Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963
Towards the end of 1951, at the time when most of the institutional changes just described had already been accomplished, there appeared the first number of Myśl Filozoficzna, introduced in its editorial as a ‘clearly Marxist’ publication. This description turned out to be perfectly true. Myśl Filozoficzna never published articles which either questioned the established Marxist-Leninist assumptions, or made a critical evaluation of them from without, or put forward opinions incompatible with the tenets of Marxism-Leninism. Practically the only deviation from this rule was some infrequent contributions on neutral subjects, and some authorised or unauthorized revisions in the interpretation of the Marxist-Leninist principles, whose validity remained unquestioned. The latter started appearing towards the end of 1955 and were the first symptoms of the forthcoming basic change, i.e., of the abolition of the ‘monopoly of a single school’. There would have been nothing unusual in the fact of Myśl Filozoficzna being a purely Marxist-Leninist publication, if for six years it were not the only Polish philosophical periodical.
Initially, Myśl Filozoficzna appeared four times a year, but from 1955 it became a bi-monthly. Altogether twenty nine issues were published, each of them containing three hundred or more pages. About the middle of 1957 the publication of Myśl Filozoficzna was discontinued and replaced by Studia Filozoficzne. The change of title was an outward sign of the clear breach with the editorial policy of Myśl Filozoficzna. While the appearance of the latter periodical might be taken as the commencement of the period characterised by the monopoly of Marxist-Leninist philosophy, the disappearance of Myśl Fitozoficzna marked its end. This should be understood as a convenient rough approximation.
Myśl Filozoficzna was edited by Schaff in consultation with an editorial board, on which, for a short time, both Marxist-Leninist and non-Marxist philosophers were sitting. There were at first some stormy meetings of the board, at which its non-Marxist members frankly expressed their opinions on the editorial policy of the periodical and the content and style of its contributions. They insisted that the articles published in Myśl Filozoficzna failed to achieve scientific standards; that they criticised in an unfair and offensive fashion philosophers and philosophical trends which were scientifically far superior to anything Myśl Filozoficzna was able to produce; that its one-sidedness and exclusion of any other standpoint but Marxism-Leninism could not be reconciled with its claim to being a scientific publication; and that in view of its content, dominated by social and political problems, it was not a philosophical periodical at all. The Marxist-Leninist members of the editorial board rejected this criticism as a defense of bourgeois pseudo-objectivism and of its reactionary ideological function. The two sides spoke different languages and any understanding between them was out of the question at that time.
The description of Myśl! Filozoficzna as a ‘clearly Marxist’ philosophical periodical meant several different things. Above all, it indicated that Myśl Filozoficzna set out to be an organ of ‘consistent’ and ‘militant materialism’. In pursuing this aim, Myśl Filozoficzna was anxious at its inception to apply Lenin’s advice, given to the editors of the magazine Pod Znamenem Marxisma. His advice was that in the circumstances under which Pod Znamenem Marxisma started appearing, the joint work of Communist and non-Communist was necessary in combatting ‘philosophical reaction’ and the ‘philosophical prejudices’ prevailing in the Soviet society at that time. Myśl Filozoficzna was confronted by circumstances not dissimilar from those experienced by the editors of Pod Znamenem Marxisma, but the philosophical prejudices, referred to by Lenin, which they were to combat were of a very different nature. The failure of Myśl Filozoficzna in its endeavour to secure the support of nonCommunists for the establishment of materialism as the dominant popular philosophy was largely due to its conception of philosophy and of the purpose philosophy was intended to serve. This conception was at variance with what philosophy was understood to be among professional philosophers, including the materialistically-minded members of the Warsaw school.
The differences between the Marxist-Leninist and the modern conception of philosophy, represented by the Warsaw school in Poland, have been already touched upon. Marxism-Leninism refuses to recognise any line of division between the world outlook and philosophy sensu stricto. For the Warsaw school this line of division was of primary importance.
Philosophy, as understood in the Warsaw school, is an attempt, free from ulterior motives, at exact knowledge obtained by rigorous investigations (as contrasted with speculations) of particular problems arising from the efforts to understand the structure, procedure, and validity of the positive sciences. These investigations require a specialised technique and a mastery of auxiliary disciplines, among which formal logic is most important. They also lead to the discovery of new fields of research, such as the philosophy of language, whose bearing upon philosophical problems and their solutions cannot be overestimated.
Philosophy which abandons speculation, follows scientific procedure, and is governed by the cognitive purpose, presupposes a definite state of mind, known since Descartes as methodological scepticism. While offering a solution, the philosopher is aware of its tentative and provisional character, his mind is open to new evidence, receptive to objections and anxious to search for them himself. A rational philosophical inquiry involves a constant revision of the foundations of knowledge and results in hypothetical statements and probabilities, though rigorously stated.
Philosophical views clearly differ from beliefs which constitute a Weltanschauung. They differ as to their respective subject-matter and the reasons for which they are held. A world outlook is concerned with the Universe as a whole, its structure, its ultimate ground and cause. Such beliefs are assumed to be true, but their validation is not determined solely or even mainly by the theoretical criteria of truth and falsehood. In a world outlook the Universe is considered in its relation to man, under the aspect of its bearing on human behaviour, and his place in the natural order. We accept one rather than another synoptic picture of the world because of the presence within it of specific values, incorporated, as it were, in the structure of the world as described in the preferred world picture.
