MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




Operationalism asserts that the criterion of truth of a proposition is that it is able to be 'tested' by an effective procedure, or finite sequence of definite operations. Thus, operationalism rejects as invalid any concept which is not amenable to testing in this manner, and identifies a concept with its operational definition, rejecting any other content for it.

Operationalism thus draws attention to the practical aspect of knowledge, but true Notions, such as 'social class' or 'value' are barred from theory by Operationalism, which will admit only of those objects immediately given in experience. Operationalism thus remains within the orbit of subjectivism applied one-sidedly.

Further Reading: Hegel's criticism of Kant's view of 'practical ideas'.



Changing one's political position in order to exploit certain circumstances for personal gain.



Hegel wrote: “Opposition; according to which the different is not confronted by any other but by its other.”

Hegel traces the development of the concept of contradiction (the unity of opposites) through Identity, Diversity, Difference, Opposition and Contradiction: two objects are seen to be not simply ‘different’, side by side and ‘indifferent’ to one another, but ‘opposite’, a difference that begs an explanation and thus leads to a contradiction by means of which they both must be explained as determinations of the same. (Difference which does not also contain identity is “ships in different oceans”).

Further Reading: The Doctrine of Essence in the Shorter Logic, Classification and also Opposition (or Essential Difference).


Optimism and Pessimism

“Optimism” was invented by the Jesuits in 1737 to describe Leibniz’s idea that God “optimised” the world (in the mathematical sense of the word “optimise” which Leibniz had clarified with his calculus. This is the idea ridiculed by Voltaire in Candide, about Pangloss, the eternal “optimist,” who believed he lived in “the best of all possible worlds.”) “Optimist” then entered the French language in 1752, and through the French, it entered the English language in 1783.

“Pessimism” was invented by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1794 and “pessimist” was first used in English as the opposite to optimist in 1836. This was the same decade in which communism entered the language and the Chartist movement arose, a time of great pessimism for the bourgeoisie.

Many social theorists believe that the optimistic or pessimistic dispositions are acquired early in life from the general social conditions in which a person grows up, according to whether interactions with strangers are likely to rewarded or betrayed. This disposition can have profound effects on the prospects for progressive politics. Frequently, periods following on historic defeats for the working class, such as the 1870s, after the defeat of the Paris Commune, have proved to be reactionary periods.