Plekhanov 1907

Materialismus Militans: Reply to Mr Bogdanov

Source: Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3, Progress Publishers (Moscow, 1976), pp. 188-283;
Transcribed: for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Soviet Editor’s Note: The three letters Materialismus Militans were written between 1908 and 1910. They were prompted by an ‘Open Letter to Plekhanov’ printed by Aleksandr Bogdanov in the monthly Vestnik Zhizni (The Herald of Life), no 7, 1907. The first and second letters were published in the Golos Sotsial-Demokrata (The Voice of a Social-Democrat) nos. 6-7, 8-9, 1908. The third letter did not appear in the journal because Plekhanov broke off relations with its editors at the end of 1908. It was written specially for the collection of his articles against revisionists entitled From Defence to Attack (1910). In the introduction to the collection, which included all the three articles against Bogdanov, Plekhanov wrote the following with regard to the empirio-critics:

“Some of these industrious people even call themselves and sincerely believe themselves to be enemies of the bourgeoisie. Such are A Bogdanov and A Lunacharsky. But all that one can say about such people is that there is a bitter discord between their hearts and their heads: their heads are working for the benefit of the particular class against which their hearts rebel.”

First Letter

‘Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin!’[1]

Dear Sir

No 7 of Vestnik Zhizni[2] for 1907 contains your ‘Open Letter to Comrade Plekhanov’. This letter makes it clear that you are dissatisfied with me for many reasons. The most important of these, if I am not mistaken, is that for the past three years I have been, as you put it, polemicising with empiriomonism ‘on credit’, without adducing serious arguments against it and, again as you yourself put it, these ‘tactics’ of mine seem to have had some success. Next, you reproach me for ‘constantly addressing’ you as Mr Bogdanov. Besides this, you are dissatisfied with my review of Dietzgen’s Das Akquisit der Philosophie and Briefe über Logik. You say that I warn readers against being too credulous and unwary in their approach to Dietzgen’s philosophy, on the grounds that it sometimes takes on a resemblance to yours. I will mention still another reason for your dissatisfaction with me. You assert that some of those who share my views are making what amounts to almost a ‘criminal’ charge against you, and you claim that I am partly to blame for their ‘demoralisation’. I could prolong the list of reproaches you level against me, but there is no need for this; the points I have mentioned are quite enough for us to begin an explanation which will not be without general interest.

Getting down to this, I shall begin with what seems to me to be a question of second-, if not third-rate, importance, but which is apparently of no small weight in your eyes, namely the question of your ‘title’.

You consider yourself insulted when I address you as ‘Mr’ and say that I have no right to insult you. I hasten to assure you on this point, dear Sir, that it was never my intention to insult you. But when you mention rights, it gives me reason to think that, in your opinion, one of my Social-Democratic obligations is to call you comrade. But, God and our Central Committee be my judges, I do not recognise any such obligation. And this for a very simple and obvious reason – that you are no comrade of mine. And you are no comrade of mine because you and I represent two directly opposed world-outlooks. And as the question for me is the defence of my outlook, you are, in relation to me, not a comrade, but the most resolute and irreconcilable opponent. Why should I be hypocritical, then? Why should I put an utterly false meaning into words?

Boileau once gave the advice – ‘call a spade a spade...’[3] I take this sensible advice: I call a spade a spade, and you an empiriomonist. I call comrades only those who hold the same views as myself and serve the same cause I took up long before the Bernsteinians, Machists and other ‘critics of Marx’ made their appearance in our country. Think, Mr Bogdanov, try to be unbiased, and tell me – have I really ‘no right’ to act in this way? Am I really obliged to act otherwise?

Further. You are terribly mistaken, dear Sir, if you imagine that I am throwing out more or less obvious hints to the effect that you should be, if not hanged, at least ‘banished’ from the confines of Marxism at the earliest possible moment. If anyone intended to treat you in this way, he would first of all have come up against the utter impossibility of fulfilling his harsh design. Even Dumbadze, with all his miraculous power, would not have been able to banish from his domains a person who did not dwell in them. Similarly, no ideological Pompadour [4] could possibly ‘banish’ from the confines of a particular teaching a ‘thinker’ who was already outside them. And that you are outside the confines of Marxism is clear for all those who know that the whole edifice of this teaching rests upon dialectical materialism, and who realise that you, as a convinced Machist, do not and cannot hold the materialist viewpoint. And for the benefit of those who do not know and do not realise this, I reproduce the following passage, which came from your own pen.

In characterising the attitude of various philosophers to the ‘thing-in-itself’, you deign to remark:

A golden mean has been adopted by materialists of a more critical shade who have rejected the absolute unknowability of the ‘thing-in-itself’, but at the same time regard it as being fundamentally different from the ‘phenomenon’, and, therefore, always only ‘vaguely knowable’ in the phenomenon, outside of experience as far as its content is concerned (that is, presumably, as far as the ‘elements’ are concerned, which are not the same as elements of experience), but yet lying within the bounds of what is called the forms of experience, that is, time, space and causality. Such is approximately the standpoint of the French materialists of the eighteenth century and among the modern philosophers – Engels and his Russian follower, Beltov. [5]

This passage (rather clumsy in its ‘content’) will explain matters even to those people who, generally speaking, do not care about philosophy. It must now be plain even to them that you reject Engels’ point of view. And those who know that Engels was completely at one with the author of Capital also in the domain of philosophy will easily understand that when you reject Engels’ viewpoint you thereby reject Marx’s viewpoint, and join his ‘critics’.

I beg you, dear Sir, not to be afraid; don’t regard me as some kind of philosophising Pompadour, and don’t imagine that I establish your adherence to Marx’s opponents for the purpose of your ‘banishment’. I repeat: it is impossible to banish from the confines of any teaching a man who is already outside them. And so far as Marx’s critics are concerned, everyone, even if he did not study in a seminary, now knows that these gentlemen have departed from the confines of Marxism and are scarcely likely ever to return.

‘Sentence of death’ is a measure incomparably more severe than ‘banishment’. And if I were ever capable of hinting at the necessity of you, my dear Sir, being ‘hanged’ (though only in quotation marks), I could, of course, on a suitable occasion, also be disposed to the idea of your ‘banishment’. But in this, too, you either give way to quite unwarranted fear, or are indulging in perfectly groundless irony.

I tell you once and for all that I have never had any desire to ‘hang’ anyone. I should be an extremely poor Social-Democrat if I did not acknowledge the complete freedom of theoretical research. But I should be an equally poor Social-Democrat if I did not understand that freedom of research must be accompanied and supplemented by freedom for people to group according to their views.

I am convinced – who could not be? – that people who differ fundamentally in theory have every right to differ in practice too, that is, to group themselves in different camps. I am convinced even that ‘situations’ do arise when it is their duty to do so. Do we not know already from Pushkin’s time:

It is not meet to harness
Horse with trembling doe. [6]

In the name of this unquestionable and incontestable freedom of grouping, I have repeatedly invited the Russian Marxists to form a special group for the propagation of their ideas, and to dissociate themselves from other groups which do not share Marxist ideas on some issues. Repeatedly, and with quite understandable passion, I have expressed the opinion that any unclarity in ideology brings great harm. I think that ideological unclarity is especially harmful for us now, when idealism of all varieties and shades, under the impact of reaction and the pretext of revising theoretical values, is holding veritable orgies in our literature, and when some idealists, probably for the sake of spreading their own ideas, proclaim their views to be Marxism of the very latest model. It is my deep conviction, and one which I am not in the least backward in expressing, that theoretical dissociation from these idealists is more essential now than ever. I understand that sometimes this might not be to the liking of one or other of the idealists (especially from among those who would like to have their theoretical merchandise passed under the flag of Marxism) but, nevertheless, I resolutely assert that those who reproach me on these grounds with attempting on somebody’s freedom (by ‘banishment’) or even on his life (by ‘hanging’) reveal a much too narrow understanding of that freedom in whose name they indict me.

When I invite those who share my views to dissociate themselves from people who cannot be their comrades in ideology, I am using the inalienable right of every ‘man and citizen’. And when you, Mr Bogdanov, raise such a ridiculous clamour over this and suspect me of threatening your person, you simply demonstrate that you have badly assimilated the notion of that inalienable right.

While not a Marxist yourself, you would like nothing better than that we Marxists should accept you as our comrade. You remind me of the mother in one of Gleb Uspensky’s stories. She wrote to her son, saying that since he lived a long way off and was in no hurry to see her, she would complain to the police and demand that the authorities send her son ‘under escort’ for her to ‘embrace’ him. Uspensky’s philistine, to whom this maternal threat was addressed, burst into tears whenever he remembered it. We Russian Marxists will not weep for such reasons. But this will not stop us from telling you quite bluntly that we wish to take full advantage of our right to dissociate ourselves and that neither you nor anyone else (no matter who it may be) will succeed in ‘embracing’ us ‘under escort’.

I shall add the following. If I at all resembled some inquisitor or other, and if I at all believed that there could be people deserving of capital punishment (even in quotation marks) for their convictions, I should, nevertheless, not count you, Mr Bogdanov, among them. I should then say to myself: ‘The right to be executed is conferred by talent and there is no trace of talent in our theoretician of empiriomonism. He is unworthy of execution!’

You, dear Sir, challenge me insistently to be frank. So do not be offended if I am.

To me, you are not unlike Vasili Tredyakovsky [7] of blessed memory – a man of considerable diligence, but, alas, very little talent. To busy oneself with people of the calibre of the late professor of eloquence and poetical subtleties one must be endowed with an enormous power of resistance to boredom. I do not possess much of this power. That is why I have not replied to you before now, in spite of your direct challenges.

