V. I.   Lenin

A Letter to A. M. Gorky

Published: First published in 1924 in Lenin Miscellany I. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 13, pages 448-454.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Dear A. M.,

I did not answer your letter immediately because, strange as it may seem at first glance, we had quite a serious fight on the editorial board with Al. Al.[2] over your article, or rather in a certain connection with it. Ahem, ahem... I spoke not in that place and not on that subject which you thought!

It happened like this.

The book, Studies in the Philosophy of Marxism,[3] has considerably sharpened the old differences among the Bolsheviks on questions of philosophy. I do not consider myself sufficiently competent on these questions to rush into print. But I have always followed our Party debates on philosophy very closely, beginning with Plekhanov’s struggle against Mikhailovsky and Go. in the late eighties and up to 1895, then his struggle against the Kantians from 1898 onwards (here I not only followed it, but participated in it to some extent, as a member of the Zarya editorial board since 1900), and, finally, his struggle against the empirio-critics and Co.

I have been following Bogdanov’s writings on philosophy since his energeticist book, The Historical View of Nature, which I studied during my stay in Siberia. For Bogdanov, this position was merely a transition to other philosophical views. I became personally acquainted with him in 1904, when we immediately gave each other presents—I, my Steps,[4] he, one of his current philosophical works.[5] And I at once (in the spring or the early summer of 1904) wrote to him in Paris from Geneva that his writings strongly convinced   me that his views were wrong and as strongly convinced me that those of Plekhanov were correct.

When we worked together, Plekhanov and I often discussed Bogdanov. Plekhanov explained the fallacy of Bogdanov’s views to me, but he did not think the deviation a terribly serious one. I remember perfectly well that in the summer of 1903 Plekhanov and I, as representatives of the Zarya editorial board, bad a conversation in Geneva with a delegate from the editors of the symposium Outlines of a Realistic World Outlook,[6] at which we agreed to contribute—I, on the agrarian question, Plekhanov on anti-Machist philosophy. Plekhanov made it a condition of his collaboration that he would write against Mach, a condition that the symposium delegate readily accepted. Plekhanov at that time regarded Bogdanov as an ally in the fight against revisionism, but an ally who erred in following Ostwald and, later on, Mach.

In the summer and autumn of 1904, Bogdanov and I reached a complete agreement, as Bolsheviks, and formed the tacit bloc, which tacitly ruled out philosophy as a neutral field, that existed all through the revolution and enabled us in that revolution to carry out together the tactics of revolutionary Social-Democracy (= Bolshevism), which, I am profoundly convinced, were the only correct tactics.

There was little opportunity to engage in philosophy in the heat of the revolution. Bogdanov wrote another piece in prison at the beginning of 1906—the third issue of Empirio-monism, I believe. He presented it to me in the summer of 1906, and I sat downs to study it. After reading it I was furious. It became clearer to me than ever that lie was on an absolutely wrong track, not the Marxist track. I thereupon wrote him a “declaration of love”, a letter on philosophy taking up three notebooks. I explained to him that I was just an ordinary Marxist in philosophy, but that it was precisely his lucid, popular, and splendidly written works that had finally convinced me that he was essentially wrong and that Plekhanov was right. I showed these note books to some friends (including Lunacharsky) and thought of publishing them under the title “Notes of an Ordinary Marxist on Philosophy”, but I never got round to it. I am sorry now that I did not have them published at the moment.   I wrote to St. Petersburg the other day to have these note books hunted out and forwarded to me.[7]

Now the Studies in the Philosophy of Marxism have appeared. I have read all the articles except Suvorov’s (I am reading it now), and every article made me furiously indignant. No,no, this is not Marxism! Our empirio-critics, empirio-monists, and empirio-symbolists are floundering in a bog. To try to persuade the reader that “belief” in the reality of the external world is “mysticism” (Bazarov); to confuse in the most disgraceful manner materialism with Kantianism (Bazarov and Bogdanov); to preach a variety of agnosticism (empirio-criticism) and idealism (empirio-monism); to teach the workers “religious atheism” and “worship” of the higher human potentialities (Lunacharsky); to declare Engels’s teaching on dialectics to be mysticism (Berman); to draw from the stinking well of some French “positivists” or other, of agnostics or metaphysicians, the devil take them, with their “symbolic theory of cognition” (Yushkevich)! No, really, it’s too much. To be sure, we ordinary Marxists are not well up in philosophy, but why insult us by serving this stuff up to us as the philosophy of Marxism! I would rather let myself be drawn and quartered than consent to collaborate in an organ or body that preaches such things.

I felt a renewed interest in my “Notes of an ordinary Marxist on Philosophy” and I began to write them,[8] but to Al. Al., in the process of reading the Studies, I gave my impressions bluntly and sharply, of course.

