Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963


There remain a few words to say about the most recent developments in Polish philosophy and about the effects which Marxist-Leninist ideology and academic philosophy exercised upon each other.

‘Institutional Marxism-Leninism’ disintegrated in Poland in 1956 or, to provide the event with a convenient fixed date, in October 1956. The disintegration of ‘institutional Marxism-Leninism’ was not a direct outcome of its criticism by philosophical argument; more powerful factors had to come into play to turn the scale. Philosophical arguments were conducive to the final outcome by releasing a chain reaction, which they precipitated by awakening a critical frame of mind among Marxist-Leninist philosophers themselves. In the preceding pages their revisions of fundamental assumptions and intellectual retreat have been illustrated in a number of examples.

The relinquishing of the dogma also took the more tangible form of a progressive relaxation of the monopoly of a single school and of the slow re-emergence in public of other philosophical trends. Towards the end of 1955 there appeared Kotarbiński A Treatise on Good Work, the first non-Marxist philosophical book since 1949. Ever since, the signs of a steady return to normality have been multiplying, the progress being sometimes checked by and never free from outside interference. Notwithstanding the intellectual and moral disaster it suffered, Marxist-Leninist philosophy continues to be protected by the constituted power, and this includes occasional relapses into the practices of the past and restrictive measures imposed upon non-Marxist philosophers. This factor, threateningly concealed in the background, must be reckoned with whenever the future of philosophy in Poland is envisaged.

The considerable advance towards normality since 1956 is undeniable and in many ways striking. The ban on certain books withdrawn from circulation has been lifted, suppressed manuscripts have been published, access to world philosophical literature and contacts abroad have been restored, philosophers and sociologists denounced as unfit to teach in the People’s Poland have regained their chairs, freedom of teaching and discussion has reasserted itself. Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the spirit of the new and happier period than the philosophers’ public homage to the memory of Twardowski, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his death ( February, 1959), or the tribute of the sociologists to Znaniecki’s contributions to sociology in Poland and abroad ( February, 1959). Marxist-Leninists participated in the official gatherings to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Krzywicki’s and the ninetieth anniversary of Lenin’s birth ( June, 1959, and February, 1960 respectively). They no longer felt that attendance at the former conflicted with their due respect for Lenin.

The production of philosophical books is considerable. Some notable new publications have already been mentioned: A Treatise on Good Work ( 1955) and Lectures on the History of Logic (1957) by Kotarbiński, Bourgeois Morality ( 1956) by Maria Ossowska, Class Structure in Social Consciousness ( 1957) by Stanislaw Ossowski. To these should be added Krokiewicz Socrates ( 1958), Znamierowski Principles and Trends in Ethics ( 1957), and Philosophical Fragments ( 1959), a commemorative volume of essays offered by Kotarbiński’s pupils to their teacher. Two works of A. M. Krńpiec published since 1956 – Realism of Human Knowledge ( 1959) and The Theory of Metaphysical Analogy ( 1959) – are considered as noteworthy contributions to Christian philosophy. Many books banished during the Stalinist period have been republished. They include works of Chwistek, Czeńowski, Ingarden, Kotarbiński, ńukasiewicz, Ossowska, Ossowski and Tatarkiewicz as well as Witwicki, Baley, Petrańycki and Lande.

Mysl Filozoficzna, the militant Marxist-Leninist periodical, ceased to appear and has been replaced by Studia Filozoficzne. With the exception of Christian philosophy, which has a periodical of its own, Studia Filozoficzne does not exclude any point of view. Its columns are open to discussion and criticism, unhindered by extraneous considerations. The publication of Ruch Filozoficzny was resumed. It reports freely on philosophical publications and developments in Poland and abroad, both in the East and in the West.

Sociologists are again free to teach, to publish their own periodical Przeglńd Socjologiczny (discontinued in 1949), and to launch various research projects. Among the most important is a large scale research on the changes in the social structure carried out by Szczepański with a large group of assistants.

