Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963
By ‘Marxian tradition’ is meant ‘Marxian view of history’ or ‘Marxian philosophy of history’. This Marxian tradition should be differentiated from the philosophical doctrine of dialectical materialism, as well as from Marxism-Leninism. The distinction will become clearer in the course of tracing the origin and development of Marxian tradition in Poland.
Marxian tradition in Poland dates from the last two decades of the nineteenth century. At that time a group of young and able men, which included Stanisław Krusiński (1857-1886), Bronisław Białobłocki (1861-1888), Ludwik Krzywicki (1859-1941), Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz (1872-1905), Leon Winiarski and for a short period Edward Abramowski (1868-1918), became acquainted with the works of Marx and popularised his economic, sociological and historical views in Poland. The most important among them was Krzywicki. Unlike some of the others who died young and, except for Abramowski, were rather sociological and literary journalists, Krzywicki lived long, turned away from journalism in his youth and became a social anthropologist, educationist and organiser of social research in Poland. He was very active in the inter-war period and exercised a considerable influence both through his personal qualities and his achievements. At an early age Krzywicki took part in the activities of the first Socialist organisations that were formed in Poland. Later in his life he withdrew from public political activities, but his sympathies clearly remained with the Socialist movement.
Krzywicki was one of the team who translated the first volume of Capital into Polish and was the editor of the whole work. The translation was published in Leipzig in 1884 by private contributions under Krzywicki’s personal super-vision. One year later Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State appeared in Paris in Krzywicki’s translation. About this time most of the important works of Marx and Engels were translated into Polish. Lewis H. Morgan’s Ancient Society was also translated (Warsaw 1887). Krzywicki again participated and provided the book with a comprehensive explanatory appendix.
Krzywicki’s first publications were journalistic in character; they explained in a popular form the main economic, social, and historical ideas of historical materialism. He used them to criticise other social and economic views, based on Comte’s positivism and Spencerian evolutionism, which at that time were widely accepted among the Polish educated classes. Krzywicki was a materialist, but he never indicated that historical materialism required a metaphysical foundation. So far as he was concerned, and this equally applies to his contemporaries who supported the Marxian view of history, historical materialism was a self-sufficient hypothesis. In this Krzywicki was in agreement with Marx for whom the materialistic dialectic was a conceptual framework for the examination of the historical and social reality. The external world – Nature-entered the sphere of Marx’s reflection only as a part of social reality, in its relation to man, and not in itself, as it is investigated in the natural sciences.
In his exposition and popularisation of historical materialism Krzywicki showed great independence of mind. He always held firmly to the view that historical materialism is a method of investigating and of explaining the course of social and historical events, it is a means of research in various social sciences, and not one by which man can or should interfere in the historical process. This might be called the scientific version of historical materialism which is characterised by the predominance of its cognitive content over its voluntaristic aspect; historical materialism is conceived by it rather as a key to knowledge than as a key to action. The cognitive content of historical materialism has been incorporated into the scientific tradition, and has become a permanent, almost truistic, part of the methodology of the historical and social sciences. Krzywicki has the credit of having understood it at the time when the issues involved were much more confused than they are at present. He has thus decisively influenced the way in which the Marxian theories were a accepted in Poland. The opinion later defended by Plekhanov against Lenin, that the ‘value of the materialist con-ception of history is primarily methodological’ , was established in Poland at the time when the views of Marx first became known there.
Krzywicki influenced the formation of the Marxian tradition in yet another manner. To use a term only later introduced, he never conceived of historical materialism as a doctrine of economic materialism. Historical materialism involved, in Krzywicki’s opinion, mutual interaction between the economic base and the superstructure. He was expounding this view before Engels wrote his famous letters to Konrad Schmidt, Joseph Block, Franz Mehring, and Heinz Starkenburg (1890-1894) and before Plekhanov formulated his theories on this matter in The Development of the Monist View of History (1895).
