Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963
When the war ended and various philosophical trends which had existed in Poland before 1939 were resuming their interrupted development, Marxist-Leninist philosophy was non-existent. Marxism-Leninism has always taken pride in the fact that it was not an academic philosophy and that it has combined theory with practice, philosophy with ideology, political doctrine with political action. If we take Marxist-Leninist philosophy in this larger sense into consideration, we still cannot find a single Marxist-Leninist of intellectual distinction who had something significant to say, either among the living or the dead. The Polish Communist Party had political leaders but no philosophers or ideologists. Julian Marchlewski (1866-1925), who came closest to this category, left one contribution of some value, which dealt with the reception of physiocratic ideas in Poland in the eighteenth century.
After the death of Czarnowski and Krzywicki, Oskar Lange was the only eminent representative of the Marxian tradition; he accepted Marxism-Leninism politically, but theoretically he was no Marxist-Leninist. Moreover, the Polish Marxian tradition, originated by Krzywicki, was suspect to the Marxist-Leninists from the very beginning, and was soon repudiated altogether for the sake of the purity of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. There was nothing in the past to sustain the efforts of those who were anxious that Marxism-Leninism should strike roots in Polish intellectual life.
When in 1949 Schaff read a paper on the development of Marxian philosophy in Poland at a meeting of the Polish Academy of Science and Learning in Cracow, he had to present his subject as the history of the ‘ideological struggle within the workers’ movement’, that is, as a chapter of political history. ‘Marxism’, he explained, for various reasons had not produced any prominent philosophers. Schaff found serious faults with Rosa Luxemburg and Marchlewski, who, in the public mind, were held to be the leading Polish representatives of the Marxist-Leninist theory, for having misunderstood the Marxist-Leninist dialectics. Krzywicki was not a consistent Marxian thinker and he committed fundamental theoretical errors. Abramowski, whose writings exercised at that time wide influence, Kelles-Krauz and Brzozowski, were deserters of ‘revolutionary Marxism’. Only the victory of the People’s Democracy after the war, Schaff concluded, had opened a new era in the development of Marxian philosophy in Poland.
However, this new era was hardly noticeable. In the first post-war years there was only a handful of Marxist-Leninists in Poland acquainted with the theoretical aspects of the doctrine, and there was still a considerable doubt as to what they should be considered, for they lived in the half-world of politics and of philosophical and literary journalism. There was no chair of Marxist-Leninist philosophy at any university for the lack of a suitable candidate; the first one in Warsaw was set up only in 1948. The four leading Marxist-Leninists at that time were Julian Hochfeld, Władysław Krajewski, Adam Schaff and Stefan Żółkiewski, of whom only the third had philosophical training; received in the Soviet Union. Hochfeld had been a politician and journalist who after the war turned to sociology to become a Marxist-Leninist authority in this subject. Krajewski can perhaps be best described as a populariser of dialectical materialism. Żółkiewski, a historian of literature by education, is, above all, a politician and a prolific journalist on cultural problems in their political aspect. Questions of political strategy and tactics in the cultural field are included in what the Marxist-Leninists call ‘Marxist-Leninist methodology’ and in this sense Żółkiewski is a Marxist-Leninist methodologist.
Around 1950 this little group was reinforced by the accession to Marxist-Leninist of Józef Chałasiński, the sociologist, Tadeusz Kroński (1907-1958), a historian of philosophy, Czesław Nowiński, a law scholar, Bogdan Suchodolski, a versatile writer whose special subject is philosophy of education and history of culture, and Tadeusz Tomaszewski, a psychologist. About the same time there appeared a numerous group of young people, supporters of Marxism-Leninism, who received their philosophical education in post-war Poland. Among them Bronislaw Baczko, Helena Eilstein and Leszek Kołakowski soon distinguished themselves. Only the latter supplied Marxist-Leninist philosophy with some intellectual force, with specialised philosophical knowledge, and originality of thought. After a few years, however, their road and that of the orthodox Marxist-Leninist philosophy have parted; they became ‘revisionists’ in the Marxist-Leninist parlance. Marxist-Leninist philosophy has again been reduced in influence and numbers to little more than what it had been at its starting point.
