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JAILBREAK! An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism

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01 January 2024 63 hits

You're already in jail!

Not a jail with bars, but another kind. Our minds are imprisoned by capitalist ways of thinking. The schools, the cultural outlets like TV, the press, books, music, movies - you name it - bombard us with anti-communism, racism, patriotism, male chauvinism (sexism), and lots of other rotten ideas. Bad as that is, it's not the worst.

The real jail is that the system trains us to think very little, to think superficially, or not to think at all. Capitalist training leads us to a shallow view of what's real, what's affecting our lives, and to make one-sided, very personal and narrow judgments about news events or historical facts. We are not encouraged to understand the fundamentals about how economic systems develop - and how to challenge the capitalist system when it threatens us.

The result: The best of us make too many mistakes. And we don't necessarily learn from our mistakes or those of others. Even when we recognize the evils of capitalist society, we're often not prepared to fight it on a long-term or life-long basis.

Jailbreak! is a short introduction to dialectical materialism - the method used by committed communists to understand reality. It is the way to make clear the reasons and powers behind events we read about in books and newspapers and hear about on TV. And we then use dialectical materialism to figure out what actions to take as communists to change what needs to be changed. We use dialectical materialism again to identify what went right, what went wrong, and what is the next step.

Appearance and Essence

Over thousands of years, many people have learned the hard way that things aren't always as they seem. Appearance is not total reality. Yet, TV, advertising, music, fashion, and other cultural powers train us to focus on the superficial.

To break out of jail we must first learn how to go from the outer appearance to the inner essence of events we are involved in. We must stop taking things at face value.

We can learn to see, for example, that what in going on the Middle East, which appears to be a war on terrorism is, in essence, a fight for oil and imperialist control. The important, underlying truth is that U. S. capitalists are trying to maintain their dominance of the Middle East, and fighting off rival capitalists who want a bigger piece of the pie. Dialectical materialism uses the categories of "appearance" and "essence" to make this crucial distinction, between what is superficial and misleading, and what is the not-so-obvious underlying truth.

Philosophy: The Study of Something Real

Communists recognize that capitalism trains us to be blind to the true social basis of the real world, not to see clearly and be objective. So, a simple definition of philosophy from a communist's point of view is the study of a process in its depth, its inner nature or essence. That is our goal in studying dialectical materialism: To develop an unbiased, objective understanding of the world.

This definition at least picks philosophy out of the clouds and puts it in the real world. Communists learn to use the philosophy of dialectical materialism to understand any process taking place in the real world - from making cars, delivering health care, and educating children to making revolution. We want to understand not the superficial outer facts, but the inner basics.

Laws and Universality

How does the philosophy of dialectical materialism help us understand the essence of things? First, it focuses on change. To really understand any reality, we must study how it changes.

By studying the way many processes develop, we begin to understand that certain things are common to all of them. We begin to see that there are laws governing all developments - not the kind of laws that politicians make up, but laws in the sense of patterns that all processes naturally must follow. When you drop a ball, it goes down, not up. We know this as the law of gravity. When you put fire under water, it boils. By studying many processes throughout history and in our everyday lives, we begin to understand that certain laws are universal; they apply to all processes.

Universal is the crucial word. There is real similarity between boiling water and making a revolution.

Ideas Come from the Real World

We all get ideas. The question is how do we actually get them? Obviously, you are not born with them. Genes or inborn traits do not produce ideas. Correct ideas come out of our own experiences, our friends' and family's experience, what workers around us do or don't do, as well as from those who lived before us and the books that describe their experiences. A scientist can make a breakthrough, but a breakthrough by any one individual comes as a result of the efforts of others, both good and bad, in that field of study. Your ideas do not come simply from what goes on in your head. Your mind must work with material from the real world, a world that exists independently of you. That material comes into people's thinking through practice - practical work in the real world, to change it. The practice of work, sports, class struggle, scientific experiments, war, etc. connects us with the material reality outside ourselves and lets us learn how it works.

Basically all correct ideas come from practice and our attempts to explain practice. The main source of incorrect ideas, however, is the capitalists' attempts to get us to buy wrong points of view, ideas that would help them if they can fool us. Ideas that say "races" exist and are unequal, that capitalism is good for workers, that God wants you to obey the government, etc., would have died out long ago if they weren't mighty useful to capitalists. These lies are their ideology, that is, ideas that they defend because they benefit from them, not because they are true.

Dialectical materialism not only provides tools for exposing and rejecting capitalist ideology, but also is the effective way for oppressed people to search for the truth. In mature capitalism, which is ripe for revolution, the working class vitally benefits from the truth, while capitalists are vitally harmed by it. So, considering who needs truth today and who stands behind efforts to seek it, truth today becomes a weapon for the working class, which helps us break out of the capitalists' jail.

