MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




See: Union .



For dialectics, it is not the distinction or comparison between this and that concept which is essential but the transition from one to the other. The understanding of a contradiction, and unity of opposites, means the understanding of how one becomes the other – the transformation of opposites. Transition is contrasted on the one hand with series in which one thing follows another without mutual relation, and on the other hand with Development in which a concept or thing “absorbs” another into itself, concretises itself.

Further Reading: Hegel in the Science of Logic and particularly on Division of the subject matter of science.


Treaty of Versailles

Signed in June 1919 by the participants of WWI, the treaty drastically reshaped national boundaries greatly increasing the size of the victor nations. The treaty deprived Germany of territory in Europe and its overseas colonies, limited its military strength and necessitated payment of war reparations. The harsh conditions led to incredibly tense class conflict in Germany, giving rise to fascism.



All Hegel’s writing is structured around “triads”. A well-known formulation of the triad is ‘thesis – antithesis – synthesis’, or negation and negation-of-the-negation. The basic triad of the Shorter Logic is Being - Essence - Notion. Hegel would say that the Notion is the unity of Being and Essence, and that Essence is the negation of Being and Notion the truth of Essence, and that the Notion is a return to Being, but mediated rather than immediate. In history, we could say that primitive communism – class society – Communism form a triad in the same way.

Hegel was not the inventor of the 'triad' which was known long before. Even though Hegel is famous for the way he structured his work around triads, much of the Shorter Logic, for instance, deviates markedly from the triadic structure. Also, Hegel never mentions ‘thesis – antithesis – synthesis’ in his writing and every triad in his work is a little different from every other.

In reading Hegel, it is essential to ‘know where you are’ in the triadic structure. The Table of Contents of the Science of Logic and Table of Contents of the Shorter Logic may help keep you oriented. The structure of the documents and sections and sub-sections in the Hegel documents also reflect the major triads of Hegel's structure, so browsing through selecting "next section" and next "sub-section" may also help.

Further Reading: Hegel crediting the “triad” form to Kant. See also Triads.


Tribal Society

Tribal society is the stable social system with a division of labour organised around extended family relations, in which people lived before the rupture into social classes.

“The population is extremely sparse; it is dense only at the tribe’s place of settlement, around which lie in a wide circle first the hunting grounds and then the protective belt of neutral forest, which separates the tribe from others. The division of labour is purely primitive, between the sexes only. The man fights in the wars, goes hunting and fishing, procures the raw materials of food and the tools necessary for doing so. The woman looks after the house and the preparation of food and clothing, cooks, weaves, sews. They are each master in their own sphere: the man in the forest, the woman in the house. Each is owner of the instruments which he or she makes and uses: the man of the weapons, the hunting and fishing implements, the woman of the household gear. The housekeeping is communal among several and often many families. What is made and used in common is common property-the house, the garden, the long-boat. [Origins of the Family, Chapter 9]

“Tribal society” is a description which covers a vast array of societies, from the earliest humans who first stood upright and who have long since disappeared from the Earth, up to the citizens of the early Greek polis before about 600 B.C. and indigenous people in many remote parts of the world today, who maintain herds, live in settled villages and engage in a certain amount of trade.

What characterises tribal society is that there are no social classes; for this reason the earliest stages of tribal society is sometimes referred to as “primitive communism”.

“No soldiers, no gendarmes or police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits – and everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole of the community affected ...; only as an extreme and exceptional measure is blood revenge threatened ... the household is maintained by a number of families in common, and is communistic, the land belongs to the tribe, only the small gardens are allotted provisionally to the households – yet there is no need for even a trace of our complicated administrative apparatus with all its ramifications. The decisions are taken by those concerned, and in most cases everything has been already settled by the custom of centuries. There cannot be any poor or needy – the communal household and the gens know their responsibilities towards the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. All are equal and free – the women included. There is no place yet for slaves, nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes.” [Origins of the Family, Chapter 3]

Tribal society was in all cases governed by a very definite constitution and system of laws (Engels calls it the “Gentile Constitution”) regulating marriage, inheritance, religious observance, dispute resolution, decision-making and so forth. The rights conferred by tribal law, based on relationships of kinship, did not extend to anyone lying outside the tribe, even if they lived and worked on the territory of the tribe. Consequently, if a foreigner came to live in the tribal lands, they were either killed or inducted into the tribal structure by marriage or adoption. Once included in the kinship structure, their role was defined. Production and consumption in tribal society were closely linked, and though there could be no notion of “equality”, nor was there any room for exploitation. Slavery, tribute and wage-labour are unknown, because tribal society had no means of compelling people to work nor any way of providing for their livelihood other than the traditional tribal division of labour.

