Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963


The idea that philosophical systems are solely an ideological expression of definite class interests provided the basis for the establishment of two fundamental ‘laws’ of the history of philosophy. Both of them were formulated by Zhdanov and accepted by all Marxist-Leninist historians in Poland.

If the disputes of various philosophical schools reflect the class struggle taking place in an antagonistic society, and if the main line of class division in such a society always differentiates two classes, those of the exploiters and of the exploited masses, there are also two main philosophical schools of thought struggling with each other throughout the ages, those of idealism and materialism. Furthermore, since social progress is the process of change that leads from a class-ridden to a classless society and the struggle for the abolition of classes is bound up with the development of the materialist outlook, the ‘scientific history of philosophy’, that truly and adequately reflects the historical process, is the ‘history of the birth, rise and development of the materialist world outlook and its laws’. So far as materialism grew and developed by constant disputes with various idealist trends, the ‘history of philosophy is at the same time the history of the struggle of materialism with idealism’ [1162].

This assumption is neither a matter of convention nor a mere classification of philosophical currents, comparable to any other classificatory division, but the ‘fundamental historical law of philosophical development’. This can be seen from the fact that the solution of many particular philosophical problems is supposedly determined in advance by the thinker’s choice between materialism and idealism[1163].

The second ‘law’ of the scientific history of philosophy regards the teaching of Marx as a philosophical revolution. It has resulted in the creation of a new philosophy ‘differing qualitatively from all previous philosophical systems, however progressive they were’. Consequently, there are two epochs in the development of philosophy: the period prior and posterior to Marx and Engels whose life work forms the great divide[1164].

From these two fundamental laws of philosophical development three subsidiary methodological rules were derived. The first and most important extended the class determination of philosophy from schools of thought to particular thinkers and to their particular views. A ‘concrete interpretation’ requires the assignment to any philosopher of a definite position with respect to the class struggle of his time, the description of his share in the consolidation or destruction of the existing economic basis and its ideological superstructure. Any ascertainable philosophical deviation in the thinker’s views from the prevailing ideological patterns should be reduced to socio-economic causes, to strains and stresses within the social class, to which he belonged, and to the shift in class relations[1165].

The second methodological rule recommended that advantage should be taken of the results obtained by the application of the first directive to assess the relative importance of a given thinker for the development of the scientific materialist world outlook. In this manner Marxist-Leninist methodology gains an objective and universal criterion by means of which it can make the right selection of facts and order them according to their relative significance. This establishes the third rule which enjoins the historian to trace the direction of progress in philosophy and to assign to particular thinkers a place in it in accordance to whether they managed, in the specific conditions of their times, to discover and to resolve problems that promoted the objectively ascertainable course of social progress[1166].

The three methodological rules had some direct and far-reaching implications. First, they made havoc of the relative independence of philosophical thought with respect to the material conditions of life, recognised by Engels in his old age and nominally endorsed by Marxist-Leninists, including Zhdanov. Second, they ascribed a high rank of philosophical importance to various writers, who so far have only been marginally considered in the history of philosophy (though they have a place in the history of social or political thought). The history of philosophy, wrote Kroński, has to give an extensive account of the ‘great plebeian thinkers’, such as Thomas More, Winstanley, Mably and Morelly; of the ideologists of the bourgeois revolution, e.g. Milton, and the precursors of socialism – Robert Owen and the French utopian socialists. According to the same criteria, Herzen, Belinsky and, generally, the so-called Russian revolutionary democrats, assume the most important place in the period between Hegel and Marx. This ran counter to the opinion of Marx and Engels who, understandably, assigned this rank to Feuerbach[1167]. As far as the history of philosophy in Poland was concerned, the methodological rules of Marxist-Leninist historiography implied an upheaval and a complete revaluation of the prevailing tradition. In particular, Edward Dembowski, a Polish revolutionary democrat (according to the Marxist-Leninist classificatory categories) and the leader of an abortive peasant rising in 1846, to which Marx and Engels referred in laudatory terms[1168], was to be given, jointly with Herzen and Belinsky, the most elevated rank, for they all, in Kroński’s opinion, rose to the greatest philosophical heights in the period prior to Marx[1169].

The scissor-and-paste history of philosophy, combined with Zhdanov’s peremptory instructions, was firmly established in Poland by 1952. Its methodological rules were applied, above all, in a large-scale effort to adjust as much as possible the pattern of social, ideological and philosophical developments in nineteenth century Poland to that in Russia, as established by Soviet historians. The most cursory and commonplace references to Poland, made by Marx and Engels, every sentence, however trivial, of Lenin and Stalin concerned with the approach to historical inquiry or with the ideological development in the past, were scrutinised with reverence and the utmost care to serve as an unconditionally accepted guidance for historical research[1170]. Two of Lenin short contributions, In Memory of Herzen and Two Utopias, were of particular importance[1171]. The main historical categories – those of revolutionary nobles, bourgeois democrats, and revolutionary democrats – which served to differentiate various political and ideological movements in nineteenth century Poland, were taken from In Memory of Herzen. They were applied and adjusted to Polish conditions in a great number of contributions that appeared in the years 1952-1956. The ideological transformations in Russia and Poland in the preMarxian period were described as essentially similar. They ran parallel to and interacted with each other. To show in detail that this had actually been the case and that the reception of Marxism-Leninism in Poland had proceeded in a ‘correct manner’ became the objective which was moved by the taskmasters of historical inquiry to the centre of interest[1172].

