The Metaphysics of Positivism
This novel – Red Star – is hardly an accidental phenomenon as far as the fate of Russian Machism is concerned. Let us examine it more closely; it will provide answers to many of the questions which interest us at this time – including A. Bogdanov's attitude towards the teachings of Karl Marx. We will discover the essence of the philosophy which he (unlike Lenin) uses as a prism to begin his examination of socialism. A socialism 'critically purified' in the light of Mach's principles, in the light of the 'successes and achievements of modern natural science', in the light of the 'latest philosophy' which he was now preaching together with Bazarov and Yushkevich, Lunacharsky and Valentinov, Berman and Suvorov.
In Essays in the Philosophy, of Marxism he joined them in outlining his 'new philosophy'. In the same year, 1908, he also published Red Star in which this philosophy is applied to the rethinking of socialism and its perspectives.
The effect achieved is very interesting. The more that A. Bogdanov tries to defend the socialist ideal, the more elegant and lofty it becomes in the author's eyes, more and more (and this is not Bogdanov's fault, just his misfortune) it begins to remind one of a worn out, sterile and anaemic icon, which is rather unflattering for a live human being.
Here it is very clear how his thought takes the road going in just the opposite direction from Marx and Engels, the road away from science to utopia. But Bogdanov feels that nothing has changed; he thinks that he is going forward both in philosophy and in the explanation of social and economic problems.
The novel not only includes numerous passages from Empirio-Monism. The entire structure of images is organised by the ideas of this philosophy, and for this reason Red Star is simply an artistic equivalent of Bogdanov's theoretical constructions and his epistemology.
From an artistic point of view, the novel is of little interest; it is boring and didactic. It obviously never joined the golden treasury of science fiction. But it helps us to understand much in Bogdanov's philosophy, in its real, earthly equivalents.
The novel as a whole is a long and popular exposition of Mach's (empirio-monist) interpretation of the teaching of Marx. Heroes of the book frequently present quotations from Empirio-Monism and try to explain their 'actual meaning' as clearly as possible to the reader. The text of Empirio-Monism is cut up into pieces and commissioned for delivery to the engineer Menny, the physician Netty and the revolutionary Leonid N.
The novel begins quite realistically. Leonid N. sits down to agonise over the lessons of the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, as well as the reasons behind his breaking up with his beloved woman. And suddenly it appears that he is not the only one who is thinking about these two subjects.
It turns out that the events of 1905-1908 and his personal fate are being studied with close attention by ... beings from another planet. Strangers from Mars.
Their egg-shaped spacecrafts have been hovering over the barricades of Krasnaya Presnya and over Stockholm, where the heated discussions between the supporters of Lenin and the supporters of Plekhanov had been taking place. They know everything. Even the reasons why Leonid N. and Anna Nikolaevna have separated. Their omniscient eye probes the depths of all earthly secrets. In addition they are very intelligent, exceedingly shrewd, and they understand everything much better than the sinful earthlings. Their attention to earthly matters is not without a definite motive, but the aims of their visit they hold in secret. Only later will it reveal itself to Leonid N.
The only person with whom they finally establish contact is Leonid N. Why has he been chosen? Because their psycho-physiologists have determined that on the entire earthly globe he is the one human specimen who is the closest to them. Both physiologically and psychologically. Only with him can they hope to achieve mutual understanding.
The alien beings explain to Leonid: through a study of him, they want to thoroughly investigate the psychology of an inhabitant of Earth, and of its 'best variant' besides, in order then to decide whether it would be risky for them to help the Russian revolutionary Social-Democracy; indeed, they could arm it with a super-weapon – with a bomb made from fissionable radioactive elements.
But could they be entrusted with such a superweapon? Were they sufficiently reasonable for this?
With this goal in mind they arrange an excursion to Mars for Leonid N. There he sees for himself all the wonders of super-science and super-technology. Flying devices with engines working on the energy of 'antimatter' ('matter with a minus sign') are just as common as buses are for the residents of Moscow or London. But it is not the technical wonders that interest Leonid N. the most. More important for him are the social structure of Mars, the people, and their inter-relations. On Mars there is socialism. Or to be more precise, the fully realised 'ideal model' of socialism.
Private ownership of the means of production and of its product have long since been liquidated and forgotten. Production is carried out according to a strictly calculated plan (using gigantic calculating machines). Minor and accidental deviations from the plan are swiftly and easily eliminated. Personal needs are satisfied in full and are not regulated, for every Martian is reasonable enough not to want anything superfluous. Here there is complete equilibrium, without any contradictions or conflicts.
The state has long since disappeared, as well as all organs of violence. There is no need for them since all normal Martians are intelligent and modest. Of course, there are exceptions, but only among uneducated children and abnormal people (the insane). They are easily dealt with by physicians and teachers, who are authorised to use force that is also not regulated in any way. Right up to the painless killing of those who are incurable or unyielding. The physicians and teachers are intelligent and goodhearted, and there is no reason to fear any abuses.
Labour is neither difficult nor burdensome. Machines do everything for the people. People only supervise them. A few hours of work where it is needed for society as a whole (indicated by figures on brilliant scoreboards), and you are free.
What do Martians do after work? Who knows ... Leonid N. (here they call him Lenny) isn't allowed to look into this. Perhaps they devote themselves to love, perhaps art, perhaps intellectual self-improvement. But these are everyone's private matters, and, on Mars it is not acceptable to poke one's nose into private matters.
Thus, within society, in the sphere of relations between people, there reigns a full, almost absolute, equilibrium. All contradictions have disappeared, and differences are on the verge of disappearing. They have been reduced to a necessary minimum. Even differences between the sexes (Lenny is long unable to understand that Netty, the young physician who is treating him, is in actual fact a young woman who has fallen in love with him).
In Lenny's eyes, all Martians look alike. In each one he only sees one and the same general type which has been multiplied over and over: a large-headed being with large impassively-attentive eyes and a weak, anaemic body, which is concealed beneath the same style of rationally designed clothing. We have been created in this way by nature, the Martians explain to Leonid N., by the nature of Mars. Here, solar energy is less intense and the force of gravity is half as strong as it is for you on Earth. Therefore we are not as emotional as the inhabitants of Earth, but on the other hand, we are more sensible. Hence our psychic is more balanced than yours, and all the other details are bound up with this. And we have constructed socialism at an earlier date.
Lenny begins to feel uneasy and disturbed. He tries to find out, isn't it boring to live in this geometrically balanced and sterilely uncontradictory new world? The Martians look at him with a sad and condescending smile: your very question gives you away as an alien being, as a newcomer from Earth. It betrays the degree to which the remnants of capitalism remain strongly embedded in your consciousness, and the degree to which bourgeois individualism remains strong within you.
