V.I. Lenin

Materialism and Empirio-criticism

Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy

Chapter 2.2

'Transcendence,' Or Bazarov 'Revises' Engels

But while the Russian Machian would-be Marxists diplomatically evaded one of the most emphatic and explicit statements of Engels, they “revised” another statement of his in quite the Chernov manner. However tedious and laborious the task of correcting distortions and perversions of the meaning of quotations may be, he who wishes to speak of the Russian Machians cannot avoid it.

Here is Bazarov’s revision of Engels.

In the article “On Historical Materialism,” [This article forms the Introduction to the English edition of Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific and was translated by Engels himself into German in the Neue Zeit XI, I (1892-93, No. 1), S. 15 et seq. The only Russian translation, if I am not mistaken, is to be found in the symposium Historical Materialism p. 162, et seq. Bazarov quotes the passage in the Studiesin” the Philosophy of Marxism, p. 64.] Engels speaks of the English agnostics (philosophers of Hume’s trend of thought) as follows:

“. . . Our agnostic admits that all our knowledge is based upon the information (Mitteilungen) imparted to us by our senses. . . .”

Let us note for the benefit of our Machians that the agnostic (Humean) also starts from sensations and recognises no other source of knowledge. The agnostic is a pure “positivist,” be it said for the benefit of the adherents of the “latest positivism!”

“. . . But, he [the agnostic] adds, how do we know that our senses give us correct representations (Abbilder) of the objects we perceive through them? And he proceeds to inform us that, whenever he speaks of objects or their qualities, he does in reality not mean these objects and qualities, of which he cannot know anything for certain, but merely the impressions which they have produced on his senses. . . .”[1]

What two lines of philosophical tendency does Engels contrast here? One line is that the senses give us faithful images of things, that we know the things themselves, that the outer world acts on our sense-organs. This is materialism—with which the agnostic is not in agreement. What then is the essence of the agnostic’s line? It is that he does not go beyond sensations, that he stops on this side of phenomena, refusing to see anything “certain” beyond the boundary of sensations. About these things themselves (i.e., about the things-in-themselves, the “objects in themselves,” as the materialists whom Berkeley opposed called them), we can know nothing certain—so the agnostic categorically insists. Hence, in the controversy of which Engels speaks the materialist affirms the existence and knowability of things-in-themselves. The agnostic does not even admit the thought of things-in-themselves and insists that we can know nothing certain about them.

It may be asked in what way the position of the agnostic as outlined by Engels differs from the position of Mach? In the “new” term “element”? But it is sheer childishness to believe that a nomenclature can change a philosophical line, that sensations when called “elements” cease to be sensations! Or does the difference lie in the “new” idea that the very same elements constitute the physical in one connection and the psychical in another? But did you not observe that Engels’ agnostic also puts “impressions” in place of the “things themselves”? That means that in essence the agnostic too differentiates between physical and psychical “impressions”! Here again the difference is exclusively one of nomenclature. When Mach says that objects are complexes of sensations, Mach is a Berkeleian; when Mach “corrects” himself, and says that “elements” (sensations) can be physical in one connection and psychical in another, Mach is an agnostic, a Humean. Mach does not go beyond these two lines in his philosophy, and it requires extreme naïveté to take this muddlehead at his word and believe that he has actually “transcended” both materialism and idealism.

Engels deliberately mentions no names in his exposition, and criticises not individual representatives of Humism (professional philosophers are very prone to call original systems the petty variations one or another of them makes in terminology or argument), but the whole Humean line. Engels criticises not particulars but the essential thing; he examines the fundamental wherein all Humeans deviate from materialism, and his criticism therefore embraces Mill, Huxley and Mach alike. Whether we say (with J. S. Mill) that matter is the permanent possibility of sensation, or (with Ernst Mach) that matter is more or less stable complexes of “elements”—sensations—we remain within the bounds of agnosticism, or Humism. Both standpoints, or more correctly both formulations, are covered by Engels’ exposition of agnosticism: the agnostic does not go beyond sensations and asserts that he cannot know anything certain about their source, about their original, etc. And if Mach attributes such great importance to his disagreement with Mill on this question, it is because Mach comes under Engels’ characterisation of a professor-in-ordinary: Flohknacker.— Ay, gentlemen, you have only cracked a flea by making petty corrections and by altering terminology instead of entirely abandoning the basic, half-hearted standpoint.

