Lenin – “matter has disappeared”: part one

 

Materialism and idealism differ in their answers to the question of the source of our knowledge and of the relation of knowledge (and of the “mental” in general) to the physical world; while the question of the structure of matter, of atoms and electrons, is a question that concerns only this “physical world”. When the physicists say “matter disappears” they mean that hitherto science reduced its investigations of the physical world to three ultimate concepts: matter, electricity and ether; now only the two latter remain. For it has become possible to reduce matter to electricity; the atom can be explained as resembling an infinitely small solar system, within which negative electrons move around a positive electron with a definite (and, as we have seen, enormously large) velocity. It is consequently possible to reduce the physical world from scores of elements to two or three elements (inasmuch as positive and negative electrons constitute “two essentially distinct kinds of matter”, as the physicist Pellat says – Rey, op. cit., pp. 294-95). Hence, natural science leads to the “unity of matter” (ibid.) – such is the real meaning of the statement about the disappearance of matter, its replacement by electricity, etc., which is leading so many people astray. “Matter disappears” means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter disappears and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper; properties of matter are likewise disappearing which formerly seemed absolute, immutable, and primary (impenetrability, inertia, mass,1 etc.) and which are now revealed to be relative and characteristic only of certain states of matter. For the sole “property” of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside the mind.

The error of Machism in general, as of the Machist new physics, is that it ignores this basis of philosophical materialism and the distinction between metaphysical materialism and dialectical materialism. The recognition of immutable elements, “of the immutable essence of things”, and so forth, is not materialism, but metaphysical, i.e., anti-dialectical, materialism. That is why J. Dietzgen emphasised that the “subject-matter of science is endless”, that not only the infinite, but the “smallest atom” is immeasurable, unknowable to the end, inexhaustible, “for nature in all her parts has no beginning and no end” (Kleinere philosophische Schriften, S. 229-30). That is why Engels gave the example of the discovery of alizarin in coal tar and criticised mechanical materialism. In order to present the question in the only correct way, that is, from the dialectical materialist standpoint, we ask: Do electrons, ether and so on exist as objective realities outside the human mind or not? The scientists will also have to answer this question unhesitatingly; and they do invariably answer it in the affirmative, just as they unhesitatingly recognise that nature existed prior to man and prior to organic matter. Thus, the question is decided in favour of materialism, for the concept matter, as we already stated, epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 240-246

Part one/to be continued…

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Note

1. This refers apparently to mechanical mass, which classical physics regarded as an eternal and unchanging property of matter.

Text, with minor errors, at:
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1908/mec/five2.htm#v14pp72h-258

Lenin on matter: part six

 

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”.

Sensation is an image of matter in motion. Save through sensations, we can know nothing either of the forms of matter or of the forms of motion; sensations are evoked by the action of matter in motion upon our sense-organs. That is how science views it.

“Matter disappears”, only equations remain. At a new stage of development and apparently in a new manner, we get the old Kantian idea: reason prescribes laws to nature.

Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 275, 282, 288

Lenin on matter: part five

The ‘indivisible’ atom. ‘With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form’ (Engels)

The destructibility of the atom, its inexhaustibility, the mutability of all forms of matter and of its motion, have always been the stronghold 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 any way prove that nature, matter itself, is a symbol, a conventional sign, i.e., the product of our mind. The electron is to the atom as a full stop in this book is to the size of a building 200 feet long, 100 feet broad, and 50 feet high (Lodge); it moves with a velocity as high as 270,000 kilometres per second; its mass is a function of its velocity; it makes 500 trillion revolutions in a second – all this is much more complicated than the old mechanics; but it is, nevertheless, movement of matter in space and time. Human reason has discovered many amazing things in nature and will discover still more, and will thereby increase its power over nature. But this does not mean that nature is the creation of our mind or of abstract mind, i.e., of Ward’s God, Bogdanov’s “substitution”, etc.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, p. 262