I said to myself: ‘Jai dautres chats à fouetter.’ [8] And that I was sincere and not merely seeking an excuse to avoid doing polemical battle with you is proved by my deeds; actually, since you began to challenge me I have in fact been under the regrettable necessity to ‘whip’ quite a few ‘cats’. Of course, you interpreted my silence differently. Obviously you thought that I lacked the courage to launch a frontal attack on your philosophical stronghold, preferring to direct empty threats at you, to criticise you ‘on credit’. I do not deny you the right to self-flattery, but I, too, have the right to say that you were flattering yourself. To tell the truth, I simply did not think it necessary to argue with you, believing that the class-conscious representatives of the Russian proletariat would themselves be able to assess your philosophical subtleties. Besides, as I already said, javais dautres chats à fouetter. Thus, as far back as late 1907, that is to say, immediately after the appearance of your open letter to me in Vestnik Zhizni, some of my comrades advised me to deal with you. But I replied that it would be more useful to deal with Mr Arturo Labriola, whose views were being peddled in Russia by your fellow thinker Mr Anatoly Lunacharsky under the guise of a weapon ‘sharpened for the orthodox Marxists’. Supplied with an afterword by Mr Lunacharsky, Labriola’s book prepared the way for syndicalism [9] in Russia, and I preferred to work on that, and to postpone meanwhile my reply to your open letter. To tell you the truth, I am afraid of being bored, and would not have decided to answer you now, Mr Bogdanov, if it had not been for the same Mr Anatoly Lunacharsky. While you were elaborating your empiriomonism after the manner of Tredyakovsky, Lunacharsky (the rogue has a finger in every pie) began to preach a new religion, [10] and this preaching can have a much greater practical significance than the propagation of your alleged philosophical ideas. It is true that, like Engels, I consider that at the present time ‘all the possibilities of religion are exhausted’ (alle Möglichkeiten der Religion sind erschöpft). [11] But I do not lose sight of the fact that, strictly speaking, these possibilities are exhausted only for class-conscious proletarians. Besides the class-conscious proletarians, there are those who are only partly conscious of their class position and those who are completely unconscious of it. In the course of development of these sections of the working class, religious preaching can have a strong negative effect. Finally, apart from the proletarians who are partly conscious or completely unconscious of their class position, we have a great multitude of ‘intellectuals’, who naturally imagine themselves to be fully conscious of their position, but in fact are unconsciously infatuated with every fashionable trend and at the ‘present time’ – Goethe said that all reactionary epochs are subjective – are very much disposed to all varieties of mysticism. Inventions such as the new religion of your fellow thinker, dear Sir, are a real godsend to these people. They rush at them like flies at honey. And as quite a number of these gentlemen, grasping avidly at everything they have read about in the latest book, have unfortunately not completely severed their connection with the proletariat, [12] they may infect them too with these mystical infatuations. In view of this, I decided that we Marxists must give a resolute rebuff not only to the new gospel of Anatoly, but also to anything but new philosophy of Ernst (Mach), which has been more or less adapted by you, Mr Bogdanov, for our use here in Russia. And for this reason alone, I undertook the task of replying to you.

I am aware that many comrades were surprised that I did not find it necessary to polemicise with you before now. But this is an old story that remains eternally new. Even at the time when Mr Struve published his well-known Critical Notes, [13] some of my fellow thinkers (then very few in number) quite rightly judged these Notes to be the work of a man who had not worked out a consistent manner of thinking and advised me to come out against him. This kind of advice became still more persistent after the same Mr Struve published his article ‘On Freedom and Necessity’ in Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii. I remember that, when I met Lenin in the summer of 1900, he asked me why I had done nothing about Struve’s article. My reply was quite simple: the ideas expressed by Mr Struve in his article ‘On Freedom and Necessity’ had been refuted in advance by me in my book The Development of the Monist View of History. The new error made by the author of Critical Notes must have been clear to anyone who had read and understood my book; I had no time to discuss the matter with those who had not read my book, or did not understand it. I did not consider myself in any way obliged in respect of our Marxist intelligentsia to play the part of Shchedrin’s owl, relentlessly pursuing the eagle to instruct it by the phonetical method: ‘Your Majesty, say – A, B, C...’ In Shchedrin’s story the eagle became so completely fed up with the owl that at first it shouted at it: ‘Leave me alone, damn you’, and then finally killed it. I do not know whether the part of tutor-owl to the Russian intelligentsia of a more or less Marxist turn of thought presented any dangers for me. But I had neither the inclination nor the opportunity to be cast in such a thankless role, since I had other practical and – above all – theoretical tasks. Would I be far advanced in theory if I ‘reacted’ to everything to which I was (and am) expected to ‘react’? Suffice it to say that some readers would have liked me to express my opinion on our contemporary eroticism (that is, on Mr Artsybashev [14] and his brethren) and others asked me what I thought about Madame Isadora Duncan’s dancing. Woe to the writer who took it into his head to ‘react’ to all the spiritual whims of that capricious and nervous lady, the (Russian) intelligentsia! Take any one of the philosophical fancies of this ‘lady’. Is it so long since she was harping on Kant? Is it long since she was demanding that we reply to the Kantian ‘critique’ of Marx? Not long at all! In fact it was so recently that this frivolous ‘lady’ has not yet worn out the shoes in which she went running after neo-Kantianism. And after Kant came Avenarius and Mach; and after these two Ajaxes of empirio-criticism came Joseph Dietzgen. And now right behind Dietzgen we have Poincaré and Bergson. ‘Cleopatra had many lovers!’ But let those who will take up the cudgels against them. I am all the less inclined to do so because I lay not the slightest claim to please our modern intelligentsia, who is not the heroine of my romance...

But because I do not think myself obliged to do battle with the numerous lovers of our Russian Cleopatra it does not follow that I have not the right to make some reference to them in passing, such being also one of the inalienable rights of man and citizen. For instance, I have never engaged in criticism of the Christian dogmatic theology, and probably I never shall. But this does not deprive me of the right to express my opinion about any of the Christian dogmas, should the occasion arise. What would you think, Mr Bogdanov, of an orthodox theologian who seized upon some passing remarks of mine concerning Christian dogmas – and such remarks are likely to be found in my writings – and began to accuse me of criticising Christianity ‘on credit’? I think you would have enough common sense to shrug your shoulders at such a charge. So do not be surprised, dear Sir, if I have no less common sense, that is, if I shrug my shoulders when I hear how you use my passing remarks about Machism to accuse me of what you call criticism – ‘on credit’.

Earlier in this letter, to be on the safe side, I quoted your opinion on Engels’ philosophical standpoint, an opinion which should not leave the slightest doubt of any kind in the minds of even the most slow-witted as to where you stand in relation to Marxist philosophy. But now I recall that, when at a recent meeting of Russians in Geneva, I drew your attention in my speech to those lines of yours, you were pleased to rise from your seat and shout: ‘That’s what I used to think; now I see I was mistaken.’ That was an extremely important statement, and I, and with me every reader interested in our philosophical dispute, am bound to accept it, both as information and for guidance... if only it contains sufficient logical sense for one to be guided by it.

Formerly it pleased you to think that Engels’ philosophical standpoint was that of the golden mean and you rejected it as unsound. Now it does not please you to think so. What does this mean? Does it mean that you now recognise Engels’ view as satisfactory? I should be very glad to hear this from you, even if it were only for one thing – I should not then have to overcome the boredom of having a philosophical dispute with you. But so far I have had to deny myself this pleasure, since nowhere have you declared that you have changed from Saul to Paul, that is to say, that you have abandoned Machism and become a dialectical materialist. Quite the contrary. In the third book of your Empiriomonism, you express exactly the same philosophical views you expounded in the second book, from which I took the quotation illustrating your complete disagreement with Engels. What has changed, then, Mr Bogdanov?

I shall tell you exactly what has changed. When the second book of your Empiriomonism was published – and that was not in the days of yore, but no further back than 1905 – you still had the courage to criticise Engels and Marx with whom you disagreed and continue to disagree as much as an idealist can possibly disagree with a materialist. This courage was, of course, to your credit. If one who is afraid to look truth in the face is a poor thinker, still worse is the one who looks truth in the face and is then afraid to tell the world what he has seen there. And the worst of all is he who conceals his philosophical convictions in consideration of some practical benefits. Such a thinker obviously belongs to the species of Molchalins. [15] Let me repeat, Mr Bogdanov, that the boldness you displayed as recently as 1905 was a credit to you. It is just a pity that you lost it so quickly.

You have seen that my ‘tactics’, as you call them – in fact they could be reduced to a simple statement of what is for all an obvious fact, namely, that you are one of Marx’s ‘critics’ – have had, as you yourself have been pleased to say, some success, that is to say, our orthodox Marxists have ceased to regard you as their comrade. This has scared you, so you have thought up your own ‘tactics’ against me. You decided that you would be in a more favourable position to contend with me if you declared that you sided with the founders of scientific socialism, and that I was a sort of critic of theirs. In other words, you decided to apply the ‘tactics’ which are known as putting the blame on somebody else. Having taken this decision, you wrote that critical analysis of my theory of cognition which you published in the third book of Empiriomonism and in which – despite what you said in the second book – I am no longer counted among the followers of Marx and Engels. Your courage failed you, Mr Bogdanov, and I am sorry for you. But we must be just even to people who are lacking in courage. Therefore, I must say that, unlike your usual self, on this occasion you displayed no little cleverness. In this perhaps you surpassed even the famous monk Gorenflot.

The French know of this monk. But he is probably not so well known to Russians, so I shall say a few words about him.

Once, I don’t remember which particular fast day it was, the monk Gorenflot had an intense desire to eat chicken. But that would be a sin. What should he do to have his chicken and at the same time avoid committing a sin? The monk Gorenflot found a simple way out. He caught the tempting chicken and performed the ritual of christening it, bestowing on it the name of carp or of some other kind of fish. Fish is known to be a Lenten dish, not forbidden on fast days. So our monk ate his chicken on the pretext that it had been christened a fish.

You, Mr Bogdanov, acted in exactly the same way as this cunning monk. You feasted and continue to feast on the idealist philosophy of ‘empiriomonism’. But my ‘tactics’ made you feel that this was a theoretical sin in the eyes of orthodox Marxists. So, after thinking the matter over briefly, you performed the holy ritual of christening on your ‘empiriomonism’ and renamed it the philosophical teaching of Marx and Engels. Well, no orthodox Marxists will ever forbid such spiritual nourishment. So you manage to have it both ways: you continue to enjoy ‘empiriomonism’ and at the same time you consider yourself a member of the family of orthodox Marxists. And not only do you consider yourself one of that family, but you are offended (or pretend to be) at those who do not wish to recognise you ‘as one of them’. Just like the monk Gorenflot. But the monk was crafty in small things, while you, Mr Bogdanov, display craft in big things. That’s why I say you are much smarter than the famous monk ever was.

But, alas, even the sharpest wit is helpless in the face of facts. The monk could christen his chicken by the name of fish, but it went on being a chicken. Similarly, Mr Bogdanov, you may call your idealism Marxism, but this will not make you a dialectical materialist. And the more zealously you apply your new ‘tactics’, the more noticeable it will be that your philosophical views are wholly incompatible with the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels; moreover – and this is even worse – it will become the more obvious that you are simply unable to understand what is the chief distinguishing feature of this materialism.

