V.I. Lenin


Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy

( Chapter Four: The Philosophical Idealists as Comrades-In-Arms and Successors of Empirio-Criticism )

2. How the “Empirio-Symbolist”
Yushkevich Ridiculed the “Empirio-Criticist” Chernov

It is, of course, amusing,” writes Mr. P. Yushkevich, “to see how Mr. Chernov tries to make the agnostic positivist Comtean and Spencerian, Mikhailovsky, a forerunner of Mach and Avenarius” (op. cit., p. 73).

First of all, what is amusing here is Mr. Yushkevich’s astonishing ignorance. Like all Voroshilovs, he conceals this ignorance under a display of erudite words and names. The passage quoted is from a paragraph devoted to the relation between Machism and Marxism. And although he undertakes to treat of this subject, Mr. Yushkevich does not know that for Engels (as for every materialist) the adherents of the Humean line and the adherents of the Kantian line are equally agnostics. Therefore, to contrast agnosticism generally with Machism, when even Mach himself confesses to being a follower of Hume, is simply to prove oneself an ignoramus in philosophy. The phrase “agnostic positivism” is also absurd, for the adherents of Hume in fact call themselves positivists. Mr. Yushkevich, who has taken Petzoldt as his teacher, should have known that Petzoldt definitely regards empirio-criticism as positivism. And finally, to drag in the names of Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer is again absurd, for Marxism rejects not what distinguishes one positivist from another, but what is common to both and what makes a philosopher a positivist instead of a materialist.

Our Voroshilov needed this display of words so as to “mesmerise” his reader, to stun him with a cacophony of words, to distract his attention away from the essence of the matter to empty trifles. And the essence of the matter is the radical difference between materialism and the broad current of positivism, which includes Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer,   Mikhailovsky, a number of Neo-Kantians, and Mach and Avenarius. The essence of the matter has been very accurately expressed by Engels in his Ludwig Feuerbach, where he places all the Kantians and Humeans of that period (i.e., the eighties of the last century) in the camp of wretched eclectics, pettifoggers (Flohknacker : literally, flea-crackers), and so on.[2] To whom this characterisation can and must apply is a question on which our Voroshilovs did not wish to reflect. And since they are incapable of reflecting, we shall cite one illuminating comparison. Engels, speaking both in 1888 and 1892 of the Kantians and Humeans in general, mentions no names.[3] The only reference Engels makes to a book is his reference to the work of Starcke on Feuerbach, which Engels analysed. “Starcke,” says Engels, “takes great pains to defend Feuerbach against the attacks and doctrines of the vociferous lecturers who today go by the name of philosophers in Germany. For people who are interested in this afterbirth of German classical philosophy this is a matter of importance; for Starcke himself it may have appeared necessary. We, however, will spare the reader this” (Ludwig Feuerbach, S. 25).[4]

Engels wanted to “spare the reader,” that is, to save the Social-Democrats from a pleasant acquaintance with the degenerate chatterboxes who call themselves philosophers. And who are implied by this “afterbirth”?

We open Starcke’s book (C. N. Starcke, Ludwig Feuerbach, Stuttgart, 1885), and find constant references to the adherents of Hume and Kant. Starcke dissociates Feuerbach from these two trends. Starcke quotes in this connection A. Riehl, Windelband and A. Lange (pp. 3, 18-19, 127, etc., in Starcke).

We open Avenarius’ The Human Concept of the World, which appeared in 1891, and on page 120 of the first German edition we read: “The final result of our analysis concurs—although not absolutely (durchgehend) in the measure of the various points of view—with that reached by other investigators, for example, E. Laas, E. Mach, A. Riehl, W. Wundt. See also Schopenhauer.”

Whom was our Voroshilov-Yushkevich jeering at?

Avenarius has not the slightest doubt as to his kinship in principle—not regarding any particular question, but   regard ing the “final result” of empirio-criticism—to the Kantians Riehl and Laas and to the idealist Wundt. He mentions Mach between the two Kantians. And, indeed, are they not all one company, since Riehl and Laas purified Kant à la Hume, and Mach and Avenarius purified Hume à la Berkeley?