And how does the materialist Engels—at the beginning of the article Engels explicitly and emphatically contrasts his materialism to agnosticism—refute the foregoing arguments?

“. . . Now, this line of reasoning seems undoubtedly hard to beat by mere argumentation. But before there was argumentation there was action. Im Anfang war die That. And human action had solved the difficulty long before human ingenuity invented it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. From the moment we turn to our own use these objects, according to the qualities we perceive in them, we put to an infallible test the correctness or otherwise of our sense-perceptions. If these perceptions have been wrong, then our estimate of the use to which an object can be turned must also be wrong, and our attempt must fail. But if we succeed in accomplishing our aim, if we find that the object does agree with our idea of it, and does answer the purpose we intended it for, then that is positive proof that our perceptions of it and of its qualities, so far, agree with reality outside ourselves. . . .”

Thus, the materialist theory, the theory of the reflection of objects by our mind, is here presented with absolute clarity: things exist outside us. Our perceptions and ideas are their images. Verification of these images, differentiation between true and false images, is given by practice. But let us listen to a little more of Engels (Bazarov at this point ends his quotation from Engels, or rather from Plekhanov, for he deems it unnecessary to deal with Engels himself):

“. . . And whenever we find ourselves face to face with a failure, then we generally are not long in making out the cause that made us fail; we find that the perception upon which we acted was either incomplete and superficial, or combined with the results of other perceptions in a way not warranted by them [the Russian translation in On Historical Materialism is incorrect]. So long as we take care to train and to use our senses properly, and to keep our action within the limits prescribed by perceptions properly made and properly used, so long we shall find that the result of our action proves the conformity (Uebereinstimmung) of our perceptions with the objective (gegenstandlich) nature of the things perceived. Not in one single instance, so far, have we been led to the conclusion that our sense-perceptions, scientifically controlled, induce in our minds ideas respecting the outer world that are, by their very nature, at variance with reality, or that there is an inherent incompatibility between the outer world and our sense-perceptions of it.

But then come the Neo-Kantian agnostics and say. . . .”[2]

We shall leave to another time the examination of the arguments of the Neo-Kantians. Let us remark here that anybody in the least acquainted with the subject, or even the least bit attentive, cannot fail to understand that Engels is here expounding the very same materialism against which the Machians are always and everywhere doing battle. And now just watch the manner in which Bazarov revises Engels:

“Here,” writes Bazarov in connection with the fragment of the quotation we have given, “Engels is actually attacking Kantian idealism. . . .”

It is not true. Bazarov is muddling things. In the passage which he quoted, and which is quoted by us more fully, there is not a syllable either about Kantianism or about idealism. Had Bazarov really read the whole of Engels’ article, he could not have avoided seeing that Engels speaks of Neo-Kantianism, and of Kant’s whole line, only in the next paragraph, just where we broke off our quotation. And had Bazarov attentively read and reflected on the fragment he himself quotes, he could not have avoided seeing that in the arguments of the agnostic which Engels here refutes there is not a trace of either idealism or Kantianism; for idealism begins only when the philosopher says that things are our sensations, while Kantianism begins when the philosopher says that the thing-in-itself exists but is unknowable. Bazarov confuses Kantianism with Humism; and he confuses them because, being himself a semi-Berkeleian, semi-Humean of the Machian sect, he does not understand (as will be shown in detail below) the distinction between the Humean and the materialist opposition to Kantianism.