Lenny is sadly forced to agree with this diagnosis. His reason understands and accepts everything, but his emotions continue to rebel. His reason is still not strong enough to crush these irrational emotions, and Lenny begins to feel extremely despondent. Martian psychiatrists are forced to place him in a hospital and restore his disturbed mental equilibrium with the help of drugs. For a time, the remnants of capitalism in his consciousness cease to torture him. The chemicals have suppressed them.
But only for a while, since Lenny's psychophysiology has retained its earthly and imperfect characteristics. He sees everything as before with the eyes of an inhabitant of Earth, and his 'narrowly patriotic' interests prevent him from completely rising to the level of interplanetary interests. They prevent him from looking at the world from the point of view of the interests of interplanetary socialism. Hence, with his reason he understands everything correctly, especially the fact that Martian socialism is a much higher and more perfectly developed form of interplanetary socialism than those forms which have matured on the Earth. This he understands clearly as long as his 'bourgeois and individualistic earthly emotions' lie dormant these 'remnants of capitalism in his consciousness' which have taken root in his earthly flesh.
They can be suppressed with the help of drugs. But as long as they simply lie dormant, but have not been eradicated, the main reason for the lack of understanding between Lenny and Martian socialism remains intact. What lingers is their obvious psychophysiological incompatibility, which is based on the biological incompatibility of two different races of inter-planetary mankind.
Bogdanov was by no means trying to lampoon socialism, on the contrary he was devoted to it. A different matter altogether is what Marxian socialism looked like when he began to look at it through the distorting lenses of Machist philosophy, through the prism of his empirio-monism, through the conceptual framework of this philosophy. Here is how its 'optics' work. When examined through its lenses, the doctrine of K. Marx is at first insignificantly distorted, it is only schematised.
In the image of the future which is outlined by Marx, those features and contours are then abstractly singled out which characterise socialism exclusively from the point of view of political economy (moreover from a very narrow understanding of the political economy).
These are all the features which were seen by the hero of Bogdanov's novel on the Red Star. Socialised property and the planned organisation of production, the regulated balance between production and consumption, between socially necessary time and free time, etc., the absence of legal and state coercion, the high level of consciousness of the participants in social production – all this is correct, all these are necessary and important characteristics of socialism which Bogdanov sees.
But, aside from the features of socialism which are indicated, nothing else is visible through the Machist spectacles. The economic framework of Marx has remained, but only as a framework, as a skeleton, while the flesh and blood, the concrete reality of the Marxist conception of the socialist future, has been cast aside and replaced by the Machist fantasy. As a result you see before you the same picture which the hero of Bogdanov's novel saw with his 'own eyes' on the planet Mars. Marx's doctrine, examined through the prism of Machist philosophy, couldn't look otherwise.
Bogdanov's economic framework is Marxian, but its realisation (i.e. the structure of all the remaining spheres of social life – morality, artistic culture, the political and legal superstructure) is, no longer according to Marx, but to Mach. Or to be more precise, it is according to Bogdanov, for he 'creatively developed' and concretised the philosophy of Mach in conformity with the interests and goals of the socialist organisation of the world.
Let us return once again to the 'Martian' heroes of the novel and let us see what further befell them on Mars. This is doubly interesting, for the author himself makes no secret of the fact that under the guise of Martian events he is describing future events here on Earth; events that he 'calculates' according to the formulas of empirio-monism.
Thus, Lenny's biopsychic incompatibility with Martian socialism is established in a strictly scientific manner – it is verified by Martian psycho-physiologists and recognised by Lenny himself. He therefore agrees to be cured. The treatment is the most radical kind. They themselves determine the degree of the efficiency of treatment. He trusts them unconditionally. But of course, their medicine (like their psychology, like all of their mighty culture) occupies the same heights which will be reached on Earth after many centuries, or even thousands of years.
Thus reasons the hero of the novel after he has run into 'real' socialism on Mars. This is the way the Martians reason as well. Indeed, they think according to the same iron logic of empirio-monism, only raised by them to the highest level of perfection. And the conclusions which are made with the help of this implacable logic are mathematically strict and irreproachable.
Here are the premises:
1) The natural resources on Mars are poor and will soon begin to run out. Mars is faced with two inexorable alternatives: either its socialist civilisation will enter a phase of degeneration i.e. take the path to its destruction, or it will save itself at the expense of the widened exploitation of the natural resources of other planets. Already in 35 years the shortage of resources will adversely affect it.
2) There is no choice. What is necessary is the immediate colonisation of Earth and Venus. Earth would be preferable; there may not be enough time and energy for Venus. But Earth is populated by the human race, with whom it is impossible to reach a peaceful agreement because of biopsychic incompatibility – this was shown by the experiment on Leonid N.
3) Strictly logical calculation shows (as one of the heroes of the novel says) that sooner or later, 'after long hesitation and the fruitless and agonising squandering of our energy, the matter will inevitably lead to the same formulation of the problem which we, as conscious beings who foresee the course of events, should accept from the very beginning: the colonisation of Earth requires the complete extermination of earthly mankind ...'
The conclusion: if the Martian – higher – form of socialism is to survive and flourish, it must sacrifice the lower – earthly – form of life.
It is true, they say, that we can try to forcibly re-educate the earth's human race, we can carry out by force the socialist cultural revolution in its consciousness. But it really isn't worth it, there would be many troubles and it would drag on for a long time. And time doesn't wait. Therefore there is only one way out – extermination. This is much less complicated, more economical, and consequently more rational. 'And there will be no cruelty in our actions, because we are able to carry out this extermination with much less suffering for them than they continuously inflict upon each other!'
Thus it is the economy of thinking, the economy of effort, and the economy of suffering of the victims themselves ... In the end, the Martians spared both the human race and Lenny. They spared them despite the fact that in a fit of his recurrent mental disorder, Lenny committed murder (he murdered the same theoretician who substantiated the necessity of exterminating life on Earth). They simply expelled him from their planet.
And it was love which accomplished this miracle of mercy ... But, if you will, while there may be love here, how is it able to withstand the iron logic of Martian reason? Very simply. The appeal to love and other lofty and noble, albeit rather irrational emotions is generally characteristic for positivism, which continually finds itself at an impasse in its arguments. And despite rational thinking, which is as precise as the results of a calculating machine, and just as soulless as this device, there arises a strange yearning – insofar as it is not confined to the usual logic – for human warmth, love and sympathy. When fetishised science and scientific thinking lead to immoral conclusions, to the justification of violence and cruelty, evoking horror even among the adherents of this thinking, then the scientist sheds a tear and begins to seek salvation in abstract and empty, but 'humane' ideals, placating his romantic, but, alas, absolutely barren nobility.
