Sunday, May 18, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 15 ]
Thomas Riggins

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.


SECTION TWO: "How the 'Empirio-Symbolist' Yushkevich Ridiculed the 'Empirio-Criticist' Chernov"

Yushkevich attacked Chernov for saying that Mikhailovsky* (who was influenced by Comte and Spencer) was a forerunner of Mach and Avenarius. He appears to think Mach and Avenarius are very different birds from either Comte or Spencer.

Lenin says this shows that Chernov is an "ignoramus in philosophy." The idealist and agnostic trends in philosophy are represented by Hume and Kant as well as by Comte and Spencer, Mikhailovsky and Mach and Avenarius, and also the Neo-Kantians.

Materialists reject this whole trend however it appears as Neo-Kantianism or as "positivism (Comte). Yushkevich's hairsplitting differentiation's cannot change the fact Mach and Avenarius regularly praised both Hume and Kant and so his attack on Chernov is meaningless. Yushkevich is trying to focus us away "FROM THE ESSENCE OF THE MATTER to empty trifles."

Lenin also notes that among the idealists and agnostics various eclectic mixtures of Kant, Hume and Berkeley are possible with different philosophers stressing different combinations.

He particularly mentions T.H. Huxley ("the famous English scientist") who came up with word "agnostic." The English agnostics, Lenin says, probably inspired Engels' term "shamefaced materialists." Huxley, for example, while rejecting materialism and claiming that if forced to choose an outlook would choose idealism because "our one certainty is the existence of the mental world", nevertheless also says "there can be little doubt that the further science advances, the more extensively and consistently will all the phenomena of Nature be represented by materialistic formula and symbols."

Huxley mixes up Hume and Berkeley just as much as Mach or Avenarius, but the latter two are out and out idealists and subjectivists in their intentions, while for the former "agnosticism serves as a fig-leaf for materialism."

*Nikolai Konstantinovich MIKHAILOVSKII, 1842-1904: "Russian publicist, sociologist, literary critic, and one of the theoreticians of the Narodnik (Populist) movement."-- from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia

SECTION THREE: "The Immanentists as Comrades-In-Arms of Mach and Avenarius."

Lenin now turns to the philosophy of the immanentists (W. Schuppe 1836-1913, A. v. Leclaire, J. Rehmke 1848-1930, & R. Schubert-Soldern 1852-1924) little remembered today. For them truth comes from within not from without and Lenin says they are in the same trend as the empirio-criticists. Lenin writes it is "Mach's opinion that this 'new' philosophy is a broad CURRENT in which the immanentists are on the same footing as the empirio-criticists and the positivists." The immanentists, for their part, have a similar view about their relation to Mach and Avenarius. They are milk siblings.

Charles Renouvier (1815-1903 French neo-Kantian, foundedr of "neo-criticism") is next on Lenin's list. His philosophy is a mixture of Hume and Kant. He supports religion, ultimately, and completely rejects any independently existing thing-in-itself. The Russian Machists face a charge of "guilt by association" [not always out of place] since they rely on Mach, and F. Pillon (1830-1914), a follower of Renouvier, says that to a great extent "Mach's positive science agrees with neo-critical idealism." One of Renouvier's ideas is that the present universe (!) came into being when a primitive humanity fell out of harmony with the Cosmic Order thru egotism and injustice. "Birds of a feather...."

Lenin says the Russian Machists are "ashamed" of their relationship to the immanentists and fudge what the latter say; they "are afraid to tell the plain and clear truth" about them. Which is that, "There is NOT ONE of them who has not FRANKLY made his more theoretical works on epistomology lead to a defense of religion and a justification of medievalism of one kind or another."

The section closes with a few more examples of what these philosophers peddle. Lenin says their views will end up in "the museum of reactionary fabrications of German professordom" A few Russians, I think, may also be exhibited as, for instance, Bazarov who says "sense-perception IS the reality existing outside us."

As for the German speakers, we have Schuppe maintaining that the external world "belongs to consciousness" and Schubert-Soldern holding forth against the "metaphysics" of a really independent objective world. We needn't quote the rest of gang.

Lenin has made his point that the Russian "Marxists" trying to blend Mach and Marx are unwitting reactionaries in philosophy. "Only among the handful of Russian Machists does Machism serve exclusively for intellectual chattering. In its native country its role as a flunkey to fideism is
openly proclaimed."

Next week we will start off with Section 4 of Chapter 4: "In What Direction is Empirio-Criticism Developing"

See Reading Lenin 14 here


Ilene said...

Thanks very much for your writings about Lenin.Where may I see the parts than came before this? Thanks so much. Keep it up. Ilene Richards

Joel said...

Our apologies. We'll try to keep links to the previous week's installment at the end of each post. Thanks for reading!