Bazarov continues:

“. . . But, alas! his argument is aimed against Plekhanov’s philosophy just as much as it is against Kantian philosophy. In the school of Plekhanov-Orthodox, as Bogdanov has already pointed out, there is a fatal misunderstanding regarding consciousness. To Plekhanov, as to all idealists, it seems that everything perceptually given, i.e., cognised, is ‘subjective’; that to proceed only from what is factually given is to be a solipsist; that real being can be found only beyond the boundaries of everything that is immediately given. . . .”

This is entirely in the spirit of Chernov and his assurances that Liebknecht was a true-Russian Narodnik! If Plekhanov is an idealist who has deserted Engels, then why is it that you, who are supposedly an adherent of Engels, are not a materialist? This is nothing but wretched mystification, Comrade Bazarov! By means of the Machian expression “immediately given” you begin to confuse the difference between agnosticism, idealism and materialism. Don’t you understand that such expressions as the “immediately given” and the “factually given” are part of the rigmarole of the Machians, the immanentists, and the other reactionaries in philosophy, a masquerade, whereby the agnostic (and sometimes, as in Mach’s case, the idealist too) disguises himself in the cloak of the materialist? For the materialist the “factually given” is the outer world, the image of which is our sensations. For the idealist the “factually given” is sensation, and the outer world is declared to be a “complex of sensations.” For the agnostic the “immediately given” is also sensation, but the agnostic does not go on either to the materialist recognition of the reality of the outer world, or to the idealist recognition of the world as our sensation. Therefore your statement that “real being [according to Plekhanov] can be found only beyond the boundaries of everything that is immediately given” is sheer nonsense and inevitably follows from your Machian position. But while you have a perfect right to adopt any position you choose, including a Machian one, you have no right to falsify Engels once you have undertaken to speak of him. And from Engels’ words it is perfectly clear that for the materialist real being lies beyond the “sense-perceptions,” impressions and ideas of man, while for the agnostic it is impossible to go beyond these perceptions. Bazarov believed Mach, Avenarius, and Schuppe when they said that the “immediately” (or factually) given connects the perceiving self with the perceived environment in the famous “indissoluble” co-ordination, and endeavours, unobserved by the reader, to impute this nonsense to the materialist Engels!

“. . . It is as though the foregoing passage from Engels was deliberately written by him in a very popular and accessible form in order to dissipate this idealist misunderstanding. . . .”

Not for nought was Bazarov a pupil of Avenarius! He continues his mystification: under the pretence of combating idealism (of which Engels is not speaking here), he smuggles in the idealist “co-ordination.” Not bad, Comrade Bazarov!

“. . . The agnostic asks, how do we know that our subjective senses give us a correct presentation of objects?. . .”

You are muddling things, Comrade Bazarov! Engels himself does not speak of, and does not even ascribe to his foe the agnostic, such nonsense as “subjective” senses. There are no other senses except human, i.e., “subjective” senses, for we are speaking from the standpoint of man and not of a hobgoblin. You are again trying to impute Machism to Engels, to imply that he says: the agnostic regards senses, or, to be more precise, sensations, as only subjective (which the agnostic does not do!), while we and Avenarius have “co-ordinated” the object into an indissoluble connection with the subject. Not bad, Comrade Bazarov!

“. . . But what do you term ‘correct’?—Engels rejoins.—That is correct which is confirmed by our practice; and consequently, since our sense-perceptions are confirmed by experience, they are not ‘subjective,’ that is, they are not arbitrary, or illusory, but correct and real as such. . . .”

You are muddling things, Comrade Bazarov! You have substituted for the question of the existence of things outside our sensations, perceptions, ideas, the question of the criterion of the correctness of our ideas of “these things themselves,” or, more precisely, you are hedging the former question with the help of the latter. But Engels says explicitly and clearly that what distinguishes him from the agnostic is not only the agnostic’s doubt as to whether our images are “correct,” but also the agnostic’s doubt as to whether we may speak of the things themselves, as to whether we may have “certain” knowledge of their existence. Why did Bazarov resort to this juggling? In order to obscure and confound what is the basic question for materialism (and for Engels, as a materialist), viz., the question of the existence of things outside our mind, which, by acting on our sense-organs evoke sensations. It is impossible to be a materialist without answering this question in the affirmative; but one can be a materialist and still differ on what constitutes the criterion of the correctness of the images presented by our senses.

