Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

—   Mat - Maw   —

In any collective endeavor the best results can be achieved if the various sub-tasks to be done are assigned to, or are taken on by, the most appropriate people. That is to say, it is important to match people’s skills as best we can to the tasks needing to be done.
        It is surprising how often this obvious principle goes unappreciated by managers in capitalist corporations! Since most often they are not workers themselves (and often never have been), bourgeois managers frequently are ignorant of the specific skills that are required to accomplish some task, and are often also ignorant of the different sets of skills that individual workers possess. Thus they tend to view “their” workers as interchangeable parts.
        Unfortunately, this tendency can also exist within revolutionary parties, or at a socialist factory in a revolutionary society. One of the many important reasons we need workers’ participation in management under socialism is to avoid this problem. Similarly, this is one of the important reasons we need to avoid
commandism and arbitrary decision making, without consultation among comrades, within the revolutionary movement.

“A worker-agitator who is at all gifted and ‘promising’ must not be left to work eleven hours a day in a factory. We must arrange that he be maintained by the Party; that he may go underground in good time; that he change the place of his activity, if he is to enlarge his experience, widen his outlook, and be able to hold out for at least a few years in the struggle against the gendarmes. As the spontaneous rise of their movement becomes broader and deeper, the working-class masses promote from their ranks not only an increasing number of talented agitators, but also talented organizers, propagandists, and ‘practical workers’ in the best sense of the term...” —Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?” (1902), chapter 4, section D, LCW 5:472.
        [As Lenin implies here, we must seek out and further develop the skills of our comrades and of the masses, and help them put those skills and capabilities to the best use in promoting the revolution! —Ed.]

Most often the term ‘material interests’ means economic interests, including wages, benefits and economic security. Non-material interests that people have include such things as friendship, rewarding social interactions, love, leisure time activities and pursuits, sports, enjoying good health, etc.

[To be added...]


This is the basic question, and the most fundamental dispute, in the entire history of philosophy. Which is primary and which depends on the other: Matter or mind? For us materialists, the answer is completely obvious: the material world exists independently of anyone’s mental ideas and thoughts of it, and mind and mental phenomena are merely a set of functional characteristics of certain complex organizations of matter (i.e., brains).
        See also:

“The spirit of materialism is intolerable to the idealist!!” —a wonderfully ironic statement by Lenin while speaking specifically of Hegel’s discussion of Democritus, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures on the History of Philosophy” (1915), LCW 38:267.

Teacher: Si Fu, name the basic questions of philosophy.
         “Si Fu: Are things external to us, self-sufficient, independent of us, or are things in us, dependent on us, non-existent without us?
         “Teacher: Which opinion is the correct one?
         “Si Fu: There has been no decision about it....
         “Teacher: Why does the question remain unresolved?
         “Si Fu: The Congress which was to have made the decision took place two hundred years ago at Mi Sang monastery, which lies on the bank of the Yellow River. The question was: Is the Yellow River real or does it exist only in people’s heads? But during the Congress the snow thawed in the mountains and swept away the Mi Sang monastery with all the participants in the Congress. So the proof that things exist externally to us, self-sufficiently, independently of us was not finished....”
         —Bertolt Brecht, Turandot, Scene 4A.

This is a great philosophical work by Lenin which defends and develops scientific materialism. It was written in 1908 and first published in May 1909. Its purpose was to combat various
Kantian, religious and other idealist doctrines which were becoming popular among a certain strata of the Russian revolutionary movement, including among some of the Bolsheviks.
        In the late 19th century, physics entered into a period of crisis with the discovery of radioactivity and other anomalies, and the advent of the earliest quantum-related speculations. Thus some of the materialist assumptions, that most physicists had explicitly or tacitly assumed, came into question, especially by scientists and philosophers who had been strongly influenced by Kant or early forms of positivism. These idealist theories spread beyond physics and philosophy, and led to a resurgence of subjective idealism among intellectuals. It was the intrusion of this trend into the revolutionary movement itself that alarmed Lenin, and moved him to write this book.
        Since at the beginning of the 21st century Kantianism and various other forms of philosophical idealism are once again quite rampant, even among some philosophers who claim to be Marxists or influenced by Marxism, and since these people are misleading many young revolutionaries in the universities, it is all the more important to once again promote the serious study of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.