In the interests of impartiality, however, it should be said that materialism in general remains a closed book for you. Herein lies the explanation of the innumerable blunders in your criticism of my theory of cognition.

Here is one of these blunders. Whereas in 1905 you described me as a follower of Engels, now you certify that I am a disciple of Holbach. On what grounds? Only on the grounds that your new ‘tactics’ direct you not to recognise me as a Marxist. You have no other reason. And just because you have no other reason for calling me a disciple of Holbach, apart from your need to employ the ‘tactical’ wisdom of the monk Gorenflot, you immediately reveal your weak side, your complete impotence in questions of materialist theory. Indeed, if you had even a nodding acquaintance with the history of materialism, you would realise that there are no grounds for describing me as a Holbachian – holbachien, as Rousseau once expressed it. Since you describe me as a Holbachian in connection with the theory of cognition I defend, I don’t think it would be useless for me to inform you that this theory has a much greater resemblance to Priestley’s [16] teaching than to Holbach’s. In other respects, the philosophical outlook I uphold is further removed from Holbach’s teaching than, for example, from that of Helvétius, [17] or even from that of La Mettrie, as anyone acquainted with the works of the last-named will easily appreciate. But the trouble is that you know nothing about the works either of La Mettrie, or Helvétius, or Priestley, or, for that matter, Holbach himself, among whose disciples you have enrolled me, after expelling me from the school of Marx and Engels – probably because of my poor progress in understanding dialectical materialism. Yes, that is just the trouble: you know nothing at all of materialism, either its history or as it is today. And this is not only your trouble, Mr Bogdanov; it is the old trouble of all opponents of materialism. It is an old story that even those who knew absolutely nothing about materialism claimed the right to speak against it. It is self-evident that this worthy habit could be so firmly established solely because it was fully in keeping with the prejudices of the ruling classes. But we shall speak of this later.

You send me to school to the author of Système de la nature, on the ground that, to quote your own words, I expound materialism in the name of Marx with the aid of quotations from Holbach. [18] But, firstly, Holbach is not the only author I quote in my philosophical articles. And secondly – and this is the main point – you do not understand at all why I had to quote so often from Holbach and other representatives of the eighteenth-century materialism. I did this by no means with the aim of setting forth Marx’s views, as you would have everyone believe, but with the aim of defending materialism from those absurd reproaches which were advanced against it by its opponents in general, and the neo-Kantians in particular.

For example, when Lange says in his notorious but essentially quite superficial History of Materialism that ‘materialism obstinately takes the world of sensuous appearance for the world of real things’, I consider it my duty to show that Lange is distorting historical truth. And since he states this opinion precisely in the chapter on Holbach, in order to expose him I had to quote Holbach, that is to say, the very author whose views Lange distorts. For approximately the same reason, I had to cite the author of Système de la nature in my controversy with Messrs Bernstein and C Schmidt. These gentlemen, too, talked a lot of nonsense about materialism, and I had to demonstrate to them just how badly they comprehended the subject they had undertaken to pass judgement on. Besides, in my arguments with them I had perforce to cite not only Holbach, but also La Mettrie, Helvétius and especially Diderot. True, all these writers are representatives of the eighteenth-century materialism, and so anyone unfamiliar with the subject might, perhaps, ask himself: why is Plekhanov quoting particularly the eighteenth-century materialists? I have a very simple reply to this: I do so because the opponents of materialism, for example that same Lange, considered the eighteenth century to be the epoch of the greatest flowering of that teaching. Lange directly refers to the eighteenth-century materialism as classical materialism.

As you see, Mr Bogdanov, the nut is quite easy to crack. But, being well versed in the sly ‘tactics’ of the monk Gorenflot, you want not to crack the nut, but to keep it whole, since it is not in your interests to crack it. But do you know what? When one is endeavouring to becloud simple explanations, it is difficult to get along without sophisms, and the sophist requires at least some skill in dealing with ideas, as Hegel described it. As far as you are concerned, however much you imitate the crafty Gorenflot, you are very far from possessing such skill. That is why your sophisms are exceedingly awkward and clumsy. This is very inconvenient for you. So, every time you are in need of sophisms, I would advise you to turn to Mr Lunacharsky, since his sophisms come far more easily and elegantly. This makes things all the more convenient for criticism. I don’t know how it is with everybody else, but I find it much more pleasant to expose the elegant sophistry of Mr Lunacharsky than to deal with your clumsy sophistical efforts, Mr Bogdanov.

I cannot say if you will accept my well-intended advice, although as you see, it is not proffered quite disinterestedly; but for the time being it is with your clumsy sophistical concoctions that I have to deal. So, once more rallying my powers of resistance to boredom, I shall continue to expose them.

By listing me among Holbach’s disciples, you wanted to discredit me in the eyes of your readers. In your preface to the Russian translation of Mach’s Analysis of Sensations, you say that, as a counterweight to Mach’s philosophy, my comrades and I advance ‘the philosophy of eighteenth-century natural science as formulated by Baron Holbach, a purely bourgeois ideologist, very far removed also from the moderate socialist sympathies of Ernst Mach’. Here we find revealed, in all its ugly nakedness, your incredible ignorance of the subject and your extraordinarily comic awkwardness in ‘dealing with ideas’.

Baron Holbach is indeed very far removed from the moderate socialist sympathies of Mach. And why shouldn’t he be? He is removed from them by approximately one hundred and fifty years! In truth, one would really have to be a worthy descendant of Tredyakovsky to put the blame for this on Holbach or any of his eighteenth-century fellow thinkers. Surely it was not of his own will that Holbach lagged behind Mach in point of time. If we are to argue in this fashion we might as well blame Cleisthenes, for example, for being ‘far removed’ even from the opportunist socialism of Mr Bernstein. To every vegetable its own time, Mr Bogdanov! But in class society, at any given time there are not a few varieties of philosophical vegetables on God’s earth, and men select one or other of them according to taste. Fichte was right when he said that to know a man is to know his philosophy. It seems to me therefore that Mr Bogdanov’s undoubted and even immoderate sympathy for the ‘moderate socialist sympathies of Ernst Mach’ is very strange.

Hitherto I had supposed that Mr Bogdanov was not only incapable of sympathising with any kind of ‘moderate socialist sympathies’, but that, as a man of an ‘extreme’ mode of thought, he would be inclined to brand them as opportunism unworthy of our times. Now I see that I was mistaken. And on reflection, I now understand why exactly I was mistaken. For a moment I had forgotten that Mr Bogdanov is one of the ‘critics’ of Marx. Not for nothing is it said: bind the cock’s claws and lose the fight. Mr Bogdanov began by repulsing dialectical materialism and ended with obvious and even immoderate sympathy for the ‘moderate socialist sympathies’ of Mach. That is quite natural. ‘Wer a sagt, muss auch b sagen.’ [19]

That Holbach was a baron is an incontestable historical truth; but why did you, Mr Bogdanov, remind your readers of the baronial status of Holbach? We must suppose that you did this, not out of love for titles, but simply because you wanted to taunt us, the defenders of dialectical materialism, with being the alleged disciples of a baron. Well, you are entitled to do so. But in trying to taunt us, don’t forget, most honoured Sir, that you cannot get two skins from one bull. It is you yourself who says that Baron Holbach was the purest ideologist of the bourgeoisie. It is clear, therefore, that his baronial title has no significance at all in determining the sociological equivalent of his philosophy. The whole question is: what role did this philosophy play in its time? That in its time it played a supremely revolutionary role you may learn from many commonly available sources, including, by the way, Engels, who, in characterising the French philosophical revolution of the eighteenth century, said:

The French were in open combat against all official science, against the church and often also against the state; their writings were printed across the frontier, in Holland or England, while they themselves were often in jeopardy of imprisonment in the Bastille. [20]

You may believe me, dear Sir, when I tell you that among such revolutionary writers was Holbach, as well as other materialists of that period. Moreover, the following must be noted.

Holbach, and in general the French materialists of that time, were the ideologists not so much of the bourgeoisie as of the third estate, in that historical period when this estate was thoroughly imbued with revolutionary spirit. The materialists made up the left wing of the ideological army of the third estate. And when the third estate in turn split up, when on the one hand the bourgeoisie and on the other the proletariat emerged from it, the proletarian ideologists based themselves on the teaching of the materialists precisely because it was the extreme revolutionary philosophical doctrine of its time. Materialism became the basis of socialism and communism. Marx pointed this out in his book Die heilige Familie. He wrote therein:

There is no need for any great penetration to see from the teaching of materialism on the original goodness and equal intellectual endowment of men, the omnipotence of experience, habit and education, and the influence of environment on man, the great significance of industry, the justification of enjoyment, etc, how necessarily materialism is connected with communism and socialism. [21]

Marx then goes on to remark that:

... the apologia of vices by Mandeville, one of Locke’s early English followers, is typical of the socialist tendencies of materialism. He proves that in modern society vice is indispensable and useful. This was by no means an apologia for modern society. [22]

Marx is right. One does not have to be exceptionally intelligent to understand the necessary connection between materialism and socialism. However, it does demand some intelligence. That is why those ‘critics’ who completely lack intelligence do not see the connection pointed out by Marx and think they can support, and even find new principles as a ‘basis’ for socialism, while opposing materialism. Moreover, those supporters of socialism who possess no intelligence whatever are ready to embrace any philosophy, except materialist philosophy. This explains why, when they begin to pass judgement on materialism, they utter the most inexcusable nonsense about it.

You too, dear Sir, did not notice the necessary connection between materialism and socialism. Why? I shall leave this for the reader to answer, and will confine myself to reminding you of how you even reproach us Marxists with spreading the ideas of French materialism – an action, which, according to you, does not conform to the tasks of modern socialist propaganda. Here, too, in your usual fashion, you are completely at variance with the founders of scientific socialism.