Tribal society has survived up to the present day in many parts of the world where intercourse with the outside world has been prevented by mountain ranges or other natural barriers. Tribal society has frequently been obliterated by the intervention of outsiders with their guns, their diseases, their greed and their cheap commodities, but on every continent, at a certain stage in its development, tribal society has given birth to class society.

How this transition took place varied from place to place, and is shrouded in the mists of time. We know that in ancient Greece, as a result of trade, there were large numbers of foreigners living in the midst of their society and a money economy developed, leading to a situation where the tribal lands were all mortgaged to money-lenders. The local tribes re-asserted their power by imposing a constitution institutionalised the rights of landowners and made provision for slavery.

While the story doubtless differs in every case, wherever tribal society has given birth to class society out of its own development, it has been the increase in the productivity of labour which is the essential feature responsible for the breakdown of tribal life:

“The increase of production in all branches – cattle-raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts – gave human labour-power the capacity to produce a larger product than was necessary for its maintenance. At the same time it increased the daily amount of work to be done by each member of the gens, household community or single family. It was now desirable to bring in new labour forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves. With its increase of the productivity of labour, and therefore of wealth, and its extension of the field of production, the first great social division of labour was bound, in the general historical conditions prevailing, to bring slavery in its train. From the first great social division of labour arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited.” [Origins of the Family, Chapter 9]

While tribal society is distinguished by harmony with nature and the absence of exploitation, tribal society should not be idealised:

“But we must not forget that this organisation was doomed. It did not go beyond the tribe. The confederacy of tribes already marks the beginning of its collapse, .... Outside the tribe was outside the law. Wherever there was not an explicit treaty of peace, tribe was at war with tribe, and wars were waged with the cruelty which distinguishes man from other animals, and which was only mitigated later by self-interest. The gentile constitution in its best days, as we saw it in America, presupposed an extremely undeveloped state of production and therefore an extremely sparse population over a wide area. Man’s attitude to nature was therefore one of almost complete subjection to a strange incomprehensible power, ...” [Origins of the Family, Chapter 3]

Human history has not unfolded in the same way on every continent, and generalisation is difficult. Anthropology and the study of ancient society was in its infancy in Marx and Engels’ day, however, the next great stage of social development they identified was Slave Society.


Trickle-down Effect

The “trickle-down effect” is a now-discredited theory of distribution which holds that the concentration of wealth in a few hands benefits the poor as the wealth necessarily “trickles down” to them, mainly through employment generated by the demand for personal services and as a result of investments made by the wealthy.

The term “trickle-down effect” was coined by Ronald Reagan in a speech in January 1981 in which he announced huge tax-cuts for the wealthy, the benefits of which he claimed would “trickle-down” to the rest of the population. The theory behind this claim was referred to as “Supply-side Economics”.

The same kind of reasoning was used to justify the sponsoring of wealthy elites in under-developed countries. The employment created by the wealthy, it was thought, would generate employment for the poor. This idea was associated with the concept of a “take-off” level of economic development according to the US economist W W Rostow. On the basis of these concepts, the Kennedy administration ran a foreign aid program as an integral part of the Cold War aimed at lifting poor countries to a level of economic activity from which they would “take-off” on their own and ultimately achieve the same level of prosperity as the imperialist countries.

In most cases, the policy failed, as the benefits of aid was pocketed by a few who never invested it in their own country, but preferred to secure their wealth in US or Swiss banks. Only those countries whch received massive and sustained US aid in order to sustain them as “bulwarks against communism” – Japan, Germany, Korea, Israel and Taiwan – “took-off”.



Trotskyism and Stalinism were both born of the Russian Revolution and matured through the reaction caused by the Soviet Civil War.

Trotskyism began with the premise that the transition to Socialist society lay in the balance of the Russian Revolution, but if the transition was not attended to by the Trotskysts, Socialism would not be achieved. Trotskyism explains this as an inheritance of Lenin's theory of the necessity of the vanguard role of the workers' party, an inheritance Stalinists claim as well. While the Stalinists were working to secure their power of the Soviet state through the suppression of all who opposed them, the Trotskysts sought to replace the Stalinist reigns of government with their own methods of establishing Socialism. See: Platform of the Joint Opposition

The distinguishing characteristic between Trotskyist and Stalinist political theory is based on the events they were born into during these reactionary times. The Stalinists, in control of the Soviet government, became exceedingly pragmatic, throwing out reference to theory or morality with the aim that above all else it was necessary to secure the power of the Soviet state, and as a consequence their power over the Soviet state, at all costs. The Trotskyists on the other hand, occupying a role not as dominate as the Stalinists in the Soviet bureaucracy, focused on Marxist and Socialist theory, claiming at various junctures that the Stalinists were acting directly against these theoretical principles.

