Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963



The years 1948-1954 witnessed a radical change of the philosophical scene in Poland. This change became very pronounced towards the end of 1951 and the developments of the ensuing three years gave the impression that the change was permanent. At that time it was not difficult to believe that the philosophical tradition which had originated with Twardowski and had been developed by the Warsaw school had come to an end to be superseded by an entirely new orientation and way of thinking.

The most spectacular characteristic of this period was the dominant position which Marxist-Leninist philosophy seemed to have assumed in intellectual life in general, and in science and philosophy in particular. To describe this position as dominant is an understatement. To judge by outward appearances, nothing else existed and Marxism-Leninism accomplished a complete intellectual conquest. This characteristic was combined with another. Since at that time, as its followers themselves later recognised, Marxist-Leninist philosophy degencrated into a collection of textbook maxims, in the period under discussion philosophical production was reduced to an abstruse logomachy. The battle of quotations and the repetition of threadbare clichés supplanted logical analysis and rational argument. These were the years of solemn boredom, and also the years of establishing philosophical truths by oracular pronouncements and Government decrees. A codified doctrinaire rationalism gave no scope to intellectual curiosity, knowledge and inventive skill.

Marxist-Leninist philosophy of the first post-war years was in some respect superior to its later developments. It then had an open-mindedness and a readiness to see philosophical problems, to argue and to understand a different viewpoint to an extent which later it failed to display. The border-line dividing philosophy and ideology, however precarious, was recognised, and some arguments to support Marxist-Leninist philosophy were produced. Invectives and invective-like vocabulary, open partisanship and partisan militancy, were almost entirely absent. Marxist-Leninist philosophy during the period of dominance, of the ‘monopoly of a single school’, as it was commonly called, lost these characteristics and took pride in this distinction extolled as an indication that it had achieved a higher stage of development.

The dominant position which Marxist-Leninist philosophy secured for a few years was not won by the sheer numerical preponderance of its adherents. It is true that in the period under discussion Marxist-Leninists were no longer a handful of politicians, journalists, and ideologists, active outside the universities and the world of learning. Many of them were appointed to university chairs. Their ranks increased by the adherence of some non-Marxist scholars and scientists, and, above all, by a large and growing number of younger people, some of them of outstanding ability. Finally, the following of Marxism-Leninism was strengthened by the reassertion of the regularity that seems to govern the relations between beliefs and action, to which L. J. Russell has drawn attention[337]. The rejection of one system of ideas and the acceptance of some other is not always due to a rational recognition of the latter being superior to or sounder than the former. Sometimes the particular kind of social life and activities in which people participate determine their intellectual choice and preference. They are inclined to endorse beliefs and ideas that justify and provide a theoretical support for the life they live and for the functions they perform. The intrinsic power of beliefs which rationalise behaviour, eliminate conflicts, and restore coherence between intellectual outlook and activity, cannot be overestimated.

There were also other factors that tended to create a misleading impression about the strength and the preponderance of the Marxist-Leninist school of thought. Practically everybody who spoke up in public had to argue in terms of the Marxist-Leninist conceptual framework, irrespective of whether he did or did not accept it. This too created the semblance of a nearly universal acceptance of Marxist-Leninist philosophy, in some form or other, from which the conclusion might have been drawn that except for those keeping silent everybody else was either an adherent of Marxism-Leninism or about to become one. Such suggestions were actually voiced and opinions were expressed that a decisive shift of influence in favour of Marxist-Leninist philosophy took place[338].

This turned out to be an optical illusion. Whatever numerical gains, real or apparent, Marxist-Leninist philosophy could have claimed at the time, they were short-lived and did not compensate for the loss of prestige. This prestige was never high and it dropped dangerously low during the Stalinist period. The loss in reputation, Schaff explained some years later, did not result from any hostility towards Marxism-Leninism, but from serious errors of its supporters. He exemplified these errors by what he described as various dogmatic absurdities, of which Marxist-Leninists were guilty and which they tried to impose on linguistics, biology, chemistry, and physiology, by their evaluation of the theory of relativity or of Hegel’s philosophy, and by some interpretations of historical materialism. In each case, Schaff pointed out, a sharp and sudden change of view, first in one direction and then in the opposite, was accompanied by loud protestations that only the most recently announced opinion was in agreement with the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. This practice, he concluded, confused the followers and estranged others from Marxism-Leninism[339]. This assessment draws attention to some important reasons though it does not mention all of them.

The ascendancy of Marxism-Lininism was in fact an apparent one, secured, above all, by administrative means, and it vanished as soon as the latter were abolished or restricted in 1956. The ascendancy of Marxism-Leninism was based on the repressive powers at the disposal of the State[340]. Deprived of this support the ascedancy turned out to be a hollow claim.

It was not without reason that the setting up of the Polish United Workers’ Party at the end of 1948 was described as a turning point in the development of Marxist-Leninist philosophy in Poland. It was from that moment that the State began in an increasing measure to fulfil the function of the dictatorship of the proletariat as it was understood at that time, that is to say, to use force and suppression in the Socialist construction[341]. This construction included an ‘ideological offensive’ which was carried along two lines. The opponents had to be rendered harmless and institutional changes introduced to secure to Marxist-Leninist doctrines the commanding position in the whole field of the scientific, artistic, and cultural life of the country. This took place from 1948 onwards. From that moment methodological and ideological upheavals were announced by decrees, scientific theories were made and unmade at political meetings, political leaders were promoted to the status of leading scholars and philosophers, opponents were considered to be non-existent since they were prevented from voicing their opinions in public or removed from their university chairs. By 1949, having been made one of the instruments by which society was to be transformed, philosophy became engulfed by this avalanche of changes. It came under Party supervision and received from the Party the directives concerning its ordre de bataille. Those who assumed the command on the ‘philosophical front’ could subsequently rely on the full assistance of State administration in carrying out any measure thought to be necessary. These extraordinary powers were used effectively but with moderation, at least as far as the philosophers and the sociologists were concerned [342].