Materialism vs. Idealism

To break out of this jail, we need plans based on sound theory. While theory is very important, a correct theory is not carved in stone, but changes as it is put into practice by taking political action as communists. We must draw lessons from our practice: What succeeded? What failed? Was there a surprise? Could it have been anticipated? Based on these evaluations, theory is corrected and it advances - followed by further practice, further evaluation, and so on. Practice makes perfect, you might say.

This is what it means to be a materialist. The real world comes first, and correct ideas come from practical experience with that reality.

The ruling class pushes a different philosophy: Idealism. This isn't idealism in the moral sense, where it generally means generosity and selflessness. These are the last things on the bosses' minds. What they encourage in schools, cultural institutions or in the media is philosophical idealism. This is the belief that events in the real world are determined primarily by ideas, by the minds of individuals or by supernatural powers. Idealists see ideals or spiritual forces as primary. They claim that ideals like justice, freedom, and reason, or "God's plan" for the universe, dominate material reality and make it conform to those ideals. These false ideas would make revolution impossible.

One of the most important kinds of philosophical idealism is religion, which is one of the bosses' primary weapons to confuse and control our minds. Religious leaders are used to take advantage of people's desire to understand and improve the condition of their lives. They tell us we can control our own destiny through prayer and ritual. They encourage us not to struggle but to use spiritual methods and to focus on personal change, to follow God's laws or "eternal truths" about moral and ethical behavior. These mystical ideas are the core of religion. They encourage respect for the status quo, which means the rich continue to hold power. "Eternal truths" are a way of denying the constant change, which is the real-world truth of dialectical materialism. The promise of change gives us the energy to take matters into our own hands.

Religious leaders are mouthpieces used to convince us to give up struggle in this life and comfort ourselves with the idea of a better "afterlife." Islamic fundamentalists, for instance, say that they want to overthrow "Western" capitalism, but they do not support the alternative that will benefit most people - worker control of society, production, and distribution under communism. Catholic and Protestant leaders mainly ally themselves directly with the wealthiest and most powerful capitalists. Others promote "liberal" offshoots that focus on persuading the poorest believers to turn away from a struggle for real power - communist power - and try instead for a few more crumbs and a more "spiritual" life.

Religion is one of capitalism's ideological weapons. But when the brutal reality of a system run for the profit of a few becomes clear to more and more people and they begin to resist more effectively, bosses are ready to use other weapons to keep things working their way. Fascist terror is, has been, and will always be capitalism's last resort. When the chips are down, cops and troops will try to jail and shoot rebels, and defend the bosses' property, banks, and factories. But this hard line is not their first choice. They try to keep us hooked as long as possible on their ideological drugs.

That is why we must learn how to break out of their jail.

Besides religion, other kinds of idealism also provide powerful ways for capitalism to prevent people from challenging ruling-class domination. Along with many other countries, U. S. capitalism claims to represent the ideals of freedom and democracy. According to the idealist way of thinking, the system should be judged by this ideal, not by the fact that reality shows a political system completely dominated by the rich, who grab the wealth created by the labor of millions of workers and send armies of working-class youths to protect capitalist assets overseas. No matter how much wear and tear the ideal shows, the idealist will tell you to polish it up by electing a "better" or "more intelligent" president and a few more liberal senators. Their bottom line: There is no need to make a revolution because ideals will eventually realize themselves!

The ruling class pushes idealism because it is a way of thinking that they hope will do the impossible. Those now in power want to stop the wheel of history - the inevitable evolutionary process of practice/ideas/practice that is shown to us by dialectical materialism. In today's era, that dialectical process leads to the smashing of capitalism. They want to confuse us about this truth.

The downfall of the old international communist system has given the rulers further ammunition to support their idealist philosophy. Now they can say (and they do) that even if a communist revolution successfully challenges the capitalist ideal, it won't work. But we say we can examine and learn from faulty practice - and do better.

The More Things Change, The More They Change

Despite the cynical and defeatist motto of the ruling class that the more things change the more they stay the same, things do change. When human beings developed, the first kind of society was communalism or primitive communism. Then there were slave societies. That gave way to feudalism, which was conquered by capitalism. Then came socialism in Russia and China, when the working class took power in countries for the first time. Due to the mistaken politics of the Russian and Chinese communists, workers' power did not lead to a communist classless society, but was reversed and returned to capitalism long before the USSR collapsed. But if we learn from these mistakes and failures, and draw the correct lessons from them, they set the stage for communism.

Throughout history society has made fundamental changes in the way it is organized. And technology continually creates new possibilities for society. All these changes are based on the step-by-step accumulated practice of masses of people. This often means that change comes more slowly than we might like.

Who wouldn't like things to move faster in a revolutionary direction? Often fundamental changes take a long time from the viewpoint of one individual. That is why a long-range perspective is crucial. We must be able to combine urgency with patience. With such a perspective, we can see that the Russian Revolution of 1917, the most profound development of the 20th Century, occurred only 85+ years ago. This is just a blink in the eye of history! Previous changes of social systems have taken centuries, even thousands of years. Today the opportunity for our Party for more vigorous practice and for party growth increases as the bosses' system becomes increasingly sick and decadent.