The present philosophical scene in Poland is varied and lively. The interest in philosophy and sociology is widespread, and the number of young thinkers and research workers of ability is considerable.

Although Marxist-Leninists have not renounced the very real benefits and privileges secured by the Communist State administration, they are also reconciled, within certain limits, to being only one school of thought among others. They are now anxious to achieve by persuasion and free discussion what they failed to do by compulsion. Their difficulty is that they do not know themselves what they want to persuade the others of.

The collapse of ‘institutional Marxism-Leninism’ not only disrupted the union of definite practices and obligatory beliefs but also left unanswered the question of whether any, and if so which, of these beliefs continue to be obligatory. To-day a Marxist-Leninist is thrown back upon his own resources. Consequently, it is hardly possible to say that there is a definite and unique Marxist-Leninist doctrine in Poland. There is a cluster of various views and ideas marked with the imprint of their Marxist-Leninist provenance, but whose unity and inner coherence is a matter of considerable doubt. Marxist-Leninists differ from each other less than from the scientifically and logically minded philosophers, but among themselves they differ considerably and do not seem to subscribe to the same body of views. Different orientations are apparent among them and they oscillate uneasily between denounced orthodoxy and perilous revisionism, between the cherished illusion of being explorers in the new lands of philosophical thought and the concealed anxious desire to equal their adversaries in skill, knowledge and methodological refinement. There is the Hegelian and the antiHegelian tendency as well as the positivistic and the anti-positivistic wing. ‘Positivism’ is used here in its nineteenth century meaning and refers to the form in which it can be found in some writings of Marx and Engels in contradistinction to those of Lenin or Stalin. No trend has prevailed and no hard core of views emerged to differentiate a Marxist-Leninist from a non-Marxist in the philosophical sense of these terms. The turmoil precipitated by the collapse of ‘institutional Marxism-Leninism’ has not subsided and the debate over the content of Marxist-Leninist philosophy continues unabated.

In Poland Marxist-Leninist philosophers differ essentially from the scientifically minded philosophers both in their method of thinking and in the range of their interests. Their method has remained traditionalistic, unaffected by the development of modern logic, methodology and philosophy of language. Their main concern continues to be problems of the view of the world or ideology, that is, beliefs that offer a synoptic understanding of the Universe, society and man’s place in his natural and human environment. They are inhibited by the belief that the antiquated or oracular pronouncements of their founders and other extra-scientific authorities constitute sacred truths, which cannot be reformulated and adjusted to the requirements of contemporary knowledge for they would thus be relinquished. In consequence, they cannot emancipate themselves from the view that some vague intellectual intuitions and untestable speculative conjectures are superior to knowledge based on scientific procedure. Their opinions on the application of this procedure to philosophy are very close to those held by the traditionalistic philosophers of the inter-war period.

In general, the methodological similarity between them is considerable. Like the pre-war traditionalistic philosophers, Marxist-Leninists of to-day are not ethically and politically neutral; they are staunch conservatives in their conception of philosophy, are given to irrational beliefs, and regard loyalty to a dogmatic standpoint preferable to reliance upon tested methods of science.

While Marxist-Leninists have left their basic methodological assumptions unrevised and their profuse philosophical production displays all the old characteristics of amateurism, a contrary tendency is also noticeable. For Marxist-Leninists have shown an increasing readiness to recognise the requirements of common sense and consistency, to respect facts and to consider particular issues on their own merit. There is a progressive renunciation of the more extravagant claims and of wild speculations, an evolution towards a more reasonable frame of mind, a growing willingness to enlarge the scope of the subject and improve the techniques bequeathed by the so-called classics of Marxism-Leninism. In their criticism and controversie with other philosophers Marxist-Leninists no longer resort to invective and offensive vocabulary. They now accept the view that a dispassionate approach is favourable to discussion and that objectivity is not a vice but a prerequisite of philosophical inquiry.