In the article ‘Programm der blankistischen Kommune-Flüchtlinge’, published originally in no 73 of the paper Volksstaat for 1874 and reproduced later in the collection Internationales aus demVolksstaat’, Engels notes with satisfaction that the German Social-Democratic workers sind mit Gott einfach fertig (are simply through with God) and that they live and think as materialists, [23] and remarks on page 44 of the above-mentioned collection that in all probability this holds true also for France:

If not [he stipulates], there could be nothing simpler than to organise the mass distribution among workers of the splendid French materialistic literature of the last century [that is, the eighteenth century, Mr Bogdanov – GP], of the literature in which the French spirit has attained its sublime expression both as regards form and content, and which, considering the then existing level of science, even today stands exceedingly high as regards content [dem Inhalt nach auch heute noch unendlich hoch steht], and still unexcelled as regards form. [24]

As you see, Mr Bogdanov, Engels was not afraid to spread among the proletariat that ‘philosophy of natural science’ which you are pleased to call the philosophy of the ‘purest ideologists of the bourgeoisie’; on the contrary, he directly recommended wide dissemination of its ideas among the French workers who had not yet become materialists. We, the Russian followers of Marx and Engels, consider it worthwhile to propagate these ideas, among others, in the ranks of the Russian proletarians, whose class-conscious representatives, unfortunately, have not all by any means accepted the materialist point of view. Considering this task useful, about two years ago I planned the publication in Russian of a library of materialistic literature in which first place would have been given to translations of works of the eighteenth-century French materialists – works that are in fact incomparable in form and even now extremely instructive in content. However, nothing ever came of this. In Russia it is very much easier to find a market for the works of those numerous schools of contemporary philosophy which Engels designated by the general contemptuous title of ‘the pauper’s broth of eclecticism’ [25] than for literature in any way devoted to materialism. A clear example of this is the very poor sales of Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach, which I translated into Russian and which is a splendid book in every way. Our reading public nowadays is indifferent to materialism. But don’t rejoice too soon, Mr Bogdanov. The indifference of our reading public to materialism is a bad sign, since it means they are continuing to wear their long conservative pigtails even in such periods when they themselves are full of what would seem to be the most fearless and ‘advanced’ theoretical ‘searchings’. It is the historical misfortune of poor Russian thinking that, even in the moments of its greatest revolutionary upsurge, it very seldom manages to shake off the influence of Western bourgeois thinking, which can be nothing but conservative in view of the social relationships now prevailing in the West.

The well-known renegade from the eighteenth-century French liberation movement, La Harpe, said in his book Réfutation du livre ‘De lEsprit’, that when he first advanced his refutation of Helvétius, his criticism found scarcely any response among Frenchmen. Subsequently, he said, they began to take a totally different attitude to it. La Harpe himself accounts for this by the fact that his first effort was made in the pre-revolutionary epoch, when the French public did not have as yet the opportunity to see in practice the dangerous consequences arising from the dissemination of materialist views. In this case, the renegade was right. The history of French philosophy after the Great Revolution could not show more clearly that its characteristic anti-materialist trends were rooted in the instincts of self-preservation of the bourgeoisie, who had somehow coped with the old regime and therefore abandoned their former revolutionary infatuation and turned conservative. And this to a greater or lesser degree is applicable to other countries besides France. One would have to be very naive indeed not to see how much cowardly hypocrisy there is in the supposedly supercilious contempt with which contemporary bourgeois ideologists everywhere regard materialism. The bourgeoisie fear materialism as a revolutionary doctrine, well adapted to tear from the eyes of the proletariat the theological blinkers by means of which they wish to benight it and impede its spiritual growth. Engels himself, better than anyone else, demonstrated the truth of this in the article ‘Über historischen Materialismus’, published in nos 1 and 2 of Neue Zeit, 1892-93, which had appeared originally in the form of an introduction to the English edition of the famous pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. Engels, addressing the British reader, furnishes a materialist explanation of the fact that the British bourgeois ideologists do not like materialism.

Engels points out that materialism, which was an aristocratic doctrine first in England and then in France, soon became a revolutionary doctrine in the latter country, ‘so much so that, when the Great Revolution broke out, the doctrine hatched by English Royalists gave a theoretical flag to French Republicans and Terrorists, and furnished the text for the Declaration of the Rights of Man’. This alone would have been enough to intimidate the ‘respectable’ philistines of foggy Albion.

Thus, if materialism became the creed of the French Revolution [continues Engels], the God-fearing English bourgeois held all the faster to his religion. Had not the reign of terror in Paris proved what was the upshot, if the religious instincts of the masses were lost? The more materialism spread from France to neighbouring countries, and was reinforced by similar doctrinal currents, notably by German philosophy, the more, in fact, materialism and free thought generally became on the Continent the necessary qualifications of a cultivated man, the more stubbornly the English middle class stuck to its manifold religious creeds. These creeds might differ from one another, but they were, all of them, distinctly religious, Christian creeds. [26]

The subsequent internal history of Europe with its struggle of classes and proletarian armed uprisings convinced the British bourgeoisie more than ever of the need to preserve religion as a curb on the people. Now this conviction began to be shared by all the Continental bourgeoisie.

The puer robustus, here [said Engels], turned from day to day more malitiosus. [27] Nothing remained to the French and German bourgeoisie as a last resource but silently to drop their free thought..., one by one, the scoffers turned pious... spoke with respect of the Church, its dogmas and rites, and even conformed with the latter as far as could not be helped. French bourgeois dined maigre on Fridays, and German ones sat out long Protestant sermons in their pews on Sundays. They had come to grief with materialism. ‘Die Religion muss dem Volk erhalten werden’ – religion must be kept alive for the people – that was the only and the last means to save society from utter ruin. [28]

Then began – for my own part I shall add – together with the ‘return to Kant’, that reaction against materialism which still characterises the trend of European thought generally and philosophy in particular. The repentant bourgeois, more or less hypocritically, points to this reaction as the best proof of the success of philosophical ‘criticism’. But we Marxists, who know that the course of development of thought is determined by the course of development of life, are not easily dislodged by such more or less hypocritical assertions. We are capable of defining the sociological equivalent of this reaction; we know that it was caused by the appearance of the revolutionary proletariat on the scene of world history. Since we have no reason to fear the revolutionary proletariat, since, on the contrary, we consider it an honour to be its ideologists, we do not renounce materialism. Indeed, we defend it against the cowardly and biased ‘criticism’ of the bourgeois wiseacres.

There is yet another reason why the bourgeoisie turned away from materialism, one which, incidentally, also has its roots in the psychology of the bourgeoisie as the ruling class in modern capitalist society. Every class which has attained power is naturally disposed to complacency. And the bourgeoisie, ruling in a society based upon bitter mutual competition among the commodity producers, is naturally inclined to a complacency in which there is no trace of altruism. The precious ‘ego’ of every worthy representative of the bourgeoisie completely occupies his every aspiration and design. In Act II, Scene I of Sudermann’s Das Blumenboot, Baroness Erfflingen impresses on her youngest daughter: ‘People of our rank exist in order to make all things in the world into a sort of merry panorama that passes or, rather, seems to pass before us.’ In other words, people such as the dazzling Baroness who, by the way, came of a most bourgeois family, must train themselves to regard everything which happens in the world exclusively from the viewpoint of their own more or less agreeable personal experiences. [29] Moral solipsism – these are the two words which best of all describe the sentiments of the most typical representatives of the present-day bourgeoisie. It is not surprising that from such sentiments spring systems which recognise nothing except subjective ‘experiences’, and which would inevitably come to theoretical solipsism if they were not saved from this by their founders’ lack of logic.

In my next letter, I shall show you, dear Sir, by what monstrous feats of illogicality your dear Mach and Avenarius save themselves from solipsism. There, too, I shall demonstrate that for you yourself, who find it useful to keep aloof from them in some matters, there is also no safeguard from solipsism, other than lapsing into the most howling absurdities. But for the moment I must finish dealing with my attitude to eighteenth-century French materialism.

No less than Engels, I am enthralled with this teaching, which is so rich and varied in content and brilliant in form, [30] but also like Engels I understand that natural science has advanced considerably since the time when this doctrine flourished, and that now we can no longer share the views of that time – say, Holbach’s – on physics, chemistry or biology. I not only subscribe to the critical remarks made by Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach in regard to French materialism, but also, as you are aware, I have for my part augmented and reinforced these critical remarks by references to the sources. Knowing this, the unbiased reader will only laugh to hear you say that, in defending materialism, I am defending the eighteenth-century philosophy of natural science as distinct from the same philosophy of the twentieth century (your preface to the Russian translation of Analysis of Sensations). He will laugh even more heartily when he recollects that Haeckel is also a materialist. Or perhaps you will tell us that Haeckel, too, does not rank with the natural scientists of our time? It is obvious that, in this regard, the only light of your eyes is Mach with, of course, those who think like him.

It is true that among the twentieth-century naturalists you will not find many who, like Haeckel, hold the materialist point of view. This, however, is not an argument against Haeckel, but rather in his favour, since it demonstrates that he has been able to withstand the influence of anti-materialist reaction, the sociological equivalent of which I defined above with the help of Engels. Natural science has nothing to do here, dear Sir, it is not the gist of the matter. [31]

No matter how things stand with natural science, it is as clear as daylight that you, as a defender of Machist philosophy, must definitely not claim to be a follower of Marx and Engels. Indeed, Mach himself, in the preface to the Russian translation of his Analysis of Sensations, and on page 292 of the Russian text, admits that his philosophy is akin to Hume’s. And do you remember what Engels says about Hume?

He says that if the German neo-Kantians are attempting to resurrect Kant’s views, and the English agnostics those of Hume, ‘this is... scientifically a regression’. [32] This, it would seem, is quite unambiguous, and can hardly please you who would have us believe that one can and must advance under the banner of Hume and Mach.

Generally speaking, Mr Bogdanov, it was not a happy day for you when you took it into your head to expel me from the school of Marx and Engels and enrol me among Holbach’s pupils. In doing so, you not only sinned against truth, but revealed an astonishing lack of skill in controversy.

Now admire your own handiwork. You are pleased to write: ‘The basis and essence of materialism, according to Comrade Beltov, is the notion of the primacy of “nature” over “spirit.” This definition is very wide and, in this case, has its disadvantages.’ [33]

We shall let the disadvantages alone, meantime, and recall that you wrote these lines directly after you had stated that I was expounding materialism ‘in the name of Marx and with the aid of quotations from Holbach’. Consequently, one might think that my definition of the ‘basis and essence’ of materialism was borrowed from Holbach and contradicted what in fact I would have the right to expound in the name of Marx. But how did the founders of scientific socialism define materialism?

Engels writes that on the question of the relation of being to thinking, the philosophers split into two great camps:

Those who asserted the primacy of spirit to nature and, therefore, in the last instance, assumed world creation in some form or other... comprised the camp of idealism. The others, who regarded nature as primary, belong to the various schools of materialism. [34]

Isn’t this exactly what I said about the ‘basis and essence of materialism’? So, at least in this case, I had every right to expound materialism in the name of Marx and Engels, without requiring any assistance from Holbach.

