Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963
Among Marxist-Leninists in Poland there were two schools of thought as to what meaning should be attached to Stalin’s revision of the theoretical framework of historical materialism. The difference between them was essentially that of the approach to historical materialism itself and concerned the question whether historical materialism should be regarded as a guide to action or as a guide to study.
The first interpretation laid emphasis upon those parts in Marxism and Problems of Linguistics which spoke of the active role of the superstructure with respect to the basis and tended to enlarge as much as possible the scope of the ideological elements of the social consciousness at the expense of those ideologically neutral. The other interpretation differentiated three categories of forms within the social consciousness: the ideological, idelogically-relevant and ideologically neutral elements, and tried to narrow down the scope of the first category to the advantage of the second and third.
According to Schaff, Marxism and Problems of Linguistics was a renewed reassertion of scientific socialism as an integral revolutionary theory. In his opinion, with which one can hardly disagree, Stalin’s pronouncement was a further step in the long development initiated by Lenin in What Is To Be Done?.
One of the important issues in Lenin’s controversy with the so-called Economists was the question of ‘spontaneity’ and ‘consciousness’ in the workers’ movement (behind this question important differences of opinion on policy, organisation and the role of the Party were concealed). The Economists thought that the socialist consciousness arises spontaneously within the labour movement in the course of its struggle against poverty and misery. On the other hand, Lenin strongly believed that the reliance on its spontaneous growth can lead only to the subordination of the workers’ movement to bourgeois ideology. For economic struggle means nothing more than the struggle for economic reforms, that is, for the perpetuation of the capitalist system and not for its overthrow. Consequently, if it is not possible to develop the class political consciousness of the workers from within the economic struggle, it should be brought to the workers from without, that is, by the Party, the most advanced section of the proletariat, armed with the socialist ideology. Lenin’s ‘consciousness from without’, with which his conception of a centralised and authoritarian party organisation was closely linked, marked the beginning of so-called ‘revolutionary Marxism’ or Marxist-Leninist, which placed an increasing emphasis upon the ‘subjective factor in social development’. The final outcome of this trend was Stalin’s dictatorship and the ‘cult of personality’, established after another battle was fought and won by the supporters of ‘revolutionary Marxism’ . To this development of events corresponds the shift in ideology from determinism to voluntarism and the substitution of the political power of the Party for the ‘laws of social development’. While lip-service was paid to the ‘objective factors’, they were dominated in practice by the subjective ones, the will and aims of the Party leaders, on whose decisions the dignity of verdicts based on the discovery of ‘new laws’ was conferred.
Schaff expressly referred to what he called Lenin’s and Stalin’s generalisations of the experiences in the international workers’ movement which contributed to the defeat of the ‘theories of spontaneity based on the vulgarisation of Marxism in the spirit of economic materialism’, and regarded Stalin’s pronouncement as a crowning achievement of the advance in this direction. If the productive forces do not constitute a component part of the basis and the latter comprises only the relations of production, it becomes clear that in a post-capitalist socio-economic formation it is no longer the basis that creates the superstructure, but it is the superstructure that brings the basis into existence. There is nothing inconceivable in the fact that the capitalist basis should spontaneously develop within the shell of the old society, to be finally set free from its feudal integument by a bourgeois revolution. But the socialist relations of production cannot arise in a capitalist society. Although under capitalism the productive forces expand and the material prerequisites of socialism grow mature, its victory requires the creation of the new superstructure and the new basis. It is the new superstructure, that is, the proletarian State, the proletarian Party, and the proletarian ideology, that sets up and develops its basis. Thus, with the overthrow of capitalism a new regularity begins to operate; the superstructure acquires a new quality; and the social development proceeds no longer spontaneously, blindly and destructively, but according to a plan and a consciously controlled purpose. This is clearly what Engels predicted when he spoke of the vast possibilities open to man by the knowledge of active social forces – their action, direction and effects – and of the gradual ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.
There are certain practical conclusions to be drawn from the discovery of a new regularity which begins to operate after the overthrow of capitalism and secures the primacy of the superstructure over the basis. The countries which start the socialist construction – and Poland was among them – should take the utmost advantage of the powers inherent in the superstructure for the purpose of expanding and consolidating the new basis. This includes the elimination of the bourgeois society and its mode of thinking. The successful accomplishment of the socialist construction largely depends on the strengthening of the new superstructure.
In clear language this practical conclusion, derived from “ Stalin’s theoretical inquiry,” amounted to the justification of the extreme forms of compulsion, of the imposition of the official creed by authoritarian enforcement, and of the suppression of every non-conformist thought. This was supposedly necessitated by the laws of development governing the socialist construction. Schaff was repeating Stalin’s pronouncement of the ‘thirties: the proletarian dictatorship is the mightiest of all governing powers that have ever existed and the highest development of its suppressive functions is a historical necessity, as much ‘correct for its time’ as Engels’ formula that the State is bound to wither away is appropriate for a different period of history. In Poland the events of the following years testified to the fact that the practical conclusions, on which Schaff insisted, were actually drawn.
The doctrine of the unity of theory and practice was applied to justify the unmasking and condemnation of every instance of intellectual non-conformity, of every ‘erroneous’ theory or methodological procedure as a politically hostile act. An opponent became an enemy who should be forced to surrender or be silenced. Ideas proved to be loaded with explosive materials, for they always carried social and political implications, and any error in this field was fraught with dangers for the success of the socialist construction. Not only theoretical views but also facts were scrutinised for their political implications and were challenged or denounced on political grounds.
The unlimited power of remaking the basis, ascribed to the superstructure, obliterated the distinction between ideological and ideologically neutral forms of social consciousness. Logic and mathematics, physics and chemistry, physiology and psychology, philosophy and sociology, all social and historical sciences, art and literature were declared to be ideological in character or to have a direct or indirect ideological significance. They were subjected, therefore, to political control. Particular theories were banned or imposed in the natural and social sciences, views which should be held in a given scientific field, a branch of scholarship or art, were enforced by decrees of the political authorities. An emotional and woolly ideological nebulosity descended upon all the manifestations of intellectual life, and the pressure of terror – another form of the superstructural force which was creating the basis – left little scope for the exercise of rational and critical thought.
The close connection between this course of events and the voluntarist interpretation of the relation between basis and superstructure was constantly stated and restated to enhance the alleged absence of any arbitrariness and the ‘scientific’ character of the policy pursued. It was History itself, its law-governed evolutionary process, that ordained the intensified revolutionary vigilance, the strengthening of the power of the State and the Party, the heightening of ideological struggle against bourgeois influences. In an appreciation of Stalin’s contribution to the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, published after Stalin’s death, Schaff wrote that Stalin’s theory of the basis and the superstructure was like a ‘floodlight that illuminated the road to revolutionary practice’. Three years passed by before Schaff confessed in a contrite mood that he was wrong in having advocated this disastrous course.
It has often been observed that in Marx a learned evolutionist was frequently at loggerheads with an ardent revolutionary. As an evolutionist Marx emphasised that the conquest of State power is the last act in the long chain of economic and social changes, and as a revolutionary he was inclined to advocate the reverse ordre de bataille – the overthrow of the capitalist economic structure by the application of State power, previously conquered by political action. The supporters of ‘revolutionary Marxism’ answered this charge by administering ‘quotational shock treatment’. This was to remove any doubt that Marx had always regarded the conquest of political power as a necessary condition for the transformation of the relations of production. Although an impressive collection of Marx’s statements of this kind can be piled up, it helps little towards the solution of the underlying theoretical issue. Being men of action, Marxist-Leninists simply appealed to practical considerations. It is self-evident, they announced, that the transition from one form of society to another is a political act. Although this is true, it needs qualification, for the transition in question is not only a political act. It is a complex phenomenon, which the Marxian economic monism does not allow for. The difficulty was finally removed by an inconsequential statement, hardly compatible with historical materialism, that economy is always determined by political action. For politics is an instance of the operation of the superstructural forces – political ideology and political power – upon its substructure, of which these forces are ‘centralised expressions’.
But a moderate supporter of ‘revolutionary Marxism’ would also emphasise that superstructural forces do not have unlimited power. ‘No force can transcend its limits’, wrote Bukharin. ‘The limits imposed upon the political power . . . . . are inherent in the existing state of economic conditions and therefore of the productive forces. In other words: the alteration in the economic conditions that may be attained with the aid of the political lever is itself dependent on the previous state of the economic conditions’ . Bukharin gave a theoretical elaboration of these views in his conception of internal and external equilibrium around which some fierce political battles, waged with abstract weapons, were fought in the Soviet Union in the years 1929-1930. Bukharin’s conception of equilibrium located the origin of change in the environment, those who opposed him transferred it from the environment to the controlling power of man.
‘Revolutionary Marxism’ of the extreme sort disregards any limitations and thus lets a magical frame of mind gain ascendancy over rational thought and action. For magic has been defined as a ‘body of purely practical acts, performed as a means to an end’ or as an affirmation of “man’s autonomous power of creating desired ends” without resorting to observation of Nature or to knowledge of its laws and capable of bringing about what Nature cannot produce.
It was William James who emphasised that there are cases where ‘faith creates its own verification’ and that in such circumstances it is the ‘part of wisdom to believe what one desires’. This concerns ends whose realisation depends on a personal contribution, in turn conditioned by the willingness to exert oneself, this willingness being stimulated by the confidence in the success of the final outcome. Such experiences may illustrate what Marxist-Leninists mean when they declare that the superstructure brings its own basis into existence.
Marxist-Leninists can safely assume that in some cases an attitude or a particular sort of behaviour is a necessary condition of a state of affairs being realised. Their error begins when this reasonable premiss is extended to cover all cases and when the appropriate attitudes and ways of behaviour are regarded not only as a necessary but also as the sufficient conditions for the realisation of the pursued objective. For this assumption prompts the belief, characteristic of magical practices, that it is enough to utter certain prescribed words of command or to perform certain prescribed actions to secure the achievement of the desired effect.
The period during which a magical frame of mind pervaded the Marxist-Leninist doctrine marked the point where activity becomes, as it were, the universal substance, and reality, at least social reality, is nothing but a correlate of the will. It was bound to and it did abolish the difference between illusion and reality, for it prompted the creation of ‘idealist myths’, and these were increasingly replacing rational beliefs in their function as guides to action.
Knowledge may be a form of adaptation to environment. The term ‘adaptation’ carries two meanings. It refers to adjustments to circumstances outside our control and to a purposeful action intended to produce change in the environment. Adaptation in both its meanings requires knowledge; the more detailed and accurate knowledge we have at our command, the better we can adapt ourselves. To assess truly the effectiveness of adaptive action, the inherent structure of environment must be clearly accepted, that is, the mind must submit to its inherent necessitations. For past experience has firmly established the belief that there are always certain things which happen, whatever we do. Moreover, there are always unwanted effects resulting from our action, which cannot be foreseen, however carefully our action is planned. Not all effects caused by human action can be known in advance and such unwanted effects give rise to unforeseeable and, sometimes, undesirable contingencies.
This means that however illuminating the criterion of success in assessing the manipulation of men, ideas and objects might be, a theoretical and empirical test of truth is not dispensable. The function of intelligence does not change when it is applied to the solution of practical problems: it should ascertain in an impartial, i.e. intersubjectively valid manner what the facts are in order that appropriate action may be planned and its results assessed. Unless this is done, we can never be sure that action which turns out upon trial to be successful in some respect has actually achieved its purpose. This applies, in particular, to action intended to change man. For by becoming aware of the actor’s purpose, man’s behaviour may be altered solely as a reaction to the action of which he is the goal.
The practical function of intelligence, divorced from its cognitive function, does not liberate man’s power to change and shape reality from preconceived ideas, wish-determined illusions and the subtle deceit of emotion. Neither does it provide this power with any objective criterion by means of which the anticipated effects of action can actually be ascertained and assessed. If theoretical criteria of truth are abandoned, the man of action is left suspended in mid-air between his objectives, unrelated to reality, and a predefined state of affairs. For reality is assumed to be not what it is at any given time, but what it is to become as the result of action. When any limitations upon the possibility of directed changes are denied and the resistance of environment is regarded as non-existent, the mind becomes an autonomous agent operating mysteriously in the surroundings which it spins out of itself. As environment does not stand in a regulatory relation to the course of action, practice provides no test of ‘knowledge’. It is no longer action that is conditioned by reality, but reality is defined in terms of action, of its goal and anticipated effects, and conceived as dependent on what man intends to make of it.
The belief that the superstructure can remake or simply create the basis was the apogee of the voluntarist interpretation of Marxian thought. ‘Revolutionary Marxism’, drawing renewed strength from Stalin’s pronouncement and pressed to its logical conclusion, reduced Marxian thought to a system of directives, subject to no restrictive conditions, for interfering with the social and historical process. The programme which started with the Baconian ideal of establishing the rule of science over the whole field of man’s thought and action culminated in the destruction of the prerequisites of science.
Although the voluntarist exposition became the official Marxist-Leninist doctrine, another interpretation of Marxism and Problems of Linguistics was simultaneously put forward and gradually elaborated in the following years. It tried to restore to historical materialism its cognitive content and was, by implication, a criticism of the voluntarist exposition, which did not do justice to science by treating it as an instrument of technological and ideological change and simplified matters by regarding all branches of knowledge as equally ideological subjects.
The fact that in Marxism and Problems of Linguistics science was not included in the superstructure prompted the questions ‘Where does science belong?’ and ‘Was it right to assume that science was class-determined?. For there could be no doubt that all classes and socio-economic formations take advantage of scientific achievements. Without questioning the dogma that the expansion of science and scientific advance are closely associated with the conquest of political power by the ‘ascending class’, identified with the Communist Party, Berman urged the re-examination of the role played by ideology in particular branches of knowledge.
This approach was pursued by a number of Marxist-Leninist scholars. They analysed the concept of social consciousness into its component parts and pointed out that apart from the dominant superstructure in the narrower sense of this term the social consciousness embraces the relics of the preceding superstructure, the new superstructural elements in the process of formation, which rise over the new basis, and the ideologically neutral elements, which, like language, serve the whole of society and are not class-determined. Apart from language the fourth category includes logic, natural science, permanent cultural values, and social psychology in Plekhanov’s and Bukharin’s sense. Furthermore, it was claimed that not only natural science was ideologically neutral. The social sciences manifest to a great extent the same peculiarities which justify the exclusion of language from the superstructure. It would, therefore, be an error to include them in the superstructure in the narrower sense.
This direct attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ the social sciences was firmly rejected. However, an alternative approach gradually evolved and, supported by an increasing weight of specific arguments, was more successful. It was suggested that besides the ideological and ideologically neutral component parts of the social consciousness there is yet a third category which in varying proportions combines the characteristics of both. For instance, the theory and history of literature combine ideologically neutral inquiries with those liable to ideological distortions. It would be unjustifiable to assume that the ‘science of literature’ is ‘naturally and necessarily’ class-determined. Facts did not corroborate this conjecture. There were numerous instances of important contributions to the ‘science of literature’ made by bourgeois scholars. The suggestion underlying this argument went further, for the argument actually assumed that any ideological bias, whether in the history of literature or any other branch of scholarship, is incompatible with scientific procedure. Such distortions do occur, and whenever they are discovered they should be exposed. Their occurrence is not due to any inherent characteristic of the history of literature but to the imperfections of methodology as yet unable to eliminate ideologically-loaded judgments disguised, with or without conscious intent, as statements of fact.
The distinction between ideological, ideologically neutral and ideologically relevant (and thus liable to ideological distortions) forms of social consciousness slowly gained ground and eventually could no longer be ignored by the representatives of the orthodox official standpoint. This distinction favoured the emancipation of science and human studies from ideological tutelage and supported their claim for the right to conduct research free from outside control and ideological interference. The concessions made by the official conception of ideology were dictated by political rather than philosophical considerations. They testified to the disintegration of the prevailing authoritarian power system which was taking place at that time. The power vacuum, more and more extensive, created an opportunity for regaining the lost values of universalism and rationality, for the resumption of the practice of objectivity, for the respect of facts and rules of logic. An impressive and highly effective demonstration of this recovery was the re-examination of the whole position in the humanities during the Stalinist period, which was undertaken by Chałasiéski and followed up by others. Sociologists, philosophers, historians, economists, men of letters, pundits of all sorts stepped in to extend Chałasiéski’s criticism to the whole field of intellectual life. This was a period of flourishing and effective philosophical, sociological, economic and literary journalism, and of lively exchanges between the representatives of the non-Marxist and the Marxist-Leninist school of thought. In the universal upsurge of critical thinking young Marxist-Leninists were settling accounts with their political and philosophical past.
Chałasiéski dealt with two major issues closely connected with each other and with the voluntarist theory of the relationship between superstructure and basis. The first of them was concerned with the general conditions prevailing in the society and influencing the activities of scholars as members of this society. This was a study in the field of the sociology of science, which examined the impact of the social environment upon the institutional structure and content of science. The second issue dealt specifically with methodological problems.
Chalasiński pointed out that the social conditions created by the authoritarian rule were not congenial to the development of scholarship. This view was not novel, but in the circumstances under which it was voiced it was an act pregnant with consequences. Its final outcome was the re-establishment of a large measure of freedom of thought.
Chalasiński argued that the prevailing social conditions were destroying the institutional values of science and scholarship, handicapped original work and rewarded intellectual conformity. They placed obedience to established authority above the requirements of rationality and subordinated the judgments of the scientist to the pronouncements of non-scientific authorities. There was no scope for independent inquiry, for it was bound to come into conflict with the imposed truth, values and ways of thinking. The lack of genuine achievements, the absence of individuality and the intellectual sterility, which characterised human studies in the preceding years, were inevitable concomitants of the existing social institutions and of the power and reward systems in the larger society (a corollary of this evaluative summary was that a theory which for a number of years did not produce concrete results could not possibly be sound). They created a ‘hollow man’, a type of scholar whose reputation was not based on his high achievements, but on his usefulness to the fighting creed and on the good opinion of those in authority.
The transmission of scientific procedure and beliefs is effected by example; the scientist who performs his professional duties is simultaneously a bearer of a tradition and of some vital social values. His social role is closely bound to his primary obligation of refusing all obedience in his thinking to any authority. It is the performance of his professional duty that secures for him the social reputation of being guided by respect for truth alone. In the field of creative thinking society has a need of and is sustained by persons for whom their commitment to what they believe to be true comes first. Men who respect truth, that is, consistently try to subordinate themselves to conscience, uphold thereby justice, tolerance, reasonableness, human fellowship and other moral beliefs contributing to the well-being of society. If by some means or other a scientist is induced to misuse his professional authority, to subordinate his activities to the transitory requirements of expediency or to social self-advancement, his failure to act in accordance with his professional and social function has wide social implications. He deprives himself of his social authority and the society of the values of science. He also destroys the tradition, without which science cannot prosper. When the esteem enjoyed by a scientist or a scholar is not commensurate with the significance of his contribution to knowledge, but with the political significance of his opinions and activities, the difference between scientific competence and incompetence is abolished. Science and scholarship cannot flourish unless their moral and intellectual values are recognised, respected and maintained throughout society. In circumstances in which scientific reputations instead of being made by scientific merit are based on commonplace or fanciful achievements, compromises with the truth for reasons of political expediency and favours of the constituted power, the advance of knowledge is bound to suffer. For such circumstances undermine in others the urge to search for truth, that is, to inquire into new problems and to try to find their correct solution.
The corrosive effectiveness of the conditions prevailing in all spheres of social life assumed a particularly destructive form in the field of science and scholarship because of their sensitivity to the interference by non-scientific authority. The politician or the man of action has no interest in the advancement of knowledge as such, in so far as it goes beyond the area of its practical application. A characteristic feature of the plans for the development of science, imposed by the authoritarian enforcement in the preceding years, was their utilitarianism. Science was conceived as a means which was to serve the attainment of certain economic ends and the setting up of a superstructure controlled by a bureaucratic organization of political scholars. The task assigned to science not only reflected the intention of establishing a centralised institutionalised control over scientific activities, but also the popular social idea of science, in which the primary value of science is its ability to produce practical results. When the man of action, who is not competent to judge what the scientist does, gains control over the direction to be followed by science, he acts on the assumption that applied science is sufficient unto itself. The control of a non-scientific authority over science favours the instrumental or technical function of knowledge to the detriment of its cognitive ends. This is bound to become a factor counteracting the advancement of knowledge and, from the practical point of view, a selfdefeating measure in view of the dependence of applied science on pure research.
The man of action is dimly aware of the wider implications of pure science. Habits of thought, which pure science creates – its ethos of rationality and universalism and its detached scrutiny of facts, where facts involve values held to be unquestionable and sacred – exercise an all pervasive influence upon the accepted ideological, social and philosophical ideas. They foster a critical attitude and produce ‘upsetting effects’ in society at large either for good or for ill. The centralisation of institutional controls over science and its integration into the wider authoritarian society was one of the remedies for the undesirable influence of scientific activity in the larger society. This remedy was strengthened by the establishment of the ‘monopoly of a single school’, of an institutionalised monopoly of Marxism-Leninism, with its exclusive claim to truth and validity. This was a mechanism of political control over the direction, content and dissemination of scientific knowledge. But the institutionalised monopoly of Marxism-Leninism was bound to affect the rate of advancement of science. For it made it practically impossible to take advantage of what others have achieved, and it corrupted the standards of objectivity. These standards cannot be applied and respected, if the rules of scientific procedure and criticism are laid down arbitrarily and specifically exclude the possibility of questioning the soundness, rationality and fruitfulness of the institutionalised monopoly of a single school. Elaborate ideologies or myths were required to conceal the lack of congruence between the social organisation and the organisation of science, the contrast between propagandist homages paid to science and the absence of conditions favourable to its advancement.
On the methodological level, the extension of the concept of ideology, accomplished in the voluntarist interpretation of the relationship between superstructure and basis, sanctioned lack of competence and specialised knowledge, distortion and falsification of facts. It did not encourage original studies, new lines of inquiry and the examination of social and cultural phenomena in all their complexity. The assumption that all processes of spiritual life are ideological, class-determined, and intended to promote the interests of one class against those of another, narrowed the scope of human studies and left them with one question to answer. The past and its achievement were not examined for their own sake, but solely from the viewpoint whether they promoted ‘progress’ or ‘reaction’, contributed to the bourgeois or to the proletarian culture. The sole purpose of human studies dealing with a work of art, literature or thought was to attach to it one of these labels. The directives of Marxist-Leninist methodology produced inquiries restricted to elusive generalities, barren of results and liable to stretch and whittle the facts, to fit them to the Procrustean bed of the doctrine. The doctrine provided a student of culture with a scheme of pigeon-holes into which he was expected to put suitably selected and adjusted facts. It ignored the important truth that there is continuity in the development of culture, in the accumulation of knowledge and values, recognised in all historical epochs and increasingly shared by all classes and nations. Although particular conceptions and values may be class-determined in their origin, this genesis is not relevant to their meaning, validity and truth. To approach the work of an artist, a writer, or a thinker with questions formulated in advance and with some ‘retroactive criteria’ of evaluation is to tear him away from his times. To assume that what men believe in a particular matter is subordinated to what they believe on the whole is to view them through the spectacles of sectarianism. Historical materialism loses its scientific significance, if it is to support the claim that politics inspires and pervades every human thought and experience, and that the class struggle is the decisive factor of scientific and cultural development. It becomes a metaphysical political doctrine, devoid of scientific value and unjustifiable on sociological grounds.
Chałasiéski’s re-examination of the whole position in the humanities and of the destructive influence which Marxist-Leninist methodology exerted in social and historical inquiry was followed by a long public discussion. The supporters of the orthodoxy ( Schaff, Żółkiewski, Suchodolski) were ready to recognise that some errors were committed in the past, though the basic approach, laid down by Marxism-Leninism, was the only valid, fruitful and ‘objectively true’ one. But the defenders of the orthodoxy themselves became diffident of the justice of their cause and no longer sure that ‘scientific politics’ can successfully replace scientific procedure, criteria of truth and individual judgment. They fought a rear-guard action and were more and more isolated, for this was the period when freedom of speech and thought was being regained in Poland. Under these conditions the claim that the ‘priority of politics over science’ and the monopoly of Marxism-Leninism were beneficial to scientific advance became untenable. The orthodoxy disintegrated and its former supporters hastened to confess that they no longer wished to uphold the ‘errors and distortions of the past period’ .