Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963
The questions to be considered in this Part belong to critical rather than speculative philosophy of history. Critical philosophy of history is a sober and modest kind of philosophical inquiry concerned with the examination of historical thinking, which was revived after the Second World War particularly in AngloSaxon countries. But since the Marxist-Leninist philosophy of history is mostly governed by problems of the speculative sort, it may not always be possible to keep within these limits.
According to Marxist-Leninists, the whole Universe and every part of it is in constant change, motion, transformation and development. Since any determinate existence has a history of its own, all knowledge is in fact historical. We cannot avoid inquiring into the temporal sequences of past events and must base knowledge of the present on knowledge of the past. Each branch of science and learning has a theoretical and a historical part and it is the latter that provides the key to the understanding of the former. It is history that helps us to understand the theoretical systems of science and learning and not conversely, as is commonly assumed.
This view emphasises the evolutionary character of reality and its laws and sets it against the eternal permanence supposedly ascribed to Nature and society by non-materialist philosophy. For instance, in Newton’s physics and the political economy of the French physiocrats it is assumed that laws were fixed by the Creator for all time. The doctrine of eternal permanence supports the belief that the regularity of natural and social phenomena is established by divine legislation and kept in order by God’s providence.
It was Hegel who began to resolve the doctrine of eternal permanence of order in Nature and society, but only Marx and Engels fully accomplished this task. We know only one science, they wrote, the science of history. One can distinguish in it the history of Nature and the history of man, but the distinction is analytic and not factual. For as long as men exist, the history of Nature and human history condition one another. History is the basic science to which every branch of knowledge must refer its findings for an ultimate explanation of their meaning and function in the sum total of man’s experience. Without historical knowledge, comprising the entire life of society, that allows us to acquire an increasing mastery over the historical process itself, man would have no sense of direction and his destiny would continue to be governed by the operation of blind forces, some of which he himself created, without being able to control them and to make them work towards some man-determined ends. ‘Science’, wrote Deborin referring in fact to historical knowledge, ‘gives men vision, lifts the curtain of the future and allows them to act consciously in a definite direction’ .
Historical knowledge restricted to the history of man has, in Marxist-Leninist terminology, a wider scope than in the common usage. It absorbs much of the subject-matter of the social and cultural sciences, and also providis them with their basic premisses and rules of procedure. Any socio-cultural thinking should be related to the knowledge of the world historical process as a whole and be considered as its component part. Historical inquiry does not examine aspects of man’s existence, various temporal sequences of past events, but has a distinctive subject-matter – the world historical process (the ‘grand phenomenon’ of Hegel, la marche fondamentale du développement humain of Comte), subject to its own internal laws of development, which hold sway ‘both in history as a whole, and at a particular period and in particular lands’ . It is not, therefore, sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, art, or literature that provides the basis for the understanding of history, but it is historical knowledge that enables us to understand all the social sciences and man’s cultural achievements. For the same reason a Marxist-Leninist is not satisfied to search for specific laws of social and cultural change but tries to discover the laws of history, i.e. the regularities to which the historical process conforms and which bring about the succession of its uniform patterns.
Like its immediate predecessor, the positivism of Saint-Simon and Comte, Marxian doctrine is a historical philosophy. It is permeated by the sense of growth, evolution, and, to some extent, of continuity brought into the world by man’s action. Marx saw and examined the fundamental problems of life in terms of history and Marxism-Leninism has remained faithful to this inheritance. It is also a historical philosophy and this fact had some practical and significant effects. The belief that every work of the human hand and mind is a link in a chain that stretches back into the long past and points to the distant future has created, in principle, favourable circumstances for historical studies of every sort.