This also applies to the theories of high generality, in principle concerned with the observable facts, but undecidable at a given stage of knowledge. The question whether living matter has developed from inorganic matter is answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and qualified as probable or improbable in accordance with the conviction this answer seems to imply with respect to human behaviour, individual and collective. Although some theoretical considerations are involved in what is held to be probable or improbable, the respective views on the origin of life are accepted or rejected in accordance with whether they are felt to uphold or degrade the dignity of man, affect his place in Nature in one way or another, and lead to different appreciations of the worth of ends to be attained. Similar considerations influence our opinions in the dispute on determinism and indeterminism in physics, as the recent discussions between physicists and non-physicists alike amply testify. Under the influence of such considerations a hypothetical statement, assumed tentatively or heuristically, is converted into a subjective certainty to lend its authority to a belief concerning the role man should play in the world and to a way of life considered to be desirable.
In this sense it might be said that world outlooks are concerned with the ultimate questions of human life. A world outlook supports beliefs conducive to specific actions; beliefs conducive to specific actions prompt the acceptance of a world outlook. A Weltanschauung, wrote R.B. Perry, evokes a ‘characteristic practical response and inspires a characteristic faith’ . A world outlook is ultimately based on considerations of a practical, moral, social, and political nature. It is the work of an intelligence that serves the purpose of life, its brevity, urgency, and the practical necessity of reaching conclusions on evidence that is theoretically unsatisfactory, incomplete, and inconclusive.
It is clear, therefore, that a Weltanschauung may conform to scientific knowledge to a varying degree, but there is no scientific world outlook. Science and world outlook are prompted by different motives, serve different purposes, and are assessed by different criteria of validity. The sense of certainty associated with beliefs is rooted in man’s whole life experience which helps to bridge the gap between what is assumed in a belief and the paucity of its supporting evidence. Beliefs capable of inspiring sustained action may sometimes produce thereby their own evidence which nourishes further exertions. This explains the power of resistance, which a world outlook displays to unfavourable theoretical evidence. While the latter concerns a particular aspect of a Weltanschauung, a self-fulfilling belief adds strength to the whole of it and invigorates steadiness of purpose. Them is a sharp contrast between the certainty of beliefs and the rational assent given by a mind disciplined to see coolly and steadily what may be held to be valid or true on the ground of logic and experience.
Marxism-Leninism is clearly a Weltanschauung. It starts with the belief that the world is wholly material and that various realms of being are different forms of matter in motion governed by the laws of dialectics. On this ultimate metaphysical datum, in which the mind may rest for ever, a unified world picture is built, various philosophical views and scientific theories are assessed, accepted or rejected according to their compatibility or incompatibility with the basic assumption. Thus, for instance, not only objective idealism, monistic or dualistic spiritualism are brushed aside for obvious reasons, but also phenomenalism turns out to be a totally false doctrine. For if the world and its laws were not fully knowable, if our knowledge of these laws were not ‘authentic knowledge’having the validity of ‘objective truth’, the basic assumption of the Marxist-Leninist outlook could not be an ‘objective truth’.
Once this assumpti?n is accepted, the materialist conception of history becomes obviously true, which is not correct but immaterial in this context. If living matter sprang from inorganic and mind emerged from living matter, then the material life of society is primary and its spiritual life is derivative and secondary, dependent, in the mode of its existence, on the former. But the material life of society is its mode of production, which, therefore, determines the political and social institutions, various social theories and ideas, in fact man’s whole manner of thought. To change the latter it is necessary and sufficient to change the former and the effectiveness of this practical rule is safeguarded by the structure and laws of the Universe. The belief in the unity of Nature as a whole supports the belief that definite economic and social policies, intended to bring about a desired state of society, can be determined with ‘scientific accuracy’ leaving no room for doubt or uncertainty.
Action needs confidence and trust, which cannot be secured by the weighing up of evidence in a detached manner, by considering various possible standpoints and hypothetical alternatives. This trust and confidence is drawn from practical beliefs, though in Marxism-Leninism, as much, for that matter, as in any other Weltanschauung, they are projected on to the outside world, from which they are derived as the ‘objective truth’ concerning the nature, structure and laws of the Universe.
The identification of the Weltanschauung and philosophy sensu stricto was apparent in Schaff Introduction to the Marxist Theory. At that time, however, this was a characteristic feature of one philosophical school of thought, competing with others for recognition and support. The position changed when Marxism-Leninism achieved supremacy and exclusiveness, for that meant the suppression of philosophical inquiry in the proper sense of this term.
The Marxist-Leninist conception of philosophy was widely felt to be a step backwards to a stage of development that in Poland had been overcome half a century earlier. The chances of its acceptance were not improved by the manner of its imposition and by the particular form which it assumed at that time. For in the period of the ‘monopoly of a single school’ the Marxist-Leninist conception of philosophy was simplified still more. This simplification resulted from the emphasis laid upon the social function and the instrumentalist character of philosophy.