Did you not think, dear Sir, what situation you put yourself in by attacking the definition of materialism which I accepted? You wished to attack me, but, as it turned out, you attacked Marx and Engels. You wished to expel me from the school of these thinkers, but, as it happened, you have come out as a ‘critic’ of Marx. This, of course, is not a crime, but it is a fact, and in the present instance, a very instructive one. This again is evidence of your lack of courage. You want to criticise Engels, but are afraid to oppose him openly, so you attribute his ideas to Holbach and Plekhanov. Nothing could be more characteristic of you. For me, it is not at all a question of persecuting you, but rather of defining you, that is to say, of explaining to my readers to which particular category of wiseacres you belong.

I trust that this has now become sufficiently clear to them. However, I must warn them: so far we have seen in you only the blossoms; we shall eat the berries in the next letter, in which we shall take a walk in the orchard of your criticism of my theory of cognition. There we shall find many juicy and tasty berries!

But now I must finish. Till we meet again, dear Sir, and may the pleasant god of Mr Lunacharsky protect you!

GV Plekhanov

Second Letter

‘Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin!’

Dear Sir

This letter of mine to you falls naturally into two parts. Firstly, I consider myself obliged to reply to the ‘critical’ objections raised by you against ‘my’ materialism. Secondly, I wish to utilise my right to go over to the offensive and examine the basis of that ‘philosophy’ in whose name you attack me, and with the aid of which you would like to ‘supplement’ Marx, – that is to say, the philosophy of Mach. I know that the first part will be pretty much of a bore to many readers. However, I am compelled to follow you, and if there is little that is amusing in our joint walk through your ‘critical’ orchard, the blame is not mine, but his who planned and planted the orchard.


You criticise ‘my’ definition of matter which you take out of the following passage from my book A Critique of Our Critics.

In contrast to ‘spirit’, we call ‘matter’ that which acts on our sense-organs and arouses in us various sensations. What is it exactly that acts on our sense-organs? To this question I answer with Kant: things-in-themselves. Thus, matter is nothing else than the totality of things-in-themselves, in so far as these things constitute the source of our sensations.

This passage seems to have provoked your mirth.

Thus [you write smilingly], ‘matter’ (or ‘nature’ in its antithesis to ‘spirit’) is defined through ‘things-in-themselves’ and through their capacity to ‘arouse sensations by acting on our sense-organs’. But what are these ‘things-in-themselves’? ‘That which acts on our sense-organs and arouses in us various sensations.’ That is all. You will find that Comrade Beltov has no other definition, if you leave out of account the probably implied negative characteristics: non-’sensation’, non-’phenomenon’, non-’experience’. [35]

Wait, dear Sir, don’t forget that rira bien, qui rira le dernier. [36]

I don’t define matter ‘through’ things-in-themselves at all. I assert only that all things-in-themselves are material. By the materiality of things, I understand – and here you are right – their ability one way or another, directly or indirectly, to act on our senses and thus arouse in us sensations of one kind or another. In my dispute with the Kantians, I thought I was entitled to confine myself to indicating simply that things had this ability. I did so because this ability was not only not questioned but was explicitly acknowledged by Kant on the very first page of his Critique of Pure Reason. But Kant was inconsistent. On the first page of the above-mentioned work he acknowledged things-in-themselves to be the source of our sensations, but at the same time he was by no means averse to recognising these things as something immaterial, that is to say, inaccessible to our senses. This inclination of his, which led him to contradict himself, is especially clearly revealed in his Critique of Practical Reason. In view of this inclination of his it was quite natural for me to insist, in arguing with Kant’s followers, that things-in-themselves are, on his own admission, the source of our sensations, that is, they possess all the signs of being material. While insisting on this, I exposed Kant’s inconsistency, indicating to his followers the logical necessity for them to declare for one or the other of the two irreconcilable elements of this contradiction, a way out of which their mentor, Kant, could not find. I said that they could not be content with Kant’s dualism; they had to accept either subjective idealism or materialism. [37] Once our dispute took this turn, I found it worth while to note the main feature distinguishing subjective idealism from materialism, namely, that subjective idealism negates the material nature of things, whereas this is recognised by materialism. This may be known even to you, Mr Bogdanov, who knows absolutely nothing of the history of philosophy. [38]

That is how matters stood. But you, not in the least grasping what was involved (and evidently not able to grasp it) at once seized on words the meaning of which remained quite ‘unknowable’ to you, and pounced on me with your cheap irony. Haste makes waste, Mr Bogdanov.

To proceed. In this dispute with you I shall have to refer, even more often than in arguing with the Kantians, to the main feature distinguishing materialism from subjective idealism. I shall therefore try to explain this feature for you, with the help of, I hope, some fairly convincing extracts.

In his work Of the Principles of Human Knowledge, the celebrated subjective idealist (and Anglican bishop) George Berkeley writes:

It is indeed an opinion strangely prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects, have an existence, natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding. [39]

But this opinion may involve a manifest contradiction. ‘For, what are the forementioned objects but the things we perceive by sense? And what do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations?’ [40]

Berkeley continues: colour, figure, motion, extension are quite known to us as our sensations. But we would entangle ourselves in contradictions if we considered them as signs or images of things existing outside thinking. [41]

In contrast to the subjective idealists, Feuerbach, the materialist, says: to prove that something is, means to prove that something exists not only in thought (nicht nur gedachtes ist). [42]

Engels states exactly the same thing in his controversy with Dühring, when opposing his view to the idealist view of the world as an idea, he declares that the real unity of the world consists in its materiality (besteht in ihrer Materialität). [43]

After this, is it necessary to explain further what exactly we materialists understand by the materiality of objects? To be on the safe side, I shall explain it.

We call material objects (bodies) those objects that exist independently of our consciousness and, acting on our senses, arouse in us certain sensations which in turn underlie our notions of the external world, that is, of those same material objects as well as of their relationships.

That, I think, is enough. I shall only add this: Mach, whose ‘philosophy’ you, dear Sir, believe to be the ‘philosophy’ of the twentieth-century natural science, adheres firmly on this question to the point of view of the eighteenth-century idealist Berkeley. He even uses almost the same expressions as the worthy bishop. He says:

It is not bodies that produce sensations, but complexes of elements (complexes of sensations) that form bodies. If bodies seem to a physicist to be something lasting and real, and elements their fleeting, transient reflection, he does not notice that all ‘bodies’ are only the logical symbols for complexes of elements (complexes of sensations). [44]

You are well aware, of course, Mr Bogdanov, what precisely your teacher says on this subject. But it is obvious that you do not know at all what Berkeley said about it. You are like Molière’s Jourdain, who for a very long time did not realise that he was speaking in prose. You have mastered Mach’s view on matter, but in your simplicity you had no idea that this was a purely idealistic view. That is the reason for your astonishment at my definition of matter; the reason for your failure to guess why it was necessary for me to insist, when arguing with the neo-Kantians, on the materiality of things-in-themselves. Ridiculous Monsieur Jourdain! Poor Mr Bogdanov!

If you had known at least a little of the history of philosophy, you would have been well aware that the definition of matter which has caused you so much hilarity is not my private property, but the common property of very many thinkers of the materialist, and even of the idealist camp. It was held, for example, in the eighteenth century by the materialists Holbach and Joseph Priestley. [45] And only the other day, we could say, the idealist (only not subjective idealist) E Naville, in a paper he read in the French Academy, answered the question: ‘What is matter?’, saying: ‘C’est ce qui se révelé à nos sens’ [’that which is revealed to our senses’]. [46] You can see from this, dear Sir, how widespread is ‘my’ definition of matter. [47] However, do not imagine that by referring to this I am trying to divert your ‘critical’ blows from myself to others. Nothing of the kind. I can manage to ward them off myself, and for that I need no great audacity or agility, since your blows are indeed very weak and clumsy, and, therefore, not to be feared in the least.

If I define matter as the source of our sensations, you believe, quite unjustifiably, that I am ‘probably’ characterising matter in ‘a negative way’, that is to say, as non-experience. It is even strange to me how you could be so grossly mistaken; indeed, many pages of the same book from which you quote, A Critique of Our Critics, should have made clear to you my conception of experience. Moreover, my conception of experience could have clarified for you the notes to Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach, which you also quote. In one of those notes I say, in polemicising with the neo-Kantians:

Every experiment and every productive activity of man represents an active relation on his part to the external world, a deliberate calling forth of definite phenomena. And as a phenomenon is the fruit of the action of a thing in itself upon me (Kant says the affecting of me by that thing), in carrying out an experiment or engaging in production of this or that product, I force the thing in itself to ‘affect’ my ‘ego’ in a definite manner determined beforehand by me. Consequently, I know at least some of its properties, namely those through whose intermediary I force it to act. [48]

The direct meaning of this is that experience presupposes interaction between the subject and the object outside it. It is clear from this that I would have got involved in an unpardonable contradiction with myself had I tried negatively to define the object by the words ‘non-experience’. Good gracious, it is precisely ‘experience’. More correctly: one of the two essential conditions of experience.

On the following page of your book (xiv), Mr Bogdanov, you formulate somewhat differently the strange idea which you attributed to me. There you would have me say that ‘things-in-themselves’, in the first place, do exist, and, moreover, outside our experience; secondly, they are subject to the law of causality. This again is most strange.

If things-in-themselves are ‘subject to the law of causality’, it is plain that they do not exist outside experience. How did you fail to see that when you attributed to me two propositions sharply contradicting each other? And if you really thought I was contradicting myself here, you should have immediately drawn your readers’ attention to my unforgivable lack of logic, since that disclosure alone would have sufficed to nullify ‘my’ whole theory of knowledge. You are a bad polemicist, Mr Bogdanov! Or, perhaps, you refrained from disclosing my contradiction only out of a vague realisation that it existed only in your imagination! If so, you should have pondered this ‘experience’ of yours in order to make it clear instead of vague. By doing so and coming to the conviction that my contradiction was but the fruit of your own imagination, you would not have put it down to me, and at the same time would have saved yourself from making a most ridiculous blunder. So here again it must be said: you are a bad and clumsy polemicist, Mr Bogdanov.

