History moves upward in a spiral of negations.
At its root, Marxism, or scientific socialism is a method of understanding change in complex social systems. Change is part of a constant cycle of universal motion. Of particular interest to Marxists is ‘qualitative change’, which we see everywhere: water turns into vapour when it boils, a seed sprouts and is transformed into a plant, Aluminum becomes silicon and silicon becomes phosphorus as their atomic number accumulates. In biology, a caterpillar, a creature specialized for eating turns into a butterfly, a creature specialized for flying and mating.
Marxists contend that at the heart of radical change is contradiction: a duality of forces, interacting from within and without the whole. Called ‘dialectical materialism’ (based on a synthesis of Hegel’s dialectics and Feuerbach’s materialism) it is an idea that is increasingly being validated by science. Evolutionary biologists, such as Richard Lewontin and the late Stephen Jay Gould have employed it in their theories of punctuated equilibrium. Lewontin said:
Dialectical materialism is not, and never has been, a programmatic method for solving particular physical problems. Rather, a dialectical analysis provides an overview and a set of warning signs against particular forms of dogmatism and narrowness of thought. It tells us, “Remember that history may leave an important trace. Remember that being and becoming are dual aspects of nature. Remember that conditions change and that the conditions necessary for the initiation of some process may be destroyed by the process itself. Remember to pay attention to real objects in time and space and not lose them in utterly idealized abstractions. Remember that qualitative effects of context and interaction may be lost when phenomena are isolated.