Adam Schaff (born 1913) has been from the beginning and still remains the leading and perhaps the only Marxist-Leninist philosopher in Poland. He studied economics and political science in Lwów and Paris, and philosophy at the Philosophical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Science, where he received his Ph. D. in 1944. After the war he was lecturer at the Communist Party Political School in Łód" and became associate professor of contemporary economic doctrines at Łód" University in 1947. One year later he was appointed by the Minister of Education to the first chair of Marxist-Leninist philosophy at Warsaw University. When the Polish Academy of Science was set up, Schaff became head of the Philosophical Committee, and later of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology. Schaff has always combined theoretical or ideological with political activities – he joined the Communist Party of Poland in 1931 – and is a full member of the Communist Party (PZPR) Central Committee. Since 1948 he has been closely associated with practically everything that happened to philosophy in Poland. In fact, for a few years he wielded some kind of dictatorial power on what used to be called ‘the philosophical front’. The expression is apt and fittingly describes what was happening in the world of science and learning at that time.
Schaff holds a central position in the evolution of the Polish version of Marxism-Leninism because of his versatility and the leadership he has been giving to the small body of Marxist-Leninists. In contradistinction to the others who have been concerned with some selected subjects – history of philosophy and social thought, ethics, philosophy of science, sociology, political science – Schaff has displayed a wide range of interests and with the exception of aesthetics he has devoted his attention practically to all traditional philosophical subjects. He has an easy pen and has written a stupendous number of articles, pamphlets, and books. He has also been the man who at the recurrent internal crises of the Communist Party laid down the line to be followed in philosophy and the humanities in general. He has so far weathered all the storms without losing his exposed position for a single moment.
In the first post-war years Marxism-Leninism was not only weak in numbers. Also the knowledge of the doctrine, displayed by its followers and protagonists, was poor, fragmentary and superficial. Poets, writers and literary critics, like Jerzy Andrzejewski, Jan Kott and Adam Ważyk, who found in Marxism-Leninism a revolutionary intellectual force, identified it with the European tradition of rationalism from Descartes to Carnap. To be a Marxist-Leninist meant to discover and to extricate the rational kernel of what was progressive in the bourgeois culture. Marxism-Leninism was supposed to continue the positivistic tradition of thought, or still further back, that of d’Alembert, Voltaire, Diderot and the whole French Enlightenment. To choose Marxism-Leninism was to proclaim confidence in science and social reforms, to be sceptical and critical with respect to opinions unconfirmed by experience.
The early converts to Marxism-Leninism – some poets and writers, journalists and publicists, literary critics and artists – were, entirely ignorant of the content of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy. They became converted to it as a faith that promised to change the surface of the Earth and the nature of man, to establish peace in the world and social justice in society, by the alliance of political power and reason. No genuine philosophical question was involved in the conversion. The only part of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of which they seemed to have had some vague knowledge, was historical materialism. Historical materialism made it certain that the march of progress would continue and that the inexorable laws of history would assert themselves in the revolutionary struggle that was engulfing the whole surface of the Earth. Historical materialism encouraged the identification of what was inevitable with what should be preferred and endowed the intellectuals with a sense of mission. The Kingdom of Reason was just round the corner and they, the inheritors of the French Enlightenment, which was resuming in their persons its predetermined course, were the vanguard of Reason.
Such a reputation was securing to Marxism-Leninism some obvious advantages in the short run, and some serious disadvantages in the long run. It helped to gain a political foothold among a section of the intellectuals but handicapped the chance of retaining their allegiance in the more distant future. It was also harmful to Marxist-Leninist philosophy, since it encouraged and spread misconceptions about its fundamental tenets.
The confusion was not confined to literary and artistically-minded intellectuals who were in fact responding to what the best qualified exponents of Marxist-Leninist philosophy were saying. Żółlkiewski was an admirer of the Warsaw school and the Vienna Circle, of Carnap, Reichenbach, Neurath, Popper, Hempel, Woodger. It is difficult to find, he wrote, a greater precision, simplicity, and courage of thought than in these writers. The leaders of the Warsaw school – Leśniewski, Tarski, Kotarbiński – ‘taught how to think’. They were the great force that in the past prevented the young generation from yielding to the allurements of the idealist constructions in the humanities, imbued the minds of the young with respect for empiricism, and were an embodiment of the superiority of the scientific habits of thought over the intuitionistic conceptions of culture inspired by Dilthey, Spranger and Znaniecki. Similarly, Schaff recognised the skill and importance of Kotarbiński’s, Lukasiewicz’s and Ajdukiewicz’s contributions to philosophy. Polish Marxist-Leninists openly deplored the poor knowledge of formal logic in the Soviet Union and advocated the cooperation of Polish logicians with Soviet dialecticians, from which both sides would benefit and astonish the world by their common achievements. In the pronouncements of its chief representatives Marxism-Leninism was declaring itself for the continuation of the Polish philosophical tradition, its intellectual kinship with this tradition, and its willingness to adopt the techniques of modern logic and methodology.
