Friday, December 31, 2010

Engels: The Force Theory of Herr Eugen Dühring

Thomas Riggins

Chapters two, three and four of Part Two of Anti-Dühring "Political Economy" deal with Dühring's theory that political systems and power are PRIMARY and economic relations are SECONDARY-- both historically and in the present day. Engels says Dühring gives no evidence or arguments in favor of this theory (which he claims is ORIGINAL) but simply asserts it as a given. Engels says this is old hash and has been the way history has been seen since the beginning. The true history of mankind has actually taken place behind the scenes and is the real basis for the pompous doings of the kings and presidents, popes and generals that strut the stage and are memorialized in the history books.

Dühring's idea that all the previous history of mankind is based on man's enslavement of man-- i.e., on force-- and that this is the only way we can explain it is exemplified by his example of Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Crusoe enslaves Friday. But why does he do this? Engels says "only in order that Friday should work for Crusoe's benefit." That is for an ECONOMIC MOTIVE. Dühring has reversed the true relation between political order and economic order and does not see "that force is only the means and that the aim is economic advantage."

Slavery, by the way, the condition from which Dühring starts out his "political force is the basis of history" nonsense is itself the result of prior historical and economic developments.
Slavery requires two preconditions: tools and material for the slave to work upon and a food supply to provide a basic subsistence for the slave. This means that a prior historical period in which distribution of social wealth has developed must have preceded the introduction of slavery.

Engels gives as examples primitive societies with common land ownership where there was no slavery or it "played only a very subordinate role." This is also true of ancient Rome before it became an imperial power. Even in the US, Engels says, the cotton industry of England was more important than force in maintaining slavery in the South so that "in those districts where no cotton was grown or which, unlike the border states, did not breed slaves for the cotton growing states, it died out of itself without any force being used, simply because it did not pay."

But wait a minute. Doesn't this sound right about the world we live in? Dühring says capitalist property today is the result of the use of force in the past and in fact all past property accumulations are also based on force (Rome, Egypt, etc.,) and force is, in Dühring's words, "that form of domination AT THE ROOT OF WHICH LIES not merely the exclusion of fellow-men from the use of the natural means of subsistence, but also... the subjection of man to make him do servile work." It sounds right. Big business and the oil giants use force to take over natural resources (Niger Delta, Iraq, the Amazon), they force masses of third world workers into sweat shops at low wages, etc. Why isn't Dühring right on?

Well, Engels says he is not: "Private property by no means makes it appearance in history as the result of robbery [so much for 'property is theft'] or force. On the contrary, it already existed ... in the ancient primitive communes of all civilized peoples." Engels gives many examples of the development of private property by trade, individual labor, and the accumulation of wealth in the form of domestication of animals-- none of which involved force or robbery. His logical argument is, however, that before you can use force to take someone's property or to steal it from him, it (i.e., property) must already exist "therefore force may be able to change the possession of, but cannot create, private property as such." If Dühring had meant this he would have been correct but force is NOT at the root of the domination of man by private property.

Nor is force the cause of the "subjection of man to make him do servile work" at least with respect to modern capitalism. At this point Engels gives a long quote from DAS KAPITAL [from Vol. 1: Section One of Chapter XXIV "Conversion of Surplus Value Into Capital"] the upshot of which is that economies based on commodity production where property is based on the labor put into it evolve into capitalist economies where surplus value develops and labor becomes separated from property and "property," Marx writes, "turns out to be the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of others or its product, and to be the impossibility on the part of the labourer, of appropriating his own product. The separation of property from labour has become the necessary consequence of a law that apparently originated in their identity."

Engels points out that Dühring never mentions Marx's arguments (since they would demolish his own) and that the whole structure of modern exploitation and servitude "can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state, or political interference of any kind necessary."

Again, Dühring is totally wrong when he writes "political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation." If that were the case, Engels says, then capitalism would have been voluntarily brought about by the feudal system; but that didn't happen. In the struggle to overthrow feudalism "the decisive weapon" was the ECONOMIC power of the bourgeoisie. An example being the great French Revolution of 1789 which broke out because the capitalist system had become the dominant economic power but, "The 'political conditions' in France remained unaltered, while the 'economic situation' had outgrown them." As a result the nobles no longer had an important social function but they nevertheless tried to keep control of the social wealth "in the revenues that came to" them.

This is not unlike today (2010). We have a socialized economy in that the large industries and banks etc., could be kept running by their workers alone if the capitalist class vanished overnight-- they too have no important social function. Even though they are useless they still fight to control the social wealth and increase their revenues. When the workers finally wake up to this fact, and their living conditions are as desperate as the French in 1789, the game will be up for the capitalists. A few more depressions will suffice one hopes.

While the living standards of the world's working class approaches, day by day, the level of the French in 1789 we find, as Engels says, "the bourgeoisie has already come close to occupying the position held by the nobility in 1789 [in our day they are no longer "close" they have equaled the position of the old nobility-tr]: it is becoming more and more not only socially superfluous, but a social hindrance; it is more and more becoming separated from productive activity, and like the nobility in the past, becoming more and more a class merely drawing revenues...." All this not only points to a socialist future but decisively shows that Dühring's view that politics determines economics is a "delusion."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Thomas Riggins

The New York Review of Books for 9-30-10 has an interesting article by Ian Johnson, former Beijing bureau chief for the WSJ, reviewing Richard McGregor's THE PARTY: THE SECRET WORLD OF CHINA'S COMMUNIST RULERS. I don't know how secret it can be if there is a whole book about it.

There are some interesting facts revealed in this review that readers of our sites will find useful. We are told that the CPC is basically the heart and soul of contemporary China and that the views of some, that the party is becoming irrelevant, are dead wrong. Johnson informs us that while many polices of the party are not actually "communist" it is still "Leninist in structure" and its organization and workings "would be recognizable to the leaders of the Russian Revolution." Coming from a WSJ reporter I don't know if this a compliment or not. McGregor's book also shows that despite its "secretive tendencies" the CP "can be usefully analyzed." Maybe the secret world is not really so secret after all.

Johnson says one big misunderstanding about China, and it is a BIG one, is that China "has been privatizing the economy." There is a stock market to be sure and many shares have been sold to investors around the world but "almost all Chinese companies of any size and importance remain in government hands." This is a socialist sine qua non I would think.

This fact is relatively unknown to outside investors due to "ignorant or unethical Western investment banks and lawyers." It seems that ultimate decision making in all really important Chinese companies is made by the Organization Department of the CPC and the NOT the board of directors of the company-- i.e., the party remains "in control of all personnel decisions." CEOs and directors thus dance to the tune of the party.

What about smaller companies, those not belonging to the commanding heights of the economy? Here too "government control still remains pervasive" if less direct. What Johnson means is that "the manager is often a former official or close to Party circles." Johnson is wrong to call this "government control" since even he admits "that these companies are run as the manager sees fit." What he really means is that there is a climate of shared values and aspirations between middle management and the party.

The party also has control of the government as the party, through the medium of "leading small groups" of experts and senior party leaders that have been set up to advise each of the ministries. These groups exist from the top "down to the grass roots." Westerners object to this system, especially in the legal system because judges are not independent and merely "translate court decisions made by Communist Party legal affairs committees into rulings." This objection is based on the Western notion that the only free and democratic organization of government has to be based on bourgeois notions of democracy and any other notions of democracy, especially socialist or people's democracy is bogus. This overlooks the fact that most bourgeois democracies are themselves bogus.

While many Western "experts" on China write off the CPC in the long term, Johnson shares the view that "the West has consistently underestimated the Party's ability to adapt and thus might be excessively negative about its future."

Johnson has some criticisms of his own but they seem to be motivated by his WSJ background. He thinks China needs more reform efforts and while he says "reforms haven't quite ground to a halt" nevertheless the state sector is making a comeback because the CPC has a policy "of recentralizing control." But this is what you would expect a socialist state to do.

He also faults Chinese foreign policy for being concerned with only two "narrow concerns." The first is territorial (Tibet and Taiwan) and the second is "resource extraction in Africa and Central America." Well the first is a concern with the territorial integrity of the country, which is actually being threatened, and is hardly a "narrow concern." Nor is the second, which deals with China's relation to the Third World and its trade policies. By all accounts most African and Central American countries have had better and fairer deals with the Chinese than with the West. Johnson doesn't even mention the CPC's push to increase the unionization of its workforce, which is in complete harmony with socialist principles.

All in all this is an interesting article which should be read by anyone interested in contemporary China and certainly by anyone contemplating buying and reading Richard McGregor's THE PARTY.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marxism, Mosques, and Mockery

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the New York Islamic Cultural Center

Thomas Riggins
(From PA archives)

Spending six weeks in South Florida (Boca Raton) I thought I would be missing the action in NYC. Not the case. The "Ground Zero Mosque" flap is spreading throughout the land. The fact that the social center envisioned by some American Muslims is not a mosque (it is social center but also has a prayer room) nor is it to be located at ground zero doesn't seem to matter to the rabid opposition opposed to an Islamic center in lower Manhattan.

A Rasmussen poll released on August 23 claims 62% of those polled oppose the Islamic center. According to the New York Post (a paper subsidized by the ultra right billionaire Rubert Murdock) the pollsters reported that the opposition is based on the belief that the Islamic center is "a deliberate provocation that dishonors the memories of the 3000 [sic] people that died that day."

Marxists and other progressives understand that this is nonsense since the Islamic religion and Muslims in general are in no way responsible for the events of 9/11. We do know that right wing elements, including elements from the growing proto-fascist right, are using this issue for political purposes making a mockery of the constitutional rights of all Americans in the hopes of damaging the Obama administration and the Democratic congress.

Obama's comments were perfectly appropriate for a US President: all Americans have the right of religious freedom under the law and no group of right wing anti-American fanatics, tea baggers included, have a right to force their views on the rest of us.

The military has even stated that this anti-Islam agitation is hurting the war effort and threatening the lives of our troops. Ok, our troops should not be there in the first place and should be brought home immediately, but it shows the hypocrisy of the Dick Amorys, Newt Gingrichs, and John McCains and their ilk that they could care less about the troops in the field than a few extra votes from their crazed supporters.

Another mockery is the way The New York Post reports on this dispute: by twisting the facts and trying to stir up religious and ethnic hatred between Americans-- all to further Murdock's anti-working class political agenda. As evidence I offer the following headline From same issue of the NYP: "US worse than al Qaeda: imam" accompanied by a photo of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the imam associated with the Islamic center, being hosted by the US embassy in Bahrain last Sunday. He is described as the imam "who decried Muslim blood on US hands." The subtext is, of course, here is this anti-American Muslim fanatic being sent to the Muslim world by the Obama administration as a guest of the State Department for who knows what evil purposes being hidden from the American people and he wants to build HIS mosque at GROUND ZERO!!! Yikes! Call out the Minuet Men!

Let's look at the actual story written by Murdock's mouthpiece, one Jennifer Fermino, pretending to be a reporter for a publication pretending to be a newspaper. Here is the first sentence, it sets the tone: "The Islamic cleric who wants to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero once claimed in a jaw-dropping speech that the United States has killed more innocent civilians than al Qaeda."

Two points: 1. This would be "jaw-dropping" only to ignorant Yahoos who know nothing about the history of US foreign policy and the conduct of the US military. 2. The statement happens to be true. In just one war alone, the Vietnam War, the US killed more innocent civilians than all the terrorist organizations in the world have managed to kill. The same is true of the civilian deaths in Iraq. If Ms. Fermino is so ignorant as not to know that she at least has an excellent qualification to be a NYP "reporter."

Here is what Imam Rauf actually said in a speech he gave in 2005: "We tend to forget in the West [if we ever knew-tr], that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations."

Ms Fermino calls these statements "incendiary" but does not reveal to us that they are also true, which happens to be the case.

Imam Rauf said the following as well, which is also true, and he should be congratulated for his courage: "What complicates the discussion intra-Islamically, is the fact that the West has not been cognizant and has not addressed the issue of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. It is a difficult subject to discuss with Western audiences [they are distracted by constantly dropping their jaws-tr] but it is one that must be pointed out and must be raised."

The NYP also says he used the N word in his speech (he used it in a context describing how people SHOULD NOT judge other people-- by skin color or gender) not as US military slang uses it to describe Arabs as
sand n's.

This whole story is biased and designed to discredit the imam for speaking the TRUTH! It is based on a audio tape that can be heard on the Ayn Randroid website AtlasShrugs. I wish Atlas would shrug all the Randroids, Ferminos and other crypto-fascists opposing religious freedom and stirring up ethnic and religious hatred off the backs of the American people.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ross Douthat on "The Marriage Ideal"

Thomas Riggins

The ultra-conservative Ross Douthat, an op ed columnist for The New York Times, has a piece in Monday's paper (8-9-2010 "The Marriage Ideal") which, as is usual with this ideological trend, distorts the issues involved in question of gay marriage.

His article appears sparked by Federal Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling last week "that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust. That they are irrational and unjust is obvious to any thinking person, their constitutionality will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

Douthat agrees that the usual arguments in defense of heterosexual marriage as the only form that should be legally recognized are wrong (I think he means invalid and unsound). These are those based on claims of naturalness, tradition, universality, etc. But Douthat points out that other cultures have different conceptions of the nature and purpose of marriage and none of the arguments heard by Judge Walker were convincing.

Since those opposed to gay marriage are NOT really defending "some universal, biologically inevitable institution" just what are they defending, Douthat asks? Luckily for the defenders of traditional marriage only, who obviously don't know what they are talking about and can only give wrong headed arguments to federal judges, Douthat DOES know and is going to enlighten all of us.

The heterosexual marriage ideal "holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings-- a commitment that involves mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest-- as a unique admirable kind of relationship."

Well this is a find and admirable ideal for some, but should it be the only legal marriage relationship under US and international law? Has an anti-divorce clause also been slipped in? And what about a person who is both physically and in gender consciousness a male and a person who is transsexual and a physical male but whose gender consciousness is female: are these two sexually different human beings allowed to marry under the heterosexual only rules? They are heterosexual afterall.

Douthat maintains that this heterosexual ideal, including the nuclear family, isn't claiming to be the only possible way for a marriage to be arranged but that it is "worthy of distinctive recognition and support." And who would not agree? As long as its recognition and support does not come at the expense of other people's marriage ideals and does not involve special rights and laws that discriminate against those alternatives.

Many cultures don't have this marriage ideal that Douthat puts forward: "It's a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish ["Thank G-d I was not born a woman"] and Christian beliefs ["Women is destined to live under the authority of man" St. Thomas] about the order of creation ["Neither was man created for the woman; but the woman for the man"--St. Paul], and supplemented by later ideals about romantic love [the passive woman on the pedestal], the rights of children [let's deny them citizenship under the 14th Amendment if their parents lack papers], and the equality of the sexes [this last bit is laughable considering the majority of the heterosexual marriage only crowd are chauvinists in extremo.]"

Well at least we see where the heterosexual marriage only crowd is coming from in Douthat's construction. It's basically an attempt to force a particular religious interpretation of marriage on everybody else. Extremely un-American to say the least.

Douthat fears that this noble ideal of the meaning of marriage, which only exists in the fantasy world of ultra-conservatives, may be lost to newer "post-modern" ways of thinking. If this happens we will be "giving up one of the great ideas of Western civilization"-- patriarchal, repressive bourgeois marriage as one of the "great ideas" of the West! Barf. If you want to know the real meaning of this great ideal read about marriage in Simone de Beauvoir's still great book THE SECOND SEX.

Douthat thinks there must be a distinction made between gay marriage and his ideal form: "But based on Judge Walker's logic-- which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American-- I don't think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea." Speed the Day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lenin: Materialism and Empirio-criticism: A Commentary for the New Century

READING LENIN: Materialism and Empirio-criticism
c. 2008 by Thomas Riggins

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 am going to discuss this book chapter by chapter.This post is over 26,000 words and will print out in 75 pages, so don't read it on line. I suggest you print it out and read it at your leisure.

The Prefaces.

Why did Lenin write this book? He tells us because a number of people calling themselves "Marxists" have been attacking "orthodox" Marxism ("dialectical materialism") and calling it outmoded and wanting to supplement it with new ideas borrowed from bourgeois philosophy.
Engels is specifically attacked as being "antiquated" and his views on dialectics are said to be a species of "mysticism." None of the books that Lenin attacks are of much interest today and the names of the authors have mostly been forgotten. Perhaps you will recall the name of A.A. Bogdanov, certainly the name Lunacharsky will ring a bell as he later became the first Commissar of Enlightenment under the Bolsheviks.