For this reason then Bogdanov found no other means of saving the earth's inhabitants except through love. The same female Martian, whom Lenny for a long time took for a young man, had fallen in love with him and therefore understood the essence of the matter better than the theoretician of extermination. Netty passionately spoke out against the plan of extermination and in favour of an alliance with this semi-barbaric earthly civilisation with its intellect which was still weak. Yes, they are weaker and lower than we are, but they are other beings. Let us love them, brother Martians, such as they are!
'The unity of life is the highest goal, and love is the highest reason!', pathetically explains Netty. Thereupon she sets out towards Earth after the exiled Lenny in order to take part personally in the revolution there.
Let us leave Mars for a while and return to an analysis of Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism and other works by Bogdanov and his co-thinkers.
The reader has probably already managed to notice how often and persistently the magical word equilibrium is repeated in the quotations from those texts. Yes, here we are dealing not simply with a word, but a genuine symbol – a symbol of faith, a fundamental and key category of the logic of their thinking. No matter where their arguments originate, or where they lead to, they inevitably begin with equilibrium and end with equilibrium.
From their works the reader discovers that equilibrium is not simply or solely an equal balance on the scales with which everyone is familiar from personal experience, but it is something much more important and universal, something metaphysical.
It turns out that this magical concept contains within it both the secret of life and the secrets of the functioning of social organisms, and even the mysteries of all cosmic systems and events. It turns out that all these mysteries, secrets and enigmas are simple and easy. One only has to apply to them the magical 'lock pick' – and they become transparent and simple.
It turns out that the entire infinite Universe strives to achieve equilibrium. Thus the history of mankind, the history of social organisms (people, lands, states and civilisations), is directed towards and yearns for equilibrium.
Immediately, everything becomes clear: both the condition of economic and political relations and the organisational principle of the living body of the frog, and the direction of the evolution of the solar system.
It is remarkable that in not one of the works of the Machists will we find an intelligible explanation of the meaning of this word. They all prefer to explain it by means of examples. But throughout the entire system of such examples, the actual meaning of this 'empirio-symbol' clearly shines through: it is first of all a state of inviolable rest and immobility. It is the absence of any noticeable changes or deviations, the absence of motion.
Equilibrium means the absence of any state of conflict, of any contradictions whatsoever, i.e. of forces which pull in different, contradictory directions. And where is this seen? You will never see such a state, even in the shop, even in the example of the scales. Even here equilibrium is only a passing result, an ephemeral effect, which is achieved at precisely that moment because two opposing forces are directed at each end of the lever: one presses upward, and the other presses downward.
In the Russian language, equilibrium means: 'A state of immobility, of rest, in which a body is under the influence of equal and opposing forces.' But according to the logic of Machism, the presence of opposing forces exerting pressure at one point (or on one body) is already a bad state of affairs. It resembles the state which is designated in Hegelian language as contradiction, as 'a body's state of discomfort', in which two opposing forces exert pressure, either squeezing the body from two opposite sides or tearing it in half.
Such an understanding of equilibrium is therefore unacceptable for the Machists. How could it possibly be that equilibrium turns out to be only the passing and quickly disappearing result of contradiction, the result of the action of opposites applied at one point, i.e. the very state which every living organism tries to escape as soon as possible, and by no means the state which it supposedly is striving to achieve.
Here then arises the concept of equilibrium which the Machists want to counterpose to contradiction, which is the presence of two opposing forces. It is a state in which two opposing forces have ceased to exist and therefore no longer squeeze or tear apart the ideal body (or the equally ideal point of their application). The forces have ceased to exist and have disappeared, but the state which they have established at a given point still remains. Equilibrium is a state of this kind. A state characterised by the absence of any opposing forces whatsoever, be they internal or external, physical or psychic.
In this form, equilibrium is the ideal. It is the ideal model of the cosmos and the psychics, the fundamental philosophical category of Machism, and the starting point of Machist arguments about the cosmos, about history, and about thinking. The aspiration to escape once and for all from all contradictions whatsoever from whatever kind of opposing forces, is the striving for equilibrium.
In addition to all the rest, equilibrium finds under these conditions all the characteristics which ancient philosophy describes with the words 'inner goal', 'objective goal', and 'immanent goal'. According to Machist logic, equilibrium is by no means a real state, given in experience, even if in passing, but only the ideal and the goal of nature, man, and being in general.
Such an equilibrium is static, complete, disturbed by nothing, an equilibrium of rest, an equilibrium of immobility, a state of 'suspension in the cosmic void'. It is the ideal model of the Machist Bogdanovian concept of equilibrium.
This is the first 'whale' of Russian Machism. [According to an old Russian myth, the earth is supported by three whales. - Translator's note.] The second 'whale', its second logical foundation is economy as the supreme principle of the cosmos and of thinking.
And if, for the Machists, equilibrium is the ideal and goal of the entire world process, then economy turns out to be the sole and universal means of its achievement: 'The forms of mobile equilibrium, which from time immemorial called forth the idea of objective expediency (the solar system, the cycles of the Earth's phenomena, the process of life), take shape and develop precisely by virtue of the conservation and accumulation of their inherent energy, by virtue of their internal economy'. [Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism. A Philosophical Miscellany. St Petersburg, 1908, p.293.]
This was written by 'Comrade Suvorov' (Lenin demonstratively calls this thinker 'comrade', showing his ironical attitude towards Plekhanov and Bogdanov; in criticising Bogdanov's Machism, Plekhanov had in a similarly demonstrative fashion called him 'Mister Bogdanov', and the latter was very offended). And 'Comrade Bazarov' explains in the same Essays: 'The principle of "the least expenditure of energy" lies at the base of the theory of knowledge of Mach, Avenarius and many others, and is therefore an unquestionably "Marxist" tendency in epistemology. On this point, Mach and Avenarius, who are by no means Marxists, stand much closer to Marx than the patented Marxist G. V. Plekhanov with his salto-vitale epistemology.' [Ibid., p.69.]
Where does this 'closeness' lie? It's all very simple: 'There is "economy" in Marx; there is "economy" in Mach. But is it indeed "unquestionable" that there is even a shadow of resemblance between the two,' [CW Vol 14, P. 169]
Lenin comments on the argument. In addition he patiently explains to Bazarov and, Suvorov (having in mind, of course, not so much them, as their readers) that if there actually is a 'shadow of resemblance' here, then it is exhausted by the word, by the term 'economy'. The 'resemblance' here is purely verbal and only verbal.