There were also some followers of the Marxian school of thought who denied that there was any specifically Marxist-Leninist philosophy at all. They took seriously Marx’s opinion that ‘when reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of activity loses its medium of existence’. Modern materialism no longer needs any philosophy; it is identical with positive science, philosophy as knowledge of the ‘great totality of things’ is superfluous. Engels, they argued, would have been surprised, if he saw that his own materialism was still expounded in spite of the great scientific discoveries made in the twentieth century or that anybody appealed to his authority in the discussions on the structure of matter. What Marx and Engels said about matter and the world was relative to the knowledge of their times; permanent only was their attitude to reality, the attitude of a man of science, who rejects all a priori conceptions, and is guided by facts alone. The laws of dialectics provide no knowledge about the motion of matter; they should be conceived as some very general methodological rules, which in fact have been accepted in scientific procedure. A scientist who adheres to this procedure fulfils all the requirements of dialectical materialism. To look for a class-determined division in physics, biology, and mathematics was an infantile disorder of Marxism-Leninism. There is only one science, validated by the same rules of procedure and the same concept of truth. The formulations of modern materialism must be tested by logical and semantical methods, devised by neo-positivist philosophy. If these formulations turn out to be inadequate and unacceptable by the standards of logic of science, they should be revised and accordingly adjusted. To evade this test and not to abide by its verdict, would show that materialism is no longer science, but a declaration of faith.
These opinions came from a supporter of the original Marxian doctrine. He did not intend to expound orthodox Marxism-Leninism, but to put forward an argument for its revision. But faithful adherents of Marxism-Leninism could not have assumed that Marxist-Leninist metaphysics may be reconciled with Carnap’s logic of science unless they entertained some misconceptions about Marxism-Leninism or logic of science or both. Similarly, the view, expounded at that time, that historical materialism is the most fundamental Marxist-Leninist assumption and dialectic materialism is its generalisation, could only result from an inadequate knowledge of Marxism-Leninism. Philosophical confusions and doctrinal errors were not infrequent in Marxist-Leninist writings published in the post-war years. Thus, one writer took the tertium of Łukasiewicz’s three-valued logic for a conjunction of contradictory statements, hailed Marx and Engels as forerunners of many-valued logics and demanded that dialectics, the ‘logic of contradiction’, should at last be expressed in terms of many-valued calculi.
At that time Marxism-Leninism could have been learnt from three sources. First came the translations of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Plekhanov, and Stalin. They were followed by surveys and critical evaluations made by non-Marxist philosophers. Finally, came books on Marxism-Leninism prepared by its Polish supporters.
As early as 1945 the Communist Party set up the publishing house Książka (later Książka i Wiedza) which was entrusted with the task of making available translations of the so-called classics of Marxism-Leninism. Among the first to appear were some works of Stalin, Problems of Leninism and Dialectical and Historical Materialism. His collected works in thirteen volumes, published in the years 1949-1951, also preceded the appearance of the collected works of Lenin (1950- 1957). On the other hand, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of Marx appeared for the first time after the war in 1953 and the three volumes of Capital in the years 1950- 1957. The mass production of the so-called classics of Marxism-Leninism did not start until 1948. In the years 1945-1950 over eleven million copies of various works of Marx, Engels and Lenin were made available, of which 10.8 million appeared in the three years 1948-1950.
The second and probably more important source of information was surveys and critical evaluations of Marxist-Leninist philosophy prepared by nonMarxist philosophers and philosophical journalists. The first of such surveys in a popular form was provided by the Catholic writers in 1945. Soon after a comprehensive critical essay for philosophers was published by Lubnicki, a historian of positivism and a positivist philosopher himself. Lubnicki also gave a review of post-war developments in Soviet philosophy.