It should be clear from these observations that Marxist-Leninists reject the opinion that history is a distinctive procedure of inquiry into any subject-matter rather than a branch of knowledge with a distinctive subject-matter. These two radically different points of view have been named by a non-Marxist Polish historian the ‘immanent’ and the ‘transcendent’ interpretation of history respectively. The immanent interpretation sharply differentiates between history and meta-history or philosophy of history. History describes past events in terms of their own standards and values and from the perspective of men involved in described occurrences; meta-history is an attempt to go beyond actual happenings to the regularity or pattern concealed behind them. This demands the abandonment of the standpoint of the observer and the application of a theory of historical causation. The immanent interpretation of history is history sensu stricto, the transcendent interpretation abandons the historian’s level of understanding and propounds theories, which, by the historian’s standards of warranted knowledge, cannot claim scientific validity. For these theories rest on necessarily insufficient data and on unjustifiable generalisations.
The immanent interpretation of history is regarded by an overwhelming majority of historians as the historical outlook par excellence. It was given the name of Historismus in German historiography for which in the English language the term ‘historism’ has been suggested. It conceives the investigated historical process as one of growth and development, refrains from applying to any age or period standards which were foreign to them, and tries to do justice to each according to its own lights. Historism implies the concern with particular events and sets itself limited aims. In this sense its method of investigation can be described as idiographic or individualising.
Historism does not subscribe, however, to the idiographic doctrine, a synthesis of the theories of Dilthey, Windelband and Rickert, according to which the subject-matter of history is the totality of unique or unrepeatable events. This doctrine implies, as has sometimes been said, that the historian applies only ‘singular concepts’ and abandons the use of general statements. A programme of this sort would clearly be unworkable and its starting point gives a false account of the historian’s activity. Historism does not deny that historians make use of general concepts in their descriptions and of generalisations in their explanations of the sequence and connection of events. Historians only insist that however necessary and illuminating such general propositions and obiter dicta might be, they are not the essential purpose of their work. They want to ‘find the truth about this or that’, to establish which particular facts happened in the past, and to explain causally or otherwise singular events. The supporters of the immanent interpretation of history in Poland, and that meant practically all the working Polish historians, did not regard history as an idiographic science in the so-called Rickertian sense.
Historism is essentially a methodological doctrine, but some ontological conclusions are sometimes drawn from it. It has been said that the plurality of histories points to ontological pluralism; that it supports the view that there is no such thing as one single historical process; and that history is not an ‘efficient cause’. It has also been said that the temporal plurality of histories, i.e. the continual change of the principles of selections and perspectives applied to the same subject-matter, as well as the simultaneous multiplicity of different points of view which the historian can adopt, establishes the fact that history has no unique and universally valid meaning. If this conclusion is accepted, historical relativism acquires a new epistemological significance. For it gives a clearer understanding of the problems dominating every kind of historical research in which one has to take account of one’s own situation to assess the significance of the results obtained. The recognition of our own active role in historical inquiry brings into relief the eternal gulf between ‘history as it is’ and our partial knowledge of it. This means progress in historical understanding and in self-awareness.
Whether this is or is not regarded as a valid argument against ontological and historical monism, the decision does not affect historism as a methodological doctrine. Historism is not a speculative philosophy of history, but a working historian’s remedy for historiosophy. It came into being as a reaction to Hegel’s philosophy of history and has continued to oppose similar attempts to substitute meta-history for history. ( Geyl criticism of Toynbee Study of History is a recent instance). The approach to history as a rational whole with its distinct patterns and laws, by reference to which historical events acquire meaning, can be explained and predicted, has been named by Popper ‘historicism’ . The irreconcilability of historism and historicism is manifested in their respective manner of inquiry (though, sometimes, the latter grew out of the former as a salvation from what Arnold Toynbee described as the ‘nonsense view of history’), a point made perfectly clear by Popper’s incisive critical analysis of historicism.