According to Marxism-Leninism the highly specialised character of present-day philosophy is a symptom of its degeneration. It is a barren scholasticism, which bears no relation to the real world, to problems of real life, to knowledge as a guide to action and to the improvement of life conditions by the means available to control Nature. It is a philosophy divorced from the masses of the people, unintelligible to the layman, the domain of esoteric disputes among the elect. They rack their minds to complicate the simplest issue and obscure the most obvious truth. They juggle with a multitude of new terms and invent new techniques which lead nowhere and discover nothing. The make-believe of scientific procedure is a sophisticated mask to disguise the support that the modern bourgeois philosophy gives to Bishop Berkeley’s subjective idealism and religion. This is an escape from reality and its problems. It faithfully reflects the disintegrating processes which take place in bourgeois society in the epoch of imperialism.
The remoteness of bourgeois philosophy from life, its abstract and specialised character, are contrasted with Marxism-Leninism which knows no breach between academic philosophy and the needs and beliefs of mankind. Marxist-Leninist philosophy belongs to the masses of the people, provides a rallying point for their aspirations, shapes their attitudes, determines their ideals and guides them in their struggle for social betterment. The propagation of this philosophy and its way of thinking is a truly philosophical undertaking. Philosophy fulfils its social function and its proper task if it provides a system of beliefs which promote collective endeavours and concerted actions in the struggle for human emancipation and control over the blind form of Nature.
The emphasis on the social function of philosophy makes of it an instrument that serves some definite purpose. Instrumentalism is a conception of science according to which a scientific theory is not valued for its cognitive content and its ability to free the mind from errors and prejudices, but as an effective instrument for calculation and prediction. Similarly, the Marxist-Leninist conception of philosophy can be described as instrumentalist. Stalin contributed greatly to its establishment. ‘The specific features of the basis’, wrote Stalin, ‘consist in that it serves society economically. The specific features of the superstructure consist in serving society by means of political, legal, aesthetic and other ideas and provide society with corresponding political, legal and other institutions’. Philosophy belongs to the superstructure and constitutes the ideologically most sensitive scientific discipline. As a component part of the superstructure philosophy is an ‘active force’. It assists its basis in consolidating itself and helps to eliminate the old basis and the old classes by destroying their world outlook and ideologies.
The instrumentalist conception of philosophy has its origin in the voluntaristic interpretation of the Marxian doctrine, which Lenin originated and which Stalin imposed in his version of Marxism-Leninism. In accordance with what has been said in the preceding pages, voluntarism should be understood to be the setting up in an arbitrary fashion of a normative scheme to which social reality is made to conform. The instrumentalist conception of philosophy fits in and is an appropriate means for carrying such a scheme into effect. A world outlook is a system of views which supports beliefs conducive to action of a definite kind. The instrumentalist principle reduces the world outlook to beliefs considered to be useful for the realisation of a predetermined scheme. An act of will defines the content of the world outlook, the direction and manner of action in the course of which ‘thought’ is compared with the ‘real processes in the world outside’ and the discrepancy between them adjusted by subsequent actions. Finally, to use Marx’s expression, to the ‘thought’ striving for realisation there corresponds ‘reality’ striving towards ‘thought’.
The Marxist-Leninist instrumentalist conception of philosophy assigns to the latter two fundamental tasks. It is to serve the socialist construction in the country and the cause of socialism in the world. In this manner philosophy as conceived by Marxism-Leninism becomes a means of inducing appropriate attitudes in the ruled and of exercising control over them by the rulers. The proper name for such activities is propaganda, and Marxism-Leninism was thus described in Poland as long and as soon as a spade could be called a spade.
The term ‘propaganda’, applied to the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, was, naturally enough, strongly resented by its supporters, although it was refuted by a stroke of the pen and explained away as a symptom of class hostility and intellectual hybris, which was outraged by a philosophy that meets the needs of the people and helps them to liberate themselves from oppression and superstition. ‘Propaganda’ was a term applied specifically by Marxist-Leninists to some trends of bourgeois philosophy, for instance to empirio-criticism and conventionalism. Duhem, Dingler, Le Roy, Poincaré consider as absurd the existence of the outside world, independent of the human mind. However, they do not in earnest deny the existence of an objective reality, they do not actually believe what they say and write. Their strange views are restricted to their studies outside of which they behave as any other human being and refute their idealist speculations at every step. This inconsistency can only be accounted for sociologically. Its function is to throw the door open to every kind of irrationalism and religious obscurantism, which in turn serve and protect social reaction. When scientific laws are reduced to the status of convenient conventions, religious dogmas become immune from rational criticism. To depreciate the value of science is to make it helpless against superstition, to provide means for the defence of religion and to put science on an equal footing with theology. This was the reason that Lenin called the conventionalists ‘scientific salesmen of the theologians’. For they help to confuse truth and falsehood and to mystify fantastic beliefs by presenting them as justified by positive science. Confusion and mystification are the essence of propaganda and modern bourgeois philosophy confuses and mystifies.
For Marxist-Leninists propaganda did not consist in a peculiar technique of making people accept some beliefs, but in the content of these beliefs. If they were ‘reactionary’, they were propaganda, irrespective of whether they were honestly held and presented for free acceptance or rejection. ‘Progressive’ views, whatever their content and way of propagating them, are never propaganda. To speak of the propaganda of truth is self-contradictory. In this conclusion there was more naive self-righteousness than avowed cynicism, which makes it almost impervious to argument and persuasion.
The instrumentalist conception of philosophy is well suited to the role which Marxism-Leninism was anxious to play in creating and consolidating ‘socialist consciousness’ or in forming a ‘socialist nation’. It also fitted in well with the function assigned to philosophy in the struggle for power in the world.