Lubnicki’s essay is a competent presentation of dialectical materialism and of the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge. It concentrates on basic assumptions, shows the way in which they were obtained, and illustrates their applications. He also critically examines these assumptions, reveals their ambiguities, and points out what, in his opinion, is philosophically significant and valuable in them. Lubnicki ignores almost entirely the ideological and political aspect of Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He emphasises the importance in Marxist-Leninist thinking of the assumption concerning the social and class determination of philosophy, but he does not accept the implications of this premiss in the critical evaluation of Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He examines the latter in the light of facts and logic, and disregards its political and ideological justification. A major error of Lubnicki’s essay is his approval of the restrictions imposed by Marxism-Leninism on the validity of the principle of non-contradiction, which he holds to be in agreement with the assumptions of the many-valued and intuitionistic logics.
The third source from which Marxist-Leninist philosophy could have been learnt, and the last to come, were monographic studies prepared by Polish Marxist-Leninists. In the course of time quite a number of them were published, but they were mostly popular pamphlets and booklets, intended to reach the widest possible circle of readers and to serve propaganda purposes. Philosophically significant were Schaff Introduction to the Marxist Theory and The Origin and Development of Marxist Philosophy. They still constitute the best and most comprehensive exposition of Marxist-Leninist philosophy written by a Polish Marxist-Leninist for the use of philosophers.
Introduction to the Marxist Theory was first published in 1947 and quickly sold out; it had four more editions in the next few years. It had a mixed reception, more favourable among non-Marxist than Marxist-Leninist readers. The former were pleasantly surprised by the absence of some most objectionable Marxist-Leninist views, the not entirely unsuccessful effort to write in a clear language, and the moderate tone, favourably contrasting with the apodictic and vituperative pronouncements of Zhdanov’s speech on philosophy, which had just reached Poland. The latter were clearly disappointed by the speculative and antiquated character of the doctrine presented in Schaff’s book and by those of its features that appealed to non-Marxist readers. This book, wrote a Marxist-Leninist reviewer, could have been written many years ago and anywhere in the world.
Schaff Introduction to the Marxist Theory is not an original work. With one or two exceptions to be later considered, it is a free paraphrase of the classical Marxian and Marxist-Leninist literature, copiously interspersed with long quotations from the same sources. This is one of the main causes of its philosophical weakness. Schaff adopts various concepts of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin in their original form, without elucidating and defining their ambiguous meaning or examining their compatibility. Consequently, each phrase is in a certain sense clear, but their sequence is not, and his arguments either fail to carry conviction or on closer examination turn out to be no arguments at all. Often they are like the Cheshire cat’s smile – a grin without a cat.
Schaff’s book introduces a new conception of philosophy, which combines elements previously sharply differentiated in Poland. Marxist-Leninist philosophy, Schaff declares, is an ideology, a world outlook, and an ordered set of scientific statements. What is a world outlook, he does not say precisely, but that it is something more than an ordered set of scientific statements is beyond doubt. A world outlook is supposed to be a coherent and all-inclusive system of knowledge about the world, society, and man, which helps its believer to find his bearings in life, guides his action and somehow determines his value judgements. It comprises, therefore, both some scientific knowledge and an ideology. The term ‘ideology’ in this context has not its technical, Marxist-Leninist meaning. ‘Ideology’ means ‘social and personal ideals’ or ‘ideals that inspire, prompt and govern human behaviour’ .
The component of scientific knowledge within a world outlook functions in a different manner than it does taken separately as an ordered set of scientific statements, describing a segment of reality. In the former, the component of scientific knowledge is closely associated with emotional experiences, it purports to support some and exclude other value judgements, it is imbued with a personal belief and conviction. In the latter, knowledge is intersubjective, free from value ingredients, ordered and supported solely by logical relations and empirical evidence.