Lenin is not opposed to criticism of the views of Marx and Engels. He mentions approvingly Mehring's critique of "antiquated views of Marx" which was undertaken from a dialectical materialist standpoint. Any historians out there reading this are encouraged to send in comments about just what these views were and where Mehring made them as Lenin does not discuss them in the Prefaces.

Besides defending the "orthodox" view from heretics, Lenin also wanted to know what drove ostensible Marxist's to bourgeois philosophy. What, he asks, "was the stumbling block to these people" that made them desert the orthodox position. Well, in our own day we have a similar problem. Engels is still attacked and efforts are made to cut Marx away from Engels
and make Engels some sort of hack. We also have ordinary language Marxists, existentialist Marxists, phenomenological Marxists, postmodern Marxists, etc., etc.

I'm using Vol. 14 of the CW for the text. The book itself seems to be out of print. Maybe you can find a copy online. If you google 'materialism and empiro-criticism" the first entry you get should be an online copy of the book so if you don't have a hard copy you can still read it.

"In Lieu of an Introduction"

It really is an introduction, about sixteen pages in which Lenin compares the so-called Marxists he is about to criticize to Bishop George Berkeley
who is, wrongly I think, considered by many to have been a subjective idealist-- i.e., someone who thinks the existence of "external" objects is dependent on the human mind.

Lenin says, for example, "Denying the 'absolute' existence of objects, that is the existence of things outside human knowledge, Berkeley bluntly defines the view point of his opponents as being that they recognise the 'thing-in-itself.'"

This is an unfortunate sentence, using as it does both Kantian terminology eighty years in advance of its creation and substituting the term "human knowledge" for Berkeley's term "mind."

A few pages later, Lenin corrects himself with a more nuanced view of Berkeley's position. "Deriving 'ideas' from the action of a deity upon the human mind, Berkeley thus approaches objective idealism: the world proves to be not my idea but the product of a single supreme spiritual cause that creates both the 'laws of nature' and the laws distinguishing 'more real' ideas from less real, and so forth."

Actually, Berkeley is an objective idealist as he holds that the objects that we see existing in the world about us truly have an independent existence from human beings and the world would be just as it is even if there were no humans in existence. Lenin also believes this. What differentiates them is Berkeley has an extra entity which Lenin does not have-- ie., a spiritual being "God" in whose Mind everything exists. Except for this, Lenin and Berkeley have pretty much the same world view (minus dialectics) when it comes to the "real" existence of the external world. Anyone who doubts this need only read "Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous" [1713]. In his desire to smash his contemporary philosophical opponents, Lenin has not given Berkeley his due. He is much more sophisticated than the people Lenin is opposing.

Berkeley's philosophy of "to be is to be perceived" (esse est percipi) is nicely expressed by Ronald Knox:

There was a young man who said, "God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad."
Dear Sir:
Your astonishment's odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by
Yours faithfully,

Better is Lenin's interpretation of the views of Hume and Diderot. His reading of Hume is filtered through Thomas Huxley (Darwin's bull dog) and his 1879 book "Hume" from which he quotes. "'Realism and idealism are equally probable hypotheses' (i.e., for Hume). Hume does not go beyond sensations. 'Thus the colours red and blue, and the odour of a rose, are simple impressions.... A red rose gives us a complex impression,
capable of resolution into the simple impressions of red colour, rose-scent, and numerous others." Hume admits both the 'materialist position' and the 'idealist position;' the 'collection of perceptions' may be generated by the Fichtean 'ego' or may be a 'signification' and even a 'symbol' of a 'real something.' This is how Huxley interprets Hume." This is more or less how Hume is still interpreted and he is also still very popular in English speaking philosophical fora and lurks in the background of modern bourgeois philosophical "materialism" and "realism."

In the same generation as Hume, Lenin appreciates the materialism of the French philosophe Diderot, and puts forth (in passing which I have emphasized) an important principle in the following quote. "And Diderot, who came very close to the standpoint of contemporary materialism (THAT
ARGUMENTS AND SYLLOGISMS ALONE DO NOT SUFFICE TO REFUTE IDEALISM, AND HERE IT IS NOT A QUESTION FOR THEORETICAL ARGUMENT) notes the similarity of the premises both of the idealist Berkeley, and the sensationalist Condillac" (a French version of Locke from whom both he, Berkeley and Hume ultimately derive.) We shall see later how important the passage I highlighted will become.

Lenin likes the way Diderot uses the example of a self-conscious piano to explain his views. Such a piano would be able to play on its own the "airs" played upon it. All the problems about the origin of our sensations-- internal, external, etc., Diderot is quoted as saying would be solved by "a simple supposition which explains everything, namely, that the faculty of sensation is a general property of matter, or a product of its organisation."

Now to conclude. This little introduction was just to give some background before Lenin takes up the cudgel against the "Marxist" idealists of his own day. We shall see that they all, to a greater or lesser extent, are influenced by the ideas of the Physicist Ernst Mach (remembered today not for his philosophy but for the Mach number-- object speed divided by the speed of sound). "For the present," then Lenin says, "we shall confine ourselves to one conclusion: the 'recent' Machists have not adduced a single argument against the materialists that had not been adduced by Bishop Berkeley." Remember-- I need your input-- if I overlooked something important in this reading please bring it up in the comments.

Chapter One Section One "Sensation and Complexes of Sensations'

Lenin begins by stating the basic idea of the theory of knowledge (epistemology) of the two betes noirs of empirio-criticism Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius. This is, that what we experience when we experience "the external world" is what goes on in our own brain-- id est, the "elements" making up the "external world" are actually INTERNAL complexes of sensations.

Lenin says, "Mach explicitly states... that things or bodies are complexes of sensations, and that he quite clearly sets up his own philosophical point of view against the opposite theory which holds that sensations are "symbols" of things (it would be more accurate to say images or reflections of things). The latter theory is PHILOSOPHICAL MATERIALISM."

Lenin bases his view on that of Engel's in his work "Anti-Duhring." Engel's uses the term Gedanken-Abbilder which Lenin translates as "mental images" or "mental pictures." "Picture" in German, however is das Bild (which can also mean "image") and since Engel's didn't use the term Gedanken-Bilder, I will not use "picture" but "image" (das Abbilder). Engels believes that really existing external things produce "thought-images" in the human brain. I like the German word used for the English "brainwave"-- i.e., der Gedankenblitz, pl., die Gedankenblitzen, literally "thought-wave, waves."

So the question, as I see it, is what is the relation of our Gedankenblitzen to the real world when we experience what we take to be an external world. Are they the reflections of external reality, or is external reality simply deduced and constructed out of the Gedankenblitzen? Lenin says, "Anybody who reads 'Anti-Duhring' and 'Ludwig Feuerbach' with the slightest care will find scores of instances when Engels speaks of things and their reflections in the human brain, in our consciousness, thought, etc. Engels does not say that sensations or ideas are 'symbols' of things, for consistent materialism must here use 'image', picture, or reflection instead of 'symbol', as we shall show in detail in the proper place." Well, we shall see. At this point it would appear I could be a "consistent" materialist as long as I held that my Gedankenblitzen symbols were produced by actually existing external objects independent of the human brain. We will reconsider this when we get to the "proper place."

Lenin says that Mach goes on to explain that we have experiences of certain complexes of sensation that are so intense and consistent that we have become "habituated" (Mach must have gotten this term from Hume) to ascribe the origin of these experiences to an external reality. For Mach, this particular thought wave is no proof of an actually existing external world. We are not justified in going beyond the reality of our own sensations.

Remember Diderot and his piano from last week? Lenin says that he represents "the real views of materialists." Which "views do not consist in deriving sensations from the movement of matter or in reducing sensations to the movement of matter, but in recognising sensation as one of the properties of matter in motion. On this question Engels shared the standpoint of Diderot." This is not clear to me. If sensation is a property of "matter in motion" have we not reduced sensations to the "movement of matter"? Perhaps this will become clearer later.
Lenin now switches his attention from Mach to Richard Avenarius (1843 to 1896). His works appear to be out of print in English at any rate (if they were ever translated). [Trivia: his mother was Cacile Wagner, Richard Wagner's little sister.] Lenin quickly establishes Avenarius' idealist credentials with a quote from his Prolegomena zu einer Kritik der reinen Erfahrung: "We have recognised that the existing [thing-tr] is substance endowed with sensation; substance falls away, sensation remains; we must then regard the existing as sensation, at the basis of which there is nothing which does not possess sensation." This is animism! The reason "substance" falls away is that we don't need it to explain the world. All we know is what we experience-- i.e., sensation. Avenarius coined the term "empirio-criticism" to describe his philosophy and his thought was the major influence on Mach.

Bogdanov (1873-1928) makes his first appearance in this section. A. A. Bogdanov was the nom de guerre of A.A. Malinovski. who at one time was the the #2 Bolshevik after Lenin and a leader of the discredited Proletkul't movement after the revolution. He was an MD who founded the first blood transfusion and research institute in Russia. It is now called The Bogdanov Institute. He lost a power struggle with Lenin (the book we are studying was written to discredit him in the eyes of Bolsheviks) and turned to research. He used his institute to do blood experiments trying to halt aging and reverse the aging process. In fact, when Lenin died his brain was given to Bogdanov to study as well as his body to see if it could be reanimated. It couldn't. Bogdanov accidentally killed himself while doing a blood transfer experiment on himself. There is an interesting article about him on Wikipedia and in Volume 3 of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. He was very interesting character who deserves to be better known.

Under the influence of Wilhelm Ostwald (a psychologist) as well as Mach and Avenarius, Bogdanov tried to update Marxist materialism by blending it with the thought of the empirio-ctiticists. The result was his book "Empirio-monism" which is the object of Lenin's ire. It is however only mentioned in passing in this section. In fact Lenin even likes the quote from Empirio-monism that he reproduces here because the Machist Bogdanov ("from forgetfulness") formulates his new position using words that actually describe a materialist outlook, which is that sensation is "the direct connection between consciousness and the external world."

This gives Lenin the opportunity to set forth what he thinks is the major fallacy of Idealism. "The sophism of idealist philosophy," he says, "consists in the fact that it regards sensation as being not the connection between consciousness and the external world, but a fence, a wall, separating consciousness from the external world-- not an image of the external phenomenon corresponding to the sensation, but as the 'sole entity.'"
This is I think the MAIN POINT of this section.

Lenin ends this section with some remarks on three other Machians whose Idealism he is going to deal with: the English philosopher Karl Pearson [1857-1936, better known as the founder of mathematical statistics], and the physicists Pierre Duhem [1861-1916] and Henri Poincare

Chapter One Section Two "The Discovery of the World Elements"

What are the "world elements" that Mach has supposedly discovered? In his "Mechanics" (1883) he wrote, "All natural science can only picture and represent complexes of those ELEMENTS which we ordinarily call SENSATIONS."

Lenin says Mach is confused, because in "The Analysis of Sensations" he says, "A colour is a physical object when we consider its dependence, for instance, upon the source of illumination (other colours, temperatures, spaces and so forth). When we, however, consider its DEPENDENCE upon the RETINA ... it is a PSYCHOLOGICAL object, a SENSATION."

Here it seems physical and psychological objects are dissimilar. Lenin calls Mach's view an "incoherent jumble." It seems that Mach wants it both ways, but by having two sorts of objects, physical and a sensation, Mach has slipped into MATERIALISM despite his claim that there are only sensations and their complexes.

This is the viewpoint of natural science and materialism: "matter acting upon our sense-organs produces sensation." The empirio-crticists seem either unaware of their problem here, or just confused. Lenin quotes one of the most important followers of Mach and Avenarius, Joseph Petzoldt [ Ludwig Wittgenstein's teacher ] who wrote that "In the statement that 'sensations are the elements of the world' one must guard against taking the term 'sensation' as denoting something only subjective and therefore ethereal, transforming the ordinary picture of the world into an illusion."

This is really muddled and Lenin says he can't help "harping" about it. He tells the empirio-criticists that they must give up their world elements and "simply say that colour is the result of the action of a physical object on the retina, which is the same as saying that sensation is a result of the action of matter on our sense organs."

Lenin points out that in fact, as Mach and Avenarius grew older they began to modify their beliefs and materialist elements, as it were, forced themselves upon them. Here is the strong Machian position from "Analysis of Sensations"-- " It is not bodies that produce sensations, but complexes of elements (complexes of sensations) that make up bodies."

But this view is somewhat modified. Avenarius, according to his disciple Rudolf Willy, ended up also accepting some form of "naive realism"-- i.e., the stance of regular people that there are real existing thing outside our minds. And his biographer, Oskar Ewald, conceded that he ended with a contradictory system with "idealist" and "realist" positions. [NOTE: Academic philosophy generally prefers the word "realist". Lenin uses "materialist" in deference to Marx and Engels and because he thinks it is more honest.]

Back to Bogdanov Bashing: Bogdanov says he is not a Machian. He only took one thing from Mach. Yes, but what he took, Lenin says "is the BASIC ERROR of Machism." And what is this basic error, the source of Bogdanov's "philosophical misadventures"? It is that "the external world, matter" is thought to be "identical with sensations."

Not only does he assert this, but he reproduces the equivocations and confusions of Avenarius et al when he writes in "Empirio-monism" that "insofar as the data of experience appear IN DEPENDENCE UPON THE STATE OF A PARTICULAR NERVOUS SYSTEM, they form the PSYCHICAL WORLD of that particular person; insofar as the data of experience are taken OUTSIDE OF SUCH A DEPENDENCE, we have before us the PHYSICAL WORLD."

I would like to insert here a note on the use of the term "metaphysics." In the period under discussion this was a term of abuse. Marxists referred to two groups as "metaphysicians"-- the idealists and the mechanical [i.e., non-dialectical] materialists. Dialectical Materialism (Diamat) was a "science." On the other hand idealists and agnostics (those neutral on the realism antirealism issue) called all the materialists "metaphysicians" for, as Lenin puts it, "it seems to them that to recognise the existence of an external world independent of the human mind is to transcend the bounds of experience." Lenin will deal with this later in his book,

For the present I think the main point of this section was to show that "What appeared to Bogdanov to be truth is, as a matter of fact, confusion, a wavering between materialism and idealism." This is due to the fact that "the amendment made by Mach and Avenarius to their original idealism amounts to making partial concessions to materialism."

Chapter One Section Three: The Principal Co-Ordination and "Naive Realism"

Lenin now turns to two works by Avenarius, "The Human Concept of the World" and the "Notes." He will give us the essence of the doctrine of the "Principle Co-Ordination" and its relation to our everyday notions of naive realism. Avenarius' thesis is that of, in his own words, "the INDISSOLUBLE CO-ORDINATION OF THE SELF AND THE ENVIRONMENT." The self and the environment are always together, like a horse and carriage or love and marriage! The self is the CENTRAL TERM and the environment is the COUNTER TERM of this co-ordination.

Avenarius thinks this doctrine leaves the belief in naive realism untouched, and Mach ("Analysis of Sensations") thinks so as well. Lenin thinks this is nuts. In fact, he claims this view, which supposedly co-ordinates naive realism with the self (consciousness), is just warmed over Fichte.

Lenin means Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814, 'The Father of German Nationalism'-- a dubious honor), an Idealist who wrote in 1801 that you should "Take care, therefore, not to jump out of yourself and to apprehend anything otherwise than you are able to apprehend it, as consciousness AND the thing, as the thing AND consciousness; or more precisely, neither the one nor the other, but that which only subsequently becomes resolved into the two, that which is the absolute subjective-objective and objective-subjective." The so-called newest philosophy was just a rehash, a century later, of early German Idealism.

Now, what has this empirio-critical doctrine have to do with naive realism? According to Lenin, the naive realism (of "any healthy person") is "the view that things, the environment, the world, exist INDEPENDENTLY of our sensation, of our consciousness, of our SELF and of man in general."

Not only does the world have an independent existence human beings have knowledge about it because it interacts with our nervous system, also a part of the world, and reproduces images of itself of which we are conscious-- human consciousness being a higher order property of the organization of matter. "Materialism." Lenin says, "DELIBERATELY makes the 'naive" belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge."

Lenin takes great pains to stress that this is not just the partisan view of diamat that he is pushing, but it is the standpoint of modern natural science and of scientists in general, even those who would not consider themselves followers of diamat. (Dialectical Materialism)

As evidence for this view he turns to Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920, 'The Father of Modern Psychology,' along with William James) who maintained the view that any given reality cannot be described without a reference to the "self" (Avenarius and company) is, in his words, "a false confusion of the content of real experience with reflections about it."