Let’s go on further, and first of all note that the expression ‘things-in-themselves exist outside our experience’ is not a very happy one. It could mean that things in general are inaccessible to our experience. This is how Kant understood it, and, as I remarked earlier, contradicted himself as a result. [49] Nearly all the neo-Kantians understand it in this way, too, and, in this case, Mach is in agreement with them. To him, the words ‘thing-in-itself’ are always linked with the notion of some kind of x which lies outside the bounds of our experience. By virtue of such a notion of what is called the thing-in-itself, Mach was quite logical in declaring the thing-in-itself to be an absolutely unnecessary metaphysical appendage to the conceptions we derive from experience. You, Mr Bogdanov, are looking at this question through the eyes of your teacher and you evidently cannot even for a moment admit that there may be people who employ the term ‘thing-in-itself’ in a quite different sense from the Kantians and Machists. This is the reason why you are completely unable to understand me, who is neither a neo-Kantian nor a Machist.

Yet the question is fairly simple. Even if I had decided to use the unfortunate expression ‘things-in-themselves exist outside of experience’, it would by no means have meant that things-in-themselves are inaccessible to our experience but only that they exist even when our experience does not extend to them, for one reason or another.

In saying ‘our experience’, I have in mind human experience. But we are aware that at one time there were no people on our planet. And if there were no people, neither was there their experience. Yet the earth was there. And this means that it (also a thing-in-itself!) existed outside human experience. Why did it exist outside experience? Was it because it could not in general be the object of experience? No, it existed outside experience only because the organisms, which by their structure are capable of having experience, had not yet appeared. [50] In other words, ‘existed outside experience’ means ‘existed prior to experience’. That and nothing more. So that when experience began, it (the earth) existed, not only outside experience, but also in experience, constituting an essential condition of experience. All this may be expressed briefly in these words: experience is the result of the interaction of subject and object; but the object does not cease to exist even when there is no interaction between it and the subject, that is to say, when there is no experience. The well-known proposition ‘there is no object without subject’ is basically incorrect. [51] The object does not cease to exist even when there is as yet no subject, or when its existence has already ceased. And anybody to whom the conclusions of modern natural science are not an empty phrase must necessarily agree with this. We have seen that in accordance with the contemporary theory of evolution, the subject appears only after the object has reached a certain stage of development.

Those who contend that there can be no object without a subject are simply confusing two quite distinct concepts: the existence of the object ‘in itself’, and its existence in the conception of the subject. We have no right to identify these two forms of existence. Thus, for example, you, Mr Bogdanov, exist first ‘in yourself’, and, secondly, in the conception, say, of Mr Lunacharsky, who takes you for a most profound thinker. The confusing of the object ‘in itself’ with the object as it exists for the subject is the very source of the confusion by means of which the idealists of all colours and shades ‘overthrow’ materialism.

The objections you, dear Sir, raise against me are based on the same confusion. In point of fact, you are dissatisfied with ‘my’ definition of matter as the source of sensations. Let us then examine more closely what precisely causes your dissatisfaction.

You liken ‘my’ definition of matter to the proposition which runs ‘a soporific power is what induces sleep’ (p xiii). You borrowed this expression from one of Molière’s characters, but, as usual, you have reproduced it badly. Molière’s character says ‘opium induces sleep because it has soporific power’. The funny thing here is that a person accepts as explanation of a fact that which in reality is only another way of stating the fact. If Molière’s character had been content simply to state the fact, to say: ‘opium induces sleep’, there would have been absolutely nothing to laugh at. Now recollect what I say: ‘Matter arouses in us certain sensations.’ Does this resemble the explanation given by Molière’s character? Not in the least. I am not explaining, but simply stating what I believe to be an incontestable fact. All other materialists act in exactly the same way. Those who know the history of materialism are aware that none of the representatives of this teaching ever asked themselves why the objects of the external world have the capacity to arouse sensations in us. True, some English materialists sometimes maintained that this took place by divine will. However, when they voiced this pious thought, they were abandoning the viewpoint of materialism. Once again it turns out, dear Sir, that you laughed at me for no good reason. And when a man laughs at another for no good reason, he simply makes himself look ridiculous.

Rira bien, qui rira le dernier.

You think that the definition ‘Matter is what serves as the source of our sensations’ is an utterly empty phrase. The sole reason why you think so is that you are chock-full of prejudices founded upon the idealist theory of knowledge.

In pestering me with the question, what is it precisely that arouses sensations in us, you really want me to tell you what exactly we know about matter apart from its action on us. And when I reply: apart from its action on us, it is completely unknown to us, you exclaim triumphantly: ‘That means we know nothing about it!’ Now what grounds have you for triumph? The grounds of your idealist conviction that to know things only through the impressions they make upon us is not to know them at all. This conviction came to you from Mach, who borrowed it from Kant, who in turn had inherited it from Plato. [52] But no matter how respectable this conviction may be by its age, it is nevertheless quite incorrect.

There is not and cannot be any other knowledge of the object than that obtained by means of the impressions it makes on us. Therefore, if I recognise that matter is known to us only through the sensations which it arouses in us, this in no way implies that I regard matter as something ‘unknown’ and unknowable. On the contrary, it means, firstly, that matter is knowable and, secondly, that it has become known to man in the measure that he has succeeded in getting to know its properties through impressions received from it during the lengthy process of his zoological and historical existence.

If this is so, if we can know the object only through the impressions which it produces on us, then it must be clear to anyone capable of thought that if we disregard these impressions, we shall be quite unable to say anything about the object other than that it exists. [53] Therefore whoever demands that we define the object while disregarding these impressions, is demanding something absolutely absurd. In its logical sense, or, to be more precise, in its logical nonsense, this demand is tantamount to asking in what relationship the object stands to the subject at a time when there is no relationship at all between the two. And you, dear Sir, ask me precisely this absurd question, demanding that I should tell you what matter is when it does not arouse any sensations in us, that is to tell you the colour of a rose when no one looks at it, what it smells like when no one smells it, and so forth. The absurdity of your question is that the very manner of its presentation precludes all possibility of giving a reasonable reply to it. [54]

Following in the footsteps of Mach, who in this instance is the true pupil of Berkeley (there it is, the ‘natural science of the twentieth century’!), you, Mr Bogdanov, will say: if the object can be known to us only through the sensations, and, consequently, the notions, which it produces in us when the object is in some form of contact with us, there is no logical need for us to acknowledge that the object has existence independently of these sensations and notions. Earlier, in the same passage where you obtained ‘my’ definition of matter, [55] I replied to this objection, which seems to my now fairly numerous idealist adversaries to be irrefutable. But either you cannot or do not want to understand that reply, so I shall repeat it in the second part of this letter when examining Mach’s ‘philosophy’: since I am firmly resolved ‘to force understanding’, to use an expression of Fichte’s, if not on you – I have poor hopes of you – then at least on those of the readers who have no interest in defending idealist prejudices. However, before proceeding to repeat my reply, I shall analyse and assess, for what it is worth, the most important of the ‘critical arguments’ you advance in your polemic with me.

You ‘formulate carefully’ in my ‘original expressions’ the following idea: ‘To their [things-in-themselves – GP] forms and relationships there correspond forms and relationships of phenomena – as hieroglyphics correspond to the things which they designate.’ About this idea you enter upon the following lengthy discourse:

Here there is a talk of the ‘form’ and the ‘relationships’ of things-in-themselves. This means they are presumed to possess both one and the other. Splendid. And do they have ‘appearance’? A silly question, the reader will say. How can they have form without having any appearance? But these two words express one and the same thing. I think so too. But here is what we read in Comrade Plekhanov’s notes to the Russian translation of Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach: ‘But “appearance” is precisely the result of the action on us of things-in-themselves. Apart from this action they have no appearance. Therefore, to contrast their “appearance” as it exists in our consciousness to the “appearance” they allegedly have in reality, is to fail to realise what concept is connected with the word “appearance"... Thus, things-in-themselves can have no appearance of any kind. Their “appearance” exists only in the consciousness of those subjects on which they act...’ (p 112, 1906 edition, the year in which the collection referred to, A Critique of Our Critics, was published.)

Replace everywhere the word ‘appearance’ in the above quotation by the word ‘form’, its synonym, which in the present case fully conforms to it in meaning, and Comrade Plekhanov brilliantly refutes Comrade Beltov.

Isn’t that fine! Plekhanov brilliantly refutes Beltov, that is to say, himself! Very spitefully said! But hold on, dear Sir, rira bien, qui rira le dernier. Remember the circumstances in which I expressed the idea which you are criticising and what was its true ‘appearance’.

It was expressed in my controversy with Mr Conrad Schmidt, who attributed to materialism the doctrine of the identity of being and thinking, and said, addressing me, that if I was ‘serious’ in recognising the action of things-in-themselves upon me, I must also acknowledge that space and time exist objectively, and not just as forms of contemplation peculiar to the subject. I replied to this as follows:

That space and time are forms of consciousness, and that, therefore, subjectivity is their primary distinctive feature, [56] was already known to Thomas Hobbes, and would not be denied by any present-day materialist. The whole question is whether certain forms or relations of things correspond to these forms of consciousness. It goes without saying that materialists can give only an affirmative answer to this question, which, of course, does not mean that they recognise the false (or rather, absurd) identity, which the Kantians, including Herr Schmidt, would impose upon them with obliging naivety. [57] No, the forms and relations of things-in-themselves cannot be what they seem to us, that is, as they appear to us as ‘translated’ in our minds. Our representations of the forms and relations of things are no more than hieroglyphics; the latter designate exactly these forms and relations, and this is enough for us to be able to study how things-in-themselves affect us, and, in our turn, to exert an influence on them. [58]

What is this passage all about? About the same thing as I discussed with you above, Mr Bogdanov: that the object in itself is one thing, and the object in the conception of the subject is quite another thing. Now the question is: am I logically entitled to replace here the word ‘form’ by the word ‘appearance’, which, according to you, is its synonym? Let us try it and see what happens. ‘That space and time are appearances of consciousness, and that, therefore, subjectivity is their primary distinctive feature, was already known to Thomas Hobbes, and would not be denied by any materialist...’ Wait a moment, how can that be? What is this subjective ‘appearance’ of consciousness? I employ the word ‘appearance’ in the sense of that visual perception of an object which exists in the subject’s consciousness. The question is one of the ‘sensuous contemplation’ of the object, so that in the passage we are discussing the expression ‘appearance of consciousness’ must signify – if the word ‘appearance’ is, in fact, synonymous with the word ‘form’ – nothing else than the visual perception of the consciousness of consciousness. Leaving aside for the moment the question as to whether a visual perception of this kind is possible, I direct your enlightened attention, dear Sir, to the circumstance that here the visual perception of the consciousness of consciousness would prove to be space and time; but this is utter rubbish, stuff and nonsense. And this naturally was unknown to Thomas Hobbes, and of course not a single materialist would acknowledge it. What brought us to this nonsensical pass? An unfounded belief in your capacity to analyse philosophical concepts. We believed you when you said that the word ‘appearance’ is a synonym of the word ‘form’; we substituted ‘appearance’ for ‘form’ and got a mishmash that is even difficult to put into words. So ‘appearance’ is not synonymous with ‘form’? It is not; the concept ‘appearance’ does not by a long chalk cover the concept ‘form’. As Hegel in his Science of Logic demonstrated very well, the ‘form’ of the object is identical with its ‘appearance’ only in a certain and, moreover, superficial sense, in the sense of external form. A more profound analysis will lead us to conceive form as a ‘law’ of the object, or, more correctly, as its structure.