Having conceived philosophy as a political instrument, Marxist-Leninists ascribed to their own conception a universal character. Philosophical instrumentalism may not be the doctrine to which all philosophers subscribe, but it is the manner in which philosophy is actually, consciously or unconsciously, practised by them. This, Marxist-Leninists contended, can be clearly seen from the history of philosophical thought and from the contemporary events on the world scene. The world divided itself into two camps, the socialist camp and the imperialist camp. The front on which the struggle between them was fought included ideologies in general and philosophy in particular. In the field of philosophy the ideological struggle was most intense and assumed the form of the conflict between dialectical materialism and idealism. This dispute had been carried on throughout history, but in contemporary philosophy the polarisation was complete and the differentiation took its extreme form. On the one hand, materialism found in dialectical materialism its absolutely consistent and final formulation, on the other idealism, concealed under the guise of logical empiricism and misleading by the misuse of symbolism and elaborate pseudo-scientific logical and linguistic techniques, reached the very heights of subtlety, formal precision and perfection. The hard and fast division of the two main philosophical trends was a product and a reflection of the progressive political division of the world without which it cannot be understood.
The philosophical division provided the basis for the evaluation of various philosophical schools and thinkers. When in any doctrine an idealist content was discovered, this doctrine stood at once condemned as reactionary, and therefore false, by what it said. There was no need to refute it any longer. None of its arguments had to be assessed on its own merit and none of its solutions to be examined for the purpose of discovering or indicating how a better one could be found. The valuation of a thinker or a school followed a strict procedure as easy to handle as the method of solving an elementary equation.
The Marxist-Leninist division of philosophical schools into materialist and idealist does not provide an unequivocal and exhaustive principle of classification that would give us a clear bearing in the great variety of views to be found in contemporary philosophy. As is well known, Marxism-Leninism accepts, in principle, Engels’ definitions of ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’. According to these definitions, those who assert the primacy of spirit to Nature comprise the camp of idealism, and those who regard Nature as primary belong to the school of materialism. Lenin thought that to use the terms ‘idealism’ and ‘materialism’ in any other way could only give rise to confusions and he strongly discouraged any deviation from the proposed definitions. Polish Marxist-Leninists adhered to his advice, though occasionally not without some embarrassment. They agreed that considered from the viewpoint of the ‘philosophical struggle’ it was best to respect the ‘root distinction’, established by Engels and Lenin, and to recognise that the epistemological differences within the idealist camp, in Engels’ sense, were of secondary importance.
‘Nature’ in the above context probably means the ‘material world’ or ‘matter’ in the common sense meaning of this term. Matter has filled the Universe from eternity and will fill it for eternity, it is neither created nor destructible. To be a materialist is to assert that the Universe has not been created and this is equivalent to saying that God does not exist. On the other hand, an idealist assumes world creation in some form or other, and, in the last instance, the existence of God.
If we apply Engels’ criteria of division to such systems as the neutral monism of Bertrand Russell, known from the Analysis of Matter, or to Kotarbiński’s pansomatism, it is clear at once that they are not idealists. Neither of them assumes the existence of God, though they would deny that God’s existence has been or could be disproved, if it means something more than the incompatibility of God’s existence with what we know about the world. Neither of them is a creationist, unless the ‘creation’ of the Universe is a scientific term of modern cosmology. Finally, neither of them assumes that the spirit is primary and in the case of Russell this is made explicitly clear by his criticism of Hegel’s and Bradley’s doctrines.
On the other hand, neither Russell nor Kotarbiński are materialists in Engels’ sense. Russell denies that the traditional separation between mind and matter is metaphysically defensible. Both mind and matter are logical structures composed of hypothetical ‘neutral stuff’, in which they are ‘brought together’ without being subordinated one to the other. Russell recommends the acceptance of the ‘neutral stuff’ on the grounds of economy and comprehensiveness of theoretical exposition and refrains from the contention that the ‘neutral stuff’ can be demonstratively established.
Kotarbiński is not a materialist in Engels’ sense either, nor, for that matter, in Russell’s, whose views are incompatible with the thesis of ontological reism. He would agree with the opinion that the question of mind-matter relation is a crucial one for materialism and would add that with the present state of knowledge there are several solutions of this problem, all equally entitled to be called materialist. He once referred explicitly to Engels’ criterium – the primacy of matter over mind – which he calls ‘genetic materialism’ and from which he dissociated himself. Why should mind, he asked, in some initial form of development not be as eternal as matter itself? Materialist philosophers are inclined to single out one of the many alternatives, for reasons which are not always relevant to the problem in hand – in Engels’ case natural theology was the target – but the answer should be left to science to find.
There are other systems which cannot be accommodated within Engels’ classification, reflecting some salient features of the nineteenth century philosophical discussions now of exclusively historical interest. Attention was drawn to this fact in Poland and was supported by numerous examples. At that time they made no impression on Marxist-Leninists and only recently the justice of the criticism was recognised in varying degrees by the present and former adherents of Marxism-Leninism. The matter in question is in itself of minor importance if it were not an illuminating example of the Marxist-Leninist approach to philosophical problems.