Lenin also bolsters his argument my quoting from a 1906 article in 'Mind", still the leading English philosophy journal, by Norman Kemp Smith (1872-1958, best known for his translation of Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason'-- still the gold standard). After discussing Avenarius' theory of the principle co-ordination of the world of sense experience and the natural world of naive realism viewed as one of complexes of sensations, Smith concludes that Avenarius has failed completely to capture the meaning of naive realism as it is understood by realists [materialists].

Avenarius, Smith writes, "argues that thought is as genuine a form of experience as sense-perception, and so in the end falls back on the time-worn argument of subjective idealism, that thought and reality are inseparable, because reality can only be conceived in thought, and thought involves the presence of the thinker. Not, therefore, any original and profound reestablishment of realism, but only the restatement in its crudest form of the familiar position of subjective idealism is the final outcome of Avenarius' positive speculations."

Lenin has pretty much made his main point in this section, which i will reiterate in a moment. He gives a few more examples of how mixed up Avenarius' views are (from W. Schuppe and O. Ewald-- both of whom will be dealt with in later sections). He again says "it is important to note" that all attempts to combine materialism (realism) and subjective idealism a la Mach and Avenarius into some transcendental philosophy that includes them both is IN FACT an "empty, pseudo-scientific claim." Lenin says that "To build a theory of knowledge on the postulate of the indissoluble connection between the object and human sensation ('complexes of sensations' as identical with bodies; 'world-elements' that are identical both psychically and physically; Avenarius' co-ordination and so forth) is to land inevitably into idealism."

And finally, to end this section, Lenin turns to R. Willy, the disciple of Avenarius, who has to admit that the attempt of his master to reconcile empirio-criticism and naive realism is a failure. Willy says you have to take the belief that Avenarius actually subscribed to naive realism "cum grano salis." Willy writes, "As a dogma, naive realism would be nothing but the belief in things-in-themselves existing outside man in their perceptible form." Willy thinks that is ridiculous, and perhaps it is in the way he formulated it. I mean, "in their perceptible form" is loaded-- there is an X out there but is that X 100% equal to how our senses perceive it?

At any rate, Willy is forced to concede that Avenarius' book, "The Human Concept of the World" is one that "entirely bears the character of a RECONCILIATION between the naive realism of common sense and the epistemological idealism of school philosophy. But that such a reconciliation could restore the unity and integrity of [basic] experience I would not assert." QED.

Next we will go over Section 4 of Chapter One, "Did Nature Exist Prior to Man?" [Believe it our not this is still a big issue, even one of the presidential candidates thinks that Nature only existed for 5 days prior to man (our actual president [ Bush 2] is uncertain -- a Yale graduate, oh well if they let Buckley through I guess anyone can go there)! And the people of the world are supposed to take our country seriously!].

cum grano saltis = with a grain of salt
The phrase comes from Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, regarding the discovery of a recipe for an antidote to a poison. In the antidote, one of the ingredients was a grain of salt. Threats involving the poison were thus to be taken "with a grain of salt" and therefore less seriously.-- Wikopedia

Chapter One Section Four: Did Nature Exist Prior to Man?

This seems to be a big problem for Empirio-criticism. Lenin will look at the views of Avenarius and his two followers R. Willy and J. Petzoldt and see how this question is dealt with by two of the Russian "Marxist" Machists, Bazarov and Valentinov.

Avenarius, as we know, has a two term co-ordination; Man-Nature, (with Man as the central term) to explain how we gain knowledge of the contents of the world. Since natural science clearly states that the earth existed before humans it would seem impossible to take the world's contents to be "complexes of sensations." Avenarius therefore introduces the notion of the "potential" into his philosophy.

When there are no actual humans about there are "potential" humans to sense the complexes of sensations by which reality presents itself. Avenarius talks about embryonic humans-- they are not FULLY human but also not equal to zero. So also, before any actual humans there are "integral parts of the environment" that have the capacity to become human, etc. So we have a saving co-ordination of Potential(Man)-Nature. On the face of it this is a completely preposterous solution.

"No man at all educated or sound-minded," Lenin says, "doubts that the earth existed at a time when there COULD NOT have been any life on it, any sensation or any 'central term', and consequently the whole theory of Mach and Avenarius, from which it follows that the earth is a complex of sensations ('bodies are complexes of sensations') or 'complexes of elements in which the psychical and physical are identical', or a 'counter-term of which the central term can never be equal to zero', is PHILOSOPHICAL OBSCURANTISM, the carrying of subjective idealism to absurdity."

Petzoldt, Lenin remarks, realized that Avenarius' position was ridiculous and decided to improve upon it. It is true that we can think about areas without or before there were human beings, he says, but "The epistemologically important question, however," Petzoldt writes, "is not whether we can think of such a region at all, but whether we are entitled to think of it as existing, or as having existed, independently of any individual mind."

We shall see that Petzoldt's attempt to improve on Avenarius is not any better than the original. Avenarius puts too much weight on the human SELF, whether actual or potential according to Petzoldt, whereas, "The only thing," he says, "the theory of knowledge should demand of any conceptions of that which is remote in space or time is that it be conceivable and can be uniquely determined; all the rest is a matter for the special sciences."

The expression "uniquely determined" is just Petzoldt's way of saying "the law of causality" according to Lenin. Petzoldt knows that natural science maintains the existence of the earth before humans and he also knows that Avenarius' lack "of the objective factor" in his philosophy puts it at odds with science and this has forced him "to resort to causality (unique determination). The earth existed, for its existence prior to man is causally connected with the present existence of the earth."

Petzoldt's "solution" actually wipes out the "complexes of sensations" hypothesis regarding the nature of the external world and he "only entangled himself still more, for only one solution is possible, viz., the recognition that the external world reflected by our mind exists independently of our mind."

Our old friend, the hapless R. Willy, is the next to try and save the "complexes of sensations." What could be experiencing the earth before there were humans? Well, he says, "we must simply regard the animal kingdom --- be it the most insignificant worm --- as primitive fellow-men if we regard animal life only in connection with general experience." So now a primitive worm is the stand in for human consciousness in the "principle co-ordination." Besides being a ludicrous theory it fails to solve the main issue because the earth existed before there any primitive worms as well. The empirio-criticists should, I think, just have appealed to Berkeley because his concept of God would have solved their problems.

Willy came up with his worm argument in 1896, but he eventually abandoned it and returned to the fray in 1905 with a new solution to the problem. Forget about the so-called millions of years before man came into existence. Time too is a product of the complexes of sensations. This means, he goes on to say, "that things outside men are only impressions, bits of fantasy fabricated by men with the help of a few fragments we find around us ['fragments' of what?]. And why not? Need the philosopher fear the stream of life?"

Well, the answer to that is NO! I hope my fellow philosophers will all agree to that! But we cannot follow Willy to his carpe diem conclusion! "And so I say to myself: abandon all erudite system-making and grasp the moment [seize the day] the moment you are living in, the moment which alone brings happiness." Lenin is unimpressed. Rather than be forced by their own logic into a materialist acceptance of the objectivity of the world, the empirio-criticists scurry off into a solipsistic world of their own making. So much for them.

Lenin now wants to see how the home grown "Marxist"- Machists in Russia handle this problem. He will first discuss A. Bazarov, real name V.A. Rudnev, 1874-1939. Bazarov joined the party in 1896, was a Bolshevik from 1904 to 1907 and was a Menshevik from 1917 until 1919. After 1921 he was employed by the Soviet government as a planner. His demise in 1939 raised my suspicions, but he seems to have died naturally from what I could gather from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Lenin is criticizing Bazarov's book "Studies 'in' the Philosophy of Marxism." One of the main objections Lenin has to this book is that it treats Plekhanov (1856-1918, The Father of Russian Marxism) as the only representative of Materialism and ignores Marx and Engels! The work that Bazarov attacks is Plekhanov's "Notes to Engel's 'Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy'" (1892).

In that work Plekhanov has a passage in which he asks the Idealists what was the world like in the period before there were humans, a period such as the Mesozoic era. Plekhanov is addressing himself to Kantians but his remarks are just as, if not more, applicable to Empirio-monism (the Russian version of Machism) as represented by Bogdanov and Bazarov.

In that remote period Plekhanov asks if was the ichthyosauruses and the archaeopteryxes who were responsible for contemplating the world order? Idealism cannot answer this question hence it must be rejected as contrary to modern science.

This burns up Bazarov and he jumps all over Plekhanov saying that even he, Plekhanov, cannot know what "things-in-themselves" are like. We only know how they act on our senses and he quotes Plekhanov: "Apart from this action [on the senses] they possess no aspect." Therefore whatever Plekhanov had to say about ichthyosauruses and archaeopteryxes in attacking the Kantians applies equally to him.

Well, if Plekhanov burned up Bazarov, Bazarov has succeeded in burning up Lenin who proceeds to jump on him in turn. Lenin asks Bazarov if he is just taking cheap shots at Plekhanov ( having "a fencing bout " with him ) or is he actually trying to explain materialism. If he thought Plekhanov was wrong he should have explained the correct materialist position, but perhaps Bazarov is himself ignorant of the correct materialist teaching. "If Bazarov," Lenin says, "does not know that the fundamental premise of materialism is the recognition of the external world, of the existence of THINGS outside and independent of our mind, this a truly striking case of crass ignorance."

Well, Bazarov may be confused. Lenin is correct to say the existence of the external world "independent of our mind" is fundamental to MATERIALISM-- but it is also compatible with OBJECTIVE IDEALISM, as Lenin had earlier remarked himself when referring to Hegel back in Section 3: "Hegel's absolute idealism is reconcilable with the existence of the earth, nature, and the physical universe without man, since nature is regarded as the 'other being' of the absolute idea."

Unfortunately, Lenin makes a big mistake when he says here that Berkeley "rebuked the materialists for their recognition of 'objects in themselves' existing independently of our mind and reflected by our mind." Berkeley did rebuke materialists but not for believing that things exist independently from the human mind. The external world has an independent existence from human beings as the idea of God-- analogous to Hegel's other being of the Absolute Idea. Berkeley is thus an absolute idealist. Except for the mislabeling of Berkeley, Lenin's argument is essentially correct.

Bazarov's fulminations against Plekhanov are off target. As for Valentinov, who supports Bazarov, we can ignore this gentleman as Lenin, in a brief paragraph, shows that his position is "an incoherent jumble of words."


After reading some of the philosophers reviewed by Lenin you might agree that they are not using their brains when they think, but that would be wrong. Bazarov, Lenin tells us, certainly thinks the answer to the above question is yes. Bazarov says if you say " 'every mental process is a function of the cerebral process', then neither Mach nor Avenarius would dispute it." But Lenin says Bazarov is wrong and doesn't really understand what is at issue. Avenarius, for example, Lenin writes, explicitly says, "Sensations are not 'psychical functions of the brain'."

Materialism says just the opposite: "Thought and consciousness are products of the human brain," (Engels: Anti-Duhring). This is also the view of modern science. But Avenarius, Lenin points out, "rejects this materialist standpoint and says that 'the thinking brain' is a 'FETISH OF NATURAL SCIENCE' " (The Human Concept of the World).

He, as well as Mach, thinks that science is mistaken in adopting the common sense materialist view. He says that science is engaged in making an incorrect INTROJECTION when it puts the external world that we experience inside of us-- i.e., in our brains and "in our central nervous system." Lenin will let Bogdanov explain what Avenarius means.

Bogdanov maintains that Avenarius is trying to avoid IDEALISM with his theory of INTROJECTION. According to Bogdanov, the "gist" of the theory is developed to answer the problems of the dualism of mind and body and goes like this: we have direct acquaintance with physical objects including other people. We don't have direct acquaintance with the "mind" of another person, so we postulate it as an "hypothesis ." We think the other person's "mind" is IN his body; the person's experiences "are inserted (introjected) into his organism." But Avenarius thinks this is "a superfluous hypothesis" and is responsible for the contradictions arising from mind/body dualism. If we refuse to introject we won't have mind/body dualism hence we avoid IDEALISM. This is what Bogdanov believes.

Indeed! Lenin says Bogdanov "swallowed the bait" that Avenarius' real target was IDEALISM. Avenarius' main theory is, Lenin reminds us, that "of the 'indissoluble' connection of the 'complete' experience, which includes not only the SELF but also the tree [that we are experiencing], i.e., the environment." Our experience is one unified reality self/tree NOT two realities a tree AND a refection of the tree in our brain.

Avenarius may have a point about what our experience IS but should we STOP there or can we try to further explain what is involved with that experience. Avenarius wants to explain the world from the GIVEN, but perhaps there is more to the "given" than meets the eye. At least Lenin thinks so and that is why he is a materialist.

What Bogdanov failed to understand, according to Lenin, is that in the theory of "introjection" Avenarius "refuted" Idealism "only insofar as he 'refutes' the existence of the object without the subject, matter without thought, the external world independent of our sensations; that is, it is refuted IDEALISTICALLY." The way that mind body dualism is refuted by materialism is "that the mind does not exist independently of the body, that mind is secondary, a function of the brain, a reflection of the external world." What could Bogdanov have been thinking when 16 years after this was written the Soviet Government delivered Lenin's brain to him at his new institute with instructions to reanimate it? Its still on the shelf, unfortunately.

Even while Bogdanov and the Russian Machists were misunderstanding Avenarius and pushing their own philosophy of "empirio-monism" under the guise of a revamped Marxism, Avenarius' own followers in the West had come to reject his theory of "introjection" as unscientific and as just another form of the Idealism it had claimed to overcome. This leads Lenin to remark that, "The Russian Machists will soon be like the fashion-lovers who are moved to ecstasy over a hat which has already been discarded by the bourgeois philosophers of Europe."


Por fin! We have arrived at the end of chapter one. This section is only a few pages long and it sums up the entire chapter. Lenin has established that empirio-criticism is based on SUBJECTIVE IDEALISM: "The world is our sensation --- this is the fundamental premise, which is obscured but in no wise altered by the word 'element' and by the theories of the 'independent series', 'co-ordination', and 'introjection'."

To hammer home his contention that the philosophy of Mach and Avenarius is a form of SOLIPSISM (only the thinking subject is known to exist-- i.e., for any person such as you, only you exist) and unscientific, Lenin ends the chapter with a quote from the great Austrian physicist L. Boltzmann (1844 - 1906 ): "What is immediately given is only the sense-impression, or only the one thought, namely, the one we are thinking at the present moment. Hence, to be consistent, one would have to deny not only the existence of other people outside one's SELF, but also all conceptions we ever had in the past." This is ridiculous ERGO so is empirio-criticism. Nevertheless, there are five more chapters in Lenin's book.

Chapter Two "The Theory of Knowledge of Empirio-Criticism and of Dialectical Materialism II : Section One "The 'Thing-In-Itself', or V. Chernov Refutes Frederick Engels"

Lenin will be reacting to Chernov's article "Marxism and Transcendental Philosophy" from a 1907 collection of articles. Victor Chernov (1873-1952) was a founder of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Minister of Agriculture in the Provisional Government (1917), and an émigré in 1920. He later fought in the French Resistance and died in New York City.

Lenin has chosen Chernov to attack because, unlike the "Marxist" Machists who attack materialism in the guise of defending (!) Engels against Plekhanov, Chernov takes Engels head-on which makes him "a MORE principled [i.e., honest] literary antagonist than our comrades in party and opponents in philosophy."

Chernov, like many contemporary Marxians, seeks to divide Engels' thought from that of Marx calling his thinking "naive dogmatic materialism." Chernov is especially upset with Engels' argument against the Kantian "thing-in-itself."

For non philosophers, Kant's "thing-in itself" is roughly this: the world as experienced by us is filtered through our perceptual apparatus and mental structure so we experience a world of phenomena that appears to us in space and time (which are parts of OUR mental structure ) and we can never directly experience things-in-themselves (which do not exist in space and time) which give rise to the phenomenal world we experience.

The question is this-- can we know the "real" world (the "noumenal" world) or can we only know the "phenomenal" world? Kant thought his philosophy was a good reply to that of Hume who held that we only know our ideas and can't prove anything about where they come from. To get out of this SKEPTICISM Kant postulated a real noumenal world that was the basis of the law abiding phenomenal world our mental faculties revealed to us.

In his book "Ludwig Feuerbach, etc.," Engels said that the way to refute Kant with respect to our ability to know the real world as it is in-itself, not just for-us, is by PRACTICE: "The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical crotchets is practice, namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conceptions of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the Kantian incomprehensible [ungraspable] 'thing-in-itself.'"

Chernov becomes very upset with Engels over this and makes fun of his so-called "refutation" of the thing-in-itself. Of course,Kantians also accept the results of modern scientific practice so PRACTICALLY speaking a Kantian and a Materialist will be saying the same thing with just different words. The Materialist will appeal to a metaphysical principle of science called Occam's Razor (after William of Occam a 14th century Scholastic) which says "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best " or "Don't multiply entities needlessly." In this case, why have two worlds (noumenal and phenomenal) in Kantianism when one will do the job in Materialism?