Present-day Marxist-Leninist philosophy in Poland is exposed to mutually exclusive pressures which push and pull its supporters in opposite directions. It also suffers from the dual role and the conflicting functions it is expected to perform. On the one hand, Marxist-Leninist philosophy is the official doctrine of the ruling Party on the other; it is supposed to be a genuine and independent school of philosophical thought. A Marxist-Leninist philosopher is constantly subjected to the tension between political and philosophical ideas and must try to reconcile their irreconcilable or discrepant claims. By subscribing to the view that there exists a close relationship between philosophy and politics he is doomed to move in a circle from which there is no breaking out.

The dual role of Marxist-Leninist philosophy is the prime source of its various defects, of which the less sophisticated of its supporters are unaware and which the others are reluctant to bring out. This is not the case with Leszek Końakowski, the only outstanding and original thinker produced by MarxismLeninism in Poland. He gained a certain fame or notoriety in and outside Poland for his outspoken and incisive criticism of Marxist-Leninist ideology. His clear statement of the general position was at first acclaimed by other Marxist-Leninists, but his conclusions drawn from his critical assessments were denounced as a revisionist heresy. Końakowski has continued his search for an alternative distinctive outlook to the rejected ideology. He can best be described as a philosopher of life, rooted in the Marxian tradition, who regards philosophical systems as disguised moral and social doctrines on a grand scale and philosophical beliefs as situational convictions, that is, as convictions bound with and determined by the historical and social context of the thinker.

The encounter of philosophy and ideology affected not only the latter but also the former. In the case of philosophy two changes are most conspicuous. The realistic attitude and the anti-irrationalistic outlook were the characteristic features of the Warsaw school in the past. While sustained and fruitful efforts were made to consider the linguistic aspect of philosophical problems, there was never any serious danger of mistaking or substituting the inquiry of language for philosophical investigations. This was due partly to the close links between philosophy and science and partly to considerable advances in philosophy of language made in Warsaw at an early stage. But the accusations of idealism, fideism or conventionalism, which were indiscriminately bandied about by Marxist-Leninists against all and sundry, tended to invigorate all these tendencies. The philosophers had to concentrate upon the basic issues, to restate and re-examine the reasons why they did not regard the world as an illusion, placed confidence in science, relied on logic, refused to accept views, whether ideological or philosophical, conflicting with what the empirical sciences and common sense reveal. In particular, they had to redefine their point of view on matters concerning the relation between a linguistic and a philosophical inquiry, and this led to the explicit rejection of ‘linguistic philosophy. Polish philosophers would not regard as philosophy an inquiry restricted to the investigation of the complexities, functioning and usages of language, and pursuing the study of language for its own sake or for the purpose of explaining away philosophical puzzles as due merely to misuses and abuses of language. A systematic study of language is valuable if it constitutes a part of our efforts to understand the world, that is, if it elucidates the question of how thinking is related to the nature of the world. ‘Linguistic philosophy’, pure and simple, is recognised as generally arid and misleading in some cases, considered to be erring in its restrictive practices and leading to a blind alley because of its estrangement from the problems of science.

Ideology might also have been partly responsible for the shift of interest in the methodology from the deductive to the empirical sciences. The concern with rigour and refined technical devices does not need justification when applied to logical and philosophical problems of physics, chemistry or biology. The methodology of empirical science also seems to offer the opportunity for advancing scientific knowledge, joins logic and science, philosophy and cosmology in a more satisfactory manner than the speculative metaphysics of MarxismLeninism. It is probably no accident that the younger generation of philosophers consists mostly of methodologists of empirical science. This particular change might have been reinforced by the division of logic into two branches of formal and mathematical logic, the latter comprising methodological investigations on the deductive sciences. Mathematical logic has acquired the status of a highly specialised subject, and it has become extremely hard to combine philosophical inquiry with research in mathematical logic.

