Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Remarks on Books:

A. Deborin.
Dialectical Materialism


Written not earlier than 1909.
Published in part in 1930
in Lenin Miscellany XII.
Published in full for the
first time.
Published according
to the original.

A. Deborin’s article “Dialectical Materialism” is contained in the collection Na Rubezhe, St. Petersburg, 1909.



[39]...As a world outlook, dialectical material-
ism provides an answer—not an absolute one, of

course—to the question of the structure of matter,


of the world; it serves as the basis of a most brilliant
historical theory; on the basis of dialectical ma-

terialism, politics and morality become in a certain
sense exact sciences. Being foreign to all dogmatism,
dialectical materialism—correctly understood, of
course—introduces everywhere a fresh stream of
theoretico—cognitive criticism.

there is no
point in using

[40]...In this article we intend to call the read-
er’s attention only to the theoretico-cognitive
aspect of dialectical materialism, which in this
case does not, as a method, as a guiding principle
of investigation, provide absolute solutions
to problems, but primarily assists in their proper
framing. As a theory of knowledge, dialectical

materialism falls into a formal, or logical, part
and a real, or material, one.


In the case of primeval, primitive cognition,
experience is identical with the object of experience,
and the phenomenon, with being, with the thing-
in-itself. For primitive man, the world of inner
experiences also constitutes the world of things.
He knows no distinction between the internal
and the external world. At a certain stage of
cultural development, this primitive form of
cognition comes into conflict with the social man’s
desire to subdue the forces of nature, with the
new, higher stage of culture. The contrast between
perceptions and things, between the world of inner
experiences and the world of things, becomes more
and more marked as man’s requirements multiply,
experimental evidence grows and accumulates,
and clashes between perceptions and the external
world become more frequent. That is when the
necessity arises for new forms of cognition.

...What we are interested in directly is the
logical process which in modern philosophy has led

to dialectical materialism.— The psychologism


of Hume, Berkeley and others operates chiefly
psychically, in the sensuous world. Sensuous images
are the objects of cognition. The result of the
development of |British empiricism| is, Esse=per-
cipi, i.e., that exists which is given in perception,
and all that is given in perception, has an objective
being, exists.

[41]...Kant understood that genuinely scien-
tific cognition is possible only through the medium
of “mathematical contemplation.” Sense-perception
does not contain the conditions necessary for
universally obligatory cognition. Sensuous images
are not capable of embracing the totality of phenom-
ena to be cognised. And Kant passes from psycholo-

gism to transcendentalism....


[43]...Hegelian philosophy represents the last
and closing link of this chain. We have seen that

Hume, Kant, and Fichte placed the subject above
the object, which they declared to be something

jagged line

inseparable from the subject....

[48]...Categories, i.e., pure universal concepts,
such as time, space, or causality, are, from the

point of view of dialectical materialism, logical
definitions, on the one hand, and real forms of
, on the other....

jagged line

[49]...The limitation of transcendentalism con-
sists in the fact that it does not extend its rights
to the real sphere of things and considers that
categories are merely subjective, and furthermore
a priori, forms of consciousness. Transcendentalism
embraces phenomena in categorical, i.e., logically-
universal forms, making it possible to formulate
strictly mathematical laws of nature, and to give
them a universal character. But transcendentalism,

as also sensualistic phenomenalism, is concerned

listen to him!

only with phenomena. For them, being, things-in-
themselves, are inaccessible....

[50]...Dialectical materialism attains the “abso-
luteness” and universality of cognition by declar-
ing the forms to be universal, objectively real
On this rests the possibility of
mathematical, or “geometrical” if you will, i.e.,
exact, cognition of reality. “Geometrical” space
and “pure time” are universally real perceptions,
and constitute the premise for the “mathematical”
cognition of the sensuous world....

[51]...But at the same time dialectical conscious-
ness shows an ability to rise to the “conception” of
nature as a “whole,” to the conception of the neces-
sity, of the inherency, of the universal order of


[52]...Man cognises to the extent that he acts on,
and he himself is subject to the action of, the external
. Dialectical materialism teaches that man
is impelled to reflect chiefly by the sensations he
experiences as he acts on the external world....
Proceeding from the consideration that it is pos-

sible to dominate nature only by submitting to her,
dialectical materialism calls upon us to coordinate
our activity with the universal laws of nature
with the necessary order of things, with the univer-
sal laws of development of the world....

[53]...Thus Parmenides saw the true essence of
things (“the One”) in that which can be cognised
by thought or reason and which lies behind fluctuat-
ing and mutable phenomena. Thereby, he divorced
sense-perceptions from their basis, the phenomenal

world from the meta-phenomenalistic....