Lenin accuses Chernov of not understanding Engels' criticism. Engels' is not just criticizing Kant, but also Hume as well. What Hume and Kant have in common "is that they both IN PRINCIPLE FENCE OFF the 'appearance' from that which appears, the perception from that which is perceived, the thing-for-us from the 'thing-in-itself'."

As we make new discoveries in science about the properties of the world, what was formerly unknown becomes known-- 'i.e., the unknown thing-in-self becomes known! In other words, Lenin says, when "we accept the point of view that human knowledge develops from ignorance" we will, as Engels indicated, find innumerable examples of the "transformation of 'things-in-themselves' into 'things-for-us.'" The classic example given by Engels is the discovery that alizarin, a coloring agent derived from plants, can also be produced from coal tar.

Lenin draws three conclusions from all this: 1) things exist outside of our consciousness; 2) there is no difference between noumena and phenomena, "only between what is known and what is not yet known"; 3) we have to use dialectics "to determine how KNOWLEDGE emerges from IGNORANCE." [How, and if, DIALECTICS is fundamentally different from SCIENTIFIC METHOD is not a question we will go into here.]

So much for the critique of Engels' treatment of the "thing-in-itself." The next question has to do with whether there was a big difference between the views of Marx and those of Engels. The dispute centers on the interpretation of Marx's SECOND THESIS on Feuerbach: "The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory, but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the 'this-sidedness' [DIESSEITIGKEIT] of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question."

Chernov is using Plekhanov's translation into Russian which renders the passage with Diesseitigkeit as prove thinking "does not stop at this side of phenomena" instead of the literal "prove the this-sidedness of thinking" [talk about Scholastic arguments!]. Plekhanov is accused of covering up a difference between Marx and Engels by making it LOOK LIKE ", Chernov writes, "Marx, like Engels, asserted the knowability of things-in-themselves and the 'other-sidedness' of thinking."

This is such a bogus argument, according to Lenin. Chernov should consult Marx himself if he has a problem with Plekhanov (who was only paraphrasing anyway.) Lenin claims that Chernov must be totally ignorant about materialism if he doesn't understand that ALL materialists consider the thing-in-itself as knowable and there is no difference between Marx, Engels, and Plekhanov. Lenin then cites some long paragraphs form a bourgeois author (A. Levy, La philosophie de Feuerbach et son influence sur la litterature allemande, Paris, 1904)-- which we need not go over-- to show that EVEN people who don't claim to be socialists have no problem understanding Marx's materialism!


Back to Bazarov! Having taken care of Chernov, Lenin now turns to a distortion of Engels by Bazarov. In "On Historical Materialism" (the introduction to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific) Engels criticizes Agnosticism (i.e., views such as Hume, Mill, Huxley, etc.). According to Lenin, the main point of the Agnostic "is that he DOES NOT GO BEYOND sensations, that HE STOPS ON THIS SIDE OF PHENOMENA, refusing to see anything 'certain' beyond this boundary of sensations." We have ideas and impressions but we don't know where they come from ultimately. The materialist takes the extra step (based on practice) and infers a real world of things of which our sensations are the reflections.

It is the whole Humian line that Engels takes on, not just this or that representative, for, as Lenin notes, "professional philosophers are very prone to call original systems the petty variations one or another of them makes in terminology or argument."

So how does "practice" refute the Humian agnostic (skeptic about things other than impressions and ideas: maybe there is something external causing the impression, maybe not-- who knows?) "If these perceptions have been wrong," Engels writes, "then our estimate of the use to which an object can be turned must also be wrong, and our attempt must fail." Therefore, images in the mind correspond to external things: "Verification of these images," Lenin says, " differentiation between true and false images, is given by practice."

Now lets see how Bazarov goes about revising Engels! In the first place, Bazarov thinks that Engels is refuting KANT'S idealism in the passages under consideration, when it is HUME that is his target. This is because Bazarov doesn't know the difference between the two philosophies and confuses Kantianism with idealism in general. So, one more time: idealism holds that things equal our sensations, Kant says we only know our sensations but there is an unknowable thing-in-itself behind them, Hume is neutral-- he doesn't know where the sensations come from, and materialists (and Objective Idealists such as Hegel) think the mind reflects an objective external reality.

Bazarov also says that Engels' argument refutes not only Kant, but also the materialist Plekhanov ( whom Bazarov calls an "idealist"! )-- this is because he wants to sneak in a Machist solution and doesn't want to take Engels head on. Bazarov says Plekhanov agrees that our sensations are SUBJECTIVE and that therefore that he holds the real world is beyond EVERYTHING THAT IS IMMEDIATELY GIVEN and so this makes him a Kantian idealist! This is nonsense because for Kant that BEYOND is an unknown thing-in-itself while for Engels and Plekhanov the BEYOND is a world of material ( i.e., independent) objects that are KNOWABLE by sensation by means of PRACTICE. Bazarov's critique is "nothing but wretched mystification" based on confusion and ignorance. Lenin also thinks Bazarov's use of the word "subjective" is loaded. Engels' speaks of HUMAN senses as reflecting the external world.

Lenin says Bazarov is "juggling" with quotes from Engels to try to lay the foundations for a Machist interpretation of Marxism. But you cannot be a Marxist without accepting the real existence of external objects without the mind "which by acting on our sense-organs evoke sensations." [Note that Marxists are NOT the only ones who hold this view but Marxists are a subset of the set of all those who hold this view.] Lenin also says "one can be a materialist and still differ on what constitutes the criterion of the correctness of the images presented by our senses." This is an important observation and should be noted. But what cannot be denied is that Bazarov is WRONG to say that SENSE PERCEPTION is "the reality existing outside us" SENSE PERCEPTION, Lenin stresses, "is NOT the reality existing outside us, it is only the IMAGE of that reality."

At the end of this section Lenin deals with Bazarov's contention that Engels, unlike Plekhanov, does not have anything to say about what exists beyond the boundaries of sense perception. As Bazarov puts it, Engels "nowhere manifests a desire to perform that 'transcendence', that stepping beyond the boundaries of the perceptually given world."

This is where Bazarov tips his hand, using the word "transcendence", a technical term in Kantianism, to discuss Engels views. It is a TRANSCENDENCE, Kant says, to move from the perceptually given to the thing-in-itself, a move based on FAITH not knowledge. Hume, representing the agnostics, does not allow this move at all. Bazarov has taken a partial quote from "Anti-Duhring" and misrepresented it as if Engels had no opinion about the 'thing-in-itself."

Here is the full quote from Engels: "The unity of the world does not consist in its being, although its being is a pre-condition of its unity, as it certainly must first BE, before it can be ONE. Being, indeed, is always an open question beyond the point of where our sphere of observation ends. 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."

It is obvious that by "where our sphere of observation ends" Engels is NOT, as Bazarov would have it, speaking about the boundary between perception and the Kantian "thing-in itself." He is taking about what we can say about the existence of things on the other side of the moon, or as Lenin puts it , "of men on Mars": things which are, so far, beyond the range of our knowledge. [But no longer so due to the growth of scientific knowledge since the time of Engels and Lenin.]

So much for Bazarov and his attempts to turn Engels into a crypto-Machist! Next week we will go over the next two sections, 3 & 4, of Chapter Two.

Chapter Two : Section Three: "L. Feuerbach and J. Dietzgen on the Thing-In-Itself"

In this section Lenin discusses the views of two materialists, Feuerbach and Dietzgen. Feuerbach is a classical materialist, not a dialectical materialist, but his philosophy is the link between Hegel and Marx and Engels. The thing-in-itself for Feuerbach is something "existing objectively outside of us," Lenin says, and acting "upon our sense-organs.... Sensation is a subjective image of the objective world, of the world AN UND FUR SICH" [i.e., in and for-itself].

This view of Feuerbach is basic to all forms of materialism. "The 'doctrine' of Machism that since we know ONLY SENSATION," Lenin concludes, "we cannot know of the EXISTENCE of anything beyond the bounds of sensation, is an old sophistry of idealist and agnostic philosophy served up with a new sauce."

Well, I suspect that readers of this outline have all heard about Feuerbach and know something of his materialism from Marx and Engels. If you want to read something by him I recommend his THE ESSENCE OF CHRISTIANITY, which as been translated into English by George Eliot (of Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss fame).

However, you may not be as familiar with Joseph Dietzgen, the next person discussed by Lenin. Dietzgen (1828-1888) was a self educated German tanner who indepently developed a philosophy of dialectical materialism. He was extremely influential in the socialist movement in the last half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. If you Google his name you will find some interesting articles about him.

Lenin quotes Dietzgen, as an independent materialist: "Unhealthy mysticism unscientifically separates the absolute truth from the relative truth. It makes of the thing as it appears and the 'thing-in-itself', that is, of the appearance and the verity, two categories which differ TOTO COELO [completely, fundamentally] from each other and are not contained in any common category."

When trying to explain the relation of perception to the thing-in-itself we have already seen how the Russian Machists, especially Bogdanov, confuse the materialist position with Kantianism and agnosticism. "The reason for Bogdanov's distortion of materialism," according to Lenin, "lies in his failure to understand the relation of absolute truth to relative truth (of which we shall speak later)." Section 5 is dedicated to this topic, but first we will look at Section 4.

CHAPTER TWO SECTION FOUR: "Does Objective Truth Exist?"

Bogdanov, in his book "Empirio-monism" tries to explain what constitutes "objective" truth. Truth, he tells us, "is an ideological form, an organizing form of human experience...." But, Lenin says, "If truth is ONLY an ideological form, there can be no truth independent of the subject, of humanity, for neither Bogdanov nor we know any other ideology but human ideology." But this is absurd for science tells us it is a truth that the earth existed prior to man and his ideologies!

Is this subjectivism some failing in Bogdanov as a person? Lenin thinks not. Bogdanov personally "refuses to own himself a Machist" but still is influenced by the "new" philosophy. It is this mixture of Marxism and Machism that causes the muddle of Empirio-monism. Thus, "Bogdanov's denial of objective truth is an inevitable consequence of Machism as a whole and not a deviation from it." His deviation is from materialism.

Engels, who criticizes both Hume and Kant, even States that Hegel had in fact refuted the main points in both their philosophies. Lenin then quotes Hegel: "For empiricism the external in general is the truth, and if then a supersensible too be admitted, nevertheless knowledge of it cannot occur and one must keep exclusively to what belongs to perception. However, this principle in its realisation produced what was subsequently termed MATERIALISM. This materialism regards matter, as such, as the truly objective." But Lenin does not here follow up on Hegel.

Instead, he agrees that experience is the source of all knowledge and that materialists hold that OBJECTIVE REALITY is the source of experience. If you don't hold to this view you become inconsistent and the "inconsistency of your empiricism, of your philosophy of experience, will in that case lie in the fact that you deny the objective content of experience, the objective truth of knowledge through experience."

The Machists think that the "new" physics has made the views of the older materialists "antiquated." Now Lenin was writing a hundred years ago and physics has moved on a pace-- string theory , etc., but he is absolutely right when he says it is "unpardonable to confuse, as the Machists do, any particular theory of the structure of matter with the epistemological category, to confuse the problem of the new properties of new aspects of matter (electrons for example) with the old problem of the theory of knowledge, with the problem of the sources of our knowledge, the existence of objective truth, etc."

This category, "matter", which refers to the objective reality revealed to humans by means of their sense organs has not become "antiquated", Lenin says, since the days of Plato and Democritus.

Chapter Two : Section Five: "Absolute and Relative Truth, or the Eclecticism of Engels as Discovered by A. Bogdanov"

This great discovery was made, says Lenin, in the preface to Book III of Bogdanov's Empirio-monism. Bogdanov thinks he is ridiculing Engels when the latter gives as examples of "eternal truths" such statements as "Napoleon died on May 5, 1821" or "Paris is in France." To Bogdanov this is too trivial for words.

"What sort of 'truth' is that?", he asks, "And what is there eternal about it? The recording of a single correlation, which perhaps even has no longer any real significance for our generation, cannot serve as the starting-point for any activity and leads no-where." For some reason Bogdanov calls such "truths" eclectic, as if Engels is just uncritically adopting them from all different forms of materialism.

Of course the examples given by Engels are "trivial", but they are given to make a point, which is that there are many examples of objective and eternal truths all around us and that idealist philosophers are just being foolish when they try to make a big mystery about "truth." Bogdanov's objections are just "turgid nonsense" according to Lenin.

"To be a materialist," Lenin writes, "is to acknowledge objective truth, which is revealed to us by our sense-organs. To acknowledge objective truth, i.e., truth not dependent upon man and mankind, is, in one way or another, to recognise absolute truth."

What we have to do is get away from these trivial criticisms and examine DIALECTICALLY the distinction that Engels was trying to make between relative and absolute truth in his criticism of Duhring's philosophy. By ignoring the context of Engels' argument Bogdanov only reveals his own incompetence.

By thinking dialectically Engels arrives at a concept of absolute truth that grows out of relative truth. Each one of us as an individual has a part of the truth, relative truth, but absolute truth is the whole which gradually reveals itself, but only partially at any one time.

"For Bogdanov (as for all Machists)," Lenin writes, "recognition of the relativity of our knowledge EXCLUDES even the least admission of absolute truth. For Engels absolute truth is compounded from relative truths. Bogdanov is a relativist; Engels is a dialectician."

Absolute truth (the reality behind the world of our sensations) is built of the relative truths we gain from experience. Towards the end of this section Lenin says, "Dialectics -- as Hegel in his time explained -- CONTAINS an element of relativism, of negation, of skepticism, but IS NOT REDUCIBLE to relativism."

What is at issue, and which Bogdanov and the other Machists fail to see, is "the CORRESPONDENCE between the consciousness which reflects nature and the nature which is reflected by consciousness." This is something that Marx and Engels understood (and Dietzgen and Feuerbach as well). Bogdanov and the Machists, under the guise of modern science are just repeating "ancient trash."

SECTION SIX: "The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge"

"'The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from from practice is a purely scholastic question,' says Marx in his second Thesis on Feuerbach,'' Lenin points out, and Engels repeats: "The success of our action proves the conformity of our perceptions with the objective nature of the things perceived."

And what does Mach have to say about the criterion of practice? According to Lenin Mach, in The Analysis of Sensations, makes a distinction between theory and practice. Mach: "Physiologically we remain egoists and materialists with the same constancy as we forever see the sun rising again. But theoretically this view cannot be adhered to."

This is supposed to be the newest scientific viewpoint (1908). I won't go into the newest viewpoints (2008), but will remark that the battle continues! But it is an old battle. A hundred years before Lenin it was raging, Fichte, and two thousand years before that with the Greeks as well as in other philosophical traditions.

"Of course, we must not forget that the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea COMPLETELY. This criterion too is sufficiently 'indefinite' not to allow human knowledge to become "absolute", but at the same time it is sufficiently definite to wage a ruthless fight on all varieties of idealism and agnosticism."


SECTION ONE: "What is Matter? What is Experience"

Lenin says the first question is posed to the materialists while the second is put to the idealists (including the Machists) and agnostics. About 'matter' Avenarius says, "Within the purified, 'complete experience' there is nothing 'physical'-- 'matter' in the metaphysical absolute conception -- for 'matter' according to this conception is only an abstraction...." This theory Lenin calls "disguised subjective idealism."

Mach says, "What we call matter is a certain systematic combination of the ELEMENTS (sensations)." This is also subjective idealism. Lenin also has a quote from Pearson's "The Grammar of Science" to the same effect. He also says that the Russian Machists are totally off base when they equate these views to those of modern science. They are simply the old views of the idealists dressed up in new clothing.

Matter, Lenin says, "is that which, acting upon our sense-organs produces sensation." Bogdanov doesn't like this formulation and complains that materialists are not advancing and that their arguments, in his words, "prove to be simple repetitions." This only shows his ignorance as there are in fact basically only two main lines in philosophy with regard to this issue.

"One expression," Lenin points out, "of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic playing with new words, erudite terms, and simple 'isms', and said simply and plainly: there is a materialist line and an idealist line in philosophy, and between them there are various shades of agnosticism. The vain attempts to find a 'new' point of view in philosophy betray the same poverty of mind that is revealed in similar efforts to create a 'new' theory of value, a 'new' theory of rent, and so forth."