This important contribution of Hegel’s [59] to the logical doctrine of form was already known in Russia in the 1820s to people who dealt with philosophy. To convince you of this I invite you to read the following excerpt from a letter written by D Venevitinov to Countess ‘NN’ ‘You see now’, he wrote, after defining the concept of science, ‘that the word form expresses not the external appearance of science, but the general law which science must follow.’ [60] It is indeed a very great pity, Mr Bogdanov, that you are not aware of that which, thanks to Venevitinov, was known at least to some Russian ladies of society as long as eighty years ago!

Now, one more question: In what sense did I employ the expression ‘forms of consciousness’ when arguing with Conrad Schmidt? In the sense of the external appearance of consciousness, as Venevitinov would say? Of course, not. I used the word ‘form’ in the sense of the ‘law’ of consciousness, its ‘structure’. So that in no respect was the word ‘form’ for me a synonym for ‘appearance’; and one would have to understand absolutely nothing about philosophy to propose that substitution of one word for the other, which you proposed in order to hold me up to ridicule.

Rira bien, qui rira le dernier.

Sometimes people become involved in lengthy arguments simply because they are using words in different senses. Such arguments are boring and futile. But far more boring and far more futile are the arguments in which one contestant attaches a definite concept to particular words, while his adversary, using the same words, attaches no definite concept at all to them, and, consequently, is able to play with them as he thinks fit. To my regret, I am now compelled to conduct such an argument with you. When I used the word ‘form’, I knew what exactly should be understood by it, whereas you did not know, because of your astonishing ignorance of the history of philosophy; it did not even occur to you that it was something requiring study and thought. You permitted yourself to play with words, as only a person could do who did not even suspect how dissimilar were the two concepts connected with these words. The result was only what was to be expected. In exposing the utter emptiness of your ‘philology’, not only was I bored myself, but I was also compelled to bore my readers; and you, dear Sir, made yourself a laughing-stock just because your ‘philology’ was so totally lacking in content. What did you need to do that for?

Your ‘philology’, amazing in its emptiness, is also remarkable in another respect, which I leave to the reader to characterise, if he or she is not already too bored trying to follow my argument with you.

I have in mind those ‘hieroglyphics’ which are mentioned in the same part of my article quoted by you in which I deal also with the question of forms of consciousness.

This article (‘Materialism Yet Again’) dates to the beginning of 1899. I took the word ‘hieroglyphics’ from Sechenov, who, at the beginning of the nineties had already written in the article ‘Objective Thought and Reality’:

No matter what objects may be in themselves, independent of our consciousness – let our impressions of them be but conventional signs – in any case, the similarity and distinction of the signs we perceive correspond to the similarity and distinction of reality. In other words, the similarities and distinctions which man finds among the objects he perceives are real similarities and distinctions.

Take note, dear Sir, that the thought expressed by me in ‘Materialism Yet Again’, and which provided you with a pretext for a truly scandalous play on words, is completely identical with the idea expounded by Sechenov in the above passage. Nor did I in the least hide the similarity of my views to those of Sechenov; on the contrary, I stressed this in one of my notes to the first edition of my translation of Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach (issued in 1892). [61] Therefore, dear Sir, you had every opportunity to know that in matters of this kind I adhered to the point of view of contemporary materialist physiologists and not to that of eighteenth-century natural science. But that by the way. The main point here is: in the new edition of my translation of Ludwig Feuerbach published abroad in 1905 and in Russia in 1906, I declared that while I continued to share Sechenov’s view on this question, his terminology seemed somehow ambiguous to me.

When he admits [I said] that our impressions may be only conventional signs of things in themselves, he seems to acknowledge that things in themselves have some kind of ‘appearance’ that we do not know of and which is inaccessible to our consciousness. But ‘appearance’ is precisely only the result of the action upon us of the things in themselves; outside this action they have no ‘appearancewhatsoever. Hence, to oppose their ‘appearance’ as it exists in our consciousness to that ‘appearance’ of theirs which they supposedly have in reality means not to realise which concept is connected with the word ‘appearance’. Such an imprecision of expression underlies, as we said above, all the ‘gnosiologal’ scholasticism of Kantianism. I know that Mr Sechenov is not inclined to such scholasticism; I have already said that his theory of knowledge is perfectly correct, but we must not make to our opponents in philosophy concessions in terminology which prevent us from expressing our own thoughts with complete precision. [62]

Strictly speaking, this remark of mine could be reduced to this: if the thing-in-itself has colour only when it is being looked at, and smell only when it is being smelled, and so on, then in calling our conceptions of it conventional signs, we give grounds for thinking that, in our view, to its colour, smell, etc, as these exist in our sensations, correspond some kind of colour-in-itself, some kind of smell-in-itself, and so forth – to put it briefly, some kind of sensations-in-themselves that cannot become objects of our sensations. That would have been a distortion of Sechenov’s views which I share, and therefore in 1905 I said I was against the Sechenov terminology. [63] But since I myself had formerly used the same somewhat ambiguous terminology, I made haste to point this out:

Another reason why I make this reservation [I added] is because in the notes to the first edition of my translation of this pamphlet by Engels I also failed to express myself quite exactly and only subsequently felt all the awkwardness of that inexactness. [64]

After this reservation it would seem that any misunderstanding would be impossible. But for you, dear Sir, even the impossible is possible. You gave the ‘appearance’ of not noticing this reservation, and once again launched upon your wretched play on words, basing this on the identification of the terminology which I use now and that which I formerly used, and which I myself rejected as somewhat ambiguous. The ‘beauty’ of such ‘criticism’ is obvious to any unbiased person, and there is no need for me to characterise it. Many of my opponents in the idealist camp are now following your example, ‘criticising’ my philosophical views by cavilling at the weakness of the terminology which I myself declared to be unsatisfactory before they took up their ‘critical’ pens. It is very likely that it was from me that some of these gentlemen heard for the first time why in fact this terminology was unsatisfactory. [65] They should not therefore be surprised if I do not reply to their more or less voluminous works. By no means every ‘criticism’ is worthy of counter-criticism.

To get back to you, Mr Bogdanov. You point maliciously to the fact that the second edition of my translation of Ludwig Feuerbach was published in the same year (1906) as my collection A Critique of Our Critics. Why do you refer to this? This is why. You yourself were aware that it was ridiculous and absurd to seize on expressions which I myself had declared to be unsatisfactory before it had occurred to any of my adversaries to criticise them. So you decided to assure your readers that in 1906 I ‘brilliantly refuted’ myself by simultaneously employing two different terminologies. You did not think it necessary to ask yourself to which period of time the polemical article included in the collection printed in 1906 belonged. I have said already that it dated back to the beginning of 1899. I did not find it possible to correct the terminology of this polemical article for the reasons I already indicated in the preface to the second edition of my Monist View of History. There I wrote:

I have here corrected only slips and misprints which had crept into the first edition. I did not consider it right to make any changes in my arguments, for the simple reason that this is a polemical work. Making alterations in the substance of a polemical work is like appearing before your adversary with a new weapon while compelling him to fight with his old weapon. This is impermissible...

You have again got yourself into a stupid mess, Mr Bogdanov, but this time it was because you ignored the voice of your literary conscience, warning you that you were acting wrongly in cavilling at terms which I had already abandoned. The moral of this story is: the twinges of literary conscience represent ‘experience’ which it is sometimes very unwise to ignore. You should remember that, Mr Bogdanov.

Thus, we see that ‘Comrade Plekhanov’ does not at all refute ‘Comrade Beltov’. But you were not content to lay only one contradiction at my door. You had a broader plan. After ascribing to ‘Comrade Plekhanov’ contradictions with ‘Comrade Beltov’, you go on: ‘But a minute later Comrade Plekhanov cruelly avenges himself for Comrade Beltov.’ (p xv) What, spiteful again? Well, good luck to you! But... rira bien, qui rira le dernier.

You quote my notes to Ludwig Feuerbach. It says there, among other things, that the appearance of the object depends upon the organisation of the subject. ‘I do not know how a snail sees’, I say there, ‘but I am sure it does so differently from man.’ Then I set forth this consideration:

What is a snail for me? Part of the external world that is acting upon me in a way determined by my organisation. So if I assume that the snail in some way ‘sees’ the external world, I am forced to admit that the ‘appearance’ in which the external world presents itself to the snail is itself determined by the properties of this real, existing world.

To you as a Machist, this consideration seems to have no rational basis. When you quote it, you underline the word ‘properties’ and shout:

Properties! Why, the ‘properties’ of objects which include also their ‘form’ and their ‘appearance’ generally – these ‘properties’ are obviously ‘the result of the action on us of things-in-themselves; they have no “properties” apart from this action on us’! Surely the concept ‘properties’ has the same empirical origin as the concepts ‘appearance’ and ‘form’? It is their generic concept and comes from experience by the same way of abstraction. Whence come the ‘properties’ of things-in-themselves? Their properties exist only in the consciousness of those subjects on which they act. [66]

You know already, Mr Bogdanov, how careless you were in proclaiming ‘appearance’ to be a synonym of ‘form’. Now I have the honour to bring to your notice that you have acted just as carelessly in identifying the ‘appearance’ of the object with its ‘properties’, and in confronting me with the ironical question: whence come the ‘properties’ of the ‘things-in-themselves’? You think that this question will bowl me over, since it is to me you ascribed the idea that the ‘properties’ of things exist only in the consciousness of those subjects upon which they act. The fact is, however, that I have never voiced this idea, which is one worthy only of subjective idealists of the calibre of Berkeley, Mach and their followers. I said something quite different, as you yourself should know, by the way, having read, and even quoted, my notes to Ludwig Feuerbach.