Engels’ criteria helped Marxist-Leninists to sharpen to the utmost the differentiation of philosophy into its polar materialist and idealist extremes. The complete polarisation secured for dialectical materialism its unique position, delimited it from any other trend, whether monistic or pluralistic, materialist or idealist, and inspired it with militancy and a sense of mission. In the case of dialectical materialism Hegel’s precept that ‘Negation is just as much Affirmation as Negation’ was vindicated. By refuting one philosophical school after another and finding them all more or less failing in truly materialistic principles, by discovering that even thinkers commonly considered to be materialists had more in common with Bishop Berkeley than with dialectical materialism, Marxist-Leninists actually accomplished the polarisation of philosophy of which they spoke. They made reality conform to what they decreed it to be and thus convinced themselves of the fact that the class character of dialectical materialism was the only reason why other philosophers did not adopt its standpoint. A Marxist-Leninist found his assumption of the class character of philosophy and of its division, according to the class interests involved, confirmed and verified in whatever direction he looked. Thus, it was an ‘objective truth’ that philosophy is nothing but a weapon in the struggle between capitalism and socialism, and any criticism of dialectical materialism is nothing but a hostile, class determined political act. The defence of capitalism might not be explicit. Capitalism can also be defended by the support of views which achieve this purpose by implication, and this includes direct or indirect criticism of dialectical materialism. ‘He who in the present period fights against dialectical materialism in any way, that is to say, against the philosophy which is the foundation of the proletarian ideology’, Schaff wrote, ‘defends by the same token the capitalist superstructure, and, consequently, capitalism as a whole’ . Myśl Filozoficzna was able not only to proclaim this doctrine, but also to effectively impose it.
Explained in terms of its own theory, the rise of Marxism-Leninism in Poland should be conceived as the process of a new superstructure coming into being, conditioned by and corresponding to the socialist basis. This new superstructure, a Marxist-Leninist would say, is not ‘passive, neutral, indifferent to the fate of its basis’, but having come into being grows into an active force and increasingly plays an important role in consolidating the economic structure of society. The superstructure may assist the consolidation of the basis in a twofold way. Firstly, by formulating and propagating the ideas that reflect the basis.
Secondly, by overcoming the surviving remainder of the old superstructure. The power of the superstructure is creative and destructive, the full use of this power necessitates taking advantage of both its capacities.
These assumptions help us to understand the plan of action drawn up and published in the first issue of Myśl Filozoficzna. The plan set five tasks whose order and content were as follows. First, the propagation of Marxist-Leninist philosophy among the masses of the people. Second, the discovery of the regularities which govern progress towards socialism and the establishment of the ideological and methodological foundations that would promote the development of particular sciences. Third, studies on the progressive tradition in the history of social and philosophical thought in Poland which would reveal how the past has prepared the ground for the victory of Marxism-Leninism. Fourth, the training of cadres which would create a new philosophy and science. Fifth, the overcoming of the influence and the survivals of bourgeois philosophy in Poland .
It should be remembered that in its early stage of development Marxist-Leninist did not claim exclusive rights to truth, it saw advantages in the plurality of philosophical trends, and thought highly of the contribution to the development of philosophy made by some of them. It recognised the value of critical discussion as an indispensable condition of the search for truth and of the effort to understand the world in which we live.
At the stage now under discussion Marxism-Leninism emphatically repudiated its former position. A new basis has won victory over the old, a new superstructure has come into being, and the new superstructure cannot ‘take over’ philosophical trends corresponding to the old basis in order to incorporate them into its own body of ideas. The old, i.e., the bourgeois philosophy must be ‘overcome’ and ‘smashed’, since it reflects the interests of a hostile class, misrepresents and mystifies the ‘objective truth’. A new superstructure, whose function is to protect and consolidate the socialist basis, cannot assimilate ideas incompatible with this function.
This argument goes beyond the thesis of historical materialism which does not imply that the different superstructures are mutually exclusive in every respect. The unique character of the superstructure, called into being by the socialist basis, is justified by a different and ad hoc principle.
The ad hoc principle in question was formulated by Zhdanov. It states that with Marx and Engels there begins a completely new period in philosophy. For Marx and Engels created a ‘new philosophy, differing qualitatively from all previous philosophical systems’. It may be developed and enriched, as it has been in Marxism-Leninism, but its foundations, based on ‘objective truth’, are incorrigible. The discovery of Marx and Engels was the end of the search for principles by means of which a universal explanation of the world could be given. The relation of Marxist-Leninist philosophy to any previous or contemporary system is like that of modern chemistry and astronomy to alchemy and astrology. Philosophical views and ideas which ignore or oppose Marxism-Leninism are of no value whatsoever. They should be looked upon as nothing but freshened up idealist merchandise, produced by the ‘philosophical lackeys of imperialism’ for the comfort and support of their ‘frightened masters’ .
Myśl Filozoficzna fully accepted Zhdanov’s principle and proclaimed that in our epoch Marxist-Leninist philosophy is ‘the highest expression of scientific objectivity’. Two consequences should be drawn from this statement. First, that the tenets of Marxism-Leninism provide the absolute criteria by means of which the truth and falsehood of any particular view should be established. This conclusion especially applied to science and provided the basis for the acceptance of some and the rejection of other theories in physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, psychology. Second, all non-Marxist schools of thought in philosophy were declared to be a variety of idealism. Since they all ignored the assumptions of Marxism-Leninism, their mutual resemblance was more important than their respective differences. The only recognised differences between them were either of a historical character or were concerned with their respective range of influence.