According to Marxist-Leninist historicism, the immanent approach deforms the subject-matter of history. It regards history as nothing but an assemblage of individual facts. It dissects the context, cuts the historical process into externalised parts, divorces one fact from another and makes it an abstraction linked with another abstraction by purely external relations of time, space, resemblance, causation, contiguity and the like. In contradistinction to historism, or, as Marxist-Leninists say, historical immanentism, historicism conceives the subject matter of history as a whole whose various parts bear upon, overlap and interpenetrate each other. This presupposes belief in the historical world process, which gradually unfolds itself to successive generations of mankind, but whose dynamic factors and inner laws can be known to any man. This sets a historian a task different from that which historism wishes to perform. The historical process is not a sequential order of discrete facts to be described in their uniqueness, however desirable it might be for some limited purpose, but a stream of events growing organically out of and related to each other, to be shown as a unity or a potentiality striving for realisation. Moreover, if every event is an integral part of the world historical process, neither can its existence be apprehended, nor its nature known until the relations of this part to everything else have been considered and thereby its inner nature revealed in its true light. This can be achieved by subsuming it under historical laws, that is, by showing that it was brought about by the operation of forces which determine the pattern of change in conformity with historical laws.
There are two related but distinct strands in Marxist-Leninist historicism. The first is of Hegelian origin. When Engels introduced it in Ludwig Feuerbach he simply paraphrased a famous passage from Hegel The Philosophy of History.
Historical events, wrote Engels, may appear to be governed by chance, for the spectacle which they offer is that of innumerable individuals, each of whom strives for his own desired ends. These ends cross and conflict with one another, or are incapable of realisation and have consequences quite different from those intended. And yet history being the ‘resultant of these many wills operating in different directions and of their manifold effects upon the outer world’ is governed by ‘inner, hidden laws’, in relation to which individual ends, motives and desires are only of secondary importance. For while people strive to gratify their interests, they thereby accomplish something else, latent in their actions, though not included in and transcendent to their designs. Their passions are informed with general considerations and these are interrelated and interact to bring into existence the web of history, woven of constitutional and political forms, political, juristic, and philosophical theories, religious views and their development into systems of dogmas. Through the totality of these interrelated forms and events there asserts itself the necessity, ‘forming the red thread which runs through them and alone leads to understanding’ .
The discovery of the decisive movement that finally asserts itself in history as a whole shows how illusory ‘empirical history’ must remain and how futile and narrow-minded the academic erudition of a ‘technical’ historian is. For he treats historical facts as disjointed occurrences and pursues the hopeless task of discovering the truth by collecting humbly and patiently isolated facts, which, as such, cannot be an object of historical knowledge. The Hegelian idea of history exercised a powerful influence on the minds of Polish Marxist-Leninist historians of whom it might be said that they were Hegelians first and Marxist-Leninists? second.
The other strand in Marxist-Leninist historicism is the Marxian theory of historical causation. It identifies the ‘ultimate driving forces of history’ with the productive forces of society and its mode of production which dynamically manifest themselves in the existence of classes and in the class struggle as the modus operandi of underlying historical factors. Together with the Hegelian idea of the universal interconnectedness and interdependence of historical events, it lays down the methodological rule that every social system and movement in history, every school of thought in the social sciences, philosophy, literature and art must be evaluated from the standpoint of the economic conditions which gave rise to them. ‘For only such an approach’, stated Stalin in one of his pronouncements, quoted frequently, ‘saves the science of history from becoming a jumble of accidents and an agglomeration of most absurd mistakes’ .
From the viewpoint of Hegelian historicism the immanent interpretation of history was solely a methodological error. The procedure chosen by its exponents was inadequate to its subject-matter and bound to result in misreadings of the historical process. The criticism based on Hegel’s view of history would not take advantage of arguments different from those which, for instance, G.R. Collingwood used against positivistic historiography. Hegel’s conception of historical process combined with the Marxian economic historicism, further simplified in Stalin’s doctrine concerned with the relations between basis and superstructure, threw quite a different light on the immanent interpretation of history. There was no longer the question of a mere methodological error, but of a methodological error with an ideological significance and function to be revealed by relating it to the underlying class struggle.
The immanent interpretation of history does not start with the investigation of its subject-matter as it exists by itself, but sets up certain procedures, which, being arbitrarily chosen or determined by an ulterior motive, deform what they purport to describe. On the other hand, the Marxist-Leninist approach to history takes the historical process as its point of departure and formulates the principles of investigation in accordance with its specific traits.