So much for "matter." Now, how is "experience" used in empirio-criticism?
I should say right off the bat that Lenin says "experience"-- the major concept of empirio-criticism -- is NOT clearly defined by the empirio-critics! With Avenarius it is vague and circular as when he says "pure experience is experience to which nothing is admixed that is not in its turn experience."

This is a definition which the philosopher A. Riehl in 1907 said "obviously revolves in a circle". And, Norman Kemp Smith, in "Mind" vol. XV, remarked, "The vagueness of the term 'experience' stands him in good stead, and so in the end Avenarius falls back on the time-worn argument of subjective idealism." Mach even goes so far as to say, "The acceptance of a divine original being is not contradictory to experience."

The confusion over this term can be seen in its use by Bogdanov. According to Lenin, when Bogdanov says, "consciousness and immediate mental experience are identical concepts" and that matter is "not experience" but "the unknown which evokes everything known" he is being an IDEALIST. Yet he is being a MATERIALIST when he says that those who go beyond experience only arrive at "empty abstractions and contradictory images, all the elements of which have nevertheless been taken from experience."

Mach in several works makes pronouncements in a materialist vein, so much so in fact that Lenin says he "instinctively accepts the customary standpoint of natural scientists, who regard experience materialistically."

All this goes to show that Engels was correct in saying there are only two fundamental positions with regard to "experience"-- i.e., the materialist and the idealist.


This is a short section where Lenin wants to correct a statement Plekhanov made in his book "L. Feuerbach". Plekhanov wrote, "A German writer has remarked that for empirio-criticism EXPERIENCE is only an object of investigation, and not a means of knowledge. If that is so, then the contrasting of empirio-criticism and materialism loses all meaning and discussion of the question whether or not empirio-criticism is destined to replace materialism is absolutely vain and idle." Lenin thinks this is a "complete muddle."

According to Lenin, Plekhanov must have had in mind, and not really understood, the following from Avenarius filtered through his disciple F. Carstanjen. Lenin says, "Fr. Carstanjen is almost literally quoting Avenarius, who in his "Notes" emphatically contrasts his conception of experience as a 'means of knowledge' in 'the sense of the prevailing theories of knowledge, which essentially are fully metaphysical."

Now, Carstanjen maintains that Avenarius did not investigate if experience , i.e., "all 'human predications', as the OBJECT of investigation" was real or not. What he did was simply classify "all possible human predications, BOTH IDEALIST AND MATERIALIST, without going into the essence of the question." As a result, Plekhanov's muddled conclusion above is unwarranted and in error


SECTION THREE: "Causality and Necessity in Nature"

Lenin thinks the question of causality is important and wants to begin to look at this issue from the standpoint of materialist epistemology. To do this he turns to Feuerbach's criticism of the philosopher Rudolf Haym [1821-1901, member from the center right of the National Assembly at Frankfort in 1848 and best known for his 1857 biography of Hegel] who attacked him on this issue.

Feuerbach quotes what Haym says about Feuerbach's book "The Essence of Religion": "Nature and human reason are for [Feuerbach] completely divorced, and between them a gulf is formed which cannot be spanned from one side or the other."

Haym is responding to Feuerbach's statement in his book that we "apply human expressions and conceptions to [the phenomena of nature], as for example: order, purpose, law; and are obliged to do so because of the character of our language."

Feuerbach goes on to point out that the big split between nature and human reason that Haym sees is not really there. He says his statement "does not assert that there is actually nothing in nature corresponding to the words or ideas of order, purpose, law." He was just trying to deny their identity (Idealism).

Feuerbach in fact claims that it is theism that makes this division, not materialism. "The reason of the theists splits nature into two beings -- one material, and the other formal or spiritual." Lenin discusses this Feuerbach-Haym dispute and concludes, "Feuerbach's views are consistently materialist."

Lenin says, "The recognition of objective law in nature and the recognition that this law is reflected with approximate fidelity in the mind of man is materialism." We should keep in mind the expression APPROXIMATE FIDELITY as Lenin often gets a bit carried away and talks about PHOTOGRAPHIC equivalence which many interpret as ABSOLUTE FIDELITY. This may be too strong a claim.

Since Marx and Engels were influenced by Feuerbach (he was the bridge between them and Hegel his philosophy being a materialist mutation of Hegel's Objective Idealism), Lenin makes the following remark about Engels that "to anyone who has read his philosophical works at all attentively it must be clear that Engels does not admit even a shadow of doubt as to the existence of objective law, causality and necessity in nature."

Lenin now makes some comments about Joseph Dietzgen who had been portrayed by the Machists as a subjectivist with respect to causality. Lenin tells us that while "we can find plenty of confusion, inexactnesses and errors in Dietzgen" so that as a philosopher "he is not entirely consistent", nevertheless the Machist view of him is totally false. He was a materialist and, Lenin quotes him as saying "that 'the causal dependence' IS CONTAINED 'in the things themselves'."

Lenin now demonstrates that Avenarius' line on causality is the same as that of Hume and his agnosticism on this issue. Avenarius, just as Hume, says we do not observe "causes" in nature, ie., "necessity", "All we experience," says Avenarius, "is that the one [event] follows the other.... Necessity therefore expresses a particular degree of probability with which the effect is, or may be, expected." Lenin calls this "subjectivism." With the development of physics in the last one hundred years, especially quantum mechanics, this has become the standard scientific view regarding "causality" and Lenin appears to be wrong in this respect. Materialism can live with a probabilistic universe if it recognizes that probability is an objective feature of reality as it presents itself to us.

But Mach and Avenarius are not justified by these developments. Mach says, "In nature there is neither cause nor effect.... I have repeatedly demonstrated that all forms of the law of causality spring from subjective motives and that there is no necessity for nature to correspond with them."

Modern science and modern materialism detect probability frequencies as objective features of quantum interactions independent of "subjective motives." Since, as Lenin says, the real issue is whether causal connections are the result of "objective natural law or properties of our mind", there is nothing in modern science that does not support the materialist position.

Lenin deals in a similar fashion with Pearson (who says "MAN IS THE MAKER OF NATURAL LAW), Petzoldt (who says "Our thought demands definiteness from nature, and nature always accedes to this demand; we shall even see that in a certain sense it is compelled to accede to it"), Willy (who maintains "We have long known, from the time of Hume, that 'necessity' is a purely logical (not a 'transcendental' characteristic...".

Now, two new subjectivists pop up: Henri Poincare [1854-1912, world famous French scientist] ("The only true objective reality is the internal harmony of the world," and this does not exist except in us); and Philipp Frank [1884-1966, Austrian scientist who later became a logical positivist who taught at Harvard] ("experience merely fills in a framework which man brings with him by his very nature....").

All the above were anti-materialism, or at least agnostics, and the reason Lenin added them to his critique was because they only varied here and there from Hume and Kant. These variations led Yushkevich and other Russian Machists to hail them as producing new ideas in philosophy. Lenin thinks that nonsense. Lenin says the essence of these "new" viewpoints "does not necessarily lie in the repetition of Kant's formulation, but in the recognition of the fundamental idea COMMON to both Hume and Kant, viz., the denial of objective law in nature and the deduction of particular 'conditions of experience', particular principles, postulates and propositions FROM THE SUBJECT, from human consciousness, and not from nature."

Lenin then grants that the Russian Machists "would like to be Marxists" and have read Engels' views on causality but are utterly confused. Yushkevich [P.S. Yushkevich, 1873-1945 was a Russian Memshevick], for example, "preaches" a new fad called "empirio- symbolism" and informs us that energy, in his own words, "is just as little a thing, a substance, as time, space, mass and other fundamental concepts of science: energy is a constancy, an empirio-symbol, like other empirio-symbols that for a time satisfy the fundamental human need of introducing reason, Logos, into the irrational stream of experience."

And let us not forget Bogdanov's "Empirio-monism" where we can read that the laws of nature "are created by thought as a means of organising experience, of harmoniously co-ordinating it into a symmetrical whole."None of this derives from the thought of Marx or Engels but derives from the philosophy of Kant.


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 fedeism [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."


This is a short section but exceedingly interesting. It begins with a quote from Lunacharsky praising Engels for having a "wonderful page" in "Anti-Duhring" which he says is a "wonderful page of religious economics." Lunacharsky says this might lead a non-religious person to "smile." Lenin says it rather leads not to a smile but a feeling of "disgust" with his (Lunacharsky's) "flirtation with religion." This, along with the last section, is giving me the impression that Lenin didn't care much about religion.

The passage from Engels is so important that Lenin quotes it in its entireity, and I must also if we are to see how wacked out Lunarcharsky's interpretation is. Here is what Engels wrote:

"Hegel was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity. To him, freedom is the appreciation ["recognition" is usually used] of necessity. 'Necessity is BLIND only INSOFAR AS IT IS NOT UNDERSTOOD.' [Actually, Hegel got this from Spinoza. It ultimately derives from the Stoics.--tr] Freedom does not consist in an imaginary independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definite ends. This holds good both in relation to the laws of external nature and to those which govern the bodily mental existence of men themselves --- two classes of laws which we can separate from each other at most only in thought but not in reality. Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but the capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the subject. Therefore the FREER a man's judgement in relation to a definite question, the greater is the NECESSITY with which the content of this judgement will be determined.... Freedom therefore consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity."

According to Lenin, Engels is making four important points in this passage (none of them having anything to do with being soft on religion). First, the recognition of objective laws of nature and natural necessity-- i.e., materialism. Second, "the necessity of nature is primary and human will and mind secondary." Third, he accepts "blind necessity" i.e., "the existence of a necessity UNKNOWN to man. Fourth, he jumps from theory to practice and it is this practice which "provides an OBJECTIVE criterion of truth."

All this adds up to the fact that Engels' views are entirely based on the philosophy of dialectical materialism. The Russian Machists take a little bit of diamat from Engels (the "wonderful pages"), a dash from Marx, then some idealism and agnosticism from Mach, mix it all together "and call this hash a DEVELOPMENT of Marxism." As far as Lenin is concerned they are nothing more than "philosophical obscurantists." The Russian "Marxists," inspired by Mach, continue to see him and empirio-criticism, not as a part of the subjective idealist movement or as an eclectic mix, but as compatible with the ideas of Marx and, for most, those of Engels as well. Now it is time to move on to Chapter Four.


SECTION ONE: "The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and from the Right"

The first point Lenin makes is that Mach himself states, in "Analysis of Sensations," that he started out as a Kantian and then identified more with Berkeley and Hume. So there is no doubt about his relation to the Idealist tradition. But what of Avenarius?

Avenarius claims that as far back as 1876 he, though liking Kant, was the first to "purify" him by getting rid of the a priori nature of reason (i.e., the categories or filters by which we MUST experience the world) and by dumping the "thing-in-itself" because it is not experienced but, he writes, "imported into it [experience] by thought."

Lenin says that Avenarius' views are the same as Mach's and that it is not true that he was the first to object to apriorism and the "thing-in-itself." In 1792 Schulze-Aenesidemus [Aenesidemus, an ancient Skeptic, was the pen name of Gottlob Ernst Schulze 1761-1833, Schopenhauer's teacher at Gottingen] had made the same objections. They had also been made by Fichte. The "thing-in-itself" was too much of a concession to materialism and the categories were not themselves experienced, being preconditions.

The Russian Machists have missed the point that Avenarius and Mach have criticized Kant from the Right (idealism) not the Left (materialism). What is more, they have made (they being Bogdanov, Bazarov, Yushkevich and Valentinov) the charge that Plekhanov has made a "luckless attempt to reconcile Engels with Kant by the aid of a compromise -- a thing-in-itself which is just a wee bit knowable." Lenin says this quote from their works shows a "bottomless pit of utter confusion'' both of Kant and of classical German philosophy [one of the three component parts of Marxism].

Lenin says, "The principal feature of Kant's philosophy is the reconciliation of materialism with idealism, a compromise between the two, the combination within one system of heterogeneous and contrary philosophical trends."

Yes, but here is a question to think about. Why is this not a dialectical unity of opposites, a synthesis of a thesis (idealism) and antithesis (materialism), making Kantianism a higher philosophy than either of the others? Why is dialectical materialism so hostile to Kantianism rather than trying to make a synthetic unity with it?

At any rate, the Russian Machists did not notice, I think, that Lenin is saying when Engels or Plekhanov use the term "thing-in-itself" they are not referring to Kant's transcendental noumena but to the objective independently existing objects we find in the real world. Plekhanov is not trying to "reconcile Engels with Kant."

Lenin ends this section by quoting Feuerbach and his follower Albrecht Rau (can't tell you much about him: if you are not in Wikopedia you do not exist) and Engels' disciple Paul Lafargue as well as Kautsky (his book "Ethics") about the perils of Kantianism and he concludes by saying, "Thus the ENTIRE SCHOOL of Feuerbach, Marx and Engels turned from Kant to the left, to a complete rejection of all idealism and of all agnosticism."The Russian Machists may call themselves "Marxists" but they are far from Marx and his ideas in philosophy.


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 the 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."



How is this philosophy doing 20 years on from its hay day with Mach and Avenarius? Like any ideology, Lenin says, it "is a living thing which grows and develops," so let us see what it is doing today (1908). Lenin picks a book to look at ("Introduction to Philosophy",1903) by Hans Cornelius. Cornelius is recommended by Mach himself. Well, Cornelius ends up with
immortality and God, yet claims to be neither an idealist nor a materialist!

This shows that Lenin's contemporary, Bogdanov is all wet in understanding what is going on in philosophy as he makes the claim that God, free will, and immortality cannot fit into Mach's philosophy. How then can Mach see Cornelius as a disciple?

The whole thrust of this section is show how, in philosopher after philosopher, English, French, or German, Mach's and Avenarius' philosophy of empirio-criticism is used to justify fideism and all sorts of religious notions. We need not go over these philosophers as they are not particularly well known today (2008). The Russian Machist "Marxists" seem oblivious to all this and write as if Machism is new form of philosophy outside of the confines of fideism.


Bogdanov claims to be following Engels' views (referred to as "the sacramental formula of the primacy of nature over mind") but Lenin will show that this is hooey. In "Empirio-monism" Bogdanov writes that "he regards all that exists as a continuous chain of development, the lower links of which are lost in the chaos of elements, while the higher links, known to us, represent the EXPERIENCE OF MEN -- psychical and, still higher, physical experience."

But this is not Engels and it certainly is not materialism. "Nature," Lenin points out, "is in fact reached [by Bogdanov] as the result of a long transition, THROUGH ABSTRACTIONS OF THE 'PSYCHICAL'." A few lines later Lenin says, The essence of Idealism is that the psychical is taken as the starting-point; from it external nature is deduced, AND ONLY THEN is the ordinary human consciousness deduced from nature." We know that the "elements" referred to in the "chaos of elements" are equal to "sensations."

Bogdanov denies all religions, yet his philosophy is a gateway to fideism since the inchoate elements/sensations have a physical origin from which the human mind deduces the physical world. No matter how "atheistic" a philosopher may be, this road always lead to "God" in one form or another.

Bogdanov speaks of "cognitive socialism" arising as a result of humans socially organizing their experiences. This is "insane twaddle" according to Lenin. "If socialism is thus regarded, the Jesuits are ardent adherents of 'cognitive socialism', for the starting-point of their epistemology is divinity as 'socially-organised experience.' And there can be no doubt that Catholicism is a socially-organised experience; only, it reflects not objective truth (which Bogdanov denies, but which science reflects), but the exploitation of the ignorance of the masses by definite social classes."

However, no philosophy is stagnant and Bogdanov's has evolved over the years from his first book (1899) to the present (i.e., Lenin's present, 1908). There have been four stages in the development of Bogdanov's thought: 1) a "natural-historical" materialist phase when he was "semi-consciously and instinctively faithful to the spirit of natural science; 2) he became a follower of Ostwald's "energetics"* described by Lenin as "a muddled agnosticism which at times stumbled into idealism." Ostwald's "Lectures on Natural Philosophy" is dedicated to Mach. 3) Bogdanov, without completely leaving Ostwald behind, soon went over to Mach. 4) Trying to eliminate the subjective idealist elements in Mach, Bogdanov wrote his "Empirio-monism" in order "to create a semblance of objective idealism."

Lenin says that Bogdanov is now 180 degrees from his starting point. He now has a 5th stage to go through and he can return to the ranks of the materialists. He must reject all that remains of Machian idealism in his thought. Lenin will have to wait and see if he does. [But you can check out the Bogdanov article in Wikepedia to see what happened to him.]

*Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932) won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1909.
There is a short but interesting article about his life at:
HYLE--International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 12, No.1 (2006), pp. 141-148. HYLE Biography Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932)
by Mi Gyung Kim-- you can just google: Wilhelm Ostwald energetics.


