes of change of state. Life in organic nature, the physiological processes in plants and animals, the development of the species—all these are also specific forms of motion, the universal property of matter. We see an especially complex form of the motion of matter in the social life of man, i.e. the development of material production, commercial life, etc. (25).


The ability to think—which is proper to man—is the product of a lengthy development of the organic world. (29) Consciousness is the product of the activity of the human brain which is bound up with a complex of sense‑organs. Essentially, it is a reflection of the material world. (32)


The greatest historical contribution of materialist philosophy is the fact that it helps man to free himself from superstition. Even in antiquity it had come out against the fear of death, of the gods and of other supernatural forces. Materialist philosophy teaches man not to hope in the other life but to value earthly life and to strive for its amelioration. (18)

Chapter 2



The materialist dialectic is the most profound, universal and contentful doctrine on motion and development. . . . The founders of Marxism . . . understood the dialectic as the doctrine on the universal relations and most general developmental laws of all of reality. (54‑55)


The most universal relation—known to every man and met by him always and everywhere—is that between cause and effect (i.e. ‘causal’ . . .). (58) Recognition of the strict causal determination of all phenomena is, at the same time, recognition of necessity’s reign in the world. (61) Laws are the most perfect expression of necessity in nature and society . . . The law is a deeper, more essential, more constant, and always repeated relation or dependence between phenomena or the different sides of one and the same phenomenon. (62) Among the multifarious phenomena of nature and human society there are also those which do not come to be with necessity out of the law-bound development of the matter concerned or of a given series of events . . . but which could not come to be or come to be in another way. These are accidental phenomena. (63)



The totality of the essential traits or characteristics which distinguish any given thing, is called the quality of the thing or phenomenon. (67) It is only the concept of those distinctive traits which cannot be thought away, of the internal structure of the phenomenon which constitutes its being determined and without which it ceases to exist as such. . . In addition to quality, each thing also has a quantitative side, is marked by specific quantitative indices on which its quality comes to be. (68)


Quantitative changes are more or less gradual and are often hardly noticeable. At first they do not essentially affect the qualitative state of the thing, but in the further accumulation and final analysis they lead to a basic, qualitative change of the thing. One says, ‘quantity changes to quality’ . . . The dialectical transition of quantity to quality is particularly important for the understanding of the processes of development since it explains the coming to be of a new quality without which there is no development. . . . The transition of quantitative changes to basic, qualitative changes and vice versa is a universal developmental law of the dialectic. It appears in all processes of nature, society and thought—wherever the old is replaced by the new. (71).


The transition of a thing from one qualitative state to another, new, state as a result of the accumulation of quantitative changes is a leap in development. The leap is an interruption in the gradual quantitative changes of the thing; it forms a transition to a new quality; it means a sudden switch, a basic change in development. (71‑72)



Now arises the question: what is the motive force and origin of all development? The answering of this question is one of the most important tasks of the dialectic. In answering it, the point of departure is the contradictory character of the whole of reality. (74) Hegel called the coexistence of opposed aspects in one phenomenon a ‘contradiction’ . . . The founders of Marxism, who materialistically reworked the Hegelian dialectic, conserved the expression ‘contradiction’ but gave it another, materialistic sense. Under dialectical contradiction Marxism understands the presence of opposite and mutually exclusive aspects in one phenomenon or in one process; aspects which, however, presuppose each other and which—within the phenomenon in question—can exist only in a reciprocal relationship. (75‑76) As a matter of fact, one discovers in the study of any phenomena in nature, in social relations, or in the spiritual life of man, contradictions, i.e. the collision of opposed aspects or tendencies. (76)


In nature, social life and man’s thought, development takes place in such a way that opposed and mutually exclusive aspects or tendencies come to light in an object; they enter into “battle” which leads to the annihilation of the old and to the appearance of new forms . . . This is the law of development. “Development is a ‘battle’ of opposites”, wrote V. I. Lenin. (77).


In reference to social life it is important to distinguish between antagonistic and nonantagonistic contradictions. Antagonistic contradictions are those between social groups or classes whose basic interests are irreconcilable... Antagonistic contradictions are historically conditioned; they are generated by class‑society and persist as long as this type of society lasts. Non‑antagonistic contradictions. . . are those of a society where the basic interests of the classes, the social groups, coincide. Therefore, the solution of such contradictions comes not through class‑war but through the common efforts of the friendly classes. (79‑80)



The continuous appearance of ever newer forms and the inevitable dissolution of old forms through the new gives evidence of the eternal motion and development of matter. . . Hegel called the dissolution of one form of being by another ‘negation’. . . Marx and Engels conserved the term ‘negation’ and materialistically interpreted it . . . In the Marxist dialectic negation is understood as the dissolution—occurring ordinarily in the process of development—of the old quality by a new one which issues from the old one. (83) Dialectical ‘negation’ does not presuppose the mere annihilation of the old but also the preservation of the more viable elements of earlier stages of development . . .


