Lenin: The Theory of Knowledge of Dialectical Materialism – Part Fourteen

 

Why I have such a high regard for Marx, Engels and Lenin

What is Matter? What is Experience? (continued)

One expression of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic playing with new words, erudite terms, and subtle “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.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 130-131

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Part fourteen/to be continued…

Lenin: the recent revolution in natural science, and philosophical idealism – part eight

A massive star in NGC 6357

A massive star in NGC 6357

“Matter has disappeared” (continued)

The opinions expressed by Bogdanov in 1899 regarding “the immutable essence of things”, the opinions of Valentinov and Yushkevich regarding “substance”, and so forth – are similar fruits of ignorance of dialectics. From Engels’ point of view, the only immutability is the reflection by the human mind (when there is a human mind) of an external world existing and developing independently of the mind. No other “immutability”, no other “essence”, no other “absolute substance”, in the sense in which these concepts were depicted by the empty professorial philosophy, exist for Marx and Engels. The “essence” of things, or “substance”, is also relative; it expresses only the degree of profundity of man’s knowledge of objects; and while yesterday the profundity of this knowledge did not go beyond the atom, and today does not go beyond the electron and ether, dialectical materialism insists on the temporary, relative, approximate character of all these milestones in the knowledge of nature gained by the progressing science of man. The electron is as inexhaustible as the atom, nature is infinite, but it infinitely exists. And it is this sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature’s existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 243

The first image (a 180 degree panorama) sent from another planet (Venus). Venera 9, 1975

The first image (a 180 degree panorama) sent from another planet (Venus). Venera 9, 1975

Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater, Mars, 2011

Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater, Mars, 2011

Philae on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 2014

Philae on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 2014

Flying past Neptune’s moon Triton

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Part eight/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Dialectical materialism and the constraint of capitalist ideology

Magnet

Hi Tach,

I agree with Morawski who wrote that belief systems are delimited by interests. My focus for the last thirty two years has been on understanding and exposing how those limitations function in the philosophy of capitalist ideology and on going beyond them. This is why I have had so much difficulty with and rejection by time-serving academics – all the more so because of Australia’s authoritarian, anti-intellectual, shame-based and servile culture.

In his Materialism and Empirio-criticism Lenin wrote of the brilliant development of materialism by Marx and Engels from mechanical to dialectical (significantly in response to scientific developments, a point lost on contemporary Western scientists whose work is increasingly stunted by capitalist ideology and its philosophical idealism), but I disagree with him when he wrote that in doing this, Marx and Engels brought the development of materialism to its culmination.

Firstly, such a statement is un-dialectical (it is amazing that, in theorising ‘end-points’, some of the greatest dialecticians – Hegel, Marx and Lenin – could make such a basic error). Secondly, developments in brain science are more and more showing an appreciation of how the brain functions wholistically (I think this relates to your point, because they are just steps to go from the brain as a unit to the brain in a body and that body in a social world) and in the process better understanding what ‘reason’ is, its rich and dynamic nature – the same ‘reason’ philosophers not only believe they engage in (which Lenin superbly exposed and mocked in his Materialism and Empirio-criticism) but also, in its manifestation, utterly take for granted – exemplified by Descartes’ ‘cogito ergo sum’.

This is why I argue that mysticism (its perspective and methods) and its profound relationship with materialism must be thoroughly examined. Capitalist ideology, its philosophy and epistemology, are nothing but a mounting impediment to this, to our engagement with the world and our knowledge of it.

Phil

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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.

Note

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

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Part eleven/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part ten

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss. Colour enhanced scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear in its active state. Water bears are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. They require water to obtain oxygen by gas exchange. In dry conditions, they can enter a cryptobiotic state of desiccation, known as a tun, to survive. In this state, water bears can survive for up to a decade. This species was found in moss samples from Croatia. It feeds on plant and animal cells. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive high levels of radiation and the vacuum of space. Magnification: x250 when printed 10cm wide.

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss. Colour enhanced scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear in its active state. Water bears are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. They require water to obtain oxygen by gas exchange. In dry conditions, they can enter a cryptobiotic state of desiccation, known as a tun, to survive. In this state, water bears can survive for up to a decade. This species was found in moss samples from Croatia. It feeds on plant and animal cells. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive high levels of radiation and the vacuum of space. Magnification: x250 when printed 10cm wide.