The task assigned by Zhdanov to the historian of philosophy turned out to be extremely burdensome and difficult, if not impossible to accomplish. For the extension of what had to be considered in a historical-philosophical inquiry was expanded to an unmanageable size. It included not only ontology, the theory of knowledge, methodology, logic and ethics, but also, and above all, aesthetics, the theory of art, historiosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of religion, politics, science, economics, and ideology. At any rate, these were the problems which a historian of the nineteenth century philosophy in Poland, as it was conceived by Marxist-Leninists, should have investigated. The same applied to other periods[1173]. Generally, the conception of philosophy as a world outlook and of its history as a synoptic vision comprising political, social, economic, and philosophical thought, cultural trends and artistic currents, disregarded the accepted distinctions and self-imposed limitations. It also abolished the difference between philosophers at one extreme, philosophical journalists and polemical writers of political tracts for the times at the other. It resulted in insuperable difficulties of which, at first, Marxist-Leninist historians were unaware and which they regarded as a sign of their superiority over the traditional historian of philosophy[1174].

There is a passage in Lord Acton Inaugural Lecture on the Study of History in which he pointed out the confusion ensuing from a study of history, if it does not display in its course specific and distinctive characteristics of its own. Mastery, he argued, is acquired by resolved limitations a historian is a master of detail, without which his synthesis loses itself in the realm of fantasy. At the time when Marxist-Leninists were embarking upon their new course Tatarkiewicz gave the same advice to the historian of philosophy: he should not try to do everything at once; self-imposed limitations and principles of selection are unavoidable in his inquiry[1175]. Marxist-Leninists discovered the justice of this view when from making plans they passed on to their implementation. For they were unable to retain control over their all-inclusive subject-matter; they got lost in the tangle of the sum total of views on man, society, history, religion, politics, literature, morals, and the like. They became trapped in trivialities and generalities unsupported by the study of detailed and concrete facts. On the other hand, the assumption that the history of philosophy can be represented as a mere response to socio-economic needs and the corollary of this assumption that an alleged social and political significance should be imputed to every philosophical view, overreached the evidence. The historian’s attention, focussed at the wrong place, impeded the progress of his study. Since the examination of particular facts was neglected, a typical Marxist-Leninist historical contribution contained very little of interest to the history of philosophy in the specific meaning of this term.

There was yet another difficulty no less formidable than the first. For their methodology put Marxist-Leninists under the obligation of relating the phenomena of the superstructure to those of the basis. This presupposed the existence of an economic and social history with a wealth of detailed material, generalisations and syntheses. But economic and social history as advanced as the philosophic programme required was non-existent.

This does not mean that no economic history of Poland was available. On the contrary, Franciszek Bujak (1875-1953) and Jan Rutkowski, mentioned before, have created thriving schools of research, and the latter produced the first comprehensive Economic History of Poland[1176]. This work did not, however, satisfy the requirements of Marxist-Leninists, for, in their opinion, it was based on entirely false theories and could be used only as a source of materials[1177]. Strange as it may appear, economic history as a specialised branch of historical inquiry was suppressed during the Stalinist period, since such a specialisation was considered to be harmful[1178]. A short essay that discussed various views on and succinctly described some aspects of the development of capitalism in Poland in the first half of the nineteenth century was practically all that was made available to the historian of philosophical thought[1179]. Although a MarxistLeninist historian should have had a wide and detailed command over the history of economic and social development, he was left entirely to his own resources with practically no help from economic historians.

To acomplish his assigned task, a historian of philosophy had first to change into an economic and social historian, and, as he was not equipped and prepared to perform this role, what he did was to make a short-cut of an impermissible sort. Over and over again he turned in a vicious circle. First, he deduced his economic and social data from various historical material at hand and later related the inferred state of affairs largely to the same material from which he started. This procedure was either actually displayed before the reader’s eyes or made apparent by stereotype descriptions as much alike as if they came from the same mould[1180]. Moreover, it has been said that the influence of ideology shows nowhere more strongly than in economic history. Marxist-Leninist economic history affords a striking instance of the justice of this observation. When the historians finally recognised the amateurishness and irresponsibility of their procedure, they also confessed that it always filled those who had to resort to it with an unconcealed dismay[1181].