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Philosophical approach expressed through the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and later by Georgy Plekhanov, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, and Joseph Stalin, the official philosophy of communism. Its central tenet, borrowed from Hegelianism, is that all historical growth, change, and development results from the struggle of opposites. (In philosophical terms, a thesis is opposed by its antithesis, which results in a synthesis.) Specifically, it is the class strugglethe struggle between the capitalist and landowning classes, on the one hand, and the proletariat and peasantry, on the otherthat creates the dynamic of history. The laws of historical dialectics are seen to be so powerful that individual leaders are of little historical consequence. Originally conceived as operating primarily in the social, economic, and political realm, the principle was extended in the 20th century to the scientific realm as well, with major effects on Soviet science. Marx and Engels stated their philosophical views mainly in the course of polemics and brief historical studies; there is no systematic exposition of dialectical materialism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on dialectical materialism, visit Britannica.com.