Wikipedia page on dialectical materialism mentions that some evolutionary biologists used it in their inquiries.

What are other examples of using dialectical materialism outside Marxism?

By "outside Marxism" i mean the use of dialectical materialism by philosophers, natural scientists and social scientists, whether Marxist or non-Marxist, outside Marxist political philosophy.

  • There is a marxist approach in many disciplines - I assume they often use a dialectic there. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 7:51
  • 1
    By "using dialectical materialism outside Marxism" do you mean "using DM outside of political philosophy or political economy?" (Otherwise the question doesn't make much sense.) I'd think that any application of DM might at least be motivated by a marxist background belief…
    – DBK
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 4:09
  • The question is actually confused. DM === marxism unless either of terms is being used idiosyncratically. Do you mean applications of DM outside of Stalinism or something along those lines?
    – virmaior
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 4:00

3 Answers 3


Henri Lefebvre wrote a book Dialectical Materialism to attempt to divorce DM from its vulgarization by Stalinists and official Communist party philosophers and develop it as a form of "logic." I consider this book to be a little too Hegelian and philosophically concerned for it to be in the tradition of Engels' Anti-Duhring and Dialectics of Nature. A more recent book I found, Dialectical Social Sciences in the Age of Complexity by Ian Trevor King, has acid art and a ying-yang on the cover and a photo of the author wearing beads on the back but it is a surprisingly good synopsis of DM and its relevance to the Social Sciences. Lukacs' History and Class Consciousness is a classic in literary analysis and philosophy. David Harvey is not explicitly a theorist of DM but he uses DM principles in his political economy and geography. I would also look at Slavoj Zizek, particularly The Indivisible Remainder, The Parallax View, and Less than Nothing: Hegel in the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism for his heterodox account, although be prepared for a fair amount of Hegelian and Lacanian introjections. (He also has an upcoming book Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism, which should be elucidating). The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism by J.A. Jordan is an older book but it traces the evolution of DM and its influences on French positivism and sociology via Compte and its philosophical revision through Lenin, Stalin, and Plekhanov.

I found several recent articles on my university library's search engine: "Dialectical Materialism and Geography" by M. D. Day and J. M. Wagstaff which is a defense of DM as a "scientific method" that can be used in geography. "The Crisis in Physics: Dialectical Materialism and Quantum Theory" by Andrew Cross which traces the history of DM in the debates arising from of statistical quantum mechanics. "Dialectical Materialism and Nature: An Alternative to Economism and Deep Ecology" by Brett Clark and Richard York uses DM to critique the dominant theoretical paradigms in political ecology. "Common Prescriptions for Psychology Derived from Dialectical Materialism and Chaos Theory" by Albert R. Gilgen is by far the most interesting article I found, it is a reconstruction of a Soviet project to create a psychology that was "consonant" with Marxist-Leninism. The synopsis states:

[the strategies] put forward by Konstantin N. Kornilov in the 1920's and early 1930's are identical to strategies being advanced by contemporary American psychologists who propose that chaos theory and nonlinear metamodeling techniques in general... can be designed for research capable of dealing with the complexities, nonlinearities, self-organizational processes, and abrupt transformations characteristic of human psychological functioning.

Most of the other books and articles on dialectical materialism are far older and are more concerned with its exposition and dissemination rather than original theorizing (I've actually found some old Soviet era logic textbooks which are fascinating but useless).


To look at Marx only as a political philosopher is inadequate. Have a look at Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Marx's idea that the "social being determines consciousness" is the fundament of the most developed soviet psychology school founded by Vygotsky.

To name just one experiment performed by Vygotsky and his disciples: they asked uneducated peasants what's the similarity between a wheel, a plate and the moon and found that they cannot answer, confirming their thesis that the idea of circular things is learned in society rather than built-in in the human mind.

  • The concept of a circular thing that encompasses a wheel, moon and plate - yes; but of course they do notice that each of these objects are seperately circular. What they haven't learnt, surely, is circleness is something that they have in common and is worth bringing up in the context in which they're asked that question. Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 21:31
  • Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is a book written by Engels, not by Marx. Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 19:56
  • It's subtle. Marx was collected source material, but died before he was finished the book. Engels wasn't scientist of such level as Marx, so he can't write such book himself, IMHO.
    – Bulat
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 22:31

I'd like to describe as brief as humanly possible why dialectical materialism was developed by Marx in the 1st place, and then you be the judge whether it's of any use outside Marxism.

Very briefly, the historical view of Marxism goes like this. The development of societies is determined by materialistic base, which includes means of production. Everything else, such as literature and education and religion and laws, is just the superstructure on top of the base. The nature of relationships between classes is determined by their relations to means of production. Whoever owns the means of production has the power.

And here Marxist theory hits the 1st stumbling block: the relation of people to means of production, which is supposed to be the base, is usually determined by laws and customs, which are supposed to be the subservient superstructure. As the following shows, Marxists cannot simply abandon materialistic view of history to correct this.

Marxist programme continues like this: in order to rectify the injustices against the working class, workers need to rise and overthrow capitalists. They would establish "dictatorship of proletariat" under the guidance of the revolutionary leaders. And when revolution completes the revolutionary leaders would voluntarily yield their dictatorship power, and everybody on Earth would live happily ever after.

A reasonable question is why would the revolutionary leaders voluntarily yield their power? (We know now that such things never happened in any of the Communist countries, but that was not known before the revolutions happened.) The Marxist answer to that question is their view of materialism, that asserts that human consciousness is determined by the material state of being, which in turn is determined by the base. With the proposed shift of power the new just base will breed new unselfish humanity, thus making revolutionary leader so benevolent that they would happily yield their dictatorship powers for the benefit of all.

Now we see that for Marxism to have at least appearance of being non-contradictory it need to reconcile extreme materialism (base would breed benevolent men) and its relaxation (base, defined as relationship to means of production, is obviously dependent on the superstructure).

And this is where dialectical materialism comes in. If you shed all the verbiage from it, dialectical materialism boils down to what Orwell called doublethink. Stripped of the bullshit, dialectical materialism really asserts materialistic view on society except those parts of Marxist theory where materialism is untenable. Dialectical in the context of Marxism usually understood as applying "unity of contradictions", or yin-yang-like assertion that one cannot disjoint cause and effect, to the situations where the obvious is in direct contradiction with Marxist theory.

Since dialectical materialism was hand-crafted to dance around the contradictions is Marxist theory, why would it be useful anywhere outside Marxism?

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