Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part fourteen

Democritus, Johannes Moreelse, oil on canvas, c. 1630, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Democritus, Johannes Moreelse, oil on canvas, c. 1630, Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

Imagine the bitter lot of a Machist when his favourite subtle constructions, which reduce the categories of natural science to mere working hypotheses, are laughed at by the scientists on both sides of the ocean as sheer nonsense! Is it to be wondered at that Rudolf Willy, in 1905, combats Democritus as though he were a living enemy, thereby providing an excellent illustration of the partisan character of philosophy and once more exposing the real position he himself takes up in this partisan struggle? He writes: “Of course, Democritus was not conscious of the fact that atoms and the void are only fictitious concepts which perform mere accessory services (blosse Handlangerdienste), and maintain their existence only by grace of expediency, just as long as they prove useful. Democritus was not free enough for this; but neither are our modern natural scientists, with few exceptions. The faith of old Democritus is the also the faith of our natural scientists” (op. cit., S. 57).

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919)

And there is good reason for despair! The “empirio-criticists” have proved in quite a “new way” that both space and atoms are “working hypotheses”; and yet the natural scientists deride this Berkeleianism and follow Haeckel! We are by no means idealists, this is a slander; we are only striving (together with the idealists) to refute the epistemological line of Democritus; we have been striving to do so for more than 2,000 years, but all in vain! And it only remains for our leader Ernst Mach to dedicate his last work, the outcome of his life and philosophy, Knowledge and Error, to Wilhelm Schuppe and to remark ruefully in the text that the majority of natural scientists are materialists and that “we also” sympathise with Haeckel… for his “free-thinking” (S. 14).

Ernst Haeckel with Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai, his assistant, in the Canary Islands, 1866

Ernst Haeckel with Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai, his assistant, in the Canary Islands, 1866

And there he completely betrays himself, this ideologist of reactionary philistinism who follows the arch-reactionary Schuppe and “sympathises” with Haeckel’s free-thinking. They are all like this, these humanitarian philistines in Europe, with their freedom-loving sympathies and their ideological (as well as political and economic) captivity to the Wilhelm Schuppes. Non-partisanship in philosophy is only wretchedly masked servility to idealism and fideism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 333-334


Part fourteen/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

3 thoughts on “Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part fourteen

  1. This text calls to my mind the “dialectical theory of everything” developed by a group that is relentlessly carrying forward Marx’s, unfinished, work [by which I do NOT mean the state-bureaucratic ruling-class, dictatorial perversions of the Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist, Maoist, …, Castroist, and Unist state-CAPITALIST ideologues, fraudsters, and mass murderers] in the four key domains which Marx and Engels were not able to bring to fruition before their deaths.

    Those unfinished domains of Marxian theory and practice include:

    (1) that of the detailed nature of the Marxian dialectic method;

    (2) that of the dialectic of Nature, and of the Marxian immanent critique of the ideology that pervasively compromises the modern sciences, including, not just the economic and other social sciences, but the natural sciences and mathematics as well;

    (3) clarification, including clear and ‘quanto-qualitative’ definition, of the central Marxian concept of “the social forces of production” — of ‘the human-societal self-force of human-societal self-re-production’ — in relation to a ‘Meta-Darwinian’ concept of human-species ‘‘‘fitness’’’ in terms of the rate of human-societal self-reproduction, as well as the interrelated clarification of the core Marxian concept of “the social relations of production”, e.g., of the “capital-relation”, of the “money-relation”, of the “commodity-relation”, etc. This ‘Meta-Darwinian’ theory recognizes the role of ‘the human Phenome’ as well as of the ‘the human Genome’ in increasing the ‘self-force’, and thereby the rate, of human society in accelerated expanded social self-reproduction;

    (4) that of the detailed nature of the liberatory, Political-ECONOMIC-DEMOCRATIC society — founded upon the new, unprecedented social relation of production — which is the “lawful” higher successor system to [State-]Capitalism;

    (5) that of the detailed causation-dynamics of the ever-worsening catastrophic global economic depression-crises, wars, and genocides that advise us all of the growing need for us to transcend [state-]capitalism, by creating that successor system, of grass roots Political-ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY.

    That group is Foundation Encyclopedia Dialectica [see http://www.dialectics.org ].


    • Hello detonacciones, thank you for your comment. I have always had a particular regard for Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-criticism. You write of ‘unfinished domains of Marxian theory and practice’. A key purpose of my blog is to argue that Marx and his dialectical materialism represent the most advanced development of a current in thought that began with Plotinus – a current that, in my view, will always be open to further development, not least because of the continuing development of technology and science.

      I think it is essential that this continuum be recognised for its further development – hence, from standing on its head (Plotinus through to Hegel) to standing on its feet (Marx) to a more profound explication of the latter.


  2. Hello, philstanfield, and thank you for your reply. Yes, we too see that Marx’s dialectical ‘psychohistorical materialism’, to remain true to itself, must remain open to further development, because the development of science [“universal labor”, Marx] and of technology, and of the human praxis surrounding and appriopriating that technology [“cooperative labor”, Marx] — and the development of the social forces of production in general — gives rise to new ‘human-social ontology’, especially to new/modified ‘social relations of production socio-ontology’, and also to new kinds of use-values, and to new ‘ideo-ontology’ [some of which, especially within the capitalist integument, is also new IDEOLOGY]; new “memes” added to the human “memes-pool”, i.e., to the ‘human PHEnome’, as well as to new kinds of means of production.


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