Understanding Limits

All human life and struggle are bounded by limits. People do not live to be 300 years old. We cannot go for weeks without sleep. There are limits at each stage of a process. As we struggle toward communism, our Party must correctly identify the limits to its practice - while constantly working to broaden those limits. There is mortal danger in either recklessly ignoring limits or in snuggling comfortably within those limits.

Our Party line is based on building a mass party - the revolutionary development of millions of workers. But suppose the next Central Committee meeting calls on every party district to take to the streets, capture City Hall and seize political power. You don't like that one? Why? Because such a move would be suicidal. We are too small and our base is still limited. We would call such an action reckless, even though all-out power is one of our long-term (strategic) goals. Tactics that go too far ahead of our base's limited size and development would lead to destruction - to the end of our Party as a part of a process.

Now let's look forward to the time when the Party really has millions of members and tens of millions in its base. The Central Committee then calls on its members and base to go to the polls and elect the editor of Challenge-Desafio president. A bad idea! This parliamentary strategy would also end the process of developing as a revolutionary party. It is too conservative, too timid.

In the mid-1960s, Indonesia had the largest communist party outside the USSR and China, with millions of followers. But its leaders followed a parliamentary line rather than develop workers' understanding of the need for armed struggle. The U.S. and other Western powers built up the Indonesian military and then encouraged the military leaders under General Suharto to slaughter hundreds of thousands of communists and their followers.

Too reckless, too timid - both are dead- ends. These errors have brought about the failure and the decline of many revolutionary groups. That is why we oppose terrorism and why we also attack playing everything safe. But finding the best answer to each reckless-or-timid question requires experience, based on dialectical materialist leadership.

Political Practice Broadens the Party's Limits

The limits of a small party are different from those of a large party. The Party now circulates about 10,000 Challenge-Desafio newspapers. This cannot be the limit forever. It shouldn't be the limit even now. But let's say this is the best we can do at the present. However, continued Challenge-Desafio sales and Party growth will expand the current limits.

Every time we carry out successful political work, our practice changes the limits of what we can do next. That influences the limits of the entire Party. We have to be ever on the alert, scrutinizing, investigating circumstances internal and external to the Party, keeping ourselves rooted in basics, so that we can take advantage of a situation and expand our limits. Sometimes the opportunity can be right under our noses. Often events off the job can be a spark used to widen our work on and off the job in a revolutionary direction.

Imperialist nationalist wars such as World War 1 that started in 1914 and the Vietnam War of the 1960s have historically been the events that sharpen people's sense of the fundamental conflict between their governments and the welfare of the general public. Those are the times when the struggle for communist ideas makes the most progress.

But these great events don't come along often. So we must learn how to take greatest advantage of opportunities as they unfold, such as the dramatic worldwide opposition to the U.S. drive to invade Iraq. And not only the threat of imperialist war. For instance, the notorious neglect by Catholic bishops and archbishops - the shepherds of the church - in caring for the weakest members of their flock, children under attack by predatory priests, has created a major crisis in the church. The disappearance of living-wage jobs, as globalization drives work to the poorest-paid workers around the world, can open workers' eyes to the need for international solidarity. The stock market collapse and revelations of corporate dishonesty in recent years shake the confidence of even the best-paid workers that they can safely provide for themselves and their families and ignore the greed of millionaire corporate thieves who control their conditions of work. And then there are the repeated attacks of the police, racist attacks, attacks on strikers and demonstrators.

Of course, bosses handle these exposures by the "Rotten Apple" theory: Clean out a few bad guys and keep the system. But Party members must be able to analyze on the spot whether the Party has moved quickly and vigorously in unison to draw the real lessons for the masses from each of these developments. Can we expand our limits as a party by reaching out to well-meaning Catholics upset by the split between the church's promises and the reality of its practice? Can we elevate people's hate for the individual cops they face day by day and build an understanding that cops mainly function as capitalism's shock troops, keeping a lid on strikes, protests and rebellions? Can we bring anti-war action to the higher level: anti-capitalism?

Bosses' Ideas and One-Sidedness

The ruling class trains us, with some success, to be one-sided and only focus on part of the big picture. One way of dividing and weakening the working class is to make differences among workers primary. In fact what workers have in common is primary. For example, the bosses push the concept of "race" to brand us and to break us up. The racist bosses say: "Black students and workers are never the equals of whites. Immigrants (unless they are white) are robbing us blind." Thus, other workers and students are supposed to hate blacks or immigrants, rather than bosses, our real enemies.

