The immaculate is made maculate


The space station crosses a spotless sun



Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part eleven

Peering out of the windows of the International Space Station (ISS), astronaut Tracey Caldwell Dyson takes in the planet on which we were all born, and to which she would soon return.

Peering out of the windows of the International Space Station (ISS), astronaut Tracey Caldwell Dyson takes in the planet on which we were all born, and to which she would soon return.

*   *   *

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

Especially noteworthy in all this tragicomedy1 is the fact that Haeckel himself renounces materialism and rejects the appellation. What is more, far from rejecting religion altogether, he has invented his own religion (something like Bulgakov’s “atheistic faith” or Lunacharsky’s “religious atheism”), and on grounds of principle advocates a union of religion and science. What is the matter then? What “fatal misunderstanding” started the row?

The point is that Haeckel’s philosophical naïveté, his lack of definite partisan aims, his anxiety to respect the prevailing philistine prejudice against materialism, his personal conciliatory tendencies and proposals concerning religion, all this gave the greater salience to the general spirit of his book, the ineradicability of natural-scientific materialism and its irreconcilability with all official professorial philosophy and theology. Haeckel personally does not seek a rupture with the philistines, but what he expounds with such unshakeably naïve conviction is absolutely incompatible with any of the shades of prevailing philosophical idealism. All these shades, from the crudest reactionary theories of a Hartmann, to the positivism of Petzoldt, who fancies himself up-to-date, progressive and advanced, or the empirio-criticism of Mach – all are in accord that natural-scientific materialism is “metaphysics”, that the recognition of an objective reality underlying the theories and conclusions of science is sheer “naïve realism”, etc. And to this doctrine, “sacred” to all professorial philosophy and theology, every page of Haeckel gives a slap in the face. This scientist, who undoubtedly expressed the very firmly implanted, although ill-defined opinions, sentiments and tendencies of the over-whelming majority of the scientists at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, instantly, easily and simply revealed what professorial philosophy tried to conceal from the public and from itself, namely, the fact that there is a foundation, growing ever wider and firmer, which shatters all the efforts and strivings of the thousand and one little schools of philosophical idealism, positivism, realism, empirio-criticism and other confusionism. This foundation is natural-scientific materialism. The conviction of the “naïve realists” (in other words, of all humanity) that our sensations are images of an objectively real external world is the conviction of the mass of scientists, one that is steadily growing and gaining in strength.

The cause of the founders of new philosophical schools and of the inventors of new epistemological “isms” is forever and hopelessly lost. They may flounder about in their “original” petty systems; they may strive to engage the attention of a few admirers in the interesting controversy as to who was the first to exclaim, “Eh!” – the empirio-critical Bobchinsky, or the empirio-monistic Dobchinsky; they may even devote themselves to creating an extensive “special” literature, like the “immanentists”. But the course of development of natural science, despite its vacillations and hesitations, despite the unconscious character of the materialism of the natural scientists, despite yesterday’s infatuation with fashionable “physiological idealism” or today’s infatuation with fashionable “physical idealism”, is sweeping aside all the petty systems and artifices, again and again bringing to the forefront the “metaphysics” of natural-scientific materialism.


1. The tragic element was introduced by the attempt made on Haeckel’s life this spring (1908). After Haeckel had received a number of anonymous letters addressing him by such epithets as “dog”, “atheist”, “monkey”, and so forth, some true German soul threw a stone of no mean size through the window of Haeckel’s study in Jena. – Lenin

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 328-330


Part eleven/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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