The difference between an ordered set of scientific statements and a world outlook is considerable and unbridgeable. The discovery of a logical error in the structure or of a factual one in the results of experiments and observations, which falsify a hypothesis or a generalisation, upsets a scientific system. It necessitates adjustments and replacements of the falsified hypothesis by another one which stands up better to the test of experience. This is not the case with a world outlook, for which the test of falsification by experience or of logical incompatibility and contradiction is not necessarily decisive. It is claimed or assumed by implication that it is not any particular part but the totality of the world outlook that is confirmed by experience. ‘Experience’ and ‘confirmation’ do not carry in this context the same meaning as they have with reference to scientific knowledge. In the case of two mutually exclusive scientific systems we can, as a rule, indicate facts which could really resolve the difference of opinion. There are no such facts that would resolve the difference of opinion between two conflicting world outlooks. We believe in the latter in a manner different from that we believe in the former. The logic of a scientific system and that of a world outlook are incomparable. The first is recognised by those who can think and are properly qualified; the second invariably only by those sharing the same kind of life experience. Their respective concepts of truth are also widely different. For science, truth is the warranted assertibility. True in the sense accepted in the world outlook is what partakes in the all-pervasive internal coherence apprehended in a total life experience.
One of the characteristic features of scientific philosophy is a self-imposed restriction to consider only such opinions as can be examined by the methods of the deductive and empirical sciences. It differentiates, therefore, sharply between a world outlook and scientific philosophical problems. It holds that thus philosophy gains a firmer ground for its investigations, from which advantages can be drawn for the examination of various conflicting world outlooks.
Schaff’s definition of Marxist-Leninist philosophy has abandoned the above distinction and thus created a permanent conflict between Marxism-Leninism and the overwhelming majority of Polish philosophers. Besides the rejection of the principle of non-contradiction, the Marxist-Leninist conception of philosophy was the second major obstacle which prevented their recognition of Marxism-Leninism as a philosophically significant system. Marxist-Leninists have substantiated this opinion by being utterly insensitive to the objections of terminological ambiguities, logical inconsistencies and incongruities, empirical unverifiability of their particular statements or theories. Such objections were often qualified by them as evasions of the real issue, conscious or unconscious designs to conceal the position taken in the dispute, verbal smoke-screens and ideological masks of socially and politically reactionary ideals placed under the protection of logic. What was important for them, was where a given statement leads to, what are its implications and what final conclusions in terms of their world outlook can or could possibly be drawn from it. If they directly or indirectly denied or questioned whatever Marxist-Leninists believed to be true, the statement was declared as false and harmful.
To Polish philosophers this procedure lacked the true philosophic spirit. What they felt to be so unphilosophical in Marxist-Leninists was their stubborn refusal to examine their assumptions, to search themselves for objections to their views, to consider in earnest any objection actually raised, and to follow the argument wherever it might lead. Instead, they were turning a blind eye to anything that might reveal their theories to be wrong or inadequate, every criticism was brushed aside on the pretext that it misrepresented the Marxist-Leninist views and did not apply. This habit of thought was not only regrettable in the opinion of Polish philosophers, but also strongly suggested that a Marxist-Leninist was hardly ever engaged in an inquiry. Before he started reasoning, he already knew the conclusion. If the truth is known in advance, a philosophical examination is reduced to a search for arguments. This was not philosphy, as it was conceived in Poland, but the propagation of a faith.
In Introduction to the Marxist Theory Schaff shows how the Marxist-Leninist conception of philosophy operates in practice. In Schaff’s opinion the justification of dialectical materialism, of its theory of knowledge and metaphysical suppositions, can only be established by a critical assessment of idealism, and this he proceeded to do. But if he meant what he said, he could not achieve his aim in that manner. A most devastating criticism of a rival theory is not sufficient to establish the justice of the views denied by this theory. It might lead to the rejection of some opinions or to the laying bare of the dubious character of what the adversary asserts; the validity of a different theory is not, however, thus established. In particular, any theory of knowledge stands or falls by its success or lack of success in answering the questions that constitute its object of examination, that is to say, by its success or lack of success in explaining how we know what we admittedly do know. In other words, a theory of knowledge is satisfactory if it successfully accounts for the knowledge given before it sets out to explain the manner in which it has been acquired. The proof, however unobjectionable, that somebody else failed to achieve this purpose, is not enough. It does not make one’s own theory true or probable and it does not transform a mere announcement of a belief into a valid theory of knowledge. Schaff’s method of exposition is throughout dogmatic and deductive. The first principles – the laws of dialectics – are introduced in the manner familiar from Engels’ Anti-Dhring and Stalin Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Since the ‘dialectics of the brain is only the reflection of the forms of motion of the real world, both of nature and history’, Schaff considers dialectics interpreted as methodological rules and dialectics conceived as laws of nature as two equivalent or indistinguishable conceptions. This in itself justifies the claim that dialectics is an absolutely necessary assumption for the natural sciences, for physics and biology in particular, and that it is the only scientific manner of inquiring into the phenomena of Nature and society.