Ernst Haeckel and Ernst Mach (continued)

The storm provoked by Ernst Haeckel’s The Riddle of the Universe in every civilised country strikingly brought out, on the one hand, the partisan character of philosophy in modern society and, on the other, the true social significance of the struggle of materialism against idealism and agnosticism. The fact that the book was sold in hundreds of thousands of copies, that it was immediately translated into all languages and that it appeared in specially cheap editions, clearly demonstrates that the book “found its way to the people”, that there are masses of readers whom Ernst Haeckel at once won over to his side. This popular little book became a weapon in the class struggle. The professors of philosophy and theology in every country of the world set about denouncing and annihilating Haeckel in every possible way. The eminent English physicist Lodge hastened to defend God against Haeckel. The Russian physicist Mr. Chwolson went to Germany to publish a vile reactionary pamphlet attacking Haeckel and to assure the respectable philistines that not all scientists now hold the position of “naïve realism”. Innumerable theologians joined the campaign against Haeckel. There was no abuse not showered on him by the official professors of philosophy. It was amusing to see how – perhaps for the first time in their lives – the eyes of these mummies, dried and shrunken in the atmosphere of lifeless scholasticism, began to gleam and their cheeks to glow under the slaps which Haeckel administered them. The high-priests of pure science, and, it would appear, of the most abstract theory, fairly groaned with rage. And throughout all the howling of the philosophical die-hards (the idealist Paulsen, the immanentist Rehmke, the Kantian Adickes, and the others, and their name is legion) one underlying motif is clearly audible: 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”. He is a materialist – at him! at the materialist! He is deceiving the public by not calling himself a materialist directly! – that is what particularly drives the worthy professors to fury.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 327-328

The Butterfly Nebula

The Butterfly Nebula

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Part ten/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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There is nothing in the world but matter in motion

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CMB Dipole

There is nothing in the world but matter in motion, and matter in motion cannot move otherwise than in space and time. Human conceptions of space and time are relative, but these relative conceptions go to compound absolute truth. These relative conceptions, in their development, move towards absolute truth and approach nearer and nearer to it. The mutability of human conceptions of space and time no more refutes the objective reality of space and time than the mutability of scientific knowledge of the structure and forms of matter in motion refutes the objective reality of the external world.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 158

Earth at Equinox, September 2013, from the Russian meteorological satellite Electro-L

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part eight

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Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

Once you deny objective reality, given us in sensation, you have already lost every weapon against fideism, for you have slipped into agnosticism or subjectivism – and that is all that fideism requires. If the perceptual world is objective reality, then the door is closed to every other “reality” or quasi-reality (remember that Bazarov believed the “realism” of the immanentists, who declare God to be a “real concept”). If the world is matter in motion, matter can and must be infinitely studied in the infinitely complex and detailed manifestations and ramifications of this motion, the motion of this matter; but beyond it, beyond the “physical”, external world, with which everyone is familiar, there can be nothing. And the hostility to materialism and the torrents of slander against the materialists are all in the order of things in civilised and democratic Europe. All this is going on to this day. All this is being concealed from the public by the Russian Machists, who have not once attempted even simply to compare the attacks made on materialism by Mach, Avenarius, Petzoldt and Co., with the statements made in favour of materialism by Feuerbach, Marx, Engels and J. Dietzgen. …

A single claw ensnared, and the bird is lost. And our Machists have all become ensnared in idealism, that is, in a diluted, subtle fideism; they became ensnared from the moment they took “sensation” not as an image of the external world but as a special “element”. It is nobody’s sensation, nobody’s mind, nobody’s spirit, nobody’s will – 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.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 323-325

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Part eight/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part seven

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Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

Not a single one of these professors, who are capable of making very valuable contributions in the special fields of chemistry, history or physics, can be trusted one iota when it comes to philosophy. Why? For the same reason that not a single professor of political economy, who may be capable of very valuable contributions in the field of factual and specialised investigations, can be trusted one iota when it comes to the general theory of political economy. For in modern society the latter is as much a partisan science as is epistemology. Taken as a whole, the professors of economics are nothing but learned salesmen of the capitalist class, while the professors of philosophy are learned salesmen of the theologians.

The task of Marxists in both cases is to be able to master and refashion the achievements of these “salesmen” (for instance, you will not make the slightest progress in the investigation of new economic phenomena without making use of the works of these salesmen) and to be able to lop off their reactionary tendency, to pursue our own line and to combat the whole line of the forces and classes hostile to us. And this is just what our Machists were unable to do; they slavishly follow the lead of the reactionary professorial philosophy. “Perhaps we have gone astray, but we are seeking,” wrote Lunacharsky in the name of the authors of the Studies. The trouble is that it is not you who are seeking, but you who are being sought! You do not go with your, i.e., Marxist (for you want to be Marxists), standpoint to every change in the bourgeois philosophical fashion; the fashion comes to you, foists upon you its new falsifications adapted to the idealist taste, one day à la Ostwald, the next day à la Mach, and the day after à la Poincaré. These silly “theoretical” devices (“energetics”, “elements”, “introjections”, etc.) in which you so naïvely believe are confined to a narrow and tiny school, while the ideological and social tendency of these devices is immediately spotted by the Wards, the neo-criticists, the immanentists, the Lopatins and the pragmatists, and it serves their purposes. The infatuation for empirio-criticism and “physical” idealism passes as rapidly as the infatuation for Neo-Kantianism and “physiological” idealism; but fideism takes advantage of every such infatuation and modifies its devices in a thousand ways for the benefit of philosophical idealism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 321-322

Woodcut from Descartes’ 1644 Principles of Philosophy illustrating his theory of vision.