[54]...Whereas for the rationalistic metaphysi-
cists true reality is given in the concept, for the
sensualists the real is that which is given in
sense-perception or perception. That which lies
beyond the senses is inaccessible to cognition.
The objects of cognition are phenomena, which
are raised to the level of absolute reality. The
content of empirical consciousness is changeable
and fluctuating. Phenomenalism denies the
real substratum of qualities
. Given is diversity,
the multiplicity of phenomena, but no unity of

[55]...Kant contrived to combine the phenomen-

alistic doctrine of incognisability of things in and


for themselves with the rationalistic metaphys-

icists’ doctrine of the existence of absolutely real


being, of “things-in-themselves”.

[56]...The French materialists, headed by Hol-
bach, counterposed nature, as the metaphysical
essence of a thing, to its properties. This antithesis

in a certain sense denotes the same dualism as


that between Kant’s “thing-in-itself” and “phe-


[57]...However, we would be unjust to French
materialism if we identified it with Kantianism.

Clumsy to nec
plus ultra![1]

After all, eighteenth-century materialism
recognises the relative cognisability even of the
essence of things

French materialism, taking as its point of

departure the same consideration, that matter
acts on our external senses, admits, however, that
certain properties of things in and for themselves
are cognisable. But French materialism is insuffic-
iently consistent, since it teaches that only certain
properties of things are cognisable, while the
“essence” itself or the “nature” of them is concealed
from us and is not fully cognisable.

This is
a muddle

[58]...Kant borrowed this counterposing of the

properties of the things to their “nature” from the
agnostics, from the sensualistic phenomenalists
(directly from Hume)

big X

In contrast to phenomenalism and sensualism,
materialism regards the impressions which we
receive from things in and for themselves as having

objective significance. Whereas phenomenalism (and

Kantianism) sees no points of contact between the
properties of things and their “nature”, i.e., the
external world, the French materialists emphasise

specifically that things in and for themselves,
at least in part, are cognisable precisely through

the impressions they produce upon us, that the
properties of things are, to a certain extent,


objectively real....

[60]...Dialectical materialism puts material
substance, the real substratum
, at the basis of

being. It has looked upon the world “as a process,
as a substance, which is developing continuously”
(Engels). The metaphysicists’ immutable and
absolute being becomes mutable being. Substantial


reality is recognised to be mutable, and changes and
movements are recognised to be real forms of being.
Dialectical materialism overcomes the dualism of
“being” and “not-being,” the metaphysically
absolute antithesis of the “immanent” to the


“transcendental,” of the properties of things to the
things themselves. On the basis of dialectical
materialism, it becomes possible scientifically
to connect the thing-in-itself with phenomena
and the immanent with the transcendental, and
to surmount the incognisability of things-in-them-
selves, on the one hand, and the “subjectivism”
of qualities, on the other, for “the nature of the
thing,” as Plekhanov observes with very good
reason, manifests itself precisely in its prop-
erties.” It is the impressions which we receive
from things in and for themselves that enable us
to judge of the properties of things in and
for themselves
, of objectively real being....

[60-61]...The “immanent” acquires an objective-

ly real character; the “transcendental,” which
lies beyond phenomena in the sphere of the “in-
cognisable,” is transformed from a mysterious
essence that is inaccessible to our senses into
an “immanent” content of our consciousness, into
object of sensuous perception. The “immanent”
becomes “transcendental” insofar as it acquires
objectively real significance
, insofar as it makes

Correct truths
are outlined
in a diaboli-
cally preten-
tious, abtruse

it possible to judge of the properties of things
by impressions; the “transcendental” becomes
“immanent” insofar as it is declared to lie in the
sphere of the cognisable, even though beyond the
subject. Beltov expresses himself in the same sense.

form. Why
did Engels
not write such

“According to this theory,” he says, “nature is
primarily a totality of phenomena. But since
things-in-themselves are a necessary condition for
phenomena, or, in other words, since phenomena
are caused by the action of the object on the sub-
ject, we are compelled to admit that the laws of
nature have not only subjective, but also objective
significance, i.e., that the mutual relations of
ideas in the subject correspond, when man is not
in error, to the mutual relations of things outside
[2] This answers in the only correct and scientific
form the question of the mutual relations of phe-
nomena and things-in-themselves—that most im-
portant question of cognition, over which Kant,
the metaphysicists and the phenomenalists racked
their brains so much....

[62]...The unity of being and not-being is be-

coming, dialectics teaches. Put into concrete ma-
terialist language, this thesis implies that at the
basis of all that exists is substance, matter, which


is developing continuously....

[64]...Hence the body does not consist only in its
perceptibility, as the sensualistic |||phenomenal-

ists||| believe, but exists quite independently of our
, exists “for itself,” as a “subject.”

But while the body exists |independently| of our
perceptions, our perceptions, on the other hand,
fully depend on the body acting on us. Without the
latter, there are no perceptions, no notions, con-
cepts or ideas. Our thinking is determined by
being, i.e., by the impressions we receive from
the external world. That being so, our ideas and
concepts, too, have objectively real significance.

[65]...The body, acting on our senses, is re-
garded as the cause of the action it produces—i.e.,
perception. The phenomenalists dispute the very

possibility of framing the question in this way.
The |immanentists| hold that the external world


is not only inaccessible to perception, but also
inconceivable, even if such a world existed....