Bosses also encourage the idea that men and women are vastly different in their outlook, emotions, and values. They use this lie to foster male chauvinism (sexism) and to exploit women workers even more than they exploit men. Then the bosses try to convince women to view their exploitation in a non-class way: Women are pushed to view men, not the ruling class, as their main enemy. To the extent that workers and others go along with rulers' racism and male chauvinism, capitalism rakes in huge profits and the fight-back is split up.

These days the bosses are particularly anxious to push nationalism. They want us to think that workers and bosses have common interests just because they live in the same country or share a language or ethnic background. The media's patriotic frenzy in the aftermath of 9/11 is a perfect example of promoting this idea. The bosses need nationalism and patriotism to recruit soldiers for their oil wars and get the families of those soldiers to accept their killing and being killed in a war for oil. But the U. S. military doesn't fight for workers' interests, only for bosses' profits. The truth is that workers don't have a country, since bosses own them all, and workers of all countries and ethnic backgrounds are truly allies against imperialist wars and the other evils of capitalism.

Reality: Regardless of sex, color or nation, all workers are much more alike than different. When we think objectively about sameness and difference, it is clear that workers' interests as workers are pitted against those of their bosses.

Learning to understand whether sameness or difference is primary is an important part of getting to the essence of things.

Dialectics' First Law is:

Contradiction and the Unity of Opposites

Workers and bosses are locked in class struggle. In reality, this is a fight to the death, whether we recognize it or not. The workers can win only if they destroy the ruling class, its armed power, its state apparatus, its culture, and its philosophy. What do we mean by the unity of opposites when we have a fight to the death like this? Workers and bosses are not united by politics or philosophy, but by the social relationships of capitalism. They are the opposing sides in a battle: Capitalists try to exploit workers, and workers resist. They are locked together - united - in battle.

The unity of opposites is the most important idea of dialectical materialism. It means a unity in which the two sides struggle against and interfere with each other. Opposites which can't be separated, but which struggle against each other, make a dialectical contradiction. This is different from contradiction in the ordinary sense of saying one thing and then saying something else that is inconsistent with it

There are dialectical contradictions in every process, from the attraction and repulsion inside an atom to the conflicting political ideas in the Party. These contradictions make everything change. Opposites, while united in struggle, create change or motion because of that struggle. Finally one side wins out, and a new stage is reached. But struggle never ends, since the new stage will hold a new contradiction.

All material things and conditions are - simultaneously - a unity and a conflict of opposites. The unity represents the thing's ability to persist, to remain recognizable as such a thing during its life, which is temporary. The conflict describes the partial changes always going on within the thing and the eventual destruction of the unity, the end of the thing's temporary life. Unity is temporary, limited. Conflict (struggle) is never-ending, absolute. As Lenin noted (in Philosophical Notebooks): "The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute."

The Party understands the real, objective nature of the class struggle and brings into this struggle the idea that revolution is necessary. The ideas of Marxism-Leninism do not fall from the sky, nor do they arise all by themselves from the class struggle. If they have never heard it before, workers will never wake up one morning saying: "We need the dictatorship of the proletariat. We need to build a new state that serves our interests." Communists bring these ideas to the working class because we know - from scientific study and from practice - that only the working class has the need and the power to do away with capitalism. In this sense we are the fire under the water. The hotter we make it for the bosses, the sooner things will boil up and the revolution will prevail. Class struggle is a contradiction, a struggle between linked opposites.

Resolve Contradictions by Sharpening Them

They way to resolve a contradiction is to intensify it, to make the struggle of the opposite sides stronger. If we want to speed up progress in class struggle, we need to expose the class contradiction and make it more intense by arousing the workers' side. This includes sharpening the contradiction between revolution and the false hopes of reform. Increasing the flame makes the water boil faster, which leads to the creation of steam. Building the Party through increased class struggle leads to revolution.

But things are far more complex than they seem. For example, if we place a flame under a rock, the rock will take far longer than the water to change in composition. You can snap a twig with your fingers, but you can't snap a branch of a tree barehanded. You can break a wooden pencil with your fingers but you may not be able to break a pen that is just as thick.

The Internal is Primary

Contradictions in a struggle are neither all equal nor all the same. Their internal make-up is stronger than their external contradictions. If a chicken sits on a fertilized egg long enough, a chick will hatch. That chicken can sit on a rock forever, and it won't produce a chick. The internal structures of the egg and the rock make the difference; their internal contradictions are primary in determining how they will change and develop. Today, at this stage of the struggle, the ruling class is stronger than our Party. The bosses dominate the working class. We could decide that because the ruling class is too strong, we should give up. Some people do give up, and many more think about it, fall for the idea that you can't fight City Hall.

Another way of giving up is misdirecting your efforts - falling for the trap of the "lesser evil." Instead of attacking the wage/profit system and control of the means of production by capitalist profiteers, people try to make examples of "good" bosses and the "bad apples." Though deep down most of us realize that politicians won't deliver on their promises, we often "give up" by finding some reason to support the least bad or the more "intelligent" candidate, or the candidate who appeals to nationalism or ethnic pride.