In his evaluation of the 'logic' which helped the Russian Machists make their discoveries, Lenin was categorical and merciless. After citing Bogdanov's tirade: 'Every act of social selection represents an increase or decrease of the energy of the social complex concerned ...'. etc., Lenin sums up: 'And such unspeakable nonsense is served out as Marxism! Can one imagine anything more sterile, lifeless and scholastic than this string of biological and energeticist terms that contribute nothing, and can contribute nothing, in the sphere of the social sciences? There is not a shadow of concrete economic study here, not a hint of Marx's method, the method of dialectics ...' [CW Vol 14, p.327]
Idle talk, playing with words, terms and symbols – there is not even a trace of anything else here. All the more so, there is none of that 'philosophical deepening' of the Marxist doctrine to which Bogdanov and his friends lay claim.
There is economy everywhere, at all times, and in all things: not only economy with money, but economy with the efforts of thought, and (remember Mars?) economy with the suffering of the victims of a war of extermination. In such a 'generalised, philosophical' sense, the term 'economy' is turned into a simple label which can calmly be attached to any phenomenon, to any process, without worrying in the slightest about the investigation of this concrete phenomenon or process.
This type of philosophising, with its pretensions to a 'genuine, scientific synthesis of all particular generalisations', provoked a rage in Lenin which he had great difficulty in controlling: 'Bogdanov is not engaged in a Marxist enquiry at all; all he is doing is to reclothe results already obtained by this enquiry in a biological and energeticist terminology. The whole attempt is worthless from beginning to end, for the concepts "selection", "assimilation and dissimilation" of energy, the energetic balance, and so on and so forth, when applied to the sphere of the social sciences, are empty phrases. In fact, an enquiry into social phenomena and an elucidation of the method of the social sciences cannot be undertaken with the aid of these concepts.' [CW Vol 14, p.328]
But it is not simple verbiage. It is consciously counterposed to the fundamental principles of materialist dialectics. For if equilibrium is first of all the Machist anti-concept of the category of contradiction, then economy is counterposed in the most unequivocal manner to the dialectical materialist understanding of truth.
Economy, when it is transformed into a principle of scientific thinking, into an epistemological principle, is called the principle of the 'least expenditure of energy', or sometimes, the principle of 'simplicity'. This principle is even more convenient since it can be remembered when it is convenient, and forgotten when circumstances prohibit its use.
Lenin makes a brief and precise diagnosis: ' . . if the principle of economy of thought is really made "the basis of the theory of knowledge", it can lead to nothing but subjective idealism. That it is more "economical" to "think" that only I and my sensations exist is unquestionable, provided we want to introduce such an absurd conception into epistemology.
'Is it "more economical" to "think" of the atom as indivisible, or as composed of positive and negative electrons? Is it "more economical" to think of the Russian bourgeois revolution as being conducted by the liberals or as being conducted against the liberals? One has only to put the question in order to see the absurdity, the subjectivism of applying the category of "economy of thought" here.' [CW Vol 14, p. 170]
Ernst Mach himself, when he is thinking as a physicist, 'explains' his principle in such a way that there is essentially nothing left of it. 'For instance, in the Wärmelehre Mach returns to his favourite idea of "the economical nature" of science (2nd German edition, S.366). But he at once adds that we engage in an activity not for the sake of the activity (366; repeated on 39 I): "the purpose of scientific activity is the fullest ... most tranquil ... picture possible of the world" (366) ... To talk of economy of thought in such a connection is merely to use a clumsy and ridiculously pretentious word in place of the word "correctness". Mach is muddled here, as usual, and the Machists behold the muddle and worship it!' [CW Vol 14, pp. 170-171]
For the Russian Machists, the 'economy of thought' is the supreme achievement of 'the philosophy of modern natural science', which must be rigorously applied to the analysis of social phenomena. Then this analysis will be 'precise' and infallible.
In order to conclude the discussion of this principle, let us introduce the authoritative testimony of the staff-chronicler of positivist wanderings in this question, the apologist of the 'Vienna Circle', Victor Kraft. In discussing the latest attempts of K. Popper to 'give a "precise formulation" of the concept of simplicity', he states: 'Simplicity plays a decisive role in all hitherto existing empiricism, starting with Kirchhoff, appearing with Mach and Avenarius in the form of "economy of thought", as well as in the conventionalism which begins with Poincaré. It should determine the choice between hypotheses and theories. However, all the attempts which have taken place before now to explain what exactly this simplicity is, as well as to establish a criterion for simplicity, have not been crowned with success. That which is characterised as the simple appears to be so partly from a practical [The reader should keep in mind that in the positivist lexicon the 'practical point of view' means something far different from what it means in the dictionary of Marxism. For the positivists, a 'practical' view of things signifies a narrowly pragmatic, immediate view, having no relation whatsoever to a theoretical view and never able to coincide with it. Here this means: from the point of view of today's 'benefit' or 'use', we have the right to consider something simple, which from the theoretical (logical) point of view is complex or even super-complex. And vice versa, of course.] point of view (as the "economy of thought"), partly from an aesthetic point of view, and in any case, from an extra-logical point of view. What must be understood as simplicity in the logical sense Popper tries to define with the help of a degree of adulteration. From his brief explanations in this respect, it is impossible to understand clearly enough how widely applicable such a concept of simplicity actually is: here a careful inquiry lies still in the future ...' [Kraft, W. Wiener Kreis. Wien – N.Y., 1968, S. 130.]
More than one hundred years have passed, but the 'philosophy of modern natural science' has thus been unable to intelligibly explain to people what must be understood by 'economy of thought' (or by 'simplicity'). This 'simplicity' of theirs has turned out to be not very simple.
The only definition which, given the desire, one can extract from the works of Mach and his successors in this respect, is in actual fact not at all complex: 'simplicity' should be understood as whatever comes into your head. In ancient philosophical language this was always defined as extreme subjectivism. When translated into the natural Russian language, it means the completely arbitrary use of words and terms.
Such is the celebrated principle of the 'economy of thought'; this is the second 'whale' of Russian Machism.
Before we speak about the third 'whale', we would like to turn our attention to those methods and to that logic which are used to construct the founding principles ('the whales') of Russian Machism.
This is an extremely simple mechanism, and Bogdanov's Netty very clearly and in a popular fashion explains its uncomplicated structure. 'Of course,' said Netty, 'every philosophy is an expression of the weakness and fragmented nature of cognition, the inadequacy of scientific development; it is an attempt to give a unified portrayal of being, filling in the gaps of scientific experience with speculations; philosophy will therefore be eliminated on Earth as it has been eliminated for us by the monism of science.' And how is such a goal achieved? By the pure and simple accumulation of 'scientific information', which is hauled in from all directions and combined into a single whole with the help of conversations about what it is these pieces of 'scientific information' have in common with each other. That's all. In this is contained the whole of empirio-monism.