It is an established principle of the Marxist-Leninist historiography that the same system of beliefs can be reactionary or progressive under different concrete historical conditions. This principle is applied in particular to pre-Marxian times, but it is also extended to cover the post-Marxian period, preceding the establishment of Marxism-Leninism as a part of the socialist superstructure. For instance, Marxist-Leninist critics of Kotarbiński’s views recognised that these had once been progressive, while either Thomism or phenomenology have always been reactionary. In the post-war period, however, Kotarbiński’s views impeded the progress of philosophy, and, objectively, were playing a reactionary role.
A more important difference, which Marxism-Leninism recognised, was the strength of particular schools of bourgeois philosophy. A battle order for the ‘ideological struggle’, announced by Myśl Filozoficzna, required a careful assessment of the adversary’s resources and power of resistance. The existence of four main opponents was recognised – Thomist, or more generally, Christian philosophy, phenomenology, the Warsaw school, and Znaniecki’s school in sociology.
While surveying the social and intellectual scene in post-war Poland, Chałasiński and Kotarbiński came to the conclusion that two and only two world outlooks were firmly rooted in Polish social reality, combining a universal and comprehensive system of beliefs with mass social support. They were the Christian and the Marxist-Leninist world outlooks. However different their respective principles were, they had a common pragmatic approach to life and its problems; they wished to change and improve the world. This urge can be transformed into a steady, confident, and consecutive endeavour, if people believe more than they know or if they assume to be known what in the theoretical sense is uncertain. In Poland academic philosophy has been governed by theoretical interest, and did not produce, therefore, a world outlook, at least not a universal one, which might appeal to a great number of people. On the other hand, the Christian and Marxist-Leninist world outlooks were ready to take what William James called a ‘living, forced and momentous option. Where theoretical consideratione. enjoin to suspend judgment, they were ready to take risk, to act and to create the actuality of what they postulate in their respective beliefs. The Christian and the Marxist-Leninist world outlooks make an appeal to a deeply-rooted need in the average man, to which large numbers respond, so securing them mass social support.
Marxist-Leninists contrasted their own ‘scientific philosophy’ with the Christian ‘obscurantist’ world outlook. The suggestion that there exists wide-ranging correspondence between certain fundamental categories of thought in Soviet philosophy on the one hand, and those of Thomism on the other, was received by them as an outright insult to be answered by an outpouring of vituperation and abuse. But Marxist-Leninists looked at Christian philosophy in a manner not dissimilar from that of Kotarbiński. They saw the strength of the latter in its appeal to the masses, little interested in the more philosophical content of the Christian world outlook. Only a handful of Catholic intellectuals was concerned with philosophical questions. In academic philosophy the Christian school had no influence and was tolerated rather than accepted. Philosophically, it was not, therefore, a serious opponent to Marxism-Leninism. No proof was necessary to show that it was the most extreme version of ‘objective idealism’. It did not hide its opposition to dialectical materialism, its fideism, hostility to science, and its socially reactionary character. Marxist-Leninists came to the conclusion that they would demean themselves by dealing with Christian philosophy in a serious manner.
Christian philosophy was recognised, however, as a social and ideological threat to arxism-Leninism. The source of this threat should be sought in its hold and influence upon the masses of the people exercised through the Catholic Church. Thomism was the philosophy of the Church and its strength was a function of the power of the Church in the country. When the masses of the people adopt the scientific outlook and abandon religion – and according to the Marxist-Leninist assumptions this was bound to happen in a socialist society that was just round the corner – Christian philosophy would lose its foothold and vanish from the intellectual scene without any efforts on the part of Marxist-Leninists.
Phenomenology was classed with Christian philosophy and described as a variety of objective idealism or as a notoriously idealist and reactionary doctrine. Marxist-Leninists ignored the fact that in the hands of Ingarden phenomenology has become a method of philosophical inquiry combined with a clearly realistic standpoint in the theory of knowledge. From their viewpoint this was immaterial and the fame of Husserl’s transcendental idealism justified equalling any phenomenology with objective idealism of the most objectionable kind. Ingarden was denounced as unfit to teach philosophy in the People’s Polan.
Because of the small number of phenomenologists in Poland, phenomenology could have been philosophically ignored, if Ingarden had not exercised a considerable influence on the theory of art, and, in particular, of literature. Although Żółkiewski, the Marxist-Leninist authority on this subject, summarily dismissed Ingarden’s contributions as contaminated by their Husserlian origin and reflecting the prescientific stage of the ‘science of literature’, others did not share his opinion and Ingarden’s philosophical views were critically examined from the Marxist-Leninist standpoint.
The two most serious and influential opponents of Marxism-Leninism in the field of academic philosophy, whom Marxism-Leninism singled out as its main target, were the Warsaw school and Znaniecki’s sociology. Marxist-Leninists had to recognise that the differences of opinion and approach between themselves and the philosophers of the Warsaw school were considerable and that the latter were in no mood to throw up the sponge. They also recognised that the Warsaw school enjoyed supremacy in academic philosophy and a wide reputation for its achievements. The view was widespread that, if any school of thought in philosophy deserved the qualification’scientific, this was the Warsaw school. Marxist-Leninists questioned and rejected this claim – there was no scientific philosophy outside dialectic materialism – but could not deny that the ‘appearances’ justified it and that it was supported by a wide circle of people, in and outside the universities, including some Marxist-Leninists.