The second transformation of philosophy, caused by its encounter with ideology, goes deeper and may have some more far-reaching effects. The sharp contrast in the nature and scope of interests displayed by ideology and philosophy respectively drove home the realisation that the line dividing philosophical problems and those of Weltanschauung was, after all, historically unjustifiable, partly didactic in purpose, and arbitrary in the sense of being based on a methodological decision. The considerable expansion of historical studies provided or seemed to provide some evidence that philosophy, even when pursued for a clearly cognitive purpose, may have some unintended general implications (this was brilliantly shown by Końakowski in his study on Spinoza). Moreover, although the Marxist-Leninist technique of debunking philosophical views and outlooks by exposing their alleged ideological purpose was fanciful and unjustifiable, there was a point in it not to be easily dismissed. It is not unreasonable to assume that social conditions determine in some way and to some extent philosophical inquiry. A thinker may make blunders because his logic is wrong, but he may also be led astray by the particular social conditions prompting the formulation and examination of the problems, with which he is concerned. Social conditions may restrict the scope of philosophical inquiry or draw into the focus of attention some definite problems because of their value-relevance. This assumption is not unreasonable in view of the fact that scientific inquiry is also social activity and as such is exposed to the influence of its social environment. The capacity for abstract thought does not immunise the thinker from the impact of social circumstances. There is a case for the point of view that philosophy has some general implications for society at large and that the conceptual framework of philosophy need not be value- or ideologically-neutral. To admit this possibility does not imply or support the belief that the validity and truth of definite views are socially determined; that to relate them to a social context is to provide their confirmation or refutation; or that they should be evaluated solely in terms of their social significance. There arises, however, the need to look at what the philosopher does from a new angle and to consider the advisability of extending the scope of his subject.

It remains to be seen what concrete effects this shift in attitude and outlook will have for philosophical practice. It is hard to see how the enlargement of the scope of philosophical inquiry could be accomplished without reducing or even abandoning its established standards of performance. At present, there is no question of sacrificing the requirement of rigour, clarity and precision or of surrendering scientific procedure as the only reliable route to warranted knowledge. There is a dilemma here which the young generation of philosophers will have to face.

Mach observed in one of his lectures that it is most difficult to persuade strangers to science that the ‘grand universal laws of physics’ are not essentially different from descriptions. It is equally hard to persuade strangers to philosophy that philosophy is not essentially different from analysis, explications of concepts and elucidations of the logical structure of beliefs. A philosopher can try to think impartially as long as he pursues philosophical analysis. He is bound to lose his neutrality as much as everybody else, when he sees his proper function in the examination of the problems of Weltanschauung. He is unable to carry over his scientific habits of mind from philosophical analysis to the examination of ideological convictions, and what he loses in the process of crossing the line dividing philosophy and ideology is an irretrievable loss. For philosophical detachment provides a salutary counterbalance against the impatient certainties of the ideologist. The philosopher strives for truth conceived as warranted assertibility, the ideologist for ‘truth’ emanating from the persuasive power of a total experience. The inner tension between them is inevitable. But neither the ideologist nor society at large would be any better if the philosopher abandoned his search for what can be justifiably asserted and what protects us from falling victim to irrational beliefs and inordinate fancies. For the philosopher to hold aloof from discussions of subjects irrelevant to the pursuit of philosophical truth is to perform a vital cognitive and social function which no ideologist dealing with the so-called great issues could ever discharge.

There need be no apprehensions that the world would ever be short of men of letters or of philosophers of a certain type eager to debate inconclusively and to write in an exciting emotional style about the so-called great issues, that is, issues ill-defined or not defined at all or essentially undecidable at the present state of knowledge. But the world has always been short of those rare and precious minds who do not shirk hard analytical work, are anxious to reach a clear and fearless vision of the world, and strive for an intellectual catharsis by means of rigorous reasoning and a precise mode of expression.

London, 15 July, 1960.