We must be convinced that we not only can fight City Hall but must destroy it, because we understand that communism will never be voted in while the ruling class holds power. We struggle to make ourselves stronger so the bosses cannot defeat us or break us. We don't rely on their laws or elections.

While the external pressures from the ruling class are important, these attacks are not primary. The Party will go under only if it is too weak internally to withstand attacks. The Soviet Union went under, but not mainly because of U. S. imperialism. The decline of the international communist movement and ultimately the total collapse of Soviet socialism can be traced ultimately to ideological weaknesses. In the USSR, the Communist Party built a nation vigorous enough to fight off the combined armed forces of Western capitalism during the early days of workers' power and then to achieve victory over Hitler's fascist forces. But the Party also allowed the corrupting influence of money, wages (material incentives), production for the market, nationalism, and special privileges to remain strong. The inevitable result was the revival of capitalist relationships and the growth of a new capitalist class that eventually took over, reversed workers' rule, and restored capitalism in Russia, long before the '90s collapse of the USSR.

Although intense pressures from the outside started immediately after the 1917 revolution in Russia, the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union some 70 years later was due essentially to weaknesses within the old communist movement, and ultimately, to contradictions within socialism itself, as opposed to communism.

Why We Can Win

The question often arises: Can you eventually win when you appear to be in an overwhelmingly adverse position? Well, it was done in Czarist Russia, where a small group of communist and advanced workers overthrew a seemingly powerful enemy. It happened in China under similar circumstances. History has proved it can be done.

We must take the enemy into full account tactically (short-term), but realize our own strategic (long-term) strength. Societies do change, and when they are ripe for change, the people in power cannot prevent it. The internal contradictions of the capitalist system drive it toward war, fascism, and economic and political crises. The strengths of capitalism are temporary and superficial. Its weaknesses run deep and increase over time. Potentially the working class is the most powerful class and the communist PLP can galvanize it to realize this potential in the long run.

Contradiction is Everywhere but Friends are not Enemies

One word of caution. Contradictions arise not only between opposing classes but also among friends. All contradictions have to be intensified in order to resolve them and move to a new set of more advanced contradictions. However, we must use different tactics to struggle with friends than we use to fight the enemy. The goals are different. When comrades struggle with one another, our aim is to reach a higher level of unity. In fighting the bosses we want to sharpen differences in order to smash the enemy and establish workers' power (the dictatorship of the proletariat). In struggling with comrades and friends, we aim to defeat wrong ideas and attitudes. Both kinds of struggle require making the contradictions more intense, but the methods are different because the goals are different.

Determining tactics for our struggles is very difficult and complex. A struggle among comrades when some think of abandoning the dictatorship of the proletariat as a goal of communist revolution should lead to a more intense contradiction than arguing over the choice of a street corner for a Party rally. There are differences and differences. A good deal of judgment must be used to determine the tactics for all internal struggles. Figuring out for example how to sharpen the class struggle and build the Party within the mass movement is complicated.

In the final analysis a Party collective must decide what is the right thing to do. A collective that acts together and tests its ideas in practice will be able to find the truth better than individuals can. The old saying is right: Two heads are better than one.

Capitalist society trains us to believe that what an individual thinks is actually true and that "my" ideas truly explain the real world. In fact, in most cases the real world can be seen more clearly by the many, not the one or the few. Individualism, in the capitalist sense, is negative.

Collective practice and time will eventually determine the best way of doing something. We must evaluate as we practice, and try to come up with the right path to follow.

One final note on contradiction. It used to be thought that inanimate objects had no life or contradictions of their own. The development of inorganic chemistry showed otherwise - chemical compounds break down because of their internal contradictions. Book collectors and libraries have learned that books and paper disintegrate with age, so they preserve them by encasing them in glass. Paper is now treated chemically to last longer.

Even a desk has an inner life - molecules constantly colliding with one another. The desk is vulnerable to the atmosphere, which can influence the rate at which it deteriorates. There are contradictions in everything - no exceptions. Everything changes. When we understand this law of motion, we become more able to do better political work. And we are also better equipped to deal objectively with contradictions in our thoughts and actions.

Dialectics' Second Law:

Quantity Can Turn Into Quality

Suddenly it's spring! Yesterday the branches were bare. Today green leaves are all over. Parents worry that their child is two years old and hasn't yet said a clear word. Suddenly the speechless child starts spouting sentences. You age with your friends and hardly notice changes. Then you go to a class reunion and suddenly realize how old everyone looks.

Get the idea? Often we see only the big change that appears to arrive "out of nowhere." We haven't noticed the earlier small, cumulative changes. It's somewhat the same way in the Party and with making communist revolution.