But what has your article got to do with it, you will ask? It has this to do with it: just at a time when these differences of opinion among the Bolsheviks threaten to become particularly acute, you are obviously beginning to expound the views of one trend in your article for Proletary. I do not know, of course, what you would have made of it, taken as a whole. Besides, I believe that an artist can glean much that is useful to him from philosophy of all kinds. Finally, I absolutely agree with the view that in matters that concern the art of writing you are the best judge, and that in deriving this kind of views both from your artistic experience and from philosophy, even in idealistic philosophy, you can arrive at conclusions that will be of tremendous benefit to the workers’ party. All that is true; nevertheless Proletary     must remain absolutely neutral towards all our divergencies in philosophy and not give the reader the slightest grounds for associating the Bolsheviks, as a trend, as a tactical line of the revolutionary wing of the Russian Social-Democrats, with empirio-criticism or empirio-monism.

When, after reading and re-reading your article, I told A. A. that I was against its publication, he grew as black as a thundercloud. The threat of a split was in the air. Yesterday our editorial trio held a special meeting to discuss the matter. A stupid trick on the part of Neue Zeit came unexpectedly to our rescue. In its issue No. 20, an unknown translator published Bogdanov’s article on Mach, and blurted out in a foreword that the differences between Plekhanov and Bogdanov had a tendency, among Russian Social-Democracy, to become a factional disagreement between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The fool, whether man or woman, who wrote this foreword succeeded in uniting us. We agreed at once that an announcement of our neutrality was now essential in the very next issue of Proletary. This was perfectly in keeping with my own frame of mind after the appearance of the Studies. A statement was drawn up, unanimously endorsed, and tomorrow it will appear in issue No. 21 of Proletary, which will be forwarded to you.[1]

As regards your article, it was decided to postpone the matter, explain the situation to you in letters from each of Proletary’s three editors, and hasten my and Bogdanov’s trip to see you.

And so you will be receiving a letter also from Al. Al. and from the third editor,[9] about whom I wrote you previously.

I consider it necessary to give you my opinion quite frankly. Some sort of fight among the Bolsheviks on the question of philosophy I regard now as quite unavoidable. It would be stupid, however, to split on this. We formed a bloc in order to secure the adoption of definite tactics in the workers’ party. We have been pursuing these tactics up to now without disagreement (the only difference of opinion was on the boycott of the Third Duma, but that, first, was never so sharp among us as to lead to even a hint of a split, and,   secondly, it never corresponded to the disagreement between the materialists and the Machists, for the Machist Bazarov, for example, was with me in opposing the boycott and wrote a long article on this in Proletary).

To hinder the application of the tactics of revolutionary Social-Democracy in the workers’ party for the sake of disputes on the question of materialism or Machism, would be, in my opinion, unpardonable folly. We ought to fight over philosophy in such a way that Proletary and the Bolsheviks, as a faction of the party, would not be affected by it. And that is quite possible.

And you, I think, ought to help in this. You can help by contributing to Proletary on neutral questions (that is, unconnected with philosophy) of literary criticism, publicism, belles lettres, and so on. As for your article, if you wish to prevent a split and help to localise the new fight— you should rewrite it, and everything that even indirectly bears on Bogdanov’s philosophy should be placed somewhere else. You have other mediums, thank God, besides Proletary. Everything that is not connected with Bogdanov’s philosophy—and the bulk of your article is not connected with it—you could set out in a series of articles for Proletary. Any other attitude on your part, that is, a refusal to rewrite the article or to collaborate with Proletary would, in my opinion, unavoidably tend to aggravate the conflict among the Bolsheviks, make it difficult to localise the new fight, and weaken the vital cause, so essential practically and politically, of revolutionary Social-Democracy in Russia.

That is my opinion. I have told you all my thoughts and am now looking forward to your reply.

We intended to go to you today, but find that we have to postpone our visit for not less than a week, perhaps two or three weeks.

With very best regards,

Yours, N. Lenin


[1] See p. 447 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Al. Al.—A.A. Bogdanov.

[3] Lenin refers to the collection of articles by V. Bazarov, Berman A. Lunacharsky, P. Yushkevich, A. Bogdanov, I. Gelfond, and S. Suvorov.

[4] This refers to Lenin’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back which appeared in Geneva in May 1904.

[5] This refers to A. Bogdanov’s book Empirio-monism, Moscow, 1904.

[6] A collection of articles by A. Lunacharsky, V. Bazarov, A. Bogdanov. P. Maslov, A. Finn, V. Shulyatikov, V. Fritche, and others, published in St. Petersburg in 1904. The articles by Plekhanov and Lenin did not appear in this book.

[7] Lenin’s Notes of an Ordinary Marxist on Philosophy has not been found.

[8] At that time Lenin had begun to write his book Materialism and Empirio-criticism.

[9] The third editor was I. F. Dubrovinsky.

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