From this intrinsic battle much of the sectarianism rampant throughout Marxism in the 20th-century is rooted. The Stalinists labeled Trotskyists as bitterly sectarian, because the Trotskyists would not follow the Stalinist methods of the state and instead constantly beat the snot out of the Stalinists on the most fundamental of theoretical grounds. But while the Stalinists were decrying the Trotskyists as overly theoretical and counter-revolutionaries, the Trotskyists aptly labeled the Stalinists as overly bureaucratic and exceedingly brutal -- Stalinism more and more came into complete control of the Soviet bureaucracy, and increasingly began violently suppressing all dissentors. Though the Trotskyists considered the Soviet state a "workers state", they refused to call it a socialist state until the malignant tumor of the Stalinist bureaucracy was removed.

The two-part solution that Trotskyists saw to remedying the Russian Revolution to a socialist path can firstly be surmised by a "changing of the linen" – replacing the Stalinist bureaucracy with a Trotskyist one. The next necessary step was outlined by the theory of the Permanent Revolution. This stipulated that Socialism could not be achieved in any one nation but only through world wide worker's revolutions, a theory starkly in contrast to the revisionary Stalinist theory of Socialism in One Country, that stated Socialism was possible in a single country.

Along these lines of division in the late 1920s, after the Stalinist suppression of the Trotskyists, the right-wing of the party, and the failures of the Communists in Germany, the Trotskyists moved strongly into the arena of forming a new international, called the Fourth International (as opposed to the Third International created by Lenin and led by the Soviet state). While the Trotskyists continue their internationalist efforts to this day, the Third International was deserted in 1943, with later Stalinist internationalism leaving behind the inherited theoretical aspects which the Trotskyists were so excellent at championing, and instead focused on the direct pragmatic realities of conquering new territories, dominating foreign markets, etc.

The fundamental basis of these deviations between the two children of the Russian Revolution continue to the present. While Stalinist groups of various strips lay claim to having actively led working class revolutions in various countries (the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, N. Korea, etc.), to varying degrees of success, the Trotskyists lay claim to critiquing these revolutions (and others, including the workers revolutions in Mongolia, Cuba, etc) pointing out their theoretical deficiencies. While Stalinists have attempted some basic theoretical work without success, Trotskyists have taken part in some revolutions (the Spanish Civil War), though these also, like the Fourth International, have not achieved success.

Not surprisingly, there are many deviations within Trotskyism, and these deviations run so deep that certain groups of Trotskyists consider other groups of Trotskyists equivalent to Stalinists. Like every other derivative from Marxism, most Trotskyists resent the differing label, refusing to recognize their sect as anything different from Marxism, but they readily label other deviations (including internal ones) as something other than Marxism (i.e. Maoism, Stalinism, Social-Democrats, etc.). Additionally, Trotskyists lay claim to the name Leninism, believing that the theories of Trotsky are more or less synonymous with the theories of Lenin, thus to distinguish between Leninism and Trotskyism is also wrong.

Written by B. Baggins.

See the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism on Line.


True Socialism

"But what we must not forget is that it was precisely these two weaknesses of Feuerbach that "true Socialism", which had been spreading like a plague in educated Germany since 1844, took as its starting-point, putting literary phrases in the place of scientific knowledge, the liberation of mankind by means of "love" in place of the emancipation of the proletariat through the economic transformation of production – in short, losing itself in the nauseous fine writing and ecstasies of love typified by Herr Karl Grun.

Fredrick Engels
End of Classical German Philosophy
Part: I (Hegel)

Further Reading: The Communist Manifesto: Chpt. 3 - "German or 'True' Socialism".


Truman Doctrine

The Truman Doctrine was enunciated in a speech by U.S. President Harry Truman on 12 March 1947 and defined the foreign policy pursued by the U.S. up to the present, casting the U.S. as the “world’s policeman” and marking a break from pre-War “isolationism”.