Just prior to the large anti-Vietnam War movement that developed in the 1960s, the media and "experts" characterized young adults as the Silent Generation. Within a short time, the "silent" ones were marching among the millions against the war. Unless you are very careful, you risk writing off millions of allies and potential members. If you make judgments based on superficial temporary evidence, you can easily miss chances to build the Party. Or, as many have done and continue to do, you may drop out of the Party because you make subjective, wrong estimates of what is possible.

What all these cases have in common is an important relation between two kinds of characteristics that things and processes have. A quantity is property that can be measured in numbers, like temperature, speed, number of Challenge-Desafios sold, etc. One feature of quantities is that when they change, they usually go through intermediate stages. If the temperature falls from 90 degrees at noon to 50 degrees at midnight, it has to go through all the temperatures in between 90 degrees and 50 degrees. So change of quantity doesn’t usually happen in an instant, even if it happens fast. A quality is a property that cannot be measured with numbers — being beautiful, or being green. Change of quality can happen in an instant, without going through intermediate stages. When you heat water, its temperature (a quantity) gradually increases. At a certain temperature bubbles suddenly appear and boiling starts. The change from not boiling (liquid) to boiling (vapor) is a change of quality in the water.

It is a general law of dialectics that persistent change of quantity, either an increase or a decrease, eventually leads to a qualitative change, like the cases mentioned above. If we fail to recognize how quantity changes to quality, we often may under-evaluate our own efforts or the Party’s struggles. Admittedly, the old international communist movement’s defeat has slowed the class struggle everywhere. That’s the real world. We can only draw lessons from the collapse and apply these lessons, positive and negative, in our own work. Becoming discouraged is a poor answer. Like all other processes, class struggle ebbs and flows. Long-run reality favors us. Persistent efforts around the line of our plan — Road to Revolution IV — will sooner or later weaken and smash capitalism.

Sometimes you hear a comrade or friend say: "So I sold another copy of Challenge. So what?" Or you know that is what the person is thinking. On the face of it, this thought is not unreasonable, especially if you have been mis-trained by capitalist ideas. But suppose every comrade and many friends sold just one more copy. This quantitative development might become a qualitative step toward reaching the next crucial goal — a Party actually leading the working class.

For the most part, our present recruitment efforts are too few, given the true potential for party growth. When we do recruit we still do it mostly by ones and twos. But if we don’t recruit more of the ones and twos, we might not reach the stage at which mass recruitment becomes possible.

When you recruit someone, that development is probably a qualitative change in the lives of both you and the new member. In the growth of the Party, however, a single recruitment is only a quantitative change. On the other hand, if you evaluate your recruitment efforts, you will probably note that along the way, certain qualitative developments eventually led the person to join. In other words, there were turning points in your persistent, focused, quantitative efforts–and a new quality resulted.

Dialectical Materialism and a Workers’ Battle Plan:

Socialism Lost, Communism Found

We should always carefully and thoroughly evaluate the many aspects of any process we are involved in. And we should never draw one-sided conclusions.

For example, when our Party published Road to Revolution IV in 1982, some members and friends argued that the old international communist movement had always been rotten.

One essential difference between Road to Revolution IV and the old movement was that we advocate skipping the socialist stage and going directly to communism. However, like the old movement, we advocate workers’ rule — the dictatorship of the proletariat — and the need for mass armed struggle. We understand the crucial role of the working class and other key concepts of earlier Marxism-Leninism. While we are different in many important ways from the old movement, ours is not entirely different. We say that our Party is primarily similar to the old movement, but differs from it in some important ways. We have learned from previous experiences, as well as from our own, that communism should be the essential goal of revolution.

We have tried to learn from the strengths of earlier communists and to discard their weaknesses. This knowledge comes from a combination of practice and evaluation. Things are usually neither all good nor all bad. Snap judgments typically lead to wrong, often dangerous conclusions.

Summarizing the First Two Laws Of Dialectics

We have, very briefly, covered the first two laws of dialectical materialism.

The first is the law of contradiction: The unity of opposites — contradiction — is the motor of change. The second is that quantity changes into quality.

These laws are not the whole story, however. Every time a contradiction is resolved, further contradictions arise. Every single new member that the Party recruits expands the limits of what the Party can do.

New members of the Party intensify the contradictions between the ruling class and us. But new members bring their own contradictions into the Party. Their commitment must always be examined and strengthened, just as comrades must examine themselves regularly. We must combat the new members and continue to overcome the political weaknesses among veteran members. The struggle for communist ideas goes on constantly both within and outside the Party. But we don’t struggle with our friends the same way we struggle with our enemies.

Every time we do something positive as individual members or as a Party, we produce a new quantity, which spurs a qualitative change. The process of building communism is not like a dog running around in circles chasing its own tail; it is a process that moves in a definite direction, but takes a long time. We have to train ourselves to see it that way. Fighting for communism is not for short-term curiosity. It’s not a try-out. It must be a life-long pursuit–just like any other important commitment such as marriage, caring for children, or friendship. If our efforts are to succeed, they must be for the very long haul.