Part Five/To be continued…

Lenin on matter: part four

Lenin in Red Square, 1920

Matter has disappeared, they tell us, wishing from this to draw epistemological conclusions. But has thought remained? – we ask. If not, if with the disappearance of matter thought has also disappeared, if with the disappearance of the brain and nervous system ideas and sensations, too, have disappeared – then it follows that everything has disappeared, and your argument as a sample of “thought” (or lack of thought) has disappeared. But if thought has remained – if it is assumed that with the disappearance of matter, thought (idea, sensation, etc.) does not disappear, then you have surreptitiously gone over to the standpoint of philosophical idealism. And this always happens with people who wish, for the sake of “economy”, to conceive of motion without matter, for tacitly, by the very fact that they continue their argument, they are acknowledging the existence of thought after the disappearance of matter. This means that a very simple, or a very complex philosophical idealism is taken as a basis; a very simple one, if it is a case of frank solipsism (I exist, and the world is only my sensation): a very complex one, if instead of the thought, ideas and sensations of a living person, a dead abstraction is taken, that is, nobody’s thought, nobody’s idea, nobody’s sensation, but thought in general (the Absolute Idea, the Universal Will, etc.), sensation as an indeterminate “element”, the “psychical”, which is substituted for the whole of physical nature, etc., etc. Thousands of shades of varieties of philosophical idealism are possible and it is always possible to create a thousand and first shade; and to the author of this thousand and first little system (empirio-monism, for example) what distinguishes it from the rest may appear important. From the standpoint of materialism, however, these distinctions are absolutely unessential. What is essential is the point of departure. What is essential is that the attempt to think of motion without matter smuggles in thought divorced from matter – and that is philosophical idealism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, pp. 248-49

Part Four/To be continued…

Aristotle, Hegel and Lenin on truth

François Lemoyne (1688-1737), Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, 1737 (completed on the day before the artist’s suicide), Wallace Collection, London

François Lemoyne (1688-1737), Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, 1737 (completed on the day before the artist’s suicide), Wallace Collection, London

Now it is also the case that there can be nothing intermediate to an assertion and a denial. We must either assert or deny any single predicate of any single subject. The quickest way to show this is by defining truth and falsity. Well, falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that that which is not is and truth is the assertion that that which is is and that that which is not is not. Thus anyone who asserts anything to be or not to be is either telling the truth or telling a falsehood. On the other hand, neither that which is is said either not to be or to be nor is that which is not.

And if there were an intermediate of contradictory statements, then it would either be like grey between black and white or like the non-man-non-horse between man and horse.

Aristotle, The Metaphysics, Trans and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 107 (Gamma 7 1011b)

*  *  *

It is admitted that the law of identity expresses only a one-sided determinateness, that it contains only formal truth, a truth which is abstract, incomplete. In this correct judgement, however, it is immediately implied that truth is complete only in the unity of identity with difference, and hence consists only in this unity.

G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V. Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 414

the truth is concrete; that is, while it gives a bond and principle of unity, it also possesses an internal source of development

G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 19-20

For what subject matter can cognition have that is more sublime than truth itself!

G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V. Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 575

*  *  *

Contemporary fideism does not at all reject science; all it rejects is the “exaggerated claims” of science, to wit, its claim to objective truth. If objective truth exists (as the materialists think), if natural science, reflecting the outer world in human “experience”, is alone capable of giving us objective truth, then all fideism is absolutely refuted. But if there is no objective truth, if truth (including scientific truth) is only an organising form of human experience, then this in itself is an admission of the fundamental premise of clericalism, the door is thrown open for it, and a place is cleared for the “organising forms” of religious experience.

V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 110

Dialectics—as Hegel in his time explained—contains an element of relativism, of negation, of scepticism, but is not reducible to relativism. The materialist dialectics of Marx and Engels certainly does contain relativism, but is not reducible to relativism, that is, it recognises the relativity of all our knowledge, not in the sense of denying objective truth, but in the sense that the limits of approximation of our knowledge to this truth are historically conditional.

V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 121

The standpoint of life, of practice, should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge. And it inevitably leads to materialism, sweeping aside the endless fabrications of professorial scholasticism. 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. If what our practice confirms is the sole, ultimate and objective truth, then from this must follow the recognition that the only path to this truth is the path of science, which holds the materialist point of view.

V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 126-27

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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

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd/4th

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

Image sources: 1st/2nd