Historical facts do not disclose anything by themselves, historical knowledge grows by the accumulations of solutions to problems raised. To ask questions we must be in possession of a conceptual scheme, and questions have a definite meaning within the framework of a theory. A historian cannot, therefore, investigate facts without the guidance provided by a theory. The question of which is the correct theory is to be decided on the ground of philosophical considerations. The criteria by means of which the relevance of the historian’s conceptual categories and the validity of his theoretical assumptions, that is, their agreement with objective reality, can be established, are provided by philosophy. There is no divergence between Nature and history, the categories and laws that govern natural development also apply to the historical process. Since historical materialism is an extension of dialectical materialism in the study of social life and history, the dialectics of Nature provide the basis for the dialectics of history. Owing to this, the ‘science of the history of society, despite all the complexity of the phenomena of social life, can become as precise a science as, let us say, biology’ . Philosophy helps us to establish the totality of laws to which the historical process conforms.
This is essentially a Hegelian idea. For according to Hegel what is a hypothesis in the domain of history can be demonstrated in philosophy. If Reason governs the world, it governs its history as well. Nothing less than Reason itself is required; for the ‘fancies, in which an individual indulges, cannot be the model for universal reality’ . Marxist-Leninists claim empirical validity for their own manner of demonstrating the truth of historical materialism. In their opinion dialectical materialism is an empirically valid theory, and historical materialism is logically implied by dialectical materialism. Moreover, as Engels argued, modern developments have greatly simplified once concealed interconnections of events. At present to deny the assumptions of historical materialism on what are the ultimate driving forces of history and the laws of their operation, is to close one’s eyes deliberately so as not to see the patent facts of the historical process. Engels’ appeal to the evidence provided by current political, social, and economic developments has been widely used ever since, though rather by statesmen and politicians than by philosophers and social scientists. The latter prefer to speak of the ‘historical verification’ of Marxist-Leninist theories. This is hardly an improvement upon Engels’ original idea, since it expresses a judgment by political sympathy and ideological affinity in neutral but misapplied scientific terms. A theory of such generality and abstractedness as historical materialism is not capable of verification in any simple or direct manner, whether historically or otherwise.
In the preceding pages attention has frequently been drawn to the fact that the source of various philosophical theories to which Marxist-Leninists adhere should be sought in their sociological ideas and political convictions. To justify the manner in which they try to change the world, Marxist-Leninists have formulated a picture of the world that in its all-pervasive traits, structures and laws is supposed to provide the warrant for their action. In the Marxist-Leninist socio-cosmic’ conception of the Universe circular thinking is clearly involved.
But to its supporters it appears as a structure ‘cast from a single piece of steel’, from which ‘you cannot eliminate one basic premiss, one essential part, without departing from objective truth’ . Lenin spoke more truly than he knew.
The philosophy of history is the nucleus of the Marxist-Leninist system; it is the starting point and the destination of the circular thinking by means of which the socio-cosmic’ conception of the Universe comes into being and in turn lends its support to the views on history and society, as well as on what is worthy of man’s efforts and devotion. For the dichotomy of matters of fact and matters of value is established by the rules of scientific procedure and is non-existent in thinking based on ideological premisses, in which values and ideas are interlocked. Marxist-Leninists have no difficulty in deriving recommendations and moral precepts from the ‘analysis of facts’, in bridging the gap between what is, could or might be, and what ought to be. The impervious crust of absolute certainty, which surrounds the Marxist-Leninist philosophy of history, results from its proximity to the total ideological attitude, underlying the doctrinal system, to its inherent value components and value-determined principles, which govern the arrangement of concepts, the organisation of evidence, and the construction of theories.
This will become clear in the course of the examination of Marxist-Leninist historicism and of the concept of ideology. The selection of these two problems has been prompted by the consideration that Polish Marxist-Leninists have made some contributions to their elucidation and elaboration which go beyond what can be found in Soviet Marxism-Leninism. Moreover, the evolution of the concept of ideology played an important role in the development of events leading to the rejection of dogmatism and the revival of critical inquiry in Poland. The closing part of the chapter will review the methodological premisses on which Marxist-Leninists wished to base and to rewrite the history of philosophy and the unexpected outcome of this undertaking.