Dialectics purports to be the science of the most general laws of motion and development of Nature, and Schaff subscribes to this dogma. Non-Marxist philosophers seized upon this formulation in the Stalinist period, since it tended to neutralise dialectics by placing it in the realm of abstractions too elevated to exercise any harmful influence on their actual work. Following the example of Engels and Stalin, Schaff establishes his claim by way of providing some illustrations taken from everyday life or based on sham scientific interpretations that drew protests from his own supporters. On this basis he proceeded to the examination of various theories and statements and what turned out to be compatible with the laws of dialectics he recognised as valid and true, otherwise as invalid and false. Thus the biological theory of evolution is found to be in fact an anti-evolutionary and anti-dialectical distortion of our views about life and its development, which a truly scientific research has refuted over and over again. In a similar manner formal logic is reduced to the status of a dead branch of knowledge, to be tolerated on account of its limited uses but in every respect inferior to the more universal and inventive dialectical logic. Finally, to give the last example, Hume’s account of causation is quickly disposed of as self-contradictory and altogether unacceptable in view of the fact that if it were valid the world would have to be conceived either as a chaotic welter of events or as something kept in order by God’s constant intervention.
The latter point has an inherent interest. Bertrand Russell and Richard Mises argued that the concept of cause and the so-called law of causality are a relic of a bygone age. The expressions ‘the same event’ or ‘equal circumstances’ do not admit of a precise definition. In scientific practice there are, strictly speaking, no repeatable events, since no single event or occurrence can be completely isolated. Causal expressions are the surviving residue of a pre-scientific and naive world picture in which there exist events whose occurrence is dependent on some other well-defined events. As soon, however, as the scientist describes the antecedent sufficiently fully to calculate the consequent with some exactitude, the antecedent turns out to be so involved with other events that its recurrence is highly unlikely. There is nothing to be properly called ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ in a system that is not isolated, and whether a system is or is not isolated we cannot know in advance.
The assumption that there are, strictly speaking, no isolated systems and that we are not entitled to say in advance whether a system is or is not isolated, might be described as a modern and scientific version of the first law of dialectics. It entails the opinion that the concept of cause and causal relation is otiose. Marxist-Leninists drew, however, from their principle just the opposite conclusion.
If Hume’s account of causation is accepted, it is clear that all inferences concerning the future are invalid and the belief that causal laws describe universal uniformities is unjustifiable. We have no reason to suppose that the sun will rise tomorrow or for that matter that the so-called socialistic formation must succeed the so-called capitalist system. The expectation of the experienced uniformities to continue in the future is one of the inferences drawn from the premiss about the existence of universal necessary uniformities; the rejection of the latter deprives the former of their justification.
Repeated attempts have been made to show that Hume was wrong and that causal laws state something more than the uniformities of coexistence or succession, that is to say, that they state the necessary uniformities. A theory of causation that constantly bears in mind its practical application to social and political events is in particular anxious to prove Hume to have been wrong. This probably explains why Marxism-Leninism treats Hume’s account of causation as a hostile statement, specifically directed against itself. The argument of the alleged self-contradiction in Hume’s examination of causation or of its making science impossible, though untenable on purely theoretical grounds, is supported by the ideological consideration. The rejection of universal necessary uniformities, entailed by Hume’s views, would namely invalidate the Marxist-Leninist version of scientific socialism.