The word 'empirio' simply stands for 'experience' or 'experimental'. It is a key word, a catchword. It supposedly serves notice: in a philosophical system with this label there is nothing that is fabricated, nothing that is speculative – there is only experience, only the facts of experience, 'critically purified' of everything which is alien, of everything which is not given in this experience, of all 'things-in-themselves', of everything 'transcendent' and of everything that is 'above experience'.
'Scientific monism' means that works bearing this name will deal exclusively with what has been firmly established by science, by physics, chemistry, physiology, psychophysiology and political economy. Here discussion will centre only on what is guaranteed by science, and whatever is 'doubtful' will be carefully – and 'critically' – eliminated and subjected to ridicule.
There are X-rays, energy, into which matter is transformed, mathematically proven relativity, conditioned reflexes, and so on and so forth. From these experimental facts, from scientific data, there will be compiled, as if from a mosaic, a picture of the world as a whole – a unified picture of being, as it is described 'from the point of view of the successes and achievements of modern natural science'.
But in order that such a picture doesn't disintegrate into its component parts, into separate and individual 'experimental data', these pieces must somehow be joined and cemented together. But in what way? It is necessary to find out what it is that all these pieces, taken separately, have in common. How are they alike? One must find the 'general law', the 'general principle' to which all the 'experimental facts' are similarly subordinated. What is there in common that, given the effort, can be seen between two such dissimilar things and events as the flight of Bleriot across the English Channel, and conditioned reflexes; between energeticist theories about substance and the law of the growth of the productivity of labour?
'Let us discover that which is in common' means 'let us discover that universal law to which the "entire world process" is subordinated.' It means, 'let us create a unified ("monistical") and "thoroughly scientific" picture of the world as a whole, a "unified picture of being" ...
'Suvorov writes: "In the gradation of the laws that regulate the world process, the particular and complex become reduced to the general and simple, and all of them are subordinate to the universal law of development – the law of the economy of forces. The essence of this law is that every system of forces is the more capable of conservation and development the less its expenditure, the greater its accumulation and the none effectively expenditure serves accumulation. The forms of mobile equilibrium, which long ago evoked the idea of objective purposiveness (the solar system, the cycle of terrestrial phenomena, the process of life), arise and develop by virtue of the conservation and accumulation of the energy inherent in them – by virtue of their intrinsic economy. The law of economy of forces is the unifying and regulating principle of all development – inorganic, biological and social"...
'With what remarkable ease do our "positivists" and "realists" concoct "universal laws"!' [CW Vol 18, pp. 331-332]
The last sentence, the ironical assessment of Suvorov's argument which has been cited above, belongs of course to Lenin.
Yes, these 'universal laws' are indeed concocted swiftly and easily. Only one thing is required for this – the ability to see what it is that two things which seem to be so different from each other have in common; let us take, for instance, the radioactivity of radium and the exertions of labour.
This way the 'whales' of Russian Machism turn out.
And now about the third 'whale' – 'organisation'. With this 'principle', things are a bit different. If, with regard to equilibrium and economy, the Russian Machists were and remained the diligent pupils of their western teachers, then it was here that they displayed the maximum independence of thought. [It should be noted that, in addition to later developing his conception of universal organisational science (tektology), in which his subjective idealist and mechanistic errors found their reflection, A. Bogdanov also anticipated, as a number of modern enquiries have shown, certain ideas of cybernetics and general systems theory. – Editors.] Machism proceeds from the proposition, according to which all phenomena of 'our experience' are clearly divided into two categories: on the one hand – 'Great Chaos', and on the other – the countervailing 'Organisational Principle'. According to Mach, 'Great Chaos' is the entire, unorganised mass of interwoven and flickering sensations, which descend upon the individual from the very first moments of his appearance on the Earth; it is an unregulated stream of sensations, impressions, and feelings, making up the form in which the real world presents itself to this amorphous individual. But the 'Organising Principle', which imposes its order, its laws and rules upon the world, is nothing else but thinking (consciousness).
This is the origin of Bogdanov's socially organised experience, the origin of the empirio-monist, unified picture of being, which is established by thought out of the chaos of elements of the originally unorganised experience of separate individuals. Naive people then accept this picture as the real world, as the world of things-in-themselves as they exist before, outside of, and independent of their own organising activity.
The theoretical basis of this conception is the self-same logic of empiricism, which is primarily concerned with mechanical systems. The investigation of such systems is reduced to singling out the steadily repeating types of reciprocal action between parts, and correspondingly, to an orientation of thinking directed not towards a process, but towards a state. The result of cognitive activity here consists in fixing abstract general definitions of the object which are suitable only for the needs of classification, and for practical, utilitarian use. The logic of empiricism, or, what is the same thing, the logic of reproducing in thought the practical design of mechanical systems, is quite efficient and yields great practical results and benefits. But only insofar as the theoretician and practitioner are dealing with a mechanical system. This type of thinking, which is limited by the bounds of object science, develops in Bogdanov's eyes into a universal framework for thinking in general, into a framework of Logic with a capital L. All other types and methods of thinking begin to be seen as backward forms of the given (empirical) logic.
And for Bogdanov, the most adequate type of this kind of logic appears to be the thinking and activity of the construction engineer. Indeed, it is he who organises ready-made parts into some kind of system which is able to serve the completion of one or another goal. Such a construction engineer looks upon people just as naturally as he looks upon the parts which go into a structure which he is building. As such, its elements interest him only insofar as they can be (or cannot be) adapted to the job, to the small or large machine under construction, to the mechanism, or to the system of machines.
The explanation of the objective properties of those parts and materials, from which he must build (organise) his unit – is not his concern. This is done by physicists, chemists, physiologists, and so forth, and he always looks upon their data, gathered in the appropriate handbooks, as a semi-finished product of his own, special construction-engineer's activity, as the raw material of his organising activity. His chief concern is to devise, invent, design, organise, select and assemble, unscrew and then screw ready-made parts into new complexes, to fit parts into complexes, to polish them with such precision that they will easily take their place in the construction which has been readied for them, and so on and so forth.
Bogdanov's philosophy is therefore like no other in holding on to those specific illusions of our century which have come to be called technocratic. The secret of these illusions is the idolisation of technology – technology of every type – from the technology of rocket design to the technology of dentistry, bomb-dropping or sound-recording. And with such an approach, the engineering and technological intelligentsia begin to resemble – both in their own eyes and in the eyes of others – a special caste of holy servants of this new divinity.
Bogdanov paints an inspired and poeticised portrait of these 'demi-gods' – the organisers and creators of progress – in his novel which is called Engineer Menny.
This is the same novel about which Lenin wrote to M. Gorky: 'I have read his Engineer Menny. The same Machism equal to idealism, hidden in such a way that neither workers nor the foolish editors of Pravda understood. No, this is an inveterate Machist ...'