To the extent that in the process of development only that is ‘negated’ which has become old and all that is healthy and viable is preserved, development is movement forward, a rise from lower to higher, from simple to complex, i.e. progress. Often there appears in the course of this development something like a return to earlier stages when there is repetition in the new forms of certain characteristics of already passed and dissolved forms. Thus, the primitive tribal society in which there was no exploitation was dissolved in the course of history by exploiter‑society. With the transition to socialism the exploitation of man by man will be eliminated . . . (84‑86)


The process of development can be marked by deviations from the progressive line; there are zig‑zags, reverses, periods of extended immobility. However, as history shows, the forward motion prevails in the end over all these temporary deviations and impediments and imposes itself. . . Since the materialist dialectic traces this progressive development of nature, society, and human thought, it arms man with a scientifically established optimism and helps him in the fight for new and higher forms of life and social organization. (86)

Chapter 3



The Marxist theory of knowledge is the reflection theory. This means that it considers knowledge to be the mirroring of objective reality in the human brain. (96) If our perceptions, representations, concepts and, theories correspond to objective reality and correctly reflect it, then we say they are true. (99) At any given moment, the knowledge acquired by science is marked by a certain incompleteness and imperfection . . . The incompleteness and imperfection of human knowledge . . . is usually termed the relativity of human knowledge . . . In our constantly relative knowledge there is an objectively true content which is preserved in the process of knowledge and which serves as basis for the further development of knowledge. This permanent content of relative truths in human knowledge is designated as the true content or simply as absolute truth, (105‑106)


Unlike previous materialism, Marxism includes practice in epistemology, considering it to be the basis and goal of the knowing process and also as criterion for the admissibility of knowledge. (93)


To facilitate classroom use, we have serially numbered the selections in the margin. At the end of each selection the parentheses contain the page reference to the Russian original.


Translator's note: The German word Gesetzmäfligkeit (for the Russian zakonomernost') has, at least in certain contexts, no exact equivalent in English. It designates that order, regularity, or uniformity which is the basis of a law. Thus, the ‘Law of Gravity’ is based on the observation of a certain order or regularity in physical events, e.g. in the fall of objects or parabolic flight of projectiles. Therefore, we have variously translated Gesetzmäfligkeit as ‘order’, ‘regularity’ or ‘uniformity’', as the context and sentence structure demanded. In the case of the cognate adjective, gesetzmäβig, we have in some places used ‘law‑bound’.

Weltanschauung (for mirovozzrenie) has everywhere been given as ‘world-outlook’ or ‘world‑view’ even though this does not carry all the force of the German word.



“The book was written by a group of scholars, Party‑workers and propagandists. The main work was done by: O. V. Kuusinen (Director), Ju. A. Arbatov, A. S. Beljakov, S. L. Vygodskij, A. A. Makarovskij, A. G. Milejkovskij, E. P. Sitkovskij and L. M. Šejdin.

Collaborators on single chapters: K. N. Brutenc, F. M. Burlackij, N. I. Ivanov, I. S. Kon, B. M. Lejbzon, N. V. Matkovskij, Ju. K. Mel'vil', D. E. Mel'nikov, L. A. Mendel'son, C. A. Stepanjan, S. G. Strumilin. Further, some questions were elaborated on the basis of materials provided by: V. F. Asmus, A. N. Kuznecov, B. P. Kuznecov, Ju. N. Semenov, I. S. Smirnov, and P. S. Ceremnyx.

Valuable advice and hints were provided by: for philosophy—Corresponding Member of the AN SSSR [1] A. D. Aleksandrov, Corr. Memb. B. M. Vul, Prof. G. M. Gak, Prof. G. E. Glezerman, Corr. Memb. F. V. Konstantinov, Corr. Memb. X. S. Koštojanc, Prof. M. M. Rozental', Corr. Memb. P. N. Fedoseev; for history of science—Member of the AN SSSR A. N. Nesmejanov; for economy—Corr. Memb. A. A. Arzumanjan, Acad. Memb. E. S. Varga, Prof. L. M. Gatovskij, Corr. Memb. L. A. Leont'ev; for Chapter 25—Corr. Memb. Ju. P. Francev. Useful indications came from other responsible Party and government authorities.”

(From the Foreword, p. 4)

[1] Akademija nauk = Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.


SOURCE: Short Handbook of Communist Ideology (Synposis of the Osnovy markizsma-leninizma with complete index), translated by T. J. Blakeley, edited by Helmut Fleischer. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1965. xiii, 98 p. (Sovietica) This excerpt: pp. 1-5, VIII, XIII.

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

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