“The book is the outcome of a prodigious amount of creative scientific research carried out by Lenin during nine months. His main work on the book was carried out in Geneva libraries, but in order to obtain a detailed knowledge of the modern literature of philosophy and natural science he went in May 1908 to London, where he worked for about a month in the library of the British Museum. The list of sources quoted or mentioned by Lenin in his book exceeds 200 titles.
        “In December 1908 Lenin went from Geneva to Paris where he worked until April 1909 on correcting the proofs of his book. He had to agree to tone down some passages of the work so as not to give the tsarist censorship an excuse for prohibiting its publication. It was published in Russia under great difficulties. Lenin insisted on the speedy issue of the book, stressing that ‘not only literary but also serious political obligations’ were involved in its publication.
        “Lenin’s work Materialism and Empirio-criticism played a decisive part in combating the Machist revision of Marxism. It enabled the philosophical ideas of Marxism to spread widely among the mass of party members and helped the party activists and progressive workers to master dialectical and historical materialism.
        “This classical work of Lenin’s has achieved a wide circulation in many countries, and has been published in over 20 languages.” —Note 11, LCW 14 [1968].

“Of this book by Lenin, A. A. Zhdanov wrote that ‘every sentence is like a piercing sword, annihilating an opponent.’ It is a devastating attack against modern idealism, a brilliant defence of the materialist standpoint, and a development of the basic ideas of dialectical materialism in the light of scientific discovery.
        “It was written in 1908 in the period following the defeat of the 1905-7 Revolution in Russia. The reader should consult the History of the C.P.S.U.(B), Chapter IV, Section I, in order to understand the background.
        “It was a time of great difficulty for the revolutionary working class movement in Russia. Reaction was making savage attacks upon the working class, and with this went an ideological offensive against Marxism, which fashionable writers represented as being exploded and ‘out of date.’ This situation affected a group of the party intellectuals. They began to write books and articles claiming to ‘improve’ Marxism and to ‘bring it up to date’ in the light of ‘modern science,’ but in reality attacking its entire theoretical foundations.
        “Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was written against this group. It safeguarded the theoretical treasure of Marxism from the revisionists and renegades. But more than that, it provided a new materialist generalization of everything important and essential acquired by science, and especially the natural sciences, since Engels’ death.
        “The reader unused to philosophical literature will find an initial difficulty in understanding some of the terms used in this book, and the references to various bourgeois philosophers and scientists. The term ‘Empirio-Criticism’ is used to denote a whole sect of modern idealists. Lenin shows that their theories are copied from those of the Anglo-Irish philosopher, George Berkeley (1684-1753), who taught that material things have no real existence and that nothing exists but the sensations in our own minds; from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who taught that we can have no knowledge of ‘things-in-themselves,’ which are mysterious and unknowable; and from the Austrian scientist and philosopher Ernst Mach (1838-1916), who taught that bodies were nothing but ‘complexes of sensations.’ Lenin’s references to and quotations from these philosophers and their modern followers are, however, sufficiently detailed for the reader who follows the argument attentively to understand what it is all about, even without prior knowledge.
        “In Materialism and Empirio-Criticism is contained:
        “1. A devastating exposure of the idealism of the modern ‘philosophy of science’ which pretends that matter existing outside us is an abstraction and that what ‘really’ exists consists of ‘complexes of sensations.’
        “Ridiculing the ‘scientific’ pretensions of this philosophy, Lenin asks:
        “‘Did Nature exist prior to man?’
        “‘Does Man think with the help of the brain?’
        “Science answers ‘Yes’ to both questions; and that means that matter objectively exists independent of and prior to human consciousness and sensation.
        “2. The clear assertion and explanation of the most important features of the materialist conception of nature, in particular—
           The practical test of knowledge;
           The relationship of relative and absolute truth;
           The absolute existence of matter, as the objective reality given to man in his sensations;
           The objective validity of causality and causal laws;
           The objectivity of space and time, as forms of all being.
        “3. The analysis of the crisis in modern physics, which arises from the contradiction between new discoveries and the mechanistic ideas of ‘classical’ physics. Lenin shows how two trends arise in physics, a materialist and an idealist trend. He exposes the sham pretensions of the latter and demonstrates that ‘modern physics is in travail; it is giving birth to dialectical materialism.’
        “4. The demonstration of the partisan character of all philosophy, of the irreconcilability of the struggle of materialism against idealism. Lenin shows that Marxism is materialism, irreconcilably opposed to every form of idealism and of attempted compromise between materialism and idealism.” —Maurice Cornforth, Readers’ Guide to the Marxist Classics (1952), pp. 27-28.