And Bazarov muddles matters still more when he attributes to Engels, in the dispute with the agnostic, the absurd and ignorant expression that our sense-perceptions are confirmed by “experience.” Engels did not use and could not have used this word here, for Engels was well aware that the idealist Berkeley, the agnostic Hume and the materialist Diderot all had recourse to experience.

“. . . Inside the limits within which we have to do with objects in practice, perceptions of the object and of its properties coincide with the reality existing outside us. ‘To coincide’ is somewhat different from being a ‘hieroglyphic.’ ‘They coincide’ means that, within the given limits, the sense perception is [Bazarov’s italics] the reality existing outside us. . . .”

The end crowns the work! Engels has been treated à la Mach, fried and served with a Machian sauce. But take care you do not choke, worthy cooks!

“Sense-perception is the reality existing outside us”!! This is just the fundamental absurdity, the fundamental muddle and falsity of Machism, from which flows all the rest of the balderdash of this philosophy and for which Mach and Avenarius have been embraced by those arrant reactionaries and preachers of priestlore, the immanentists. However much V. Bazarov wriggled, however cunning and diplomatic he was in evading ticklish points, in the end he gave himself away and betrayed his true Machian character! To say that “sense-perception is the reality existing outside us” is to return to Humism, or even Berkeleianism, concealing itself in the fog of “co-ordination.” This is either an idealist lie or the subterfuge of the agnostic, Comrade Bazarov, for sense-perception is not the reality existing outside us, it is only the image of that reality. Are you trying to make capital of the ambiguous Russian word sovpadat? Are you trying to lead the unsophisticated reader to believe that sovpadat here means “to be identical,” and not “to correspond”? That means basing one’s falsification of Engels à la Mach on a perversion of the meaning of a quotation, and nothing more.

Take the German original and you will find there the words stimmen mit, which means to correspond with, “to voice with”—the latter translation is literal, for Stimme means voice. The words “stimmen mit” cannot mean “to coincide” in the sense of “to be identical.” And even for the reader who does not know German but who reads Engels with the least bit of attention, it is perfectly clear, it cannot be otherwise than clear, that Engels throughout his whole argument treats the expression “sense-perception” as the image (Abbild) of the reality existing outside us, and that therefore the word “coincide” can be used in Russian exclusively in the sense of “correspondence,” “concurrence,” etc. To attribute to Engels the thought that “sense-perception is the reality existing outside us” is such a pearl of Machian distortion, such a flagrant attempt to palm off agnosticism and idealism as materialism, that one must admit that Bazarov has broken all records!

One asks, how can sane people in sound mind and judgment assert that “sense-perception [within what limits is not important] is the reality existing outside us”? The earth is a reality existing outside us. It cannot “coincide” (in the sense of being identical) with our sense-perception, or be in indissoluble co-ordination with it, or be a “complex of elements” in another connection identical with sensation; for the earth existed at a time when there were no men, no sense-organs, no matter organised in that superior form in which its property of sensation is in any way clearly perceptible.

That is just the point, that the tortuous theories of “co-ordination,” “introjection,” and the newly-discovered world elements which we analysed in Chapter I serve to cover up this idealist absurdity. Bazarov’s formulation, so inadvertently and incautiously thrown off by him, is excellent in that it patently reveals that crying absurdity, which otherwise it would have been necessary to excavate from the piles of erudite, pseudo-scientific, professorial rigmarole.

All praise to you, Comrade Bazarov! We shall erect a monument to you in your lifetime. On one side we shall engrave your dictum, and on the other: “To the Russian Machian who dug the grave of Machism among the Russian Marxists!”

