READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 13 ]
Using our editor's blog to further Marxist education seems like a good idea. So here is a famous work of Lenin's that outlines what Marxist philosophy is all about. It's 100 years old this year and we might ask ourselves what is still valid in this classic. Have new philosophic developments in the last 100 years made this work outmoded? I'm going to post some reflections on the book section by section and anyone who wants to read along and comment is welcome to do so. I hope to post weekly updates and Sunday seems the best day to this as it is a free day for me.
CHAPTER THREE: THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE OF DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM AND OF EMPIRIO-CRITICISM. III
SECTION Four: "The 'Principle of the Economy of Thought' and The Principle of 'The Unity of the World'"
This section opens with a discussion of Bazarov, Avenarius and Mach. The idea of 'economy of thought' in nature and in epistemology is one of the reasons that empirio-critics hold SENSATION is all that exists. Why have "sensation" and "matter" if everything can be explained by the first idea?
Lenin says thought is "economical" when it describes reality without using extra terms and entities which really don't exist. He writes, "Human thought is "economical" when it CORRECTLY reflects objective truth, and the criterion of this correctness is practice, experiment and industry."
There is no doubt that Mach and his followers reject the above formulation and subscribe to subjectivist and idealist notions. Lenin cites, in their own words, others who have also come to this conclusion: Richard Honigswald [an Austrian neo-Kantian who was born in Hungary in 1875 and died in New Haven, Connecticut in 1947] said Mach is near to the "Kantian circle of ideas ("Zur Kritik der Machschen Philosophie", 1903), Wundt, whom we have seen before, says Mach is "Kant turned inside out" ( "Systematische Philosophie, 1907), and James Ward [1843-1925 was professor of Mental Philosophy and of Logic at Cambridge] maintains Mach's criterion of simplicity (i.e., economy of thought) "is in the main subjective, not objective "("Naturalism and Agnosticism, 3rd ed.).
Lenin concludes, by saying that those Russians who want to be Marxists and who try to merge empirio-criticism into Marxism are "simply ludicrous."
Lenin next turns to the idea of "the unity of the world." Duhring had said the reason the world appears to be unified (we have one world after all) is due to the unity of thought-- viz., it is a deduction from the unity of thought. Engels says in "Anti-Duhring" that, "The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science."
Is this clear enough? Not for the likes of Yushkevich who says of this quote, "First of all it is not clear what it is meant here by the assertion that 'the unity of the world consists in its materiality.'"
Lenin is quite frustrated by this and wonders why Yushkevich calls himself a Marxist if the most elementary propositions of Marxism (viz., the objective and materialist basis of reality) are " 'not clear' to him."
As far as the unity of the world is concerned, Yushkevich says of the propositions from which this is deduced that, "it would not be exact to say that they have been deduced from experience, since scientific experience is possible only because they are made the basis of investigation." This is a form of KANTIANISM, and in the hands of Yushkevich "it is nothing but twaddle."
SECTION FIVE: "Space and Time"
Lenin says that Marxists reject both Kantianism ( space and time are forms in the human mind and have no existence on their own) and Humean agnosticism ( I don't know where these ideas come from). He supports Feuerbach who says, "Space and time are not mere forms of phenomena but essential conditions ... of being."
In other words, what is the answer Marxists should give if asked "are space and time real or ideal, and are our relative ideas of space and time APPROXIMATIONS to objectively real forms of being; or are they only products of the developing, organising, harmonising, etc., human mind?"
The answer to this question is the fundamental epistemological dividing line separating different philosophies. Lenin thinks all Marxists need to be on the side of Engels when he asserts that, "The basic forms of all being are space and time, and being out of time is just as gross an absurdity as being out of space."
Mach, on the other hand, according to Lenin holds that "it is not man with his sensations that exists in space and time, but space and time that exist in man, that depend upon man and are generated by man." This is what empirio-criticism leads to and, among some, to "defending medieval 'nonsense' [i.e., religion]."
The truth is, Lenin points out, that the "existence of nature IN TIME, measured in millions of years [in our day by billions of years], PRIOR TO the existence of man and human experience, shows how absurd this idealist theory is."
There now follow a few pages where Lenin defends the objectivity of time and space against Mach who thinks that Newton's views may not actually be applicable. Here Lenin seems to equate Newton's notion of ABSOLUTE time and space with the materialist view the denial of which leaves room for fideism [religion]. Newton was, however, himself a Deist and left room for God in his system. Modern physics has adopted the views of Einstein concerning time and space which are very different from those of Newton.
Since Lenin devotes a chapter (chapter five) to physics, we will postpone a detailed discussion here, as likewise his views on the "atom". Lenin's main point, however, remains, regardless of the further developments in natural science since his time, and that is that the world dealt with by science is not created by the human mind but has objective and independent existence.
Lenin does agree with Mach in rejecting a fourth spacial dimension. Mach is no "believer" and rejects a fourth spacial dimension so as not to aid "many theologians, who experience difficulty in deciding where to place hell." Lenin, of course, doesn't worry about the location of Hell. He would probably agree with Sartre that Hell is other people (especially mensheviks). His point is that Mach, thinking that Space and Time are products of the human mind, unconsciously adopts the materialist position (as it was in his time) when he asserts there are only three spacial dimensions because he assumes this to be an objective fact and is thus inconsistent.
Also, in this section, you might think when Poincare says that space and time are relative and "we impose them on nature" that he is thinking of the new Theory of Relativity (1905). Einstein, however, thought of his theory as an objective fact about the universe.
Lenin also discusses Karl Pearson again, who openly declares that his Machism is based on Hume and Kant and with whom Mach himself says he is in complete agreement. Nevertheless, the Russian Machists, posing as Marxists (they were all members of the bolshevik faction except for two mensheviks) keep claiming that Machism is an advance, is not idealism, and is a "new" philosophy. Bazarov even says "Many of Engels' particular views, as for instance, his conception of 'pure' [i.e., 'objective'] space and time, are now obsolete."
Of course many of Engels' views are obsolete, based as they were on the level of science in the nineteenth century, but the objectivity of space and time is not one of them. I will now quote a delightfully vituperative sentence about Bazarov and idealists in general.
"Like all the Machists, Bazarov erred in confusing the mutability of human conceptions of time and space, their exclusively relative character, with the immutability of the fact that man and nature exist only in time and space, and that beings outside time and space, as invented by the priests and maintained by the imagination of the ignorant and downtrodden mass of humanity, are disordered fantasies, the artifices of philosophical idealism, rotten products of a rotten social system."
In "The Future of an Illusion" Freud referred to the disordered fantasies of religion as forms of neuroses and religious people as neurotics. The US of A is by these measures, of both Lenin and Freud, populated by an immense number of disordered downtrodden neurotics who, in addition, are both ignorant and infected with false consciousness. It is my hope this Reading Lenin series will reduce their numbers but I have no expectation that it will.
Lenin ends this section with some choice remarks about Bogdanov and his notion that space and time are forms "of social co-ordination of the experiences of different people" ("Empirio-monism). He holds that space and time adapt themselves to our perceptions. Lenin says just the opposite is the case and perceptions "and our knowledge adapt themselves more and more to OBJECTIVE space and time, and REFLECT them ever more correctly and profoundly."
Next week we will begin with section 6 "Freedom and Necessity."
See Reading Lenin 12 here.