Schaff’s manner in which he disposes of some theories in order to replace them by others better suited to his world outlook, closely resembles what for brevity sake might be called ‘ Lenin’s deductive method’. It seems to be little more than an extension of Lenin’s standard procedure to philosophical questions. It was justly pointed out that Lenin was no philosopher and no social scientist. His mind was never engaged with realities unless he dealt with politics. Outside politics ‘he was not trying to find solutions to difficult problems, he was not making hypotheses and weighing the evidence for and against them; he was merely defending his heritage of ideas, polishing his intellectual armour and sharpening his weapons for the war of words’ . For this purpose his ‘deductive method’, of which The State and the Revolution is the best instance, was well suited. In The State and the Revolution Lenin did not try to analyse facts that would throw light on the nature of society, on the function of the State and on the purpose of the government. He assumed that what Marx and Engels said on the subject was all one needs to know, provided that their views are given their ‘original’ and ‘authentic’ meaning. With a collection of extracts from Marx and Engels ready at hand, Lenin annihilated all his opponents, one after another, merely by showing that what they were asserting was incompatible with Marx’s and Engels’ original views. This was, in his opinion, a crushing retort to his adversaries. Lenin thought and acted like the man to whom Engels referred in his polemics against Dhring. When a man feels to be in possession of the ultimate truth and of the only scientific procedure, ‘it is only natural that he should have a certain contempt for the rest of erring and unscientific humanity’ .
Whatever virtues Lenin’s method might have in the political struggle, it is out of place in philosophy. To start from an arbitrary principle and to assert that what disagrees with its implications is false, only leads to a clash of conflicting opinions. It provides no means of resolving the differences and of examining the validity of various views. What one side considers to be self-evident or proven, is far from being either self-evident or proven in the opinion of the other, to which it may appear as a dogmatic pronouncement or a groundless prejudice.
The picture of Marxist-Leninist philosophy that emerged from the first contacts with its literary production was that of a philosophical system with no cognitive value, making use of the terminology peculiar to the idealist philosophy of the nineteenth century and of a scholastic method in the examination of philosophical problems. This evaluation did not tell, however, the whole truth about Marxist-Leninist philosophy, in which, according to some opinions, puzzling paradoxical features and incongruent components co-existed side by side.
On the one hand, it was clearly a philosophy traditionalistic in its method, untouched by logical and other modern developments, ignorant of and unable to deal with the new problems considered in Polish philosophy. They could not be even formulated in terms of Marxist-Leninist philosophy without its conceptual framework being modernised and considerably enriched. It was an uncritical philosophy, unwilling to subject its assumptions to a searching scrutiny and to revise them in the light of new scientific facts and theories. In this sense it was dogmatic, speculative and obsolete. Its views on mathematics referred to mathematics at its pre-Cauchy stage, on philosophy – to the system of Parmenides and his unknown modern supporters, on logic – to the state at the time of Kant, on social anthropology and sociology – to the development reached by Marx and Lewis Morgan. In physics, biology and psychology Marxism-Leninism was more concerned to show that whatever valuable new knowledge has been acquired it can be deduced from Engels’ dialectical doctrine than to investigate what are its philosophical implications and significance. Marxist-Leninist views on formal logic, and on the principle of non-contradiction in particular, invalidated the distinction between truth and falsehood and logically justified the claim that any statement whatsoever is as much acceptable as any Marxist-Leninist theorem. A philosophical system with such nonsensical implications could be of no interest. The political origin and justification of some Marxist-Leninist theoretical theses about the structure of the world was clearly recognisable. Its denial of the possibility to reach objectively valid knowledge, especially in the domain of the social sciences, was traced to the same source.
Marxist-Leninist philosophy cut a poor figure and was widely considered as not much more than a philosophically embellished dilettantism for the use of a fighting political organisation, aware of the importance of a political philosophy and a world outlook in the struggle for power. Seen against the background of Polish modern philosophy, Marxism-Leninism did not appear as one among the other philosophical trends, to be treated with them on an equal footing. Schaff complained of the ‘wide-spread prejudices against dialectics’, of the ‘suspicions’ that it violates common sense, and of academic philosophy keeping its distance from Marxism-Leninism. To a philosopher, wrote Hochfeld, Marxist-Leninist literature is only a ‘propaganda leaflet’ . Philosophy held a key position in the ideological reconstruction of science in Poland, and the majority of Polish philosophers showed a strong resistance to consider Marxist-Leninist philosophy in earnest. Kotarbiński explained the reasons for this resistance plainly and bluntly. Marxism-Leninism is a world outlook for mass consumption, some times simplified by philosophical amateurs and reduced to the level of mere propaganda by their political zeal. For philosophers, who observe more fastidious standards and more vigorous procedures, this is not enough. A doctrine, that recognises the existence of objective contradictions sensu stricto leads to absurdities. It neither can nor should be accepted .