A benefit for working women that is now required of employers in most countries, though the length and amounts of the benefits are very commonly quite inadequate. A few of the most politically backward countries—most notably the U.S.—have no requirement for employers to provide maternity leave at all!


“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” —Albert Einstein, “Geometry and Experience”, Address to the Prussian Academy of Sciences, 1921.

“Logically” this should mean the mathematical development of any form of logic. In practice, in bourgeois society, it usually just means the mathematical development of the various kinds of deductive
logic. It is almost always propounded in axiomatic form, that is, along the same lines as geometry usually is, with axioms, postulates, theorems, proofs, and so forth. As with most of modern mathematics, it can soon become highly abstruse to the point where only specialists can understand the more complex arguments and proofs.

This category includes the various kinds of numbers (natural numbers such as 1, 2, 3...), integers, real numbers (i.e., numbers that can be represented as a ratio or fraction of two integers), complex numbers, vectors, etc., and the various types of geometric shapes (points, lines, planes, triangles, circles, pentagons, cubes, spheres, etc.), and so forth. All of these kinds of entities are
abstractions; that is, they are concepts or ideal figures that have been abstracted out of objects or collections that approximate them in some way in the physical world.
        From pairs of things we have abstracted the concept of the number 2; from trios we have abstracted the number 3; from very tiny specks and motes we have abstracted the concept of a mathematical point; from things in a row or more or less straight scratches and marks we have abstracted the concept of a straight line. Once a stock of such elementary abstractions have been formed we can extend them and combine them. Thus the number 31 can be comprehended even if we have never directly abstracted that particular number from varying collections of 31 items. A regular equilateral 73-sided two-dimensional figure can be contemplated (and recognized to approximate a circle) even if we have never actually seen a close physical approximation of such a figure.
        In the philosophy of mathematics there have been many and continuing disputes about the actual (“ontological”) nature of mathematical objects, along with disputes about the nature of abstractions in general. In what sense can these entities be said to “exist”? Do they form part of “reality”, even though they are not physical things? Such questions arise because people were (and often still are) very confused by the nature of abstraction. As usual in philosophy, the two big camps are materialism and idealism. Mathematical idealism is often termed mathematical Platonism (see entry below).
        We materialists view abstraction as being an important and necessary way for human beings to think about and understand the world, meaning primarily the physical world and human society. Our ability to form abstractions evolved in our species (and to lesser degrees in other animal species on Earth) because this promoted our survival. But we grant that some of the systems of abstractions we have created are so complex, and the interrelationships among the different abstract elements are sometimes so difficult to immediately grasp, that the thorough investigation of these abstract realms often requires a tremendous amount of concentrated thought. This is especially the case in mathematics. This is the “world of abstractions” that mathematicians (and others) often imagine to be on an ontological par with the physical world.
        There are indeed actual logical relationships between mathematical objects, relationships which are not themselves arbitrary or “mere human inventions”, but real relationships that derive from the definitions and logical structure of those systems of abstract mathematical objects. On the one hand, humans did create these abstract mathematical objects in their minds, but the mathematical objects they created have objective characteristics. Other intelligent life somewhere in the universe, which creates those same abstract mathematical objects, will come to the same mathematical conclusions about them as we do—because the same logical relationships will hold between those same abstract elements. We find that the sum of the interior angles of a two-dimensional Euclidean triangle add up to 180 degrees, and so will they.
        The branches of mathematics that we human beings have created are not themselves “part” of the universe (except in the sense that the representations of this mathematics, whether on paper or in our brains, has a physical basis). If you list all the things that exist in the universe, the number 2 will not be among them along with trees and chairs. But on the other hand, the systems of mathematical abstraction do have objective logical relationships within them. The thorough exploration of those objective logical relationships between these abstract mathematical “objects” is what mathematics is all about.