The Warsaw school constituted an opponent that was not easy to deal with. Marxist-Leninist philosophy was one of those traditionalistic trends which the Warsaw school, from its inception, tried to eradicate from academic philosophy and to replace by scientific methods and specialised philosophical thinking. The discussions of 1946-1948 clearly showed that the application of these methods to Marxist-Leninist philosophy threatened it with destruction. To hem in and to isolate the Warsaw school, to prevent it from exercising an influence. that was considered to be fatal to dialectics, to its position and prospects, became the chief objective of the announced plan of suppressive action.
In the same manner as the ‘overcoming of bourgeois philosophy’ meant its forceful elimination, similarly the ‘overcoming of bourgeois sociology’ was an euphemism for the suppression of sociology to the benefit of historical materialism, which was to enjoy the privilege of monopoly. Marxism-Leninism did not recognise the existence of sociology as a separate discipline, but considered it in the nineteenth century fashion as a branch of philosophy, and in its own system identified or subordinated it to historical materialism. According to Marxism-Leninism, a sociologist is always committed to a definite philosophy, whether he is or is not aware of it, and he cannot make a single step without resorting to some philosophical principles.
The term ‘sociology’, as used by Marxist-Leninists, did not refer to the presentday empirical sociological inquiry, but to the speculative grand scale system of the past, like those of Comte, Spencer, or Marx. The subject-matter of sociology in the Marxist-Leninist sense of this term is society as a whole. Its task is to discover the laws of functioning, growth and decay of society, of the succession of various historical formations. Sociology in its nineteenth century garment was described by Znaniecki as a ‘vain dream of ambitious philosophers’ . We give it to-day the name of ‘philosophy of history’ rather than that of ‘sociology’.
In these circumstances Znaniecki’s school became inevitably an incontrovertible opponent of Marxism-Leninism. Znaniecki was the founder of modern empirical sociology in Poland, which dominated sociological thinking in the inter-war period and continued to do so after the war. When Marxist-Leninists described Znaniecki’s school as ‘openly idealist’ they had in mind its modern conception of social research, its highly critical attitude to the speculations of the past, which included Marx’s social philosophy and philosophy of history, as well as some of its peculiar characteristics differentiating it from other trends in modern sociology. The question whether these peculiar characteristics of Znaniecki’s sociology justify the qualification ‘idealist’must be, for the moment, left undecided. It should be emphasised, however, that at the time when this objection was raised it was to some extent irrelevant. Neither Znaniecki’s nor any other school of modern sociology, whatever principles it was based on, could be reconciled with historical materialism or Marxist-Leninist sociology as it was conceived in the Stalinist period.
It seems to be advisable to precede a more detailed survey of the Marxist-Leninist criticism directed against particular schools of thought with some general remarks on its form and technique, which differed considerably from those universally accepted in philosophical discussions. These remarks may appear severe but their severity falls short of what at a later stage Marxist-Leninists themselves said about their methods of criticism. They did not hesitate to expose their shortcomings in a manner that reflects credit on them.
The technique of criticism was exegetic. As already mentioned, it invariably consisted in showing by some means or other that the writer’s views were incompatible with the tenets of Marxism-Leninism and consequently false. The problems raised and their solutions were not examined for themselves, for it was assumed either that there was in them no question worth investigating or that they had been already solved in Marxism-Leninism. When the incompatibility of the criticised view with Marxism-Leninism was established, what remained was to find for it an appropriate condemnatory term – of subjective idealism, conventionalism, agnosticism, or a combination of them all. To complete the refutation some ready made social and political implications of these false and harmful trends were recalled. In that manner the adversary was regarded as annihilated, for his errors and his ideological offences, for which he was objectively responsible, were thus clearly revealed. ‘Criticism of other doctrines’ commented Kołakowski, once a Marxist-Leninist himself, ‘was not meant to persuade anyone, effectively and rationally, but became a part of a ceremonial ritual and could successfully combine ignorance of the subject with contempt for those whom the criticism concerned’ .
It was often easy to show that a particular view was not acceptable from the Marxist-Leninist standpoint, but this was not always the case. To achieve this purpose Marxist-Leninists sometimes misconstrued fundamental theses of the position criticised and presented them in such a manner that the accounts were little short of caricature. To a considerable extent it could not have been otherwise once the exegetic method was accepted. Many problems which Marxist-Leninists had to consider were never examined in the Marxist-Leninist school. They were only vaguely known to its supporters whose main interests were problems of the world outlook and not those of philosophy in the stricter sense. They could not be formulated in terms of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, since it lacked an appropriate conceptual framework and terminology. This concerned, above all, problems of logic, logical syntax, semantics, the theory of knowledge, but also of general methodology, philosophy of science and modern sociology. Marxist-Leninists confidently assumed and stubbornly adhered to the view that the conceptual framework established by the founders of the doctrine in the last century was sufficient for the formulation and solution of any problem whatsoever, and that nothing was worth considering if it could not be formulated in terms of this framework. Thus Marxism-Leninism had its own range of philosophical Scheinprobleme. However, the division line between real and pseudo-problems was not determined by some methodological principle, but by a historical accident – the time of origin of the Marxian doctrine.