The essence of life is struggle. Nothing happens by itself. The unity and struggle of opposites sets things in motion. Conflict with the class enemy can bring victorious revolution. A different type of conflict with those near and dear can bring positive development.

Our Party has learned many things from the efforts of past revolutionaries. We also learn from one another and from a great deal of experience in the class struggle. We learn virtually everything from other workers, both past and present. The class struggle is our schoolroom and, without being too corny, we say the working class is our teacher.

Was capitalism an advance from feudalism? If nothing else, capitalism created the working class. Capitalist workplaces brought together large groups of workers who had to learn to work together in a somewhat disciplined way. This gave them a better chance to figure out how to fight together in order to improve circumstances. As in other processes, development was highly uneven. You can say this with a vengeance about capitalism.

This unevenness is sharpest in the U. S., one of the most developed capitalist countries. A vast and growing gulf divides the rich from the poor. However, in many parts of the world, capitalism has produced little forward development over the last two centuries. Hundreds of millions of workers lag behind the poorest in the U. S. and the other imperialist nations. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, has impoverished much of the world and left a legacy of violence, conflict and misery.

Dialectics’ Third Law:

Negation of the Negation

Most technology developed under capitalism has some use. But it is still technology for profit. Selling Windows XP makes more profits for fewer individuals than could be made by building homes for workers all over the world living on the streets or in hovels, or by providing them with basic health care. Communists are not going to throw out airplanes, telephones, computers, etc. We will use these devices to increase production and distribute output in an even way. This means that in the qualitative change from capitalism to communism, some things change and some things remain the same. The development of science and technology will remain and continue, but the capitalists and their drive for profits will be gone.

Qualitative change always has this feature: Some aspects of a process disappear and some carry on. Change that has this dual nature is called dialectical negation. Whenever we can, we make sure that what is preserved in a dialectical negation will be what is beneficial for the working class, and what is lost should be lost. This is the approach learned from the experience of the old communist movement. Defeats can happen. What was good can be lost, and what is new can be worse than before. When capitalism goes into crisis and becomes fascism, more and more negations are like this. But if the Party leads correctly, these setbacks will spark stronger working-class struggle.

The bosses would love it if we said: The lesson from the previous revolutionary movements is that they were rotten; nothing good could be learned from them. That is the attitude behind the unrelenting barrage of lies about Stalin, 50 years after his death. (Today’s "official estimates" of Stalin’s "crimes" now exceed those of Hitler, despite the new data from Soviet-era archives that show that these "estimates" are enormously inflated).

The ruling class wants to distort and obscure the important advances made under socialism. They put a lot of effort into controlling what is taught in schools, what is printed in books and newspapers, and what is supported in the arts and popular culture. Their aim is to discourage people from traveling any communist-led road. They want to hide the positive lessons of the Russian revolution. They don’t attack Stalin over and over again to help us get it right next time. Their slogan is: Never again! Our goal is: Learn from the past and go forward to the communist revolution, based on Marxism-Leninism.

The dialectical negation of the old communist movement does not mean the end of the process of working-class revolution. Negations are always followed by other negations, but later negations don’t take us back to the past. History does not run backwards or in a circle. Feudalism was negated by capitalism, and capitalism will be negated by communism, but communism is not feudalism! When a seed grows into a tree that is a negation. When the tree produces a new seed, that is also a negation, but it won’t be exactly the same as the seed that started the process.

This is the law of the negation of the negation: repeated negations don’t take a process back to the past, but each negation leads to a situation with some aspects that are new, even if they resemble situations that happened earlier.

As a result of investigation and practice, our Party, the PLP, is the negation of the negation of past international communism and its defeat. We say: "Workers of the world, unite. Abolish wage slavery." We didn’t invent these goals or the ideas behind them. We got them by studying Marxism-Leninism and the lessons of previous communist struggles.

If you wanted to apply the law of negation of the negation to this booklet, you would read, study, and apply the ideas presented, negating capitalist philosophy in your thinking with the ideas from the pamphlet. After that evaluation, you should negate the pamphlet’s formulations by collectively writing a better one and using it in political work. The only direction to go for communists is forward.

A brief look at the ruling class’s views on death and the hereafter may help us further understand the negation of the negation. Doing the work of the bosses, religious leaders say: "You are here for only 70 or 80 years if you are lucky. For the benefit of your eternal life, be a good person." When these preachers speak of being good, they don’t just mean being nice to your spouse, children or neighbors. Goodness to them is a class question. Good means: Don’t rock the boat. Accept your lot in life. You’re only here for a short time but you are dead forever.

To negate the frightening specter of death, they have invented the dual outlook of Heaven and Hell. If you are "good," you earn eternal bliss. If you do things against the grain, such as fighting militantly for communism, you go to hell and eternal suffering. Put that way, how bad can it be to put up with 70 or 80 years of oppression? The Hereafter endorsed by rabbis, priests and other preachers leads to maintaining hell on earth.