Yes, in writing his novel, Bogdanov tried to 'conceal' his Machism, expressing his views not in the language of theoretical essays, but in the language of artistic images. Only rarely is Machism offered here openly in words. But then what comes to the forefront is the propagation of the utopian conception about the role of engineers in the development of history and about the great advantages of their method of thinking over all other forms and methods of thinking.
The engineer Menny is endowed in the novel with all the characteristics of God-incarnate – completely in the spirit of the god-building tendencies of Russian Machism. This is the personified ideal of the super-engineer, the engineer-organiser. Bogdanov spares no colours in trying to portray the superhuman power of his brain, his superhuman will, and his absolute selflessness. But most of all, his organisational genius.
The first edition of the novel is dated 1912, and for understanding the evolution of Bogdanov's philosophy, it gives us no less material than Red Star.
In the novel we meet with the already familiar Leonid N. 'After the events described in my book Red Star,' he says, 'I am once again living among my Martian friends, and I am working for the cause which is dear to me – the bringing together of our two worlds.'
'The Martians have decided for the near future to refrain from any direct and active intervention in the Earth's affairs; they intend to limit themselves for the time being to its study and to the gradual familiarisation of the Earth's human race with the more ancient culture of Mars ... Within the Martian colonisation association there was formed a special group for the dissemination of the new culture on Earth. Inside this group I took upon myself the most appropriate role, that of translator ...'
To start with, this secret society for the dissemination of super-scientific knowledge chose, for translation into the languages of the Earth 'an historical novel ... a novel from the epoch which approximately corresponds to the present period of the Earth's civilisation – the last phases of capitalism. It portrays relations and types which are similar to our own, and therefore relatively clear for the Earthly reader.'
The historical novel opens with a scene describing the session of the all-Martian government where engineer Menny outlines his grandiose plan for the building of the Great Canals. After describing the technological and financial sides of the project, engineer Menny puts into service the most persuasive argument for those who are present: 'Besides all this, I am able to point out one more important reason for all the financiers and employers to support this project. You know that, from time to time over the last century and a half, with different intervals, there have been severe financial and industrial crises when credit suddenly collapses and commodities find no market; in addition to this, thousands of businesses are ruined and millions of workers are left without work ... A new crisis of this type, more powerful than all those previously, will follow after one to two years, only if there is no expansion of the market, which at this point, evidently, is not expected.'
After a certain amount of hesitation, the all-Martian government, which is the supreme council of employers and financiers, invests engineer Menny with the full powers necessary for him to carry out the project.
With this development, early capitalism with its anarchy of production gives way to state capitalism, and engineer Menny becomes the Great Dictator. Otherwise the building of the Great Canals would be impossible.
The cunning financiers and employers agree to this because they understand that he is not encroaching upon their power: 'To be a minister, or president of the Republic – this doesn't interest him ... He wouldn't even want to be financial master of the world ... He has the ambition of the gods.' Let us look more closely into the further development of events on Mars, into this 'science fiction' prognosis by Bogdanov regarding the 'most economical' ways for mankind to achieve socialism on Earth.
Invested with dictatorial powers, engineer Menny launches the gigantic building of the Great Canals. The market immediately expands and unemployment disappears as if by magic. The phase of super-capitalism has begun.
But even with super-capitalism, classes still remain. The two 'pure' classes are the super-capitalists and the proletariat. The peasantry – an intermediate class has vanished here; it became polarised and was therefore no longer cause for any concern.
It turns out that Engineer Menny is in a ticklish position – the difference between class interests is continuously disturbing him. The super-capitalists steal, and the proletarians, who are suffering from this thievery, go on strike, and this hinders to an extreme degree, the realisation of the great plans of the engineer. What is to he done? The engineer is unable to find a radical solution, for even his genial mind has still not fully overcome the remnants within it of the psychology of early capitalism: egoism and individualism.
The solution is found by his illegitimate son, engineer Netty, who inherited his papa's brilliant organiser's brain, while from his mother, the beautiful and kind-hearted Nelly who had been raised in a simple worker's family, he inherited a love for the proletariat.
Father and son conduct philosophical and sociological discussions in connection with the immediate problems of building the canals. They discuss the plundering of resources by representatives of the class of super-capitalists, and the strikes by the workers, in which they both see the same misappropriation of the workers' time, which is of no use to the building of the canals ... But the son defends the workers and condemns the capitalists. The father meanwhile condemns them both.
The father can't fully understand the correctness of his son's attitude, but he senses some kind of inexplicable advantages in the latter's position. He therefore, in the end, decides to transfer to his son the supreme powers of Organiser of the Great Works. To be sure, he is rather afraid that his son will adopt a 'one-sided' position in support of the workers and thus do harm to the work.
But the son, to the great surprise of the father, doesn't want to take into his hands the sceptre of the Great Dictator, the personal Organiser of the Common Cause ... He accepts with pleasure the leadership of all the technical aspects of the job, but the 'administrative' (i.e. political) leadership he agrees to transfer into the hands of a representative of the all-Martian government.
He feels that such dual power is the most reasonable way out of the situation that has been created, and he introduces arguments in his own favour which are borrowed directly from the philosophical works of Mach and Bogdanov. Here Bogdanov doesn't even try to conceal his Machism, but presents it m open form:
Menny arose, and for a few minutes walked around the room in silence. Then he stopped and said:
'It's obvious that such a discussion is leading us nowhere. How are we to proceed? Do you agree to share the full powers with another assistant in such a way that all technical control will belong to you, and all administrative control – to him?'
He glanced rather uneasily at his son.
'Very readily,' he answered, 'that's the most suitable way to proceed.'
'I give you my thanks,' said Menny, 'I feared your refusal.'
'In vain,' Netty retorted. 'Full administrative powers would have placed me in a difficult and slippery position. To be the official representative of one side, and with all my sympathies and interests belonging to the other side – that is the type of dual position in which it is not easy, and perhaps even impossible, to maintain equilibrium. To be true to oneself, to retain a clear and integral frame of mind, demands the avoidance of contradictory roles.'
Menny began to think and after a short silence said:
'You are consistent in your own peculiar brand of logic, that I can never deny you.'
It cannot be denied that his logic is truly peculiar. They offer complete power to a defender of socialism – both technical and administrative (political) – with the proviso that he should not act openly on the side of one class against the other (on the side of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie), that he try to establish 'equilibrium' between them, and make sure that the interests of one are preserved as much as the other. But he doesn't agree to this condition, alluding to the fact that 'administrative control', once it had fallen into his hands, would oblige him to act against his class sympathies and would compel him to fulfil the functions of a representative of the class of super-capitalists.
That this 'administrative control', taken into his hands, could be and would have to be finally used in the interests of socialist transformation, somehow never enters into his head. This role appears to him to be contradictory.
If you choose to be a functionary of the super-capitalist state, then carry out your functions honourably – this is what Bogdanov suggests to the reader through the image of engineer Netty. That is precisely why he sees the best solution to be the handing over of the functions of 'administrative control' (i.e. the resolution of all political problems connected with the grandiose building) to a lackey of the super-capitalists, while retaining for himself purely technical leadership, the resolution of purely engineering tasks.
The sagacious Martian super-engineers understood what no one on Earth is able to understand. They understood that all so-called social problems are in actual fact, fundamentally, engineering and technological problems. And they should be solved by engineers, representatives of the scientific-technological elite, for only they are truly capable of investigating them in a qualified manner.
From this follow all the further things. Those 'fetishes' which are considered to be objective forms of the external world – such as space, time, value, capital, and so forth – are only the 'fetishised' (deified) forms of collectively organised experience. They are the fixed forms of a conservative consciousness. Not the consciousness of the individual 'I' – no! – but consciousness with a capital c, the consciousness of all people without exception. Forms which have crystallised in social consciousness and which are reinforced by force of habit and tradition.
Outside of consciousness there is neither time, nor space, nor value, nor surplus value. These are only 'stable complexes of our sensations', the schemas of their 'association' as part of a unified picture of the world as a whole, shared by all. In order to 'scientifically understand' these complexes, it is necessary to analytically break them down into 'elements' (sensations), and then once again assemble them into new 'complexes', but only according to new, mathematically uncontradictory schemas, algorithms of construction, according to carefully thought-out recipes of rational organisation.
It is according to this schema that the super-engineers Menny and Netty organised first the consciousness of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and then the system of economic, administrative and cultural life corresponding to it.
This was by no means a simple form of literary amusement: in Engineer Menny Bogdanov 'artistically' interpreted the situation which had developed in the land and 'tried out' those roles which had been prepared for the supporters of socialism in the near future. The conception of future events which he describes in the novel explains the positions taken by the advocates of his philosophy in 1917.
The essence of their position is as follows. February established in the land a political regime of bourgeois democracy, and solved the main problem of 1905. Period. The Russian proletariat is not only weak and small in numbers, but also uncultured and little-educated. Therefore all talk of seizing power and using it in the interests of the socialist transformation of the land is utopian and unrealistic. Power ('administrative functions') must be left in the hands of the 'bourgeois democracy' (in actuality – in the hands of Kerensky, Guchkov, and Miliukov), and we must worry about whether this all-Russian government guarantees the rapid growth of the productive forces, and leads the country on to the path of scientific and technological progress. We must help it with all the means at our disposal, putting to work all our scientific and technological knowledge, thereby making possible the growth of the productive forces and the proletariat.
By using the 'democratic rights' that have now been granted to it, the proletariat must grow culturally, master the sciences and mentally prepare itself for the moment when it will be granted the levers of power and the carrying out of 'administrative functions'. Then, and not earlier, there can be serious talk about socialism in Russia.
Until that time, there is only one road – state capitalism, which is seen to be the most 'balanced system', corresponding to all the necessary criteria: the minimum of contradictions, and the maximum of equilibrium and economy.
The earthly human race, however, has clearly not wanted to develop according to the plans of the 'Martian' road to socialism. The Russian people, led by the proletariat despite all its 'smallness in numbers' and 'lack of education', carried out the October Revolution, took into its own hands the full powers of the 'administrative functions' as well as the 'scientific and technological leadership', and set about the socialist transformation of the country.
Lenin proved to be the leader of this process. His method of thinking guaranteed a clear and objective understanding of the concrete, historical situation which had arisen, and of the necessary tendencies of its evolution. It allowed him to confidently orient himself amidst the real contradictions of the development of the country and the world, to draw truly rational conclusions from the experience of the class struggle and to find the roads leading forward to socialism. Lenin's party therefore proved to be at the head, and not at the tail, of the revolutionary torrent of events which had spontaneously been unleashed.
And Bogdanov's (Machist) philosophy? It revealed its uselessness. its 'incommensurability with the real course of the historical process. Complete perplexity, complete inability to understand where the stream of events was leading – whether forward or backward, whether to the right or to the left – this was the state in which the Russian Machists spent the entire time from February to October 1917.
In characterising the position of the newspaper New Life (which at this time proved to be the refuge of Bogdanov, Bazarov, and many other of their co-thinkers), Lenin defined it in the following manner: '... there is no trace of economic, political or any other meaning whatever in it': '... only the lamentation of people who have become distressed or frightened by the revolution.' [CW Vol 26, p. 119]
Turning to 'the writers of New Life', Lenin advised them:
Stick to your 'plans', my good citizens, for this is not politics, and it is not the cause of the class struggle, and here you may be of use to the people. Your newspaper has a great number of economists. join forces with the kind of engineers and other people who are ready to begin work on the problems of the regulation of production and distribution, devote a supplementary page of your large 'apparatus' (newspaper) to the businesslike working up of precise facts about the production and distribution of produce in Russia, about banks and syndicates, and so on and so forth – this is how you will be of use to the people, this is how your sitting between two stools will not take a particularly harmful toll, and this is the type of work in connection with 'plans' which will evoke not ridicule, but the gratitude of workers. [CW Vol 26, pp. 117-118]
You are unable to, you don't want to, you don't have the courage to unite within yourselves the functions of 'technological leadership' with the functions of the 'administrative' (i.e. political) leadership of the land? That's your choice; no one is forcing you. But don't get tangled up around the legs of those who clearly see the essence of the concrete historical situation which has developed in the country, and who therefore lay claim to complete power.
The proletariat will do the following when it takes power: it will place economists, engineers, agronomists and others under the control of workers' organisations for the working out of a 'plan', for its verification, for the searching out of the means to economise labour through centralisation, for the seeking of measures and the methods of the simplest, cheapest, most convenient and most universal control. For this we will pay economists, statisticians, and technicians good money, but ... but we won't allow them to eat if they will not fulfil this work conscientiously and completely in the interests of the workers. [CW Vol 26, p. 1 18]
This is Lenin's alternative to the position of engineer Menny – and of the very real engineer with whom Lenin had a completely real conversation 'not long before the July days'. Lenin didn't give his name, but we can say with complete confidence that this was one of the very real heroes of 1905 who served as the prototypes for Bogdanov's Leonid N.:
The engineer was once a revolutionary, he had been a member of the Social-Democratic and even the Bolshevik Party. Now he is either completely frightened, or angry at the raging and indomitable workers. 'If only these were the type of workers you have in Germany,' says he (an educated man, who has spent time abroad). – 'I, of course, understand in general the inevitability of the socialist revolution, but with us, under the conditions of the lowering of the level of workers which was brought on by the war ... this isn't a revolution, it's the abyss.'