This section is a supplement dealing with some crticisms from the Machist side of propositions coming from the Marxist side. Our old friend Bazarov has a good time making fun of an error of Plekhanov's-- namely his theory that sensations are symbols or "hieroglyphs of real things and not their copies and images. Sticking with Engels, Lenin says, "Engels speaks neither of symbols nor of hieroglyphs, but of copies, photographs, images, mirror-reflections of things."

Bazarov attacks Plekhanov, however, not to correct him according to the views of Engels, but to indirectly attack Engels by making fun of materialism from a Machist standpoint disguised as "Marxism." To clarify what is going on, Lenin will discuss Helmholtz's* ["a scientist of the first magnitude"] theory of symbols (symbols, hieroglyphs, are the same) and how it was criticized by both materialists and Machists, as well as by other idealists.

Like most scientists Helmholtz's philosophical opinions are confused and inconsistent, according to Lenin. But let's see if we can give Helmholtz the benefit of the doubt. The following quote from his "Physiological Optics" Lenin cites as an example of "agnosticism": "I have ... designated sensations as merely SYMBOLS for the relations of the external world and I have denied that they have any similarity or equivalence to what they represent."

Helmholtz is seemingly contradicting Engels. But let us agree our sensations give a "photograph" like image of reality. But a photograph of a cat is completely different from a cat. To actually be an agnostic Helmholtz would have to say that he doesn't know if there is anything in the external world responsible for his "cat" image (or "symbol") and that perhaps it comes from some internal psychic process that we do not know about. But he does not say that.

Here is what he says, "Our concepts and ideas are EFFECTS wrought on our nervous system and our consciousness by the objects that are perceived and apprehended." Lenin says this is "materialism." The objects exist independently of us. But this does not contradict the previous statement. When I see a red rose I do so because my eyes have evolved to react to visible (to humans) light which is a small band of waves on the electromagnetic spectrum along with radio waves, X ray, infra red and ultra violet waves, etc. Bees have evolved eyes that can see ultra- violet waves which we don't detect. Our "red rose" looks very different to a bee. The rose is red for us, in itself it is much more than it is for us. This is the sense which Helmholtz means by our sensation being a symbol.

Lenin and Helmholtz may be just having a verbal disagreement and not a disagreement of substance. Lenin says because Helmholtz says our sensations are symbols of the external world which, when we learn to read them properly can "direct our actions so as to achieve the desired result....," he has lapsed into "subjectivism" and a denial of objective truth and reality. This is too strong and I believe it is incorrect. The rose is part of objective reality-- it is red for us and ultra-violet for the bee. That the red rose is a symbol of my love-- is that objective or subjective?

I also think Lenin is wrong to say that Helmholtz presents a "flagrant untruth" when he says "An idea and the object it represents obviously belong to two entirely different worlds...." Helmholtz is only saying, more or less, what Plato (I think truthfully) would have said, viz., when I look at the "Mona Lisa" my sensation is not the same as the picture on the wall, and the picture on the wall is not anything like the woman painted by Leonardo.

That this is so is seen when Helmholtz says, "As to the properties of the objects of the external world, a little reflection will show that all the properties we may attribute to them merely signify the EFFECTS wrought by them either on our senses or on other natural objects." Lenin also says this is materialism.

All these terminological arguments are rooted in the Kantian background of many German thinkers. Most of whom would be on exhibit in Lenin's Museum of Reactionary Fabrications of German Professordom. Lenin wants us to believe that our knowledge comes from interaction with the real world and is not a priori (google this term)-- i.e., given to us before any possible experience. But is not the following an a priori statement, even a Kantian one (!)-- before you see anything at all in the world you know it must reflect a certain narrow band in the electro-magnetic spectrum. If it doesn't it may exist but you will never see it, just as you will never hear the sound your dog hears from the dog whistle. And if this is an a priori truth gained from experience then it is a synthetic a priori truth, and Kant's philosophy is back on the table. Materialism will have to deal with it.

Lenin concludes that Helmholtz is a "shame faced materialist" with a Kantian slant, just as Huxley, save that the latter's slant was towards Berkeley. That Kantian element in Helmholtz is totally non necessary because he has a basically realist (materialist) position. Lenin provides a quote from Feuerbach's student Albrecht Rau to back this up. "Had Helmholtz remained true to his realistic conception, had he consistently adhered to the basic principle that the properties of bodies express the relations of bodies to each other and also to us, he obviously would have had no need of the whole theory of symbols; he could then have said briefly and clearly: the sensations that are produced in us by things are reflections of the nature of those things." Helmholtz has fallen victim to Ockham's razor.

Lenin ends this section by noting the critics of Helmhottz from the Machist side object to his being too much of a materialist, and concludes that Plekhanov did make a mistake when he was explaining materialism, but that Bazarov only muddied the waters and finally, from Kant and Helmholtz "the materialists went to the left, the Machists to the right."
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (August 31, 1821 – September 8, 1894) was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science. In physiology and physiological psychology, he is known for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, ideas on the visual perception of space, color vision research, and on the sensation of tone, perception of sound, and empiricism. In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of thermodynamics. As a philosopher, he is known for his philosophy of science, ideas on the relation between the laws of perception and the laws of nature, the science of aesthetics, and ideas on the civilizing power of science. A large German association of research institutions, the Helmholtz Association, is named after him.-- from Wikepedia. The whole aricle is worth reading. Helmholtz University was one of the major institutions of the DDR.


In this section Lenin points out that the so called Russian "Marxist" Machists, Valentinov and Bogdanov, try to show the weaknesses of materialism by criticizing the ideas of contemporary bourgeois materialists such as Buchner [1824-1899] Vogt [1817-1895] and Moleschott [1822-1893]. They then apply these these criticisms to Marxist materialism.

This is a big distortion according to Lenin. No one has criticized the bourgeois materialists more than Marx and Engels. But Marx and Engels criticized them for the limitaions in their materialism, not for the materialism itself, which is what the Machists object to.

Engels ponts out three basic limitations of the bourgeois materialists. They did not advance beyond the materialism they inhereted from the eighteenth century-- i.e., they did not develop it. The three limitations are, first, they were mechanical materialists. Today we would call them "reductionists." Engels says (in his "Ludwig Feuerbach") that they indulged in "the exclusive application of the standards of mechanics to processeses of a chemical and organic nature."

Second was the "ANTI-DIALECTICAL CHARACTER OF THEIR PHILOSOPHY." Because of this Engels calls them metaphysical materialists, using "metaphysics" as equivalent to "non dialectical." This usage has spread in Marxism but it is not the way the word is used in philosophy and it sometimes causes misunderstandings, especially when people talk about dialectics as a form of metaphysics.

Third, Lenin says, "was the preservation of idealism 'up above', in the realm of the social sciences, a non-understanding of historical materialism." So M & E were not attacking them because of their materialism but because they were not materialist enough. For not seeing that, Lenin calls Valentinov and Bogdanov "ignoramuses."

The rest of this section is basically a repeat of the above arguments applied to Duhring. The Machists in Germany attacked him as an extreme leftist materialist, while Engels doesn't think much of Duhring as a philosopher of materialism at all. This is the reason for the section's title. While the Machists thought Duhring was too much of a materialist, Lenin says, "For Engels, ON THE CONTRARY, Duhring was NOT A SUFFICIENTLY steadfast, clear and consistent materialist."


We have talked about Dietzgen before. He was a self educated worker who arrived at Dialectical Materialism on his own, but had sometimes a confused way of expressing himself. Lenin writes, "Dietzgen, unlike Engels, expresses his thoughts in a vague, unclear, mushy way. But apart from his defects of exposition and individual mistakes he not unsuccessfully champions the 'MATERIALIST THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE', 'DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM.'"

At one time his writings were well known on the left and he was a big influence. But today he is not so well known. This is no doubt because the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin are widely available and much clearer.

Some of the Machists appealed to Dietzgen to support their views but at heart he was a true materialist and follower of Marx and Engels. Lenin says, "J. Dietzgen could find favour with the reactionary philosophers because he occasionally gets muddled."

At the close of this section Lenin lists the "socialist authorities." They were, in 1908: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Paul Lafargue* [1842-1911], Franz Mehring** [1846-1919], and Karl Kautsky [1854-1938]. We know Kautsky fell from Grace due to his support of WWI. The new list then became Marx, Engels, Lenin. After Lenin died Stalin added himself. Stalin's theoretical writings were never on the same level as Marx, Engels and Lenin and he was removed from the list in 1956 (for violations of socialist legality and for creating a cult around himself). He also killed many innocent people in a drive to always be numero uno). Different national parties often try to make their ephemeral leaders "socialist authorities" but this rarely succeeds. Mao is still holding on in some parties. Gramsci is highly respected in some circles, not to mention Che. My own feeling is that a generation from now the list will be Marx, Engels, Lenin and Castro.

* A famous quote from Marx concerns PL's views at one time:
"Lafargue was the subject of a famous quotation by Karl Marx. Shortly before Marx died in 1883, he wrote a letter to Lafargue and the French Workers' Party leader Jules Guesde, both of whom already claimed to represent "Marxist" principles. Marx accused them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of denying the value of reformist struggles. This exchange is the source of Marx's remark, reported by Friedrich Engels: "ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste" ("what is certain is that [if they are Marxists, then] I myself am not a Marxist")."-- Wikepedia

** FM wrote the first (and some think the best) bio of Karl Marx. He was also one of the three top leaders of the Spartacist League along with Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.


(Preliminary remarks before Section 1)

Lenin's preliminary remarks are to remind us that he is not dealing with physics but with epistomology. His time was a time of revolutionary advances in physics-- relativity theory, quantum mechanics, radioactivity, etc., simillar to our times-- i.e., string theory, multiple universes, the big bang, etc. The "Marxist" Machists were using the new developments in physics in Lenin's day to try and attack materialism because many of the principles of that philosophy had been been formulated before the "new" physics.

This being the case, it is good that Lenin quotes a passage from "Ludwig Feuerbach" in which Engels says that "with each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science ["not to speak of the history of mankind"], materialism has to change its form."

So, what are we to deal with in this chapter on physics? There are many new schools of physics, as well as philosophy, looking to meet up. If we want physics to be materialism's suitor we must show that the latter is the most compatible of the contending match ups.


Well, from our point of view this is not "modern physics" so I am not going to spend a lot of time on it. The roots of our own contemporary physics [2008] however do go back to this time: the discovery of the electron, relativity, etc. The concept of the "ether" is still in use, however, at this time (1908).

Lenin discusses two books. First, "The Value of Science" by Henri Poincare. This book says that the old physical "laws" are being undermined by the new discoveries. The author concludes that physics isn't really about an objective reality and he ends up saying, in his own words: "whatever is not thought is pure nothing." So, he is in the camp of Mach and the idealists.

The other book is by Abel Rey: "The Physical Theory of the Modern Physicists." Lenin gives his take on Rey's views: "Anti-intellectualism is a doctrine that denies the rights or claims of reason. Hence, in its philosophical aspect, the essence of the 'crisis in modern physics' is that the old physics regarded its theories as 'real knowledge of the material world', i.e., a reflection of objective reality. The new trend in physics regards theories only as symbols, signs, and marks for practice, i.e., it denies the existence of an objective reality independent of our mind and reflected by it."

In essence, Rey is saying that "matter" has disappeared! Lenin's next section will deal with this and is where we will take up next week (Section 2. "Matter Has Disappeared").


The fact that old concepts of matter no longer apply in the new physics has led many to conclude that "matter has disappeared." The Russian Machist "Marxist" Valentinov, for example, says, "The statement that the scientific explanation of the world can find a firm foundation 'ONLY in materialism' is nothing but a fiction, and what is more, an absurd fiction." Lenin says Valentinov shows a "virgin innocence" of the nature of materialism and doesn't realize our knowledge of matter is "penetrating deeper." Hmmmm.

The notion that "matter disappears" (it becomes energy, electricity, etc.) "means that," Lenin says, "the limit within which we have hitherto known matter disappears...." Marxists (materialists) are not arguing with physical scientists about how physical reality appears to us-- i.e., about new PROPERTIES of matter-- but about the SOURCE of our knowledge about it. It is an epistemological problem that divides materialists from idealists. "For," Lenin writes, "the SOLE 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of BEING AN OBJECTIVE REALITY, or existing outside the mind."

What is "the error of Machism in general"? It does not understand the basis of materialism and does not differentiate metaphysical from dialectical materialism. Changes is our scientific understanding of the world is not a problem for diamat! Lenin, for example, uses the "ether" as an example of something existing independently of the human mind and reproaches the idealists for thinking it only a mind dependent convention. But the science of your day may not be the science of tomorrow. The "ether" turned out to be a construction of the human mind.

So Lenin was wrong, but his real claim, that "dialectical materialism insists on the approximate, relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties," is not wrong, and so, where it matters, Lenin was right.

The people who really got it wrong were Bogdanov (in 1899) and Valentinov and Yushkevich with "their ignorance of dialectics" and their talk about "the immutable essence of things" and "substance". If they had understood Engels they never would have discoursed on physics in that way. Any particular physical theory of reality is subject to revision. The unchanging requirement for diamat, Lenin says, is the "unconditional recognition of nature's EXISTENCE outside the mind and perception of man...." Matter has far from disappeared.


To the idealists of Lenin's day there was no problem with talking about "motion" after they had eliminated "matter" from their systems. The idealists still "think" there is motion going on-- the motion of the succession of their "sensations." But, Lenin says, the "concept matter expresses nothing more than the objective reality which is given us in sensation. Therefore, to divorce motion from matter is equivalent to divorcing thought from objective reality, or to divorcing my sensations from the external world-- in a word, it is to go over to idealism."

The purpose of this argument is not to refute idealism but to show that the Russian Machist "Marxists", Bogdanov et al, are closet idealists. In order to establish this Lenin once again analyzes the philosophy of energetics as propounded by Ostwald ("Lectures on Natural Philosophy," Leipzig, 1902). But first, recall that for diamat matter and motion are inseparable-- you can't have one without the other, and that Bogdanov, before he was influenced by Mach was following Ostwald's "energetics.

One of Lenin's favorite words is "muddle", which he uses to describe many of the idealist positions he discusses in MEC. Here is why energetics is a "muddle." Ostwald writes, "That all external events may be presented as processes between energies can be most simply explained if our mental processes are themselves energetic and impose this property of theirs on all external phenomena." This is, as Lenin, points out, a form of Kantianism: external reality reflects our mind rather than vice versa.

Ostwald is trying to subsume "mind" and "matter" under energy. But this is just playing with words. "Motion" also for him is a form of energy and in his system, then, we have everything reduced to energy and thus we have motion without matter. But as a scientist, Ostwald mostly talks about MATERIAL motion not "mental processes." When Marxists criticize Ostwald it is for deviations away from material motion, for idealists the criticism is just the opposite.

Here is Bogdanov in "Empirio-monism": Ostwald, "every now and again converts 'energy' from a pure symbol of correlations between the facts of experience into the SUBSTANCE of experience, into the 'world stuff'." Bogdanov and the other Russian Machists are deeply rooted in the idealist philosophy and, whatever may be their political convictions, they are far from Marxism in their philosophical understanding of the world.


In order to explain the two trends in physics Lenin will have one representative of each present his own case. The first will be the physicist Arthur W. Rucker [1848-1915] representing natural science, the second will be the philosopher James Ward [1843- 1925] representing epistemology.

Rucker says, "The question at issue is whether the hypotheses which are at the base of the scientific theories now most generally excepted [1901--tr] are to be regarded as accurate descriptions of the constitution of the universe around us, or merely as convenient fictions." This latter viewpoint is the position of Bogdanov, Yushkevich, and the Russian Machists.

Now, Rucker admits that this latter method is able to achieve "great scientific successes", but he does not think that "it is the last word of science in the struggle for truth." So, Rucker asks, "Can we argue back from the phenomenon displayed by matter to the constitution of matter itself ... whether we have any reason to believe that the sketch which science has already drawn is to some extent a copy, and not a mere diagram of the truth?"

After discussing atoms, the ether, and electrons Rucker prefers the copy theory. Lenin says, "The gist of his position is this: The theory of physics is a copy (becoming ever more exact) of objective reality. The world is matter in motion, our knowledge of which grows ever more profound."

This may an argument over words. How can the Ptolemaic geo-centric universe of Dante, or even the Copernican universe, which still uses epicycles, be a "copy" of the universe as it is as opposed to a symbolic representation? Physicists today (2008) don't know what the universe is really like.* Seventy four per cent of it is composed of something called "dark energy" and they have no idea what that is, so how can their descriptions be a "copy" of anything?

