Lenin: the philosophical idealists

The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and from the Right

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. When Kant assumes that something outside us, a thing-in-itself, corresponds to our ideas, he is a materialist. When he declares this thing-in-itself to be unknowable, transcendental, other-sided, he is an idealist. Recognising experience, sensations, as the only source of our knowledge, Kant is directing his philosophy towards sensationalism, and via sensationalism, under certain conditions, towards materialism. Recognising the apriority of space, time, causality, etc., Kant is directing his philosophy towards idealism. Both consistent materialists and consistent idealists (as well as the “pure” agnostics, the Humeans) have mercilessly criticised Kant for this inconsistency. The materialists blamed Kant for his idealism, rejected the idealist features of his system, demonstrated the knowability, the this-sidedness of the thing-in-itself, the absence of a fundamental difference between the thing-in-itself and the phenomenon, the need of deducing causality, etc., not from a priori laws of thought, but from objective reality. The agnostics and idealists blamed Kant for his assumption of the thing-in-itself as a concession to materialism, “realism” or “naïve realism”. The agnostics, moreover, rejected not only the thing-in-itself, but apriorism as well; while the idealists demanded the consistent deduction from pure thought not only of the a priori forms of perception, but of the world as a whole (by magnifying human thought to an abstract Self, or to an “Absolute Idea”, or to a “Universal Will” etc., etc.). And here our Machists, “without noticing” that they have taken as their teachers people who had criticised Kant from the standpoint of skepticism and idealism, began to rend their clothes and to cover their heads with ashes at the sight of monstrous people who criticised Kant from a diametrically opposite point of view, who rejected the slightest element of agnosticism (skepticism) and idealism in his system, who demonstrated that the thing-in-itself is objectively real, fully knowable and this-sided, that it does not differ fundamentally from appearance, that it becomes transformed into appearance at every step in the development of the individual consciousness of man and the collective consciousness of mankind. Help! – they cried – this is an illegitimate mixture of materialism and Kantianism!

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 179-180


Part one/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

4 thoughts on “Lenin: the philosophical idealists

  1. Thanks again Phil, for this clear appraisal.

    I think Kant is sensible. We are dealing with our reality. If one considers it a part created and placed by the nervous system of the whole self , then the materialists are describing our reality’s virtualness as a good indicator of the objective reality sensed by the whole body and projected for us to think we perceive (when the whole body has the eyes, we as an identity only thinks we see), and the idealists are describing the nature of what we experience. The thing-in-itself can be the experience-itself of what we experience as phenomenologists recognise prior to our “judging” or our conceptualising “what” within context. But projection allows us to place the noumenon as of the objective world that the whole body senses and places as phenomena for us to have our notion and sense about.

    Projection means that we our selves, what surrounds us, and what projects us are inside the whole self. It is a different state of self to the one having experiences of notion and sense, that is independent as subject of its experience which is the object. In face of the whole self, we are his or her part, and cannot consider the whole self as object except as notion and sense of the whole self. In our actuality, including the witness, where there is no separation in our self, and we may be in relation with the whole body. Every other thing in reality in the objective world can only manifest in projection as indications, so we can never know the real world except through the whole body’s sense organs and projection and our inference. Similar to Kant’s can’t know the noumenon, but we do not even directly perceive – we (the self or identity) think we do as we think we have eyes when the whole body does.

    What do you think ? Does it add to anything, are there other’s with a similar emphasis ? Regards Tach.


    • Hello Tach, Lenin was criticising Kant from ‘the left’ (or consistent materialism), pointing out that others (the Machists) criticised him from ‘the right’ (idealism). Lenin’s position, which he argues throughout this book, is that if one follows the logic of one’s argument (which he does re- the philosophy of empirio-criticism), one is faced with choosing between objective reality/matter as primary (which he did and I do) or idealism (consciousness/reason/thought). Following quotations from the book will expand on this. Best regards, Phil


      • Thanks Phil, helpful as always.
        You’ve been clear and fair about your position and of others’. Can you expand on objective reality/matter as primary at some time? What is objective reality/ matter it self for us but projected indication and notion. Science through what we can sense and measure can only approach its happening through models of how it must be, and philosophy through what we sense and conclude can only contextualise its being and existence through theories about what it must be like. Yes, it is primary, I feel as well, but then we keep to what we think and say but also express of what we sense, feel and are. We reach for the ideal or idea, are stuck in notion and sense, and getting closer, dare I quote, in “the logic of one’s argument”, we are further from reality.
        I find the left right distinction in politics interesting. We are centred right in our projected sense, is my message as you know. In this philosophical stage, is Kant and Lenin centred right ? Either side of the objective reality that presents for us to sense and consider ? Do you think it helpful and useful to place objective reality next to the whole body, who creates and places our notions but also our sense of the objective world ? I feel the rest of reality belongs next to the whole body because he or she is primary to our experience in our reality, of them – objective reality apart from the whole body can only manifest as indications. One might go further and say that the whole body is the noumenon we can never know about that is the source of our phenomenon.
        Truly, Tach.


      • Hello Tach, ‘objective reality’ or ‘matter’ refers to all that exists. Science tells us, as you know, that the universe has existed for 13.8 billion years and that consciousness has functioned for the tiniest part of that. Matter is continually re-organising/re-structuring – both randomly (e.g. evolution) and according to what we know as ‘laws’ (the two are related). Consciousness, self-consciousness and thought etc. arose then developed as a result of that re-organising. Where consciousness is matter aware of itself (the world), self-consciousness is matter (the world) reflecting on itself. All of this is consistent with science and is the materialist perspective.

        When a person believes that all that is is the work of God or some intentionality, they are asserting that objective reality/matter is secondary to consciousness/’mind’ (I wish I never saw that concept again) etc., that objective reality/matter is its product. Similarly with philosophical idealism (irrespective of its stripe – subjective, objective, absolute, voluntarist etc.). All philosophical idealisms put consciousness prior to matter/objective reality in some way.

        As Lenin argues, although Kant acknowledged ‘things-in-themselves’, he (Kant) wrote (again, as you know) that they are unknowable and that space, time and (what we know as) causality are what we bring to the world – they are not objective, they do not exist independently of us. In so doing, he failed to understand both the nature of the world and how we relate with it – on the basis of our unceasing practical experience of/engagement with it.

        To acknowledge what science tells us about the world, to accept our deepening knowledge of the world and then to hold that an immaterial force is at work (i.e. one contrary to the laws of nature, with or without intentionality) is, in Lenin’s and my view, fundamentally contradictory – on the one hand what science is and tells us is accepted, and on the other denied.

        Then where could the scope be found for our sense of unity with others, with the world? My view is that such feeling and thought do not deny the materialist perspective – as I processed above, we are matter reflecting on itself, matter organised in particular ways reflecting on matter organised in particular ways. There is one, material world and the most profound feeling in response to this unity is entirely consistent with materialism. What do you think?
        Best regards, Phil


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