According to Krzywicki, historical materialism explains the origin and the appearance of social and political ideas in a society at a given stage of its development and does not deny that once formulated these ideas exercise a powerful influence upon the productive forces and relations of production which brought them into being. Being functionally a secondary and dependent phenomenon, the ideas may become later a factor of primary importance. Without them there would be no social development. They only make possible the purposeful activity of great masses of people and talented individuals. Since the ideas can enter into various combinations in the human mind they are thus also conditioned by the mind. The power of the mind is, however, limited in so far as only such ideas assert themselves which somehow correspond to the material conditions. The latter limit the range of socially effective ideas, make the selection between what is utopian and non-utopian, between what can and what cannot modify the social and economic base.
Not only the ideas which are reflections of and prompted by the forces latent in a society can exercise an influence on the economic base, but also those ‘wandering in time and space’. Krzywicki accepted the fact of the diffusion of ideas, of their passing from one society to another or from one historical epoch to another. He also recognsewd the existence of a ‘historical substratum’ in each society, by which he understood the habits, manners, beliefs, sentiments, political and legal institutions, moral and philosophical ideas, accumulated from the past and constituting a modifying medium of social evolution. Thus, there is no general pattern of change, which can be applied to every society. Since the conditions of change vary from one society to another, social evolution takes different forms and proceeds in various ways.
While Krzywicki remained throughout an evolutionist, he somehow modified the classical evolutionary doctrine and came close, in particular in his later works, to the functional approach which his compatriot Bronisław Malinowski helped to formulate. Guided by the idea that there is no single pattern of social evolution, Krzywicki reached the conclusion that historical materialism has no universal application. It is, for instance, an unsuitable means of research for the investigations of primitive communities. His social anthropological studies, to which he devoted much of his energies in later life, show no trace of the Marxian view of history. They are based on a vast accumulation of facts, examined meticuously for any empirical generalisation which they might yield.
In 1938 a collective volume devoted to Krzywicki’s life and work was published in Warsaw (he was to celebrate his eightieth birthday the following year), which included the essay Ludwik Krzywicki as Theorist of Historical Materialism by Oskar Lange, a prominent Marxian scholar. Among Krzywicki’s contributions to the Marxian tradition Lange singled out the restrictions implicitly imposed by Krzywicki on historical materialism which limited its application to mass social phenomena. The materialist-historical method cannot be applied to such dis-ciplines as the history of art, of literature and philosophy, unless the artistic, literary and philosophical ideas are of social nature, i.e. express certain aspira-tions of a mass movement and are closely bound up with the social structure of the society in which this movement takes place. In particular, historical materialism cannot be applied to individual works of art and thought. Lange concluded that clear realisation of its limits, indicated by Krzywicki, would have protected historical materialism from some futile and abortive applications which did not increase its scientific reputation.
Marxian tradition in Poland, as shaped by Krzywicki, included three characteristic features. It emphasised the cognitive content of historical materialism, it combined the materialistic conception of history with a multifactorial analysis of social change and with an empirical approach to socio-cultural processes. It did not operate with humanity at large and was not committed to the belief in the existence of what P. A. Sorokin called ‘unilinear perpetual trends’ in the development of mankind. Since the factual evidence contradicted the assumption that such trends are operative, Krzywicki concentrated on the repeatable features of socio-cultural change (or systems of such features) and in this respect was in advance of most sociologists of his time.
In the inter-war period the Marxian tradition was sharply differentiated from Marxism-Leninism. The latter was not considered to be a philosophical school or a philosophical system, but a ‘view of the world and a code of life precept of militant Communism’ . Marxism-Leninism did not arouse any considerable interest but it was not ignored either; information concerning the development of Soviet philosophy and historical sciences were appearing in scientific periodicals. On the other hand there was no doubt that the Marxian tradition constituted a part of the scientific body of knowledge; its assumptions and particular views were examined in the same manner as those of other philosophical systems. To use Professor Butterfield’s words, one did not need to be a Marxist to recognise important services rendered by Marx and Engels to the study of historical process.
Apart from the writings of Marx and Engels published for clearly political purposes, either in Poland or in the Soviet Union, there appeared a new translation of Ludwig Feuerbach and of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. The first volume of Capital was again translated, a selection of Marx’s correspondence with Kugelmann was published in Polish for the first time. There is little trace, however, of any serious interest in Marx and Engels; the intellectual stir, produced in 1880 – 1900, was an event which never recurred in Poland.