On the other hand, Marxism-Leninism had certain traits that commended it to many Polish philosophers. These traits came from the original Marxian doctrine; integrated into Marxism-Leninism, they provided a striking contrast with other parts of its philosophical content. Marx was a pronounced realist in the theory of knowledge, an empiricist in science, an anti-irrationalist firmly opposed to speculative philosophy, which claims to be in possession of important knowledge acquired by other means than observation, experiment and reason. He was a positivist who wished philosophy to investigate the nature and development of scientific thinking and of the naturalistic view of the world.
The Marxian positivistic component in Marxism-Leninism was emphasised by Kotarbiński, Lubnicki, and Ossowski in their respective criticism of the whole Marxist-Leninist doctrine. Besides positivism this Marxian component also included the fertile and important method of historical materialism. The critics of Marxism-Leninism had no doubt that historical materialism has transformed modern historiography and social science, and constituted a common property of civilised mankind. Finally, there was the influence of Marx’s doctrine on world history. Marx might have been wrong in his prophecies of what was bound to happen, but these prophecies were and continued to be one of the important causes of what did or would happen. The Marxian inheritance commanded the respect of the philosopher, historian, social scientist, and it must be considered in the evaluation of Marxism-Leninism claiming to be its heir. The Marxian component somehow moderated the evaluation of Marxism-Leninism and kept the hope alive that the scientific core of Marxian tradition may prevail in Marxism-Leninism over the ossification and accretions of a different provenance.
This turned out to be an error of judgement so far as the immediate future was concerned. One of its causes was the mistake, made by practically all the critics of Marxism-Leninism, in Poland and elsewhere, of considering the Marxian tradition and Marxism-Leninism as a coherent whole, a single and continuous trend, based on the assumptions formulated by Marx and Engels. There is no doubt that Marxism-Leninism is based on the teaching of Marx and Engels and that it is its continuation in a certain sense. But this continuation has brought about some novel features which necessitate the distinction between Marx and Engels on the one hand, Lenin and Stalin on the other.
Marx wanted to know the world in order to change it. His successors assumed that the world had been made known by Marx and what remained to be done was to complete the second part of Marx’s programme. For Marx, truth was to be discovered by scientific means; for his successors truth was to be made by successful action, by forcing the world to conform to a preconceived truth. Instead of the theory being a guide to action, action became a guide to the theory. The doctrine has been put to new uses, although its content has been left unchanged.
The cognitive content of Marxian teaching was reduced to the premiss of a voluntaristic programme of how to remake social and historical existence. For a voluntarist the truth and adequacy of thought to reality are proved by the process of changing the latter and by mastery over it. Science and philosophy have no autonomous function; they are a subsidiary means of transforming man and society. Lenin did not regard philosophy as theoretical knowledge, governed by its own standards of procedure and criteria of truth, but as one of the social forces, determined by the economic evolution of society, which in turn shapes or can be used to shape social-political development. He combined with this conception of philosophy the belief that the world is knowable and that truth can be discovered in certain definite social and political conditions, which he strived to bring about by his activities. With Stalin the second component of Lenin’s views receded into the background and the first assumed the predominant role. From the Marxian thesis that our conception of the world is a product of social activity, Lenin and Stalin drew the conclusion that by adapting the conception of the world to the requirements of action the desired kind of social activity might be induced to serve the purpose imposed upon society. While Lenin restored the ‘revolutionary content of Marxism’, Stalin identified ‘revolutionary Marxism’ with the ‘theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat’.
Marxism-Leninism has become a doctrine which cannot be described any longer by its content, and still less by the kind of philosophy it favours, of arguments it uses, of views it holds as true. It is a programme of action, a collection of ever adjustable rules on how to change society and to control social processes by the use of power. These rules also include those which determine the content of the doctrine in the manner conducive to the achievement of some practical aims set by the policy makers. The term ‘voluntarism’ applies to this attitude, since the will takes the place of reason as the primary, all-determining factor.
Neither the transformation of the Marxian tradition in the hands of Lenin and Stalin, nor its implications with respect to science and philosophy, were at that time understood in Poland. The proclamation of Marxism-Leninism as the supreme and unchallengeable truth and its enforcement by administrative measures came, therefore, as a shock.