We shall speak separately of the two points touched on by Bazarov in the above-mentioned quotation, viz., the criteria of practice of the agnostics (Machians included) and the materialists, and the difference between the theory of reflection (or images) and the theory of symbols (or hieroglyphs). For the present we shall continue to quote a little more from Bazarov:

“. . . But what is beyond these boundaries? Of this Engels does not say a word. He nowhere manifests a desire to perform that ‘transcendence,’ that stepping beyond the boundaries of the perceptually-given world, which lies at the foundation of Plekhanov’s ‘theory of knowledge’. . . .”

Beyond what “boundaries”? Does he mean the boundaries of the “co-ordination” of Mach and Avenarius, which supposedly indissolubly merges the self with the environment, the subject with the object? The very question put by Bazarov is devoid of meaning. But if he had put the question in an intelligible way, he would have clearly seen that the external world lies “beyond the boundaries” of man’s sensations, perceptions and ideas. But the word “transcendence” once more betrays Bazarov. It is a specifically Kantian and Humean “fancy” to erect in principle a boundary between the appearance and the thing-in-itself. To pass from the appearance, or, if you will, from our sensation, perception, etc., to the thing existing outside of perception is a transcendence, Kant says; and transcendence is permissible not to knowledge but to faith. Transcendence is not permissible at all, Hume objects. And the Kantians, like the Humeans, call the materialists transcendental realists, “metaphysicians,” who effect an illegitimate passage (in Latin, transcensus) from one region to another, fundamentally different, region. In the works of the contemporary professors of philosophy who follow the reactionary line of Kant and Hume, you may encounter (take only the names enumerated by Voroshilov-Chernov) endless repetitions made in a thousand keys of the charge that materialism is “metaphysical” and “transcendent.” Bazarov borrowed from the reactionary professors both the word and the line of thought, and flourishes them in the name of “recent positivism”! As a matter of fact the very idea of the “transcendence,” i.e., of a boundary in principle between the appearance and the thing-in-itself, is a nonsensical idea of the agnostics (Humeans and Kantians included) and the idealists. We have already explained this in connection with Engels’ example of alizarin, and we shall explain it again in the words of Feuerbach and Joseph Dietzgen. But let us first finish with Bazarov’s “revision” of Engels:

“. . . In one place in his Anti-Dühring, Engels says that ‘being’ outside of the realm of perception is an offene Frage, i.e., a question, for the answer to which, or even for the asking of which we have no data.”

Bazarov repeats this argument after the German Machian, Friedrich Adler. This last example is perhaps even worse than the “sense-perception” which “is the reality existing outside us.” In his Anti-Dühring, p. 31 (5th Germ. ed.), Engels says:

“The unity of the world does not consist in its being, although its being is a pre-condition of its unity, as it must certainly first be, before it can be one. Being, indeed, is always an open question (offene Frage) beyond the point where our sphere of observation (Gesichtskreis) ends. The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggling phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science.”[3]

Behold the new hash our cook has prepared. Engels is speaking of being beyond the point where our sphere of observation ends, for instance, the existence of men on Mars. Obviously, such being is indeed an open question. And Bazarov, as though deliberately refraining from giving the full quotation, paraphrases Engels as saying that “being beyond the realm of perception” is an open question!! This is the sheerest nonsense and Engels is here being saddled with the views of those professors of philosophy whom Bazarov is accustomed to take at their word and whom Dietzgen justly called the graduated flunkeys of clericalism or fideism. Indeed, fideism positively asserts that something does exist “beyond the world of perception.” The materialists, in agreement with natural science, vigorously deny this. An intermediate position is held by those professors, Kantians, Humeans (including the Machians), etc., “who have found the truth outside materialism and idealism” and who “compromise,” saying: it is an open question. Had Engels ever said anything like this, it would be a shame and disgrace to call oneself a Marxist.

But enough! Half a page of quotation from Bazarov presents such a complete tangle that we are obliged to content ourselves with what has already been said and not to continue following all the waverings of Machian thought.


[1] See K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 100.

[2] F. Engels, “Special Introduction to the English Edition of 1892” of his work Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 100).

[3] See F. Engels, Anti-Dühring , Moscow, 1959, p. 65.