It should be enough, for materialism, to hold that whatever is out there has been around before there were any humans (even before there was the Earth) and so it exists in objective reality independent of the human mind (i.e., the cerebral cortex of human brains).

Now for the other school, represented by James Ward ("Naturalism and Agnosticism", 1906). Ward says both members of his school (such as Gustav Kirchhoff [1824-1887] and Poincare) and those who think like Rucker practice physics in the same way (use "the same methods of verification"). "But the one believes that it is getting nearer to the ultimate reality and leaving mere appearances behind it; the other believes that it is only substituting a generalised descriptive scheme that is intellectually manageable, for the complexity of concrete facts.... In either view the value of physics as systematic knowledge ABOUT things is unaffected; its possibilities of future extension and of practicable application are in either case the same." So why all the commotion? It is because the "speculative difference" is so great that it is important to know which is correct. Now it would seem to me that two theories with the same practical application are the same theory on a deeper level.

Be that as it may, Lenin takes Ward's words very seriously as he sees in them an opening for religion. Lenin maintains that materialism recognizes the objective reality of the entities reflected in theory and Ward doesn't "regarding theory as only a systematisation of experience...." In Ward's case he ends up deducing spiritualism from his philosophy ["the real world is an aggregate of interacting 'spirits' or monads"--Great Soviet Encyclopedia]. So Lenin has a point.

This is also a contemporary problem for people who want to reconcile science and religion. Either science is telling us something about ultimate reality (and religion is just an illusion) or it isn't. Ward thought all scientific truth was relative and "tentative" and thus, to quote Lenin, "it cannot reflect reality." Lenin says this is the price paid in capitalist countries for the "cohabitation" of theology and science. Science goes its way but leaves epistemology to the philosophers and theologians.

At least this is true for "cultured fideism", it does not apply to the yahoo fundamentalism of backwoods Protestantism which denies evolution and, like Mike Hukabee, thinks the world is 6000 years old! Lenin, on the other hand, maintains, as a fundamental principle of diamat, that the only proper epistemology for science is materialism and this rules out religious superstition all together.

Now it is time for an interesting metaphysical speculation. Ward writes that materialism is dependent upon the hard solid indestructible atom and since we now know the atom IS destructible, materialism must fall by the wayside. Lenin responds by saying, "The destructibility of the atom, its inexhaustibility, the mutability of all forms of matter and its motion, have always been the strong hold of dialectical materialism. All boundaries in nature are conditional, relative, movable, and express the gradual approximation of our mind towards knowledge of matter. But this does not in anyway prove that nature, matter itself is a symbol, a conventional sign, i.e., the product of our mind."

Granted that Lenin is correct about "matter itself"-- what about our THEORIES about the nature of matter and the universe? Are they not the product of our mind? Are they "copies" even "photographic copies" of "matter itself" or are they conventional and often far from the truth of what "matter itself" really is "in itself" versus what it is "for us" at any particular time? Does Kant still have a right to a hearing? IF the nature of really turns out to be based on string theory how can the atomic models of Lenin's day be a copy? An approximate copy is not a copy. Ponderous pondering indeed.

* Cf. The New York Times Science Section for 6-3-2008: "Dark, Perhaps Forever: The Universe Unexplained" by Dennis Overbye.


German Idealism, in its neo-Kantian incarnation is using the crisis in physics to declare materialism dead. Lenin refers to the "well-known" Kantian Hermann Cohen [1842-1918] who declared in 1896, in a new introduction to the "History of Materialism"-- "the falsified history of materialism written by F. Albert Lange" [1825-1878]-- that the new physics has turned matter into "force" and "energy" thus it has brought "about the victory of idealism."

Heinrich Hertz [1857-1894] ("the famous physicist") is drafted by Cohen as an ally. Lenin says this is an example of how the idealists grasp at any vague or incomplete statement by scientists and try to use it as a support for anti-materialism. Lenin turns to Hertz's work "Mechanics" to see what he actually thinks.

"If we inquire into the real reason why physics at the present time prefers to express itself in terms of the theory of energy," Hertz says, "we may answer that it is because in this way it best avoids talking about things of which it knows very little...."

After more quotes from this text, Lenin tells us that it is not because "matter" has been abandoned by the physicists that they speak in terms of energy, etc., but because, since the disintegration of the indivisible "atom" they have not yet advanced to a more solid and concrete explanation of nature in the new physics as had been promoted in the old physics. "It is evident from this that the possibility of a non-materialist view of energy did not even occur to Hertz."

Lenin next turns to Eduard von Hartmann [1842-1906] ("far more reactionary that Cohen") and his book "Die Weltanschauung der modernen Physik, Leipzig, 1902) where he remarks, "Modern physics had grown up on a realist basis and it was only the neo-Kantian and agnostic movement of our own time that led it to re-interpret its results in an idealist spirit."

Lenin likes von Hartmann because go goes all the way! "It is highly instructive," Lenin says, "to see how this irreconcilable partisan idealist (non-partisans in philosophy are just as hopelessly thick-headed as they are in politics) explains to the physicists what it means to follow one epistemological trend or another."

The physicists, von Hartmann thinks, have begun to follow idealism as a fashion. To be serious they will have to begin to see that the external world is completely psychical in nature and to abandon all their views about realism when it comes to nature. There is no compromising mish-mash such as produced by Bogdanov, et al.


Once materialism has been abandoned and Machism adopted it will come back to bite you. Here is what happened to Poincare. This great physicist adopted Mach's outlook with regard to physics-- that our knowledge is a symbolic representation of our sense data, only to find that the philosopher Le Roy pounced upon his ideas to justify religion. Science is just one symbolic way at looking at the world of experience, so religion is just another way. Neither has any claim to a so-called "objective reality." I'm not sure the religious folk really like this sort of defense, but Poincare was, Lenin says, "abashed" by these conclusions and sought to distance himself from Le Roy (in the "Value of Science").

What Poincare failed to see was that Le Roy's views do follow from the idealism that is the source of Mach's views. Both religion and science claim to see a world dependent on human beings and the mind. Poincare, however, still thinks that even if he agrees with Mach, that science is made up of conventional symbols, yet there is something "objective" about it. The objects of science "are real inasmuch as the sensations they invoke in us," says Poincare, "appear to us to be united by some sort of indestructible cement and not by an ephemeral accident."

Poincare may be a great scientist, Lenin remarks, but "only the Voroshilov-Yushkeviches can take him seriously as a philosopher." He flees from materialism via Machism and at the first sign of religion "TAKES REFUGE UNDER THE WING OF MATERIALISM'' and the existence of objective external objects.

The last six or seven pages of this section Lenin devotes to the philosophy of Abel Rey which he says is "imperative." Rey, unlike Ward, Cohen, Hartmann et al, seeks to prove "the illegitimacy of the idealist (and fideist) conclusions drawn from the new physics." We first met Rey back in Reading Lenin 17, now we see him in a little more depth.

Rey calls the two trends in physics "conceptualism" [this is Machism and allied idealist views] and neo-mechanism [materialism]. Rey wants to keep some form of viable Machist philosophy and at the same time deny any support to religion.

He says that Mach's meaning when he refers to "experience" has been misunderstood. Rightly understood it would be seen not to be a prop for religion. He says, "Experience is that over which our mind has no command.... Experience is the object that faces the subject." A little later he says, "Objective is that which is given from without, imposed by experience; it is that which is not of our making, but which is made independently of us and which to a certain extent makes us."

So Rey is really, Lenin says, what Engels called a "shamedfaced materialist". "The fundamental characteristic of materialism is that it STARTS FROM the objectivity of science, from the recognition of objective reality reflected by science, whereas idealism NEEDS 'detours' in order, in one way or another, to 'deduce' objectivity from mind, consciousness, the 'psychical.'"

Rey's "embellishment" of Mach tries to remove the differences between his thought and materialism. But, says Lenin, he ignores a major thesis of Mach regarding cause and effect, namely ''THAT THERE IS NO PHYSICAL NECESSITY, BUT ONLY LOGICAL NECESSITY!"

And this is Rey's problem. The reason he became "muddled" is "because he had set himself the impossible task of 'reconciling' the opposition between the materialist and the idealist schools in the new physics."

There is a very interesting note in this section. Lenin quotes the French physicist Alfred Cornu [1841-1902] who said that the more we learn about nature the more we see that Descartes [1596-1650] was right in holding "that in the physical world there is nothing save matter and motion." Cornu goes on to say that the recent new discoveries in physics are attempts to give us a more detailed knowledge of matter and motion and that "the return to Cartesian ideas is obvious." Lenin remarks that Cornu and others were/are ignorant of the fact "that the dialectical materialists Marx and Engels had freed this fundamental premise of materialism from the one -sidedness of MECHANICAL MATERIALISM."

Attempts to reconcile modern physics and idealism, such as Rey's, result from ignorance of diamat. His own epistemology is materialist for he admits that a law of nature has practical significance and in his book says this "is fundamentally the same as saying that this law of nature has objectivity." The muddle is to try and unite this view with the views of Mach & Co. All of this is further evidence of Lenin's thesis that there are ONLY two trends in modern physics, materialism and idealism, and there is no "third way."


We can basically skip over this section as it adds nothing new to Lenin's argument. It is a review of an obituary of a Russian scientist, N. I. Shishkin [died 1906], by "our notorious reactionary philosopher" L. M. Lopatin [1855-1920]. Shishkin was a Machist and was praised by Lopatin, whose work "lies in the borderland between philosophy and the police department." Lenin was in exile and cut off from Russian intellectual developments when he wrote MEC and this short section was written to give the Russian audience something to chew on. According to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Lopatin was an idealist whose philosophy was a form of personalism influenced by Leibniz and his theory of monads.


There are two major points that Lenin wants to make at the outset of this section. "Firstly", he says, "Machism is ideologically connected with only ONE school in ONE branch of modern natural science. Secondly, and THIS IS THE MAIN POINT, what in Machism is connected with this school IS NOT WHAT DISTINGUISHES IT FROM ALL OTHER TRENDS AND SYSTEMS OF IDEALIST PHILOSOPHY, BUT WHAT IT HAS IN COMMON WITH PHILOSOPHICAL IDEALISM IN GENERAL." One has only to compare the French, German, English and Russian representatives of Machism, as Lenin has done, to see that this is so.

What we find is that the main idea of the Machist version of the new physics is "denial of the objective reality given us in sensation and reflected in our theories, [and] doubt as to the existence of such a reality."

Lenin thinks the popularity of this idealistic "deviation towards reactionary philosophy" is only temporary ("a transitory period of sickness") -- a growth ailment he calls it, "mainly caused by the ABRUPT BREAK-DOWN of old established concepts." We should all be able to understand this. The abrupt break-down of the USSR and eastern European socialism in our own time has led to similar reactionary consequences not only in science and philosophy but in the theory and practice of Marxism as well.

If Marxism is a science, i.e., "scientific socialism"-- then these words of Lenin about physics should also apply to it. "The materialist spirit of physics, as of all modern science, will overcome all crises, but only by the indispensable replacement of metaphysical materialism by dialectical materialism."

This raises some serious questions. Few scientists today call themselves "dialectical materialists." Can we say they are "shamefaced" dialectical materialists? Can we say they are practicing diamat more or less unconsciously?

Lenin gives a long quote from Abel Rey the gist of which is that as physics has become more and more mathematical it has begun to lose contact with real objects and to deal with mathematical abstractions. Lenin thinks this is one of the reasons for the growth of idealist tendencies in the new physics.

Another reason is the growth of RELATIVISM. This is not a reference to the theory of relativity, first proposed by Einstein in 1905, and Einstein is never mentioned in MEC. Lenin thinks that the principle of the relativity of our knowledge leads to idealistic conclusions in the brains of people ignorant of dialectics.

The fact that the old truths of physics are breaking down and being replaced has made many think that there is no objective truth-- only relative. Diamat, as expounded by Engels in "Anti-Duhring," maintains that "truth" is indeed relative and changes as we learn more about the objects of nature, but relative truths still reflect objects that exist independently of man. It is not true that "there can be no objective truth independent of mankind."

"Engels," Lenin writes, "reproached the earlier materialists for their failure to appreciate the relativity of all scientific theories, for their ignorance of dialectics and for their exaggeration of the mechanical point of view."

The last few pages of this chapter, yes we are finally finishing Chapter Five (one more to go), are devoted to a book by Duhem, "Theory of Physics." In this book Duhem writes "A law of physics, properly speaking, is neither true nor false, but approximate." That would be fine, says Lenin-- IF Duhem really understood the "but." Diamat recognizes the provisional nature of all knowledge and as science advances that our world conception will also advance (and sometimes retreat).

Duhem, the practicing physicist, also thinks this way. But, ignorant of dialectics, he has been led into Machism and sometimes thinks the reason laws are "but approximate" is because there is no actual objective reality out there, independent of mankind, in the first place. Lenin doesn't say that Duhem is in a "muddle" but he does say he is VACILLATING.

Physical idealism is the result of the failure of mechanical materialism to deal with the revolutionary new developments in physics and will vanish when science takes the step from metaphysical to dialectical materialism.

Lenin chose physics to illustrate his theories. He could have picked any number of sciences had he so wished. I should also note the conditions of 1908 are not unique. Marxism itself, as a scientific world view, is going through a similar crisis today in 2008 as was physics in 1908. Lenin's methods of analysis are as useful today as they were then.

Ever since the "Prague Spring" and the "Cultural Revolution" Marxism has been in crisis. The fall of the Soviet Union is but one consequence, not the cause. Like the 1908 crises in physics, the crisis in Marxism is one of relativism where old established ideas have been thrown aside by new historical events and no new consensus has emerged. Each national party has its own version and formerly despised views historically considered as revisionist, opportunist or products of bourgeois idealism are back on the agenda under new names and guises parading about as the latest interpretations of "scientific socialism."

To paraphrase Lenin, all the old truths of Marxism, including those which were regarded as firmly established and incontestable, prove to be relative truths, leading many to believe there can be no objective universally applicable Marxist principles and each national party is free to go its own way.

This is all the result of the breakdown of the international communist and workers movement as a result of World War II and its aftermath and the current weakness of the Marxist parties in the face of world imperialism. But there are signs of a new world historical shift to the left. Again, to paraphrase Lenin, this shift is being made and will be made by modern Marxists; but it is advancing towards the only true dialectical materialist philosophy and method of struggle by zigzags, not in a straight line, and instinctively not consciously, gropingly and unsteadily with no clear vision of the final conflict and goal, and oftentimes with its back to it.

We should keep all this mind, and especially the need for theory and ideological struggle to strengthen the progressive movement and we should especially study the history of the movement over the last two centuries so that the errors of the past will not become the failures of the future. Keep this in the forefront as we approach the end of our course in Materialism and Empirio-criticism.


The Russian Machists comprise two groups. The first is made up of conservatives and reactionaries grouped around V. Chernov (already discussed), and the other group is made up of "would be Marxists" who think they can harmonize the philosophy of Avenarius and Mach with that of Marx and Engels. Lenin, in this chapter, will show that this is a hopeless task.


Lenin begins by discussing an 1895 article by a disciple of Avenarius named Franz Blei [1871-1942], "Metaphysics in Political Economy." Among other things the article maintains that Marxism is metaphysical because of its belief in "materialism" and "objective" truth and "that there was indeed nothing behind the Marxist teaching save the 'subjective' views of Marx."

Lenin has no doubt that the party members, remember Bogdanov was a Bolshevik leader, flirting with Machism will reject Blei's version of Marxism. But, says Lenin, "You must not blame the mirror for showing a crooked face." Blie gives a true reflection of the social views of his movement. Rejecting his views would show the "good intentions" of the Russian "Marxist" Machists, but would show even better "their absurd eclectical endeavors to combine Marx and Avenarius."

The next Machist Lenin looks at is Petzoldt, whom we have seen before. He has a philosophy of "stability" which is based on "human nature." The tendency is for humanity to attain a state of "stability." This conflict free state will come about on its own by the operations of human nature. It cannot be brought about by socialism. But "moral progress" towards this stability and equality can be seen in our [1908] time. Wages are going up for workers and profits are going down, and there is the foundation of the Salvation Army all of which is evidence for Petzoldt's views! Lenin says this is just "hackneyed rubbish" and represents not a scientific understanding of social science but the "infinite stupidity of the philistine." Now it is time to look at the Russian Machists.


Bogdanov wrote an article in 1902 in which he quotes the famous passage from Marx's introduction to "Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy" about consciousness being a reflection of material reality. Bogdanov then concludes, "SOCIAL BEING AND SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS ARE, IN THE EXACT MEANING OF THESE TERMS, IDENTICAL." Lenin thinks this is nonsense.