When I said that a snail sees the external world differently from the way it is seen by man, I remarked:

From this, however, it does not follow that the properties of the external world have only subjective significance. By no means! If a man and a snail move from point A to point B, the straight line will be the shortest distance between those two points for both the man and the snail; if both these organisms went along a broken line they would have to expend a greater amount of labour for their advance. Consequently, the properties of space have also objective significance, although they are ‘seen’ differently by different organisms at different stages of development. [67]

Now, what right did you have to ascribe to me the subjective-idealist view on the properties of things as something existing only in the consciousness of the subject? You will now tell us, perhaps, that space is not matter. Let us assume that this is true, and speak about matter.

Since in discussing philosophy with you it is necessary to speak in a popular way, I shall take an example: if, to use Hegel’s words quoted above, the thing-in-itself has colour only when it is being looked at, and smell only when it is being smelled and so on, it is as clear as daylight that by ceasing to look at it or smell it, we do not deprive it of the capacity to evoke in us again the sensation of colour when we look at it again, or the sensation of smell when we again carry it to our nose, and so forth. This capacity is the property of the thing as a thing-in-itself, that is to say, a property independent of the subject. Is that clear?

Whenever you feel inclined to translate that into philosophical language, turn to Hegel – he is also an idealist, but not a subjective one, and in this case that’s the whole point. This old man of genius will explain to you that in philosophy the word ‘properties’ also has two meanings: the properties of the given thing are manifested, first of all, in its relation to others. But the concept of properties is not exhausted by this. Why is it that one thing discloses itself in one way in its relation to others, while another thing will disclose itself differently? Obviously, because this other thing-in-itself is not the same as the first one. [68]

And that’s how it really is. Although the thing-in-itself has colour only when it is being looked at, then, taking this condition for granted, if the rose is red and the corn-flower blue, it is clear that the reason for this distinction must be sought in the distinctiveness of the properties possessed by the thing-in-itself, either the one we call a rose or the one we call a corn-flower, quite independently of the subject looking at them.

By acting upon us, the thing-in-itself arouses in us a series of sensations on the basis of which we form our conception of it. Once we have this conception, the thing-in-itself takes on a two-fold character: it exists, firstly, in itself, and, secondly, in our conception of it. Its properties – let us say, its structure, exist in exactly the same way: firstly, in itself, and, secondly, in our conception of it. That is all there is to it.

When I stated that the ‘appearance’ of the thing was only the result of its action on us, I had in mind the properties of the thing as they are reflected in the conception of the subject (im Subjectiven Sinne aufgefasst, as Hegel would have said, but in the words of Marx, ‘as they exist translated into the language of human consciousness’). However, in stating the above, I was far from affirming that the properties of things exist only in our conception. On the contrary, that is just why you do not like my philosophy – because it unhesitatingly recognises (besides the existence of the object in the conception of the subject) the existence of the ‘object-in-itself’ independently of the subject’s consciousness, and maintains, in thisextremely rarecase, in the words of Kant, that it is absurd to conclude that a phenomenon exists without that which appears in it. [69]

‘But this is dualism’, we are told by people who are favourably disposed to the idealist ‘monism’ à la Mach, Verworn, [70] Avenarius, and others. No, dear Sirs, we reply, there is not even a smell of dualism here. True, it might be possible justly to reproach us with dualism if we separated the subject with its conception from the object. But we do not commit this sin. I said earlier that the existence of the subject presupposes that the object has reached a certain stage of development. What does this mean? Nothing more and nothing less than that the subject itself is one of the constituent parts of the objective world. Feuerbach aptly remarked:

I feel and think, not as a subject opposed to the object, but as a subject-object, as a real material being. For me the object is not only an object of conception; it is also the basis, the necessary condition, of my conception. The objective world is to be found not only outside myself; it is also within me, in my own skin. Man is but a part of nature, a part of being; there is no room, therefore, for contradiction between his thinking and being. [71]

Elsewhere (Wider den Dualismus von Leib und Seele, Fleisch und Geist), he says: ‘To myself, I am a psychological object; to others, I am a physiological object.’ [72]

Finally, he reiterates: ‘My body, as a whole, is my “self,” my true essence. What thinks is not the abstract being, but this real being, this body.’ Now, if this is the case (and from the materialist point of view, it is the case precisely), it is not difficult to understand that subjective ‘experiences’ are really nothing else but the self-consciousness of the object, its consciousness of itself, as well as of that great whole (‘the external world’) to which it itself belongs. The organism which is endowed with thought exists not only ‘in itself’, and not only ‘for others’ (in the consciousness of other organisms), but also ‘for itself’. You, Mr Bogdanov, exist not only as a given mass of matter, and not only in the mind of the Blessed Anatoly, who regards you as a profound thinker, you exist also in your own mind conceiving that mass of matter of which you are composed as nobody else but Mr Bogdanov. [73] So our sham dualism turns out to be an unmistakable monism. And that’s not all. It is the only true, that is to say, the only possible monism. For how is the antinomy of subject and object resolved in idealism? Idealism proclaims that the object is only the subject’s ‘experience’, or, in other words, that the object does not exist in itself. However, as Feuerbach said, this is not solving the problem; it is simply evading its solution. [74]

All this is as simple as ABC. Nevertheless, not only does it remain ‘unknown’ to you, Mr Bogdanov, it is also ‘unknowable’ for you. You were spoiled in your early youth by your philosophical wet-nurse Mach, and ever since then you have been quite incapable of comprehending even the most simple and most clear truths of contemporary materialism. So when you encounter one or other of these simple and clear truths, say, in my writings, it immediately acquires a misshapen ‘appearance’ in your mind, causing you under the influence of this ‘experience’ to cackle like the goose that saved the Capitol and to start raising against me objections that spread the most tiresome confusion of ideas and the most pernicious tedium for miles around.

In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Bassanio says of Gratiano: ‘His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them; and when you have them, they are not worth the search.’

The truth must be told, Mr Bogdanov: you bear no resemblance to Gratiano: your ‘chaff’ does not conceal even one grain of wheat. Moreover, it has been rotting on the philosophical threshing-floor for more than a hundred and fifty years and mouse-eaten long since into the bargain. Yet you shamelessly pass it off as though it had come from the very last harvest of ‘natural science’. Is it pleasant to poke among the leavings of mice? And you were puzzled as to why I was not in a hurry to engage in polemics with you...

But I was forgetting that you are not only an unsuccessful ‘critic’... of Marx and Engels, but also one lacking in courage. While ‘criticising’ their philosophical views, you now try to convince your readers that your disagreement is, strictly speaking, only with me, presenting me on that score as a pupil of Baron Holbach’s. Your present, shall we say, lack of frankness, forces me to remind you once more of the good old times – and, perhaps, not so old – of 1905, when you were still artless enough to acknowledge me as one who shared Engels’ philosophical views. You yourself know, dear Sir, that you were then much nearer the truth. And just in case any naive reader does not know of this, I shall make fairly long extracts from Engels’ Über historischen Materialismus, which I already quoted in my first letter. In the first section of the article Engels, among other things, defends materialism against the agnostics. We shall concentrate on this defence.

Leaving aside, as being irrelevant here, Engels’ critical remark concerning the views of the agnostics on the existence of God, I shall quote almost fully what he says on the question of the ‘thing-in-itself’ and the possibility of it being known by us.

According to Engels, the agnostic admits that all our knowledge is based upon the information (Mitteilungen) which we receive through our senses. But, admitting this, the agnostic asks: How do we know that our senses give us correct representations of the things-in-themselves which we perceive through them? Engels replies to this by citing the words of Faust: ‘Im Anfang war die That.’ (‘In the beginning was the deed.’) Then he continues:

From the moment we turn to our own use these objects, according to the qualities we perceive [Wahrnehmen] 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 [mit der ausser uns bestehenden Wirklichkeit]. [75]

Errors in our judgements concerning the properties of the things perceived are caused, in Engels’ opinion, by the fact that the perceptions upon which we acted were either superficial or incomplete, or combined with the results of other perceptions in a way not warranted by reality (durch die Sachlage). Engels continues:

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 of our perceptions [übereinstimmen] with the objective 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 [Unvertraglichkeit] between the outer world and our sense-perceptions of it. [76]

However, the ‘neo-Kantian agnostic’ does not give up. He replies that while we may correctly perceive the properties of a thing, we cannot by any sensuous perception or mental process grasp the thing-in-itself, which is thus beyond our knowledge. But this argument, as alike as two peas to what Mach thinks of the thing-in-itself, does not disturb Engels. He says that Hegel long since replied to this:

If you know all the qualities of a thing, you know the thing itself; nothing remains but the fact that the said thing exists without us; and when your senses have taught you that fact, you have grasped the last remnant of the thing-in-itself, Kant’s celebrated unknowable Ding an sich.

To this Engels added that in Kant’s time our knowledge of material things was so fragmentary that, behind each of them, a mysterious thing-in-itself might well be suspected.

But one after another these... things have been grasped, analysed, and, what is more, reproduced by the giant progress of science; and what we can produce we certainly cannot consider as unknowable. [77]

I have the honour to inform you, Mr Bogdanov – if you have really not noticed it – that here Engels, in a few words, sets forth the principles of the same theory of knowledge which I have been defending till now and shall go on defending. I declare in advance my readiness to renounce all my views on the theory of knowledge which would prove to be in contradiction with these principles – so firmly convinced am I of their unshakeable truth. If you think that some details of second- or third-rate importance in my theory of knowledge really differ from Engels’ teaching, then please prove it. No matter how tiresome it is to be disputing with you, in this case, you would not have long to wait for an answer. Meanwhile, I invite you to ‘drop your allegories’ and give all of us, both your willing and unwilling readers, an answer to the following question: do you share the materialist views of Engels as expressed in the above quotations?

But remember that we want a ‘plain’ answer to this ‘cursed question’ without any ‘allegories’ or ‘empty hypotheses’. [78] And since you are very much addicted to ‘empty hypotheses’ and unnecessary ‘allegories’, I warn you not to seize on separate words, but to speak to the point. Only on this condition can we discuss the matter with any advantage to the reading public. But if this condition is fulfilled the whole controversy