[67]...it has to be assumed also that our per-
ceptions, as a result of the action of two factors—
the external world and our “sensuousness”—are

not identical in content as well with the objects
of the external world, which is |
immediately| in-
tuitively|[3] inaccessible to us....



[69]...From the point of view of dialectical ma-
terialism, the thing-in-itself is an object such as
it exists in itself
, and “for itself.” It is in this
sense that Plekhanov defines matter “as the totality
of things-in-themselves, since these things are the
source of our sensations.”[4] This thing-in-itself,
or matter, is not an abstract concept, which lies
behind the concrete properties of things, hut a
concrete” concept. The being of matter is not
divorced from its essence, or, vice versa, its essence
is not divorced from its being

[70]...An object, devoid of all qualities or pro-
perties, cannot even be conceived by us, cannot
exist, cannot have any being. The external world

is ||constructed|| by us out of our perceptions,


on the basis of those impressions evoked in us
by the external world, by things in and for them-
selves.... Between the external and internal world
there exists a certain distinction, and at the same
time a definite similarity
, so that we arrive at the
cognition of the external world through impres-
sions, but they are precisely impressions produced
by objects of the external world. On the strength
of the impressions produced upon us by the action
of an object, we attribute definite properties to

the latter. An impression is the resultant of two
and as such it is inevitably conditioned

by the nature of these two factors and includes
something which constitutes the nature of one
and the other factor, something which is common
to both...

[71]...Only on the basis of dialectical material-
ism, with its recognition of the external world,
is the possibility presented of building a purely
scientific theory of knowledge.
He who rejects
the external world also rejects the cause of our

sensations and arrives at idealism. But the external
world is also the ||principle|| of uniformity
. And

a clumsy,
absurd word!

if, in our perceptions, we are confronted with
a definite, regular connection between them, this
only occurs because the cause of our sensations,
i.e., the external world, constitutes the basis of
this uniform connection

[72]...Without the possibility of provision, it is
impossible scientifically to cognise the phenomena
of nature and human life
. ...But the objects of the
external world are in causal relation not only to
us, but also to one another, i.e., between the
objects of the external world themselves there
exists a definite interaction,
a knowledge of whose
conditions, for its part, makes it possible to foresee
and predict not only the action to be exercised
upon us by objects, but also their objective rela-
tions and actions, which are independent of us,
i.e., the objective properties of things....


[73]...Dialectical materialism by no means
predetermines the question of the structure of
matter in the sense
of an obligatory recognition of
the atomistic or corpuscular theory, or of any

third hypothesis. And if the new theories of the
structure of atoms are triumphant, dialectical
materialism will not only not be confuted but, on

the contrary, will be most brilliantly confirmed.
What, indeed, is the essence of the new trend in
the sphere of natural science
? It is, above all, the
fact that the atom, which physicists used to regard
as immutable and most simple, i.e., an elemen-
tary and indivisible “body,” is found to consist
of still more elementary units or particles.
It is
assumed that the electrons constitute the ultimate
elements of being. But does dialectical materialism

Plekhanov is
silent on this
“new trend,”
does not know
it. Deborin
does not view
it clearly.

assert that the atom is the absolute limit of being?...

[74]...It would be erroneous to think, as our
Machists do, that with the recognition of the
electron theory matter disappears as a reality,
and hence, together with matter, also dialectical
materialism, which considers matter as the sole

reality and the only suitable ||tool|| for systema-
tising experience
.... Whether all atoms consist


of electrons is an undecided question; it is a hypo-
thesis that may not be confirmed. But apart
from this, does the electron theory eliminate
the atom?
It only proves that the atom is relatively
, indivisible and immutable.... But the
atom, as the real substratum, is not eliminated
by the electron theory

[75]...To sum up. From the formal aspect,
dialectical materialism, as we have seen, makes
universally obligatory and objective cognition
possible thanks to the fact that, from its point

of view, the forms of being are also forms of
thinking, that to every change in the objective

world there corresponds a change in the sphere of
perceptions. As for the material aspect, dialectical
materialism proceeds from the recognition of
or the external world or
mailer. “Things-in-themselves” are cognisable. The
unconditional and absolute is rejected by dialecti-
cal materialism. Everything in nature is in the
process of change and motion, which are based on
definite combinations of matter. According to
dialectics, one “form” of being changes into another
through leaps. Modern theories of physics, far from
disproving, fully confirm the correctness of dialec-
tical materialism.



[1] the highest degree.—Ed.

[2] N. Beltoy, Criticism of Our Critics, p. 199.—Lenin

[3] The sign indicates that the words “immediately intuitively” should he transposed.—Ed.

[4] Das Bild dieses Seins auβer dem Denken ist die Materie, das Substrat der Reslität!” L. Feuerbach, Werke, Bd. 2, S. 289.—Lenin


<< Back to the Table of Contents  

Works Index   |   Volume 38 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward forward >