In complex societies, and especially in capitalism, people are NOT CONSCIOUS of their social being. Thomas Frank's book "What is the Matter with Kansas" is an example of that. What Marx says is that social consciousness REFLECTS social being. But just what does this mean? Lenin says, "A reflection may be an approximately true copy of the reflected, but to speak of identity is absurd. Consciousness in general REFLECTS being-- that is a general thesis of ALL materialism."

I hate to say it, but there seems to be a problem with this formulation. Does it account for FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS? Working people voting for Republicans, or even Democrats for that matter, are not manifesting a consciousness that reflects their actual social being as cogs in the capitalist machine. What is the distorting mechanism and how does it supervene to block even an "approximately true copy of the reflected"? At any rate, Bogdanov is certainly wrong to be talking about an identity relation between reality and it reflection.

Lenin says Bogdanov's formulation is based on the IDEALISM inherent in the Machist position that outer reality is the same as the sensations we have of it: that outer reality is in fact sensation. "Sense-perception is the reality existing outside us" as Bazarov puts it.

Bogdanov wants to be a good Marxist; Lenin says Bogdanov MINUS Machism "is a Marxist," but is hampered by his idealist deviations. With regard to Machism: "If certain people reconcile it with Marxism, with Marxist behaviour, we must admit that these people are better than their theory, but we must not justify outrageous theoretical distortions of Marxism."

Social production was complex in Marx's day and is even more complex today. Actions of producers in Iowa can have effects on people in Africa. The world economy of capitalism is so vast and interconnected that no one can know all that is going on. Even "seventy Marxes," Lenin says, could not grasp it. But Marx has discovered the OBJECTIVE LAWS that govern the development of capitalism, and this is the most important thing.

Once we understand this we understand "the highest task of humanity." And what is this task? It is to understand these objective laws, Lenin says "to comprehend this objective logic of economic evolution," SO THAT we conform our social consciousness to this logic and the social consciousness "of the advanced classes of all capitalist countries." This is a task, I fear, we are woefully deficient at in the present social environment of capitalism.

Bogdanov and the Russian Marxists did not contribute to this task when they, whatever their good intentions, mixed up reactionary bourgeois idealism with Marxism. Historical materialism sees social being (here the capitalist process) as independent of human consciousness which reflects it with greater or lesser precision. The philosophy of Marx and Engels "is cast from a single piece of steel, you cannot eliminate one basic premise, one essential part, without departing from objective truth, without falling a prey to bourgeois-reactionary falsehood." Is this too strong a statement? Is Lenin too fundamentalist? Or is this correct and far too many so called Marxists, even in our own day, have fallen into a similar stance as that of Bogdanov? I don't mean being "Machist" but are they eliminating a fundamental pillar of Marxism (the dictatorship of the proletariat, the labor aristocracy, class struggle, democratic centralism, internationalism, etc.,) and expecting the house to remain standing?

Bogdanov's desire to "update" Marxism is not based on any real empirical analysis of the facts. In fact, Lenin says, he "is not engaged in a Marxist enquiry at all; all he is doing is to reclothe results already obtained by this enquiry in a biological and energeticist terminology. The whole attempt is worthless from beginning to end...."

At the close of this section Lenin makes some interesting comments about Marx and Engels that are certainly relevant today. He says that for Marx "the transfer of biological concepts IN GENERAL to the sphere of the social sciences is PHRASE-MONGERING." This is certainly true of social Darwinism, but what about modern (2008) attempts to do this? Has science advanced to where this is no longer phrase-mongering? I am thinking of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscientific explanations being applied to the social sciences.

While Lenin has spent most of the time in MEC discussing episte-mology, he nevertheless says that as Marx and Engels transcended Feuerbach they emphasized not materialist epistemology (which they certainly believed in) but rather "the materialist conception of history." He says they put the stress "rather on DIALECTICAL materialism than on dialectical MATERIALISM and insisted on HISTORICAL materialism rather than on historical MATERIALISM."

The Russian Machists have been confused by their embracement of empirio-criticism which is more interested in spreading an idealistic form of epistemology then it is in thinking seriously about the problems of historical materialism. This leads to the falsification of Marxism by nonmaterialist doctrines and is also a "characteristic feature of modern revisionism in political economy, in questions of tactics [especially in a possible tendency to confuse tactics and strategy--tr] and in philosophy generally, equally in epistemology and in sociology."


This section is about an essay by S. A. Suvorov that appeared in the collection "Studies 'in' the Philosophy of Marxism" which book we have discussed before. Lenin heaps scorn on Suvorov for making up new terms for already existing aspects of historical materialism developed by Marx, and using biological examples to try and illustrate social phenomena. Sovorov would be making what today we call a "category mistake." Sovorov's essay is so out of date and behind the times we need not spend any more time on it. The book it appeared in was a collection by all of the usual Russian Machist suspects and elicited from Lenin the comment
that "we arrive at the inevitable conclusion that there is an inseparable connection between reactionary epistemology and reactionary efforts in sociology."


Lenin will now discuss Machism and religion. He reminds us that there are two basic trends in philosophy: materialism and idealism and that the basic question between these TWO GREAT CAMPS revolves around the question of the priority or matter over mind or vice versa.

Lenin opposes all attempts to blur this twofold division within philosophy by the invention of a "third way" that tries to squirm around these two schools. The greatness of Marx, according to Lenin, was his "insistence upon MATERIALISM and contemptuous derision of all obscurity, of all confusion and all deviations towards IDEALISM." Engels also followed this path both before and after the death of Marx.

Engels opposed the neo-Kantians, the positivists and Machists as well as the Humeans. Speaking about Engels' views on Thomas Huxley, Lenin wrote, "That 'positivism' and that 'realism' which attracted, and which continue to attract, an infinite number of muddleheads, Engels declared to be AT BEST A PHILISTINE METHOD OF SMUGGLING IN MATERIALISM while publicly abusing and disavowing it." Lenin asks if Engels said that about Huxley, "a very great scientist", what would he say about today's [1908] muddleheads?

Lenin answers his own question by writing, "they are a contemptible MIDDLE PARTY in philosophy, who confuse the materialist and idealist trends on every question." They produce nothing but "conciliatory quackery." This quackery is also used by religion to gain respectability. By and large religion is the great ally of reaction and bourgeois domination.

Lenin quotes J. Dietzgen: "The materialist theory of Knowledge is 'a universal weapon against religious belief' and not only against the 'notorious, formal and common religion of the priests, but also against the most refined, elevated professorial religion of muddled idealists'" So,it appears it was from Dietzgen that Lenin picked up "muddle- heads" an expression he is overly fond of using. Lenin appears to think that one of the functions of Marxist journalism and writing is to disabuse the public of any faith in faith.

Lenin agrees that Ostwald, and Mach, and Poincare and all the others (almost) are important scientists making contributions to physics, chemistry, history, etc., but they cannot "BE TRUSTED ONE IOTA when it comes to philosophy." Nor can they be trusted in political science, outside of "factual and specialised investigations." This is because both philosophy and political science are, in our society, PARTISAN endeavors.

Lenin adds an interesting footnote at this point about another "reactionary bourgeois philosophy"-- one we still have with us-- namely, PRAGMATISM. Lenin has gotten hold of William James' PRAGMATISM. A NEW NAME FOR SOME OLD WAYS OF THINKING, published in 1907, and has not been impressed. "Pragmatism ridicules the metaphysics both of materialism and idealism, acclaims experience and only experience, recognises practice as the only criterion, refers to the positivist movement in general, ESPECIALLY TURNS FOR SUPPORT TO OSTWALD, MACH, PEARSON, POINCARE AND DUHEM, for the belief that science is not an 'absolute copy of reality' and ... successfully deduces from all this a God for practical purposes, and only for practical purposes, without any metaphysics, and without transcending the bounds of experience."

This is not very different from Machism, according to Lenin, and is similar to Bogdanov's view, especially with regards to James' definition of "Truth"-- i.e., "a class-name for all sorts of definite working values in experience."

So what is "the task of Marxists" when confronted with all this anti-materialist literature? It is to take what is worthwhile from bourgeois thought and shape it in conformity with Marxism. Lenin tells us we can make NO PROGRESS is our thinking, about "new economic phenomena" (but other areas of knowledge are also meant) unless we make use "of the works" of the bourgeois intellectuals. So one task is to study them and not just our own people. The second task is to enrich dialectical and historical materialism with the valid information gained. We should NOT REVISE Marxism to be in accord with bourgeois thought.

Lenin uses Lunacharsky as an example of a Marxist who has allowed himself to be tainted by the influence of Machism to such an extent that he entertains notions derived from RELIGION (shudder). Some of Lunacharsky's statements: he speaks of the "deification of the higher human potentialities" and mentions "religious atheism" and "scientific socialism in its religious significance" and even writes "For a long time a new religion has been maturing within me." Lenin doesn't go for this. I note that around this time the British philosopher Bertrand Russell was talking about Social Democracy as a form of religion.

Lenin says, "this attitude [is] in no way like that of Marx, Engels, J. Dietzgen and even Feuerbach, but is the VERY OPPOSITE." Lenin is not at all neutral on this issue. "The neutrality of a PHILOSOPHER in the question IS IN ITSELF servility to [religion]." And: "Once you deny objective reality given us in sensation, you have already lost every weapon against [religion]."

Lenin says that Lunacharsky's mixing up of religious and Marxist categories is "shameful." Lenin is totally opposed to piecemeal Marxism, of taking some parts of the theory and ignoring others. It is true the Marxism is a guide to action and not a dogma, but it is a unified theory in which every doctrine is logically implied by and logically implies every other. You cannot, for example, reject the dictatorship of the proletariat on the one hand and on the other speak sensibly about class struggle and its outcome. "A single claw ensnared and the bird is lost," Lenin writes. Idealism and religious chatter a la Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Yushkevich, etc., "this is what one inevitably comes to if one does not recognise the materialist theory that the human mind REFLECTS an objectively real external world."


In this last section of Chapter Six, Lenin turns his attention to the philosophy of science of Machism. All of the Machists reject the natural materialist standpoint of the sciences, calling it metaphysics. Petzoldt, for example, declares the scientific assumption of external reality no better than the Indian belief that the world rests on the back of a giant elephant. "It makes no difference," he says, "whether the world rests on a mythical elephant or on just as mythical a swarm of molecules and atoms epistemologically thought of as real and therefore not used merely metaphorically."

All of this Lenin calls "SHEER OBSCURANTISM, out-and-out- reaction." He then mentions the "storm provoked by Ernst Haeckel's THE RIDDLE OF THE UNIVERSE." This was a popular book written by a famous scientist, which was translated into many languages and appeared in many editions-- it was a best seller as we would say.

Haeckel (1834-1919) was a biologist and his book was written to explain the origin of life using Darwin's theory of evolution as the basis of his explanation. Haeckel's book, published in 1899, is still in print. He was denounced by theologians and professional philosophers alike for his theories. Lenin says there was "one underlying motif" in the attacks on Haeckel, namely, "they are all against the 'METAPHYSICS' of natural science, against 'dogmatism', against 'the exaggeration of the value and significance of natural science', against 'natural-scientific MATERIALISM.'"

What is seemingly so strange about this is that Haeckel is actually a reconciliationist who "RENOUNCES MATERIALISM" and wants religion and science to work together. The problem is, as Lenin sees it, is that despite "his personal conciliatory tendencies and proposals concerning religion" [in this he is somewhat like Steven Jay Gould] nevertheless "THE GENERAL SPIRIT of his book, the INERADICABILITY of natural-scientific materialism and its IRRECONCILABILITY with ALL official professorial philosophy and theology .... GIVES A SLAP IN THE FACE" to all forms of Machism and subjective idealistic tendencies. Haeckel himself does not see the contradiction between his method and his goal due to "philosophical naiveté."

The Machists and other idealist humbugs realize this and also realize that a hundred thousand readers of THE RIDDLE OF THE UNIVERSE will pick up the natural scientific (materialist) attitude towards the world that these idealists have been combatting. This is also the Marxist view-- i.e., the view of dialectical materialism. Lenin says: "The 'war' on Haeckel HAS proved that this view of ours corresponds to OBJECTIVE REALITY, i.e., to the class nature of modern society and its class ideological tendencies."

Lenin concludes this chapter with a reference to Franz Mehring's review of THE RIDDLE OF THE UNIVERSE in NEUE ZEIT. Haeckel's problem is that he has no conception of HISTORICAL materialism. He is unable to apply his natural scientific materialism to social problems. Mehring writes, "Haeckel is a materialist and monist, not a HISTORICAL materialist." And,
"he who wants to be convinced that natural-scientific materialism must be broadened into historical materialism if it is really to be an invincible weapon in the great struggle for emancipation of mankind, let him read Haeckel's book."

Haeckel's book demonstrates that natural scientific materialism underlies the method of the natural sciences and its dialectical development into historical and dialectical materialism is the only basis for bringing about the final liberation of humanity and the solution of the social question.

Who could have predicted in 1908 what the world would be like in 2008?
How can we know what 2108 will look like? Will Lenin still be read? If the social question hasn't been solved, I think so.


There are "four standpoints", Lenin says, that Marxists should start from in evaluating empirio-criticism.

1. Understand "the THOROUGHLY REACTIONARY character of empirio-criticism.

2. Recognize that "the whole school of Mach and Avenarius is moving more and more definitely towards idealism" along with the most reactionary idealists.

3. Know that the "vast majority of scientists ... are invariably on the side of materialism."

4. Finally, "one must not fail to see the struggle of parties in philosophy, a struggle which in the last analysis reflects the tendencies and ideology of the antagonistic classes in modern society."


Lenin added this while the book was at the printers. He added it as an extra dig at the Russian Machists wanting to be Marxists. Most people in the West, and especially in the USA will never have heard of Chernyshevsky (1828-1889) but he was very a famous Russian revolutionary democrat and socialist who would have been well known to all of Lenin's readers.

The point Lenin wanted to make was that Chernyshevsky opposed Kant from the left, as a disciple of Feuerbach, while Bogdanov et al opposed Kant from the right, from the Machist and hence idealist position and were backwards in their thinking even compared to Chernyshevsky whose views dated from the the 1850s and 60s.

So much then for MATERIALISM AND EMPIRIO-CRITICISM. But since so little is known about Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevskii (NGC) here, I culled some info from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia [GSE] to introduce him. You can also Google him.

The three major influences on NGC were German philosophy, French utopian socialism and English political economy (the same three factors that Lenin called the component parts of Marxism). NGC's philosophy was based on the anthropology of human nature and was a form of RATIONAL EGOISM. We look out for our own interests. This should lead us to become socialists ["The Anthropological Principle in Philosophy," 1860].

NGC was a follower of Feuerbach who was, in NGC's own words, "the culmination of German philosophy, which --- having now for the first time achieved positive solutions --- has abandoned its former scholastic type of metaphysical transcendentalism and, admitting that its own results has merged with the general theory of natural science and anthropology." For NGC, practice was the source of truth, it was "that immutable touchstone of all theory."

In 1855 he wrote THE AESTHETIC RELATION OF ART TO REALITY in which he declared "beauty is life" meaning "what is of general interest in life --- THAT is the content of art." [All quotes are from NGC's works.] Art should look to the real world and portray it and "pass judgment on its manifestations."

In his 1857 work LESSING; HIS TIME, LIFE, AND WORK, he maintained that "the principal motive force of historical development" could in certain historical situations be literature.

While NGC was a pre-Marxist revolutionary, he did hold that "intellectual development, like development in any other area, including the political, depends on economic circumstances."

In 1861 he wrote a study called "Essays on Political Economy (According to Mill)", in which he attacked the bourgeoisie, developed his own economic theory which he called "theory of the working people" which stated "the need to replace the present economic system with a communist one."

NGC held that with socialism, "the separate classes of hired worker and employer will disappear, being replaced by a single class of people who will be workers and managers at the same time." NGC, being a pre-Marxist as I said, thought that Russia would be able to skip over the stage of capitalism and build socialism directly based on peasant communes. The GSE says that he, along with Herzen, was the founder of NARODNICHESTVO (the Narodnicks), also known as POPULISM.

The Russian government persecuted NGC from the early 60s to the end of his life by imprisoning him (seven years at hard labor) and placing him in internal exile for his writings and ideas. His 1862 novel, WHAT IS TO BE DONE was read by Lenin who used the title for one of his most important early works. Lenin had great respect for NGC and said that he was the only high level philosophical materialist in Russia from the 1850s up to 1888.

Well, comrades and friends, if you have persevered thus far you have finally reached the end of our course. Another one is brewing for the Fall, so be prepared! FINIS CORONAT OPUS.