V.I. Lenin

Materialism and Empirio-criticism

Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy


Preface to the First Edition

A number of writers, would-be Marxists, have this year undertaken a veritable campaign against the philosophy of Marxism. In the course of less than half a year four books devoted mainly and almost exclusively to attacks on dialectical materialism have made their appearance. These include first and foremost Studies in [?—it would have been more proper to say “against”] the Philosophy of Marxism (St. Petersburg, 1908), a symposium by Bazarov, Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Berman, Helfond, Yushkevich and Suvorov; Yushkevich’s Materialism and Critical Realism ; Berman’s Dialectics in the Light of the Modern Theory of Knowledge and Valentinov’s The Philosophical Constructions of Marxism.

All these people could not have been ignorant of the fact that Marx and Engels scores of times termed their philosophical views dialectical materialism. Yet all these people, who, despite the sharp divergence of their political views, are united in their hostility towards dialectical materialism, at the same time claim to be Marxists in philosophy! Engels’ dialectics is “mysticism,” says Berman. Engels’ views have become “antiquated,” remarks Bazarov casually, as though it were a self-evident fact. Materialism thus appears to be refuted by our bold warriors, who proudly allude to the “modern theory of knowledge,” “recent philosophy” (or “recent positivism”), the “philosophy of modern natural science,” or even the “philosophy of natural science of the twentieth century.” Supported by all these supposedly recent doctrines, our destroyers of dialectical materialism proceed fearlessly to downright fideism[1] [3] (in the case of Lunacharsky it is most evident, but by no means in his case alone![4]). Yet when it comes to an explicit definition of their attitude towards Marx and Engels, all their courage and all their respect for their own convictions at once disappear. In deed—a complete renunciation of dialectical materialism, i.e., of Marxism; in word—endless subterfuges, attempts to evade the essence of the question, to cover their retreat, to put some materialist or other in place of materialism in general, and a determined refusal to make a direct analysis of the innumerable materialist declarations of Marx and Engels. This is truly “mutiny on one’s knees,” as it was justly characterised by one Marxist. This is typical philosophical revisionism, for it was only the revisionists who gained a sad notoriety for themselves by their departure from the fundamental views of Marxism and by their fear, or inability, to “settle accounts” openly, explicitly, resolutely and clearly with the views they had abandoned. When orthodox Marxists had occasion to pronounce against some antiquated views of Marx (for instance, Mehring when he opposed certain historical propositions), it was always done with such precision and thoroughness that no one has ever found anything ambiguous in such literary utterances.

For the rest, there is in the Studies “in” the Philosophy of Marxism one phrase which resembles the truth. This is Lunacharsky’s phrase: “Perhaps we [i.e., all the collaborators of the Studies evidently][2] have gone astray, but we are seeking” (p. 161). That the first half of this phrase contains an absolute and the second a relative truth, I shall endeavour to demonstrate circumstantially in the present book. At the moment I would only remark that if our philosophers had spoken not in the name of Marxism but in the name of a few “seeking” Marxists, they would have shown more respect for themselves and for Marxism.

As for myself, I too am a “seeker” in philosophy. Namely, the task I have set myself in these comments is to find out what was the stumbling block to these people who under the guise of Marxism are offering something incredibly muddled, confused and reactionary.

— Vladimir Lenin. September 1908.


[1] Fideism is a doctrine which substitutes faith for knowledge, or which generally attaches significance to faith. —Lenin

[2] Interpolations in square brackets (within passages quoted by Lenin) have been introduced by Lenin, unless otherwise indicated.—Ed.

[3] V. I. Lenin in a letter to A. I, Ulyanova-Yelizarova, dated October 20 (November 8), 1908, wrote: “...if considerations due to the censorship prove very severe, the word ‘clericalism’ could be replaced everywhere by the word ‘fideism’ with an explanatory note (‘fideism’ is a doctrine which substitutes faith for knowledge, or which generally attaches significance to faith). This is in case of need—to explain the nature of the concessions which I am ready to make.” (see Collected Works, present edition, Vol. 37, p. 395). In another letter to his sister, Lenin proposed replacing the word ‘clericalism’ by the word ‘Shamanism’, to which she answered. “It is already too late for Shamanism. And is it really better?” (Ibid., p. 662). From the text of the book Materialism and Empirio-criticism it can be seen that the word ‘fideism’ was substituted for ‘clericalism’, although the latter word remained unaltered in some places. The note suggested by Lenin was given in the first edition of the book and was retained in subsequent editions.

[4] Lenin is referring to a religious-philosophical tendency hostile to Marxism called “god-building”, which arose in the period of reaction among a section of the party intellectuals who had deserted Marxism after the defeat of the revolution of 1905–07. The “god-builders” (A. V. Lunacharsky, V.Bazarov and others) preached the creation of a new “socialist” religion in an attempt to—reconcile Marxism with religion. At one time A. M. Gorky supported them.

An enlarged meeting of the editorial board of Proletary (1909) condemned “god-building” and stated in a special resolution that the Bolshevik group has nothing in common with “such a distortion of scientific socialism”. The reactionary nature of “god-building” was exposed by Lenin in his work Materialism and Empirio-criticism an din his letters to Gorky of February-April 1908 and November-December 1913.