At a series of Conferences in Teheran, Moscow, Yalta and Potsdam between November 1943 and August 1945, Stalin, Churchill and US Presidents Roosevelt and Truman made an agreement dividing the world between "east" and "west". However Stalin proved unable to deliver his side of the bargain, with many countries such as Yugoslavia and Hungary refusing to accept the right-wing regimes imposed on them under the pact. Ultimately, it was the decision of the Greek Communist Party in October 1946, to defy Stalin and launch a campaign against British troops and US-backed Royalists still holding one-third of the country, that triggered the beginning of the “Cold War”.

In late 1946 US President Harry Truman abruptly terminated aid to the Soviet Union and a policy paper written by George Kennan spelt out the strategy to be followed:

“... we have in Russia today a population which is physically and spiritually tired ... There are limits to the physical and nervous strength of people themselves. These limits are absolute ones and are binding even for the cruellest dictatorship. ... [thus the USSR could be] sensitive to contrary force ... and flexible in its reaction to political realities. [Thus the US should commit itself to] longterm, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies ... [through] the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.”

In his speech of 12 March 1947, Truman posed the policy in terms of the need to provide aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey, but the speech contained the clear implication that Truman was proposing a new global role for the United States. The $400m of aid for Greece was presented as virtually a declaration of war on the Soviet Union.

“It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures ... primarily through economic and financial aid ... But we cannot allow changes in the status quo in violation of the Charter of the United Nations by such methods as coercion, or by such subterfuges as political infiltration. ...

“The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world - and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation”.

The Truman Doctrine had two main elements: (1) providing massive economic and military support to "friendly" governments in every part of the world, while economically isolating the USSR, China and Eastern Europe behind an ‘iron curtain’ (a term coined by Churchill in March 1946), and (2) building a massive arsenal and making all-out covert war against the workers’ movement.

Military force was not enough, and in a speech to Congress on 5 June 1946, US Secretary of State George Marshall proposed an unprecedented program of economic aid to complement the military program:

“The breakdown of the business structure of Europe during the war was complete. ... Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products - principally from America - are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial help or face economic, social and political deterioration of a very grave character.

But, using a carrot and stick philosophy, only those countries which were prepared to line up with the US against the Soviet Union would receive aid.

Marshall Aid was used systematically to pressure governments and voters in countries like Britain, France and Italy into rejecting Communism in exchange for Aid, while Keynesian Economic policies were used to provide welfare and jobs for the workers.

Under the Truman Doctrine, the “isolationist” policies of pre-War US administrations were over, and so was US support for national independence movements which had been a feature of many earlier administrations: U.S. military power was to be combined with U.S. financial power to systematically destroy anti-capitalist, pro-worker movements and install right-wing, dictatorial governments wherever possible.




Truth is usually taken to mean correspondence of an idea to the world outside thought. However, following Hegel, Marxists take truth to be something that may be said of a social formation or social practice itself. The truth of a social practice is always relative, since, as Goethe said: “All that exists deserves to perish” – sooner or later, everything turns out to be false. See Engels' discussion of this in Ludwig Feuerbach, and the End of Classical German Philosophy.

Some philosophical currents believe that the truth of an idea can be established by logical deduction from “clear ideas.” In general, each current has its characteristic criterion of truth: for Rationalism it is Reason; for Empiricism it is Observation and Experiment; Pragmatism makes practice the criterion of truth, but like Empiricism, pragmatism knows only immediate, individual action and misses the cultural and historical content of social practice. If the claim that “practice is the criterion of truth” is to have any content more profound than “the truth of the pudding is in the eating,” then it depends on the notion of truth (as objectively inhering in the object itself) and practice (as social-historical practice, within the totality of a given culture.) If insisted upon too stridently, the claim that “practice is the criterion of truth” simply diminishes the value of philosophical reflection. If “practice is the criterion of truth” pure and simply, then the socialist revolutionary must wait for socialism to discover the truth of his practice, since socialism is the objective of his or her practice.

Ilyenkov shows that Hegel in fact, by insisting on the real, sensuously objective activity of man, solely as a criterion of truth, solely as the verifying authority for thought, betrayed his idealism. Indeed, for Marx, practice is far more than a criterion of truth, it is substance.

Lenin explained that while practice should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge, “the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea completely.”

Further Reading: Theses on Feuerbach and Hegel on true and untrue objects, the Introduction to the Shorter Logic, Analytic & Synthetic Cognition, and Alexander Spirkin’s Dialectical Materialism.