Woodcut from Descartes’ 1644 Principles of Philosophy illustrating his theory of vision.

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Part seven/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part six

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Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

Here is another example of how the widespread currents of reactionary bourgeois philosophy make use of Machism in practice. Perhaps the “latest fashion” in the latest American philosophy is “pragmatism” (from the Greek word “pragma” – action; that is, a philosophy of action). The philosophical journals speak perhaps more of pragmatism than of anything else. 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, Poincaré 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 (cf. William James, Pragmatism, A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, New York and London, 1907, pp. 57 and 106 especially1). From the standpoint of materialism the difference between Machism and pragmatism is as insignificant and unimportant as the difference between empirio-criticism and empirio-monism. Compare, for example, Bogdanov’s definition of truth with the pragmatist definition of truth, which is: “Truth for a pragmatist becomes a class-name for all sorts of definite working values in experience” (ibid., p. 68)2.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 321

Notes

1. From the pages referred to by Lenin in the 1907 edition of James’ Pragmatism:

p. 57 ‘The laws (of science) themselves, moreover, have grown so numerous that there is no counting them; and so many rival formulations are proposed in all the branches of science that investigators have become accustomed to the notion that no theory is absolutely a transcript of reality, but that any one of them may from some point of view be useful. Their great use is to summarise old facts and to lead to new ones. They are only a man-made language, a conceptual short-hand, as some one calls them, in which we write our reports of nature; and languages, as is well known, tolerate much choice of expression and many dialects.

Thus human arbitrariness has driven divine necessity from scientific logic.’

pp. 106-107 ‘…the true objection to materialism is not positive but negative. It would be farcical at this day to make complaint of it for what it is, for ‘grossness.’ Grossness is what grossness does – we now know that. We make complaint of it, on the contrary, for what it is not – not a permanent warrant for our more ideal interests, not a fulfiller of our remotest hopes.

The notion of God, on the other hand, however inferior it may be in clearness to those mathematical notions so current in mechanical philosophy, has at least this practical superiority over them, that it guarantees an ideal order that shall be permanently preserved. A world with a God in it to say the last word, may indeed burn up or freeze, but we then think of him as still mindful of the old ideals and sure to bring them elsewhere to fruition; so that, where he is, tragedy is only provisional and partial, and shipwreck and dissolution not the absolutely final things. This need of an eternal moral order is one of the deepest needs of our breast.’

2. Some more examples of the idealist maudlin mush of James’ philosophy:

p. 68 ‘…pragmatism may be a happy harmoniser of empiricist ways of thinking with the more religious demands of human beings.’

william-james-philosopher-why-should-we-think-upon-things-that-are

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The-Varieties-of-Religious-Experience-William-James-A-Study-in-Human-Nature-LECTURES-XVI-AND-XVII-–-MYSTICISM

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William James in a séance with medium Mrs. Walden. n.d.

William James in a séance with medium Mrs. Walden. n.d.

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Part six/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Lenin: Empirio-criticism and historical materialism – part five

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis in Meditation, 1635-1639, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis in Meditation, 1635-1639, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

Parties in Philosophy and Philosophical Blockheads (continued)

J. Dietzgen had not the slightest doubt that the “scientific priestcraft” of idealist philosophy is simply the antechamber to open priestcraft. “Scientific priestcraft”, he wrote, “is seriously endeavouring to assist religious priestcraft” (op. cit., 51). “In particular, the sphere of epistemology, the misunderstanding of the human mind, is such a louse-hole” (Lausgrube) in which both kinds of priests “lay their eggs”. “Graduated flunkeys”, who with their talk of “ideal blessings” stultify the people by their tortuous (geschraubte) “idealism” (53) – that is J. Dietzgen’s opinion of the professors of philosophy. “Just as the antipode of the good God is the devil, so the professorial priest (Kathederpfaffen) has his opposite pole in the materialist.” The materialist theory of knowledge is “a universal weapon against religious belief” (55), and not only against the “notorious, formal and common religion of the priests, but also against the most refined, elevated professorial religion of muddled (benebelter) idealists” (58).

Dietzgen was ready to prefer “religious honesty” to the “half-heartedness” of free-thinking professors (60), for “there a system prevails”, there we find integral people, people who do not separate theory from practice. For the Herr professors “philosophy is not a science, but a means of defence against Social-Democracy” (107). “Those who call themselves philosophers – professors and university lecturers – are, despite their apparent free-thinking, more or less immersed in superstition and mysticism…and in relation to Social-Democracy constitute a single…reactionary mass” (108). “Now, in order to follow the true path, without being led astray by all the religious and philosophical gibberish (Welsch), it is necessary to study the falsest of all false paths (der Holzweg der Holzwege), philosophy” (103).

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 319-320

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Some concealed priests and mystics

Part five/to be continued…

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