But communists defeat this lie and rise to a higher negation. They accept death as a reality that negates life. And they recognize that what you do on earth is the only opportunity you have to change bad to better. What really negates death and is eternal are the deeds of people, because these actions live on after them. What you do with your life has an impact not only on the present but also on the future, and that future negates the negation of your individual life. In large measure, that future has to do with what we do with our children now.

A striking historical example is Lenin. He has been dead about 80 years, but his deeds, his vision live on. Our Party could never have come into existence without them.

Fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat now means fighting for the needs and aspirations of the working class now and for the future. The time to start fighting for it was yesterday!

Freedom is a Class Issue

At some point in a discussion of dialectics the question often arises: "What is freedom?" One young person in a recent class said that freedom to her meant the absence of responsibility to anyone else. It means doing what you want. This is a common idea. And that idea can mess up your head until you are "in jail" for life — in solitary confinement.

You don’t gain freedom by being a lone wolf, acting out of selfishness. Alone, you are weak. Freedom, in fact, is acting on your class needs. Uniting with others is the first step to power. It is the opposite of selfishness and individualism. Knowing what you and your class need is a big step toward gaining freedom. For that reason, freedom is one thing for the bosses and something altogether different for workers and communists.

The idea that freedom is doing whatever you please, no matter who gets hurt, is the capitalists’ philosophy of freedom, and represents how they actually behave. All ruling-class philosophy, whether it is religion or anything else, works to maintain ruling-class political power. Most college students are forced to study capitalist philosophy, and many know that what they are being taught has little if any relation to the real world they will experience. The ruling class doesn’t want us to realize that the wrong class is in power and should be destroyed along with its state apparatus. The last thing they want us to understand is that workers should hold power through the dictatorship of the proletariat. They want us to believe that the misery of capitalist oppression is built into humanity and is our own fault, that something is wrong with us and not with their system of maximizing profits and exploitation. They need workers to keep producing profits and to fight wars for them. When we swallow their rotten ideas and remain passive or cynical in the face of their crimes, they are free to go on ruling over us.

Without communism the workers are at the mercy of the greedy rulers and their profit system. So, how do you get to communism? The answer is by building the Party, in this case, the PLP. The next step is to fight for communist revolution.

Responsibility to the collective–the Party–is crucial to winning freedom. The rulers want you to be selfish and irresponsible to your class. They would rather see you take dope or swallow mysticism and other philosophical drugs.

The working class can achieve freedom only by joining their party — the PLP — and by fighting for communist revolution around the PLP line.

Read, Study, and Work to Master Dialectics

This pamphlet on dialectics only scratches the surface. It is a starter, an eye-opener. By no means does it cover the entire subject. Using the three laws of dialectics in day-to-day practice and analyzing the successes and failures of our struggles is not easy. Using these ideas to enrich our personal and political lives is an uphill battle. Capitalist culture is very skillful at training us badly.

Dialectics can ultimately loosen the capitalist shackles that keep us in jail. This is a long-range process, but it is do-able. Our Party has made a modest contribution to Marxism-Leninism by placing the study of dialectics at the center of our efforts. Even our still-limited understanding of dialectics has unquestionably played a major role in helping us understand what went wrong in the Soviet Union and China, and to stand tall and not abandon Marxism because of temporary defeats.

We are here to stay.  We have a future.

Marx, Engels, Lenin and others helped advance dialectics. Dialectics is the underlying support of Marxism-Leninism. Ignoring it forces you to fly in the dark. But the old communist movement did not widely study or apply dialectics to its struggle.

Our Party believes that dialectics is not just important or interesting for a handful of high-and-mighty political philosophers. Understanding the laws and applying them is crucial for all active workers. Practice makes perfect.

If it has done nothing else, dialectics has helped our Party develop a long-term outlook: Action for revolution. This is what we are all about.

Passionate revolutionary action can go hand-in-hand with clear thinking. Communists "can, and must, combine the most intense passion in the great revolutionary struggle with the coolest and most sober estimation of the mad ravings of the bourgeoisie." (Lenin)

Lenin also said: "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." But in the struggle against capitalist power, passion must be combined with deep understanding and knowledge, and knowledge must be in command.


Jailbreak! is being distributed to all PLP members. Extra copies are available to be used in study groups and in recruiting friends and fellow workers.

This work is just a beginning. We thank Ira Gollobin, author of the classic work on the subject, 
Dialectical Materialism, for his efforts in winning and teaching us to understand the importance of dialectical materialism.

Begin applying this guideline to your political work more systematically than ever. We urge you to analyze past political struggles–both successful and unsuccessful–in view of your greater understanding of the laws of dialectics. Discuss your observations with others–and write up your experiences and conclusions.

Send your observations on using dialectics in political practice to the address below. And also send in your ideas for revising and improving this booklet–so we can print a new edition with your contributions as soon as possible.