Dialectical materialism and Soviet science in the 1920s and 1930s

Daniel Todes, Nikolai Krementsov

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

With the Bolshevik coup in October 1917 and victory in the Civil War four years later, the philosophy underlying Marxism, dialectical materialism, became a cultural resource – not just a philosophy, but also a ruling ideology and language of accommodation to the regime's policies and priorities. State officials, political figures, ideologues, philosophers and scientists all drew upon this cultural resource to pursue their ends – to seek truth, to display loyalty to the regime, to struggle for resources, power or survival. Dialectical materialism itself became a terrain of contention and was constantly redefined as it was incorporated into Soviet culture in the 1920s and 1930s. A non-reductionist materialism that emphasises unceasing historical development and the interplay and mutual transformation of opposites, dialectical materialism provided numerous interpretative moments to those employing it as a philosophy and ample flexibility to those deploying it as a language of struggle, justification and accommodation. Being and consciousness, base and superstructure, material continuity and dialectical discontinuity, necessity and freedom, analysis and synthesis, theory and practice, philosophy and science – all these relationships could be interpreted and deployed in various ways. It is difficult, therefore, to imagine any scientific discovery or line of investigation that would be acceptable in terms of the dominant philosophy in western science – positivism – that could not be interpreted or justified using the lexicon of dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism proved notoriously amenable to varied usages, including penetrating (but often sharply differing) analyses and the justification of the morally unjustifiable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA History of Russian Thought
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages340-367
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780511845598
ISBN (Print)9780521875219
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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