Is it surprising that Engels wished to “spare” the German workers, to save them from a close acquaintance with this whole company of “flea-cracking” university lecturers?

Engels could spare the German workers, but the Voroshilovs do not spare the Russian reader.

It should be noted that an essentially eclectic combination of Kant and Hume, or Hume and Berkeley, is possible, so to speak, in varying proportions, by laying principal stress now on one, now on another element of the mixture. We saw above, for instance, that only one Machian, H. Kleinpeter, openly admits that he and Mach are solipsists (i.e., consistent Berkeleians). On the other hand, the Humean trend in the views of Mach and Avenarius is emphasised by many of their disciples and followers: Petzoldt, Willy, Pearson, the Russian empirio-criticist Lessevich, the Frenchman Henri Delacroix,[1] and others. We shall cite one example—an especially emincllt scientist who in philosophy also combined Hume with Berkeley, but who emphasised the materialist elements of this mixture. He is Thomas Huxley, the famous English scientist, who gave currency to the term “agnostic” and whom Engels undoubtedly had chiefly and primarily in mind when he spoke of English agnosticism. Engels in 1892 called this type of agnostics “shamefaced materialists.”[5] James Ward, the English spiritualist, in his book Naturalism and Agnosticism, wherein he chiefly attacks the “scientific champion of agnosticism,” Huxley (Vol. II, p. 229), bears out Engels’ opinion when he says: “In Huxley’s case indeed the leaning towards the primacy of the physical side [“series of elements” Mach calls it] is often so pronounced that it can hardly be called parallelism at all. In spite   of his vehement repudiation of the title of materialist as an affront to his untarnished agnosticism, I know of few recent writers who on occasion better deserve the title” (Vol. II, pp. 30-3l). And James Ward quotes the following statements by Huxley in confirmation of his opinion: “‘Anyone who is acquainted with the history of science will admit, that its progress has, in all ages, meant, and now more than ever means, the extension of the province of what we call matter and causation, and the concomitant gradual banishment from all regions of human thought of what we call spirit and spontaneity.’” Or: “‘It is in itself of little moment whether we express the phenomena of matter in terms of spirit, or the phenomena of spirit in terms of matter—each statement has a certain relative truth [“relatively stable complexes of elements,” according to Mach]. But with a view to the progress of science, the materialistic terminology is in every way to be preferred. For it connects thought with the other phenomena of the universe. . . whereas the alternative, or spiritualistic, terminology is utterly barren, and leads to nothing but obscurity and confusion of ideas. . . . Thus there can be little doubt, that the further science advances, the more extensively and consistently will all the phenomena of Nature be represented by materialistic formulae and symbols’” (Vol. I, p. 17-19).

So argued the “shamefaced materialist” Huxley, who refused to accept materialism, regarding it as “metaphysics” that illegitimately goes beyond “groups of sensations.” And this same Huxley wrote: “‘If I were obliged to choose between absolute materialism and absolute idealism I should feel compelled to accept the latter alternative. . . . Our one certainty is the existence of the mental world’” (J. Ward, Vol. II, p. 216).

Huxley’s philosophy is as much a mixture of Hume and Berkeley as is Mach’s philosophy. But in Huxley’s case the Berkeleian streaks are incidental, and agnosticism serves as a fig-leaf for materialism. With Mach the “colouring” of the mixture is a different one, and Ward, the spiritualist, while bitterly combating Huxley, pats Avenarius and Mach affectionately on the back.



[1] Bibliotheque du congrès international de philosophie, Vol. IV, Henri Delacroix, David Hume et la philosophie critique [David Hume and Critical Philosophy]. Among the followers of Hume the author includes Avenarius and the immanentists in Germany, Ch. Renouvier and his school (the neo-criticists) in France. —Lenin

[2] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works Vol. II, Moscow,. 1958, p. 376.

[3] Lenin is referring to Engels’ work Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1888) and the “Special Introduction to the English Edition of 1892” of his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 370-71, 99-102).

[4] See K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 378.

[5] See F. Engels’ “Special Introduction to the English Edition of 1892” of his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific., (K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 99).

  1. The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and From the Right | 3.The Immanentists as Comrades-In-Arms of Mach and Avenarius  

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