In these circumstances criticism using the exegetic method, having constantly to translate problems from a richer conceptual framework into a poorer one, was somehow forced into simplifications, mistranslations, and misconceptions about what the criticised views actually stated. A loose, uncommon or, arbitrary use of technical terms, such as ‘idealism’, ‘conventionalism’, ‘agnosticism’, added to the confusion. The formulation of the criteria of validity in terms of the alleged political and social significance encouraged breakneck deductions and conferred upon the whole procedure an air of irrelevance. If consistent thinking has no inherent value, but needs justification by some ulterior motive, arguing becomes futile and consistency is oddly out of place.
The presuppositions implicitly accepted in a rational discussion require that the problem to be considered should be seen in its whole setting, its difficulty appreciated, its questions analysed and clearly formulated, before the argument and the solution are examined and evaluated. This means that not only the views criticised but also those of the critic must be subject to a searching analysis. The idea that the opponent in the discussion is also a participant in a common endeavour militated, however, against the Marxist-Leninist conception of the partisan character of philosophy. This conception determined the form of the ‘ideological struggle’, a term that was substituted for that of ‘discussion’ and ‘argument’.
According to Zhdanov, the principle of partijnost’ imposes the duty to subject the opponents of Marxism-Leninism to ‘ruthless criticism’, to emulate Lenin Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, in which Lenin saw through the manoeuvres of reactionary professorial philosophy and used against it a language as sharp as a’piercing sword’ . Most Marxist-Leninists in Poland followed Lenin’s and Zhdanov’s example. The technique of criticism described above was enriched by an expressive use of language giving free vent to scorn and derision, disdain and contempt, felt by the Marxist-Leninist critic towards the criticised author. The terms ‘idealism’, ‘fideism’ and many other lost their descriptive and classificatory function. They became, as Kotarbiński put it, ‘dynamic name callings’ and warnings to the offender to mend his ways. The critic did not conceal his intention of hurting, giving offence and ‘annihilating’ his opponent by disparagement and denigration.
The technique and the form of Marxist-Leninist criticism gave it a unique and unmistakable imprint. Its objections were difficult to formulate in an unequivocal language, its arguments hard to follow or incomprehensible, but its conclusions left no doubt that the opponent asserted a farrago of self-evident and undiluted nonsense. Moreover, he was either a wicked man or a fool, a submissive tool in the hands of some cunning masters who served some sinister purpose.
Eristically, the instrumentalist conception of philosophy and the exegetic method were highly effective. They put every opponent at a disadvantage and on the defensive from the start. He stood, as it were, in the dock and had to prove his innocence, if he could. This was, in fact, impossible to achieve. The powers of the best trained and disciplined mind are unequal to the task of dealing with the ‘objective significance’ or ‘political and social implications’ which are arbitrarily established and ascribed to a particular view in the theory of knowledge, ontology, or philosophy of science. They are like the many heads of the mythological hydra. Disposed of in one instance, they can be conjured up in some other.
The results of these methods fell far from what Marxist-Leninists expected from them. They made the ‘ideological struggle’ ineffective and harmed the critics more than their victims. While the exegetic method could successfully silence the opponents of Marxism-Leninism, it left them masters of their own minds. It inflicted a more grievous harm upon the Marxist-Leninists themselves. The rigid and schematic patterns of thought, the rejection of anything that did not fit in with them, the disparagement of what could not be accommodated within the Marxist-Leninist conceptual framework as scholastic conundrums, barred the way of invention and stifled creative intelligence. The examination of philosophical problems of any kind almost entirely vanished from the pages of Myśl Filozoficzna, and, in general, from the Marxist-Leninist philosophical production. Marxist-Leninists did not venture to think for themselves. For if they deviated from the line of orthodoxy they too would have to face the question of the ‘objective significance’ of what they said. They more or less identified themselves with the official line and followed it wherever it led, without any apparent qualms or doubts. In a discussion of the non-Marxist views they adhered to a set pattern, which, as a rule, did not involve any genuine philosophical thinking, for it was a foregone conclusion that a non-Marxist thinker could not be right. The self-imposed restrictive rules on independent thinking made the Marxist-Leninist doctrine more and more antiquated, and estranged the most enterprising minds among its supporters. Instead of increasing, the attractive force of Marxism-Leninism, was waning.
The world of Marxist-Leninists, which they claimed was one of common sense and science, was a strange one to a philosopher of a materialist, empiricist and nominalist turn of mind. It teemed with hypostatisations, substantialised or reified concepts. Matter, dialectical laws, objective reality and other abstract entities seemed to have been directly accesible to them and known by acquaintance as are chairs, tables or trees to other men. Socialism and capitalism, progress and reaction, were like Homer’s gods, fighting each other, struggling for the salvation of man’s soul, inciting and helping men to accomplish good or evil deeds. In our scientific age these gods of the Homeric epics were also penetrating into the most hidden crannies of the human brain to dictate what the brain produced, to mislead the thinker, and to use him as a means of mystifying others. These disembodied forces, haunting the world of men, were either of a benevolent or a malevolent disposition. Dialectical materialism was like the magician’s occult knowledge that was giving the power over the disembodied forces to exorcise the malevolent spirits and to invoke the benevolent ones. When these strange times were over even the staunchest supporters of orthodoxy felt relieved and could not look back without shocked astonishment.