Krzywicki, universally recognised as the leading authority on historical mate-rialism, became the head of the Institute of Social Economy, set up in 1920. He was engrossed in his social-anthropological studies and in organising social research especially on the working and living conditions of the working classes” . His collaborators, Stanisław Rychliński (1903-1945) in particular, followed in his footsteps. There were really only two men, Oskar Lange (born 1904), an economist, and Stefan Czarnowski (1879-1937), a sociologist and historian of culture, who represented the Marxian tradition and tried to develop and to apply in their work the assumptions of historical materialism.
Czarnowski, former lecturer at the École Pratique der Hautes Études in Paris, was trained in Durkheim’s school and he remained a Durkheimist throughout his life. He was in many ways a remarkable man, little known in Poland outside a narrow circle of sociologists and even not by all of them. Only after his death some of his works, originally published in various periodicals and thus lost, were republished in book form in 1939. His collected works did not appear until 1956; they are an aid to a full appreciation of Czarnowski’s learned and original mind. His international reputation was based on his sociological studies on religion published in French.
Czarnowski’s interests were wide and varied. They included sociology of religion, sociology of literature, sociology and history of culture, problems of sociological methods. His historical knowledge was comprehensive, detailed and accurate, particularly authoritative in matters concerning the ancient Greeks, Celts and Gauls. In his studies he followed the method of the Durkheim school which, however, satisfied him less and less and he came increasingly under the influence of historical materialism. His recent biographer suggested that towards the end of his life he came both politically and intellectually very close to Marxism-Leninism without having been able to reject entirely his former scientific beliefs and pass the threshold of Marxism-Leninism.
Whatever Czarnowski became politically, he was neither a Marxist-Leninist nor close to Marxism-Leninism in his scientific work. In what he wrote, Czanowski combined Durkheim methods with those of the classical Marxian tradition and revealed historical materialism at its best. All the main features of the Marxian view of history, as interpreted by Krzywicki, rare found again, improved and enriched, in Czarnowski’s works.
Czarnowski’s sociology of culture, in which the influence of historical material-ism is most pronounced, is based on the assumption that social phenomena are both material and socio-psychical. Whenever we are inclined to see in them purely psychical forms and contents, we find, upon closer examination, that they are insolubly bound up together with material facts. Also conversely, there are no material facts sensu stricto in social life, matter is ‘socialised’, transformed by and associated with respective collective representations. A ‘spiritual’ or a ‘material’ culture is an abstraction to which nothing in social life corresponds. At the origin of culture stands the division of labour; it diversifies and perfects productive processes. The development of culture is based on the work of the great masses of people. It is a necessary condition of any spiritual achievement and in our own times creates a new, proletarian culture. Mass social phenomena and class conflicts – not great individuals – are the driving force of history and of cultural evolution.
All these statements are familiar and Czarnowski’s claim to originality is not based on the fact of having made them. It results from the manner in which this dry skeleton of the half-Marxian, half-Durkheimian constructions is covered with the living flesh of social, political, and cultural facts, with human ideas, feelings and strivings. The dry skeleton is not there from the very beginning but it appears at the end to support the whole construction emerging from an abundance of particular facts: from the etymology of the names ‘Paris’, ‘Reimes’ or ‘Bourges’, the descriptions of Berber villages and their architecture, the discovery of old Spanish and Marseilles coins in Soissons, the inferences prompted by the tools of the ancient Gauls, and a mass of other equally well ascertainable evidence. What the factual evidence suggests is explained by a general statement, which, however, is not claimed to be universally valid, but only with respect to a particular period or to a particular major event in the history of ancient Greece, the Roman Gallia, and medieval France. Within the materialistic conception of history Czarnowski practised the functional and multifactorial sociological analysis, which differentiated seemingly similar events (e.g. the diffusion of tools, the cultural survivals), showed the variety of their component factors, their role and determination in a wide but concrete context of mutually interdependent social facts. The ultimate determination of cultural phenomena by social and economic conditions of life was thus firmly set in this context, to work its way, as it were, from within and to be extricated from it only by abstraction.