He would have been prepared to acknowledge the socialist revolution if history had only led up to it as peacefully, quietly, smoothly and punctually as a German express train approaches the station. The proper conductor opens the doors of the car and proclaims: 'Station of the Socialist Revolution. Alle aussteigen (everyone out)!' For some reason at that time, he didn't want to make his way from the position of engineer under the Tit Tityches to the position of engineer under the workers' organisation. [CW Vol 26, p. 119]
Yes, this was he, the very same Leonid N., the very same Lenny, whom Bogdanov saw, when he was writing Red Star, as the ideal representative of Russian Social-Democracy. The very same engineer in whose image of thought A. Bogdanov carved out his 'philosophy'.
In 1905 he expressed this ideal engineer's basic principle of thinking in the following manner:
Fully harmonious development which is devoid of inner contradictions – for us this is only a borderline conception, expressing the tendency which we know from experience will free the processes of development from the contradictions associated with it. To therefore give a clear representation of the harmonious type of development can only be done by means of counterposing the concrete instances which come closest to it, to those in which the lack of harmony stands out clearly.
In today's society, an example of a highly-organised, flexible life system which is rich in content could be the large-scale capitalist enterprise, taken especially from the point of view of its labour technique. [Bogdanov, A. The New World (Articles 1904-1905). Moscow, 1905, p.89-90.]
Such is the 'ideal model' according to which Bogdanov dreamed of rebuilding the world and creating a 'new world'. The model is extremely real. It is the large-scale capitalist enterprise, taken especially from the point of view of its labour technique.
Naturally, when you try, with the aid of this 'philosophy', to think about something else besides a ready-made mechanical construction, you will achieve nothing but confusion.
For investigating the real process of development (be it in nature, in society or even in the sphere of ideology), which takes place at all times and everywhere through contradictions, through their coming into being and their subsequent concrete resolution, this logic is, of course, absolutely worthless. 'Development devoid of inner contradictions'. It never enters into Bogdanov's head that this is just as unrealisable, and, therefore just as inconceivable an absurdity, as a 'round square'. Nevertheless, it is precisely this absurdity which serves as the foundation of his theoretical constructions. He is for development, but against the fact that within this development there may exist even a hint of any kind of contradictions.
He therefore understands socialism not as an historically developed method of resolving real class contradictions, not as a revolutionary means of resolving material, objective contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but as a certain type of mathematically uncontradictory schema which is imposed from without (i.e. by a powerful will) on the 'chaos' of actual relations between people.
It goes without saying that, from the point of view of such a conception both of socialism and the road which leads to it, absolutely nothing could be understood in the events of 1917. And it couldn't have been otherwise, since, in general, the Machist (empirio-monist) theory of knowledge and logic, doesn't allow any material (here read: economic) contradictions of any kind to be seen, investigated or formulated in precise scientific conceptions. How could it be otherwise if it declares a priori that all contradictions are facts which have their place exclusively in the sphere of social consciousness or, as it is called here, in 'collectively organised experience' in 'ideology', and if this 'ideology' is further interpreted as a verbally formulated system of ideas, as a 'system of stock phrases' (as it was called by Gorky's Klim Samgin)?
Let us imagine for a second a man who has come to believe in this 'latest philosophy' under the conditions of 1917 and who is trying to choose his life's course based on the axioms of this philosophy and with the aid of the logic of thinking dictated by it. Naturally, the problem of choosing his life's course turns into this: which 'system of ideas' do I prefer? That which is more logical? That which is psychologically more convincing? That which is more beautiful? That which is powerful?
But that's up to you – choose what you like. Machist philosophy neither offers nor recommends any other criteria for your selection. Or rather, it does make a recommendation. The very system which is most capable of harmoniously coordinating, in a non-contradictory way, all the ideas of every sort and kind into one 'complex'. The very system which is able to look for what is 'in common' between all the systems which actually conflict and come into collision with each other. The system which is obtained after removing all the disagreements and contradictions, after eliminating the differences between them. This would be a system which is common to all. This would be a system expressing the rational kernel, which is equally invariant and equally indisputable and objective, which 'boils down' in the kettle of seething disagreements.
And all talk about how the best of these 'systems' is that which corresponds to objective reality in its necessary development, to a system of historically developing facts which exist outside of and independent of any consciousness whatsoever these are 'philosophically illiterate' conversations. Indeed, the conception of a reality existing outside of and independent of the verbally organised system of experience (i.e. a reality which is objective in the materialist sense of the word), as well as the conception of the objective contradictions contained within it – all this is a pernicious ideological fetish. And the concise symbol which is connected with this ideological fetish/idol is the symbol/term 'matter'. This must be resolutely banished from social consciousness, from ideology, and from scientific conceptions. Then it will finally be possible to construct, organise, and erect the type of 'system' which will rightfully be called 'proletarian ideology', the 'science of the proletariat', and the science of the universal principles of word-building.
And until the time comes when such a science is constructed and mastered by the proletariat, it would be better for workers to refrain from any independent political actions and to leave the 'administrative' leadership of the country to those people whose command of the system of skills associated with such leadership is far better than that of the proletariat.
Similar notions about the paths of historical development were included in the Machist (empirio-critical, empirio-monist, empirio-symbolic and so forth) outlook which was outlined in 1908 by the author's collective of the Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism.
This was already clearly seen by Lenin in 1908 a circumstance which must always be kept in mind when reading his book. Only in the broad historical context which we tried to outline above is it possible to truly understand the meaning of his whole system of arguments, the significance of his burning polemic against the Machists, the meaning (and precision) of Lenin's understanding of such fundamental categories in genuinely Marxist philosophy as matter, reflection, truth, and objective truth. Only then will we understand the absolute and the relative in cognition as a whole, and in scientific and theoretical cognition in particular.
Yes, if you will, the discussion here centred most of all on the explanation and defence of the axiomatic basis of the philosophy of dialectical materialism. Connected with this is the fact that the main accent is placed here on materialism. But it would be a profound mistake to therefore draw the conclusion that the book is devoted to an outline of only those positions which are related to materialism in general, i.e. to any historical form of materialism, and therefore by no means describes the specific characteristics of dialectical materialism. This would be an untruth, a profound falsehood, a mistake in principle. A falsehood which not only doesn't help, but directly impedes a faithful ('adequate') reading of the text of the book. It is a falsehood which severs the organic ties between Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and the Philosophical Notebooks. It is an untruth which leads to a false understanding of the Philosophical Notebooks and to a false conception of the meaning and content of theses directly concerned with the essence of materialist dialectics.
Contents | next chapter