One of a number of related views about the nature of
mathematical “objects” (such as numbers, points, lines, and triangles) and their properties and inter-relationships, which are (or seem to be) along the lines of Platonism in general. That is, ideas about mathematical abstractions which are examples of philosophical idealism.
        Platonists are philosophical idealists, who hold that ideas (rather than matter) are primary in the world. Since mathematics is the exploration of the logical interrelationships between certain sorts of abstractions (relating primarily to quantity and form), and since abstractions are themselves ideas, mathematicians have very often been seduced by Platonism. They often view abstract entities such as numbers and geometric shapes as having an independent existence from the physical world (in addition to physical objects). For example, the great British number theorist G. H. Hardy wrote:

“For me, and I suppose for most mathematicians, there is another reality [besides ‘physical reality’ —SH], which I will call ‘mathematical reality’.... I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover or observe it.” —G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology (Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 123.]

Martin Gardner, the expert on mathematical games, put it this way in explaining why he is an “unashamed Platonist” when it comes to mathematics:

“If all sentient beings in the universe disappeared, there would remain a sense in which mathematical objects and theorems would continue to exist even though there would be no one around to write or talk about them. Huge prime numbers would continue to be prime even if no one had proved them prime.” —Martin Gardner, When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish (2009)]

The idealist flaw in the thinking here is that while prime numbers will still be prime (whether or not anyone has yet proven this for particular numbers), numbers are nevertheless not part of the world in the sense that atoms and planets and people are. Numbers are intellectual abstractions, or mental constructs. And whether a number is prime or not is a matter of a certain type of logical relationship of that number to the other numbers.
        The “worldly existence” of ideas, abstractions, and indeed even numbers and geometric shapes, depends on the prior existence of matter, if only in the form of thinkers who can generate such abstractions in their mind/brain.

MATHEMATICS — And the World
[To be added... ]
        See also:

“Profound study of nature is the most fertile source of mathematical discoveries.” —Joseph Fourier (1768-1830), The Analytic Theory of Heat (1822).

“Mathematicians are only dealing with the structure of reasoning, and they do not really care what they are talking about. They do not even need to know what they are talking about.... But the physicist has meaning to all his phrases.... In physics, you have to have an understanding of the connection of words to the real world.” —Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law.
         [Although there is some truth to these claims about mathematics, especially with regard to the ever more abstract forms of modern mathematics, in the quote below Engels reminds us that mathematics itself got its start in the form of abstractions from the real world. —Ed.]

“But it is not at all true that in pure mathematics the mind deals only with its own creations and imaginations. The concepts of number and figure have not been derived from any source other than the world of reality. The ten fingers on which men learnt to count, that is, to perform the first arithmetical operation, are anything but a free creation of the mind. Counting requires not only objects that can be counted, but also the ability to exclude all properties of the objects considered except their number—and this ability is the product of a long historical development based on experience.... Like all other sciences, mathematics arose out of the needs of men: from the measurement of land and the content of vessels, from the computation of time and from mechanics. But, as in every department of thought, at a certain stage of development the laws, which were abstracted from the real world, become divorced from the real world, and are set up against it as something independent, as laws coming from outside, to which the world has to conform. That is how things happened in society and in the state, and in this way, and not otherwise, pure mathematics was subsequently applied to the world, although it is borrowed from this same world and represents only one part of its forms of interconnection—and it is only just because of this that it can be applied at all.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring (1878), MECW 25:37.

        1. [In materialist philosophy:] All the physical constituents of reality, including matter in the physics sense (see below) and also energy. But this category does not include
mind and mental phenomena, which are special ways of looking at the functioning of certain complex organizations of matter (e.g., brains).

“[T]he sole ‘property’ of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside the mind.” —Lenin, “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” (1908), LCW 14:260-1.

2. [In physics:] The substance from which physical objects are composed; the material substance that is generally considered to occupy space, have mass (“weight”), and which most prominently exists in the form of atoms and their constituent parts (protons, neutrons and electrons). Matter in this sense is now known to be interconvertable with energy, and this is one reason why there needs to be the broader philosophical sense of the term ‘matter’ as well. Within contemporary physics there are several categories of matter, including ordinary matter (of which everyday objects are composed), anti-matter, and the hypothesized dark matter.

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