Neither Krzywicki, nor Czarnowski examined the connections between the Marxian view of history and Marxian philosophy more closely. Even the term ‘dialectical materialism’ does not occur in their writings. In the philosophical circles there prevailed the opinion that Marx did not leave any specifically philosophical doctrine. He was known as one of the members of the Hegelian Left, concerned with matters that belonged to the history of social and economic thought, to the methodology of the historical and social sciences, that is to say, with subjects that only marginally touched upon the questions in the centre of a philosopher’s interests. Engels was considered to be clearly a progeny of Hegelian philosophy and thus discounted as a serious thinker. He aroused only a historical interest and instructively exemplified the strange fortunes of a speculative philosophical system, like that of Hegel, gradually transformed by its supporters into the exact opposite of what it had been at its inception. It appears, there was only one man who thought highly of Engels’ dialectical materialism and considered it as a philosophically significant and acceptable doctrine.
Stefan Rudniańiski (1887-1941) was with Edward Frauenglas (1905-1939) the most prominent Polish historian of philosophical thought in the eighteenth century. While Frauenglas was a pure historian, Rudniański’s interest was guided by his philosophical preferences. He became an authority on French materialism because he was a materialist himself and wished to serve the cause of its popularisation. He had some original ideas about the sources of French materialism and expounded the view that a continuous line of development can be traced from Descartes’ Discours de la mÉthode and Des Passions de l’fme, through Spinoza and metaphysical materialism, to Feuerbach and the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels. In 1910 he published a little book which in a popular form presented the metaphysical and epistemological aspects of dialectical materialism. This book was republished only in 1958 and in the meantime forgotten. He wrote a report on philosophy in the Soviet Union and examined the relation between the theory and practice in dialectical materialism. Rudniański was a member of the Communist Party of Poland.
The view was expressed that Chwistek was the only Polish philosopher who before the war declared himself for dialectical materialism and Marxism-Leninism. This view, allegedly based on The Limits of Science, is contradicted by what Chwistek actually said.
Two things about Chwistek stand out clearly. First, he was a materialist. Second, his admiration for Marx was not matched by his knowledge of the works of Marx and Engels. What Chwistek did know about Marx and Marxian materialism was second-hand and came from the writings of Plekhanov, Deborin, Bukharin, and Lenin. Chwistek admired Marx because his philosophical and sociological doctrine was entirely based, as Chwistek claimed, upon what he called the principles of sound reason. Marx’s method did not differ essentially from the constructive methods of the exact sciences and his sociological thinking rested on one of those truths which are not subject to change, namely that the road of progress is marked by blood, violence and revolutions.
This does not mean, however, that Chwistek espoused the Marxist-Leninist version of dialectical materialism. One of the reasons to support this opinion is the fact – slight as it might appear to some people – that in 1935 he described Bukharin as one of the foremost contemporary Marxists. His unorthodoxy is further testified by the esteem, as high as that he bestowed upon Marx, in which he held Hume, Comte, and Mach. On the other hand, Hegel was considered by Chwistek to be the man responsible for contemporary anti-rationalism. From Hegel comes the plainly absurd idea that motion can be understood only in terms of moving thought, which vitiates dialectical materialism and makes its supporters cite ‘in one breath. . . . improbable Hegelian nonsense and important scientific theories’. The dialectical method is responsible for entirely unnecessary confusion of thought. Marx’s thesis of universal mutability or that of the dependence of intellectual life upon physiological processes is sound. The thesis that a special method is necessary to understand the changes and dependence in question is wrong. To suppose that the adherents of the dialectical method do mean what they say would imply that they cannot be taken in earnest.
Chwistek accepted dialectical materialism without the dialectical method and without any other metaphysical ingredients, i.e. materialism based upon experience and exact reasoning. He called it ‘dialectical’ because it emphasises change and mutability, one of the truths of sound reason that was lost and is made prominent by Marx. What Chwistek said of Marx is true enough and close to what Marx seemed to have wished to impress upon philosophical thinking of his times. Chwistek is not alone in evaluating the contribution of Marx to philosophy in that manner. This does not, however, make Chwistek a supporter but a critic of the Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism.