Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963


It was the history of philosophy that during the Stalinist period attracted the greatest number and the most enterprising minds of the younger generation of Marxist-Leninists[1145]. This was an understandable development, related to a widespread tendency among scholars to escape from the present to the past. Unlike the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge, metaphysics, philosophy of science or social philosophy, the history of philosophy was an area relatively unchartered by the established doctrine and thus offered to independent minds some allurements denied to the former. Although a Marxist-Leninist could never forget that the philosophical past was, on the whole, a record of errors and intentional or unintentional misconceptions occasionally interspersed with anticipatory ray of philosophical comprehension, the vindication of truth could not have been achieved without a glimpse beyond the restricted ground of the established doctrine.

On the other hand, the intimate contact with an immense mass, variety and complexity of historical facts had a chastening and liberating effect on the young Marxist-Leninist historians of philosophical thought. The impact of the subject-matter on their views was enhanced by the wide historical knowledge which some of them had acquired. The dissatisfaction with and the propensity to revise the methodological principles of Marxist-Leninist historiography, laid down from above, made an early appearance among the young historians of philosophical thought. Having learnt the skill of exposing the befogging effect of class interests inherent in the thinker’s social and intellectual location or the limitations imposed by his theoretical viewpoint, they began to wonder whether for a historian it was at all possible to remain unaffected by man’s involvement in history. This prompted the question whether there were no blind spots and preconceived ideas in their own minds, by which they were led astray into believing themselves exempt from this universal human characteristic.

This realisation came only later. At the beginning the young Marxist-Leninist historians had no doubt that whatever had been done before them had little, if any value at all, showed no really scientific understanding of historical facts and, generally, was useful solely as source-material for illustrating the decay and ideological collapse among the bourgeoisie. The main characteristic feature of the bourgeois histories of philosophy, as exemplified by Windelband Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, sberweg’s Grundri? der Geschichte der Philosophie, Bréhier’s Histoire de la philosophie, or Tatarkiewicz History of Philosophy, was to treat philosophy in abstraction from its social and political context and to reduce its history to a motley mass of information about various thinkers, bound together by the filiation of ideas and mutual influence of one mind upon another. The history of philosophy was thus transformed into an encyclopaedic reference book which lists names and titles, summarises philosophical systems, enumerates concepts and problems. Since it ignores the existence of historical laws and historical progress, bourgeois historiography dissects the stream of events, which is in fact all of one piece, into discrete unrelated elements and replaces an agglomeration of atomic facts for the progressive movement of thought. The dissection results in misjudging the relative importance of particular thinkers and misconstruing their intentions, in an unjust dismissal of some philosophers to oblivion and an unwarranted elevation of others to an exalted position, generally, in an unforgivable lack of discrimination between what is of primary and what only of secondary significance. Having cut up the progressive movement of ideas by sharp lines into individual facts and separated them from their context, the bourgeois history of philosophy proceeded to the construction of its schemes into which ready-made facts were to be fitted. The clear-cut distinction between materialism and idealism vanished in such constructions, and philosophy turned out to be a striving for the establishment of values which make capitalism the sacred and everlasting achievement of mankind. In particular, as a result of such constructions Marxism-Leninism was no longer a revolutionary upheaval in the history of philosophy. It was reduced to the stature of a philosophical current comparable with Spencer’s evolutionism, Neo-Kantianism, or neo-positivism. Its existence was not disregarded, but its distinctive features were discounted. For it was treated as one of the numerous schools of thought, that comes into being, continues to exercise influence and is bound to be forgotten eventually. Marxist-Leninist was presented as if it were to share the fate of all the other schools of thought in the past which come and go[1146].

A history of philosophy that is unaware of its important role in the political and ideological struggle degenerates into a useless register of events and ‘instead of being an effective weapon of social progress becomes an inventory of relics laid up in archives’ [1147]. Philosophy is an ideology, a theoretical worldoutlook, whose function it is to direct and to influence man’s beliefs and attitudes. Kant referred to this function of philosophy in Kritik der reinen Vernunft and called it ‘the cosmical conception’. Philosophy, Marxist-Leninists argued, has a therapeutic value, it is, in Avicenna’s words, the ‘science about how to cure the soul’. It liberates humanity from the weight of superstitions, awakens trust in science and reason, teaches faith in life and in the effectiveness of human exertions. Philosophy should contribute to man’s happiness by showing him the true values, those which by reflecting the course of progress increase the well-being of the individual and improve his social conditions. The history of philosophy is, therefore, the ‘collective memory’ of the age-long struggles for a scientific worldoutlook that emerges from the unceasing conflict between materialism and idealism and leads to the discovery of Marxism-Leninism[1148].

This vital function of the history of philosophy is ignored, obstructed or endangered by the bourgeois historians, who, by ‘falsification and distortion’, try to deprive Marxism-Leninism of its historical ancestry and to invalidate its claim to being the inheritor of every progressive idea in the history of mankind. There is hardly a single materialist thinker whose views were not misinterpreted in order to appropriate his reputation and to assimilate his contribution into the tradition of idealism. Democritus is presented as a supporter of empirio-criticism, Lucretius of existentialism, Spinoza of irrationalism and mysticism; Descartes is a continuator of St. Augustine and Thomas More is a martyr of the Church. French materialists of the Enlightenment are mere agnostics; the Renaissance is an inept attempt to continue the achievements of the Middle Ages, which have remained as the unsurpassed heights of philosophical understanding. Some materialist philosophers such as those of the Renaissance period or Gassendi or the Russian revolutionary democrats are totally ignored[1149]. On the other hand, the bourgeois historians glorify thinkers who represent the most reactionary philosophical tradition, hostile to science and social progress, for instance, Thomas Aquinas, Berkeley, Hume, and Malthus. At the same time, the history of philosophy is made to fit the cosmopolitan categories of European culture. A geographical division of the world is supplanted by that of different spheres of cultural influence, and Marxism-Leninism is presented as an outgrowth of a civilisation essentially different from that of the Western world [1150].

As the Marxist-Leninists saw it, the different conceptions of history, underlying the immanent and their own historicist interpretation of the political, economic, social or philosophical thought, were not only to be differentiated from the theoretical and methodological standpoint, but also evaluated in terms of truth and falsehood, to be totally rejected or totally accepted. Again, as in the case of sociology, the ground was swept clear of everything that had been done before and the history of philosophy, particularly of philosophy in Poland, was to be entirely rewritten[1151]. Its guiding principles were formulated in a general but unambiguous manner.

The basic methodological principle of the Marxist-Leninist history of philosophy is the Hegelian assumption of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all historical events. Philosophy is no autonomous development but only one form of social consciousness, dependent on and being influenced by its other forms and ultimately determined by the material conditions of life. But to relate philosophical ideas, philosophical problems and solutions to a definite socialeconomic context means to examine philosophy as an ideological expression of definite class relations and interests, which it serves and perpetuates. There are various laws, therefore, which govern philosophical development and which reveal coherence and progress in the concourse and sequence of seemingly fortuitous circumstances[1152].

Kroński Lectures on the History of Ancient Philosophy provides a fair example of what this assumption implied. Kroński regarded the slave system as the key to the understanding of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and the struggle between the demos and the aristocracy as the driving force of its development. These two classes, he argued, produced two doctrines or two traditions which can be named after Democritus and Plato and which reflected their political interests and goals. The doctrines of a spontaneous naive materialism and of various sorts of idealism alternated, surged forward and declined.

Finally, they both disappeared for neither of them represented the slaves, the exploited class and the human economic basis of the system. As soon as this basis was eliminated, its superstructure had to vanish too. The institution of slavery acted as fetters on the progress of scientific and materialist thought and, generally, held back philosophical development. This accounts for the fact that ancient philosophy has made no appreciable contribution to the advancement of knowledge. Kroński followed Farrington whose Greek Science was translated into Polish and justly, though inordinately, admired. It is Farrington’s view that the aristocratic contempt for manual work made the advance of many branches of science impossible in Greece and produced ‘an ideal of science ..... which was largely verbal and unrelated to practice’ [1153].

Although the materialists and the idealists of modem times have referred to the tradition of Democritus and Plato respectively, materialism and idealism of the capitalist era are totally different from their initial forms in the ancient world. There is no genuine continuity. Modern philosophy is free from the limitations inherent in the slave system or in the feudal mode of production. The similarities are superficial and the revival of ancient theories, whether those of Democritus or of Plato and Aristotle, is in fact their reformulation, determined by the requirements and intended to assist the consolidation or transformation of the capitalist basis[1154].

The account of particular philosophical systems and views is as schematic as the above described structure, mystifying in its terminology, in the distribution of the relative significance and the selection of material. Thus, the time-span from Thales to Plotinus is divided into three epochs: the period of the growth of the slave society, the times of the democracy of slave owners, and those of its decay. To the first period belong the ‘naive, spontanoeus materialists (Thales and the Milesian school), the dialectician-materialist Heraclitus, and the reactionary idealist philosophers – Pythagoras and the Eleatics’. Plato is presented mainly as a political philosopher, who has always provided the chief ideological requisites for the struggle against the working classes.’He gets less space than Epicurus and Lucretius. Socrates was an enemy of democracy who was sentenced to death by its defenders; he was made into some kinds saint by bourgeois historians. The bourgeois tradition has also invented the myth of the Greek miracle to justify the imperialist conquest of coloured peoples and to protect the purity of its civilisation from racial contamination. These are a few glimpses at the picture of Greek antiquity, drawn by the Marxist-Leninist historian. The picture would not become more impressive by adding more details.

Kroński Lectures on the History of Ancient Philosophy was received as a valuable methodological guide to ancient philosophy and as a truly educational work of a scholar ‘conscious of the justice of his cause’. But praise was mixed up with some anxious misgivings as to whether this synopsis did justice to the philosophy of Greece and Rome[1155]. Kotakowski Lectures on Medieval Philosophy[1156], another synopsis conceived on similar lines but vastly superior to the former by its erudition and relieved by flashes of originality, could have caused the same apprehensions. They both appeared at the time when Tatarkiewicz’s learned and erudite History of Philosophy was withdrawn from circulation and Adam Krokiewicz, the leading Polish historian of ancient philosophy, was unable to publish some of his works[1157].

There could have been little doubt that the conspectuses, which were replacing the works denounced for their alleged ideological distortions and factual inadequacies, were themselves ideological tracts for the edification of the ignorant. As instances of historical inquiry they exemplified the error peculiar to pragmatical history, known later under the name of ‘presentism’. Presentism is historiography written backward. On the one hand, as Hegel pointed out, it takes the ‘occurrence out of the category of the Past and makes it virtually Present’, on the other it ‘brings the past to bear upon the present conditions of things’ [1158]. To write history backward we have to abandon the narrative and resort to the scissor-and-paste history[1159]. This is a method favoured by those who view history as nothing but a preparation, in this case, a preparation for the advent of Marx, Engels and Marxism-Leninism.

The particular type of the scissor-and-paste history, which the Marxist-Leninist historians cultivated, was cognate to the historiography of the French Enlightenment[1160]. Voltaire, wrote Montesquieu, écrit pour son couvent, by which he meant that for Voltaire historiography was a way of crusading for the victory of Reason. The fit substance of history must be selected from the collection of innumerable facts according to a plan and purpose imposed from without. Voltaire’s purpose was to show how the barbarian uncouthness of the past has been slowly transformed into the civility, blessings and good fortune of his own times and how in general le monde avec lenteur marche vers la sagesse. The pragmatical or didactical purpose prevented Voltaire and the writers of the Enlightenment to ‘lift history above the level of propaganda” [1161]. This also happened to the Marxist-Leninist historians of philosophy, who by an appropriate selection of evidence tried to demonstrate the soundness of certain historiosophic principles and to show that Marxism-Leninism was the consummation of all philosophic thought in the past.

But the Enlightenment not only bequeathed to the young Marxist-Leninist historians the pragrnatical conception of history, the lack of sympathy for and understanding of the ‘dark ages’ prior to the appearance of Reason, and the superficial to absurdity idea of historical causation; it also inspired them with its peculiar fervour and disruptive spirit that permeates its historical, literary and philosophic writings. There was in the Enlightenment a force which redeemed its fanaticism. The Enlightenment turned against every dogma, including, finally, its own; it contained a self-corrective device that was bound to abolish the limitations and prejudices so conspicuous at its initial stage. In the course of time this influence of the French Enlightenment also made itself felt and deeply affected the young men who regarded themselves as in many ways the successors of the philosophes. At first, however, its spirit of a holy war, in which history was a weapon, was uppermost in their mind and joined hands with the crudities of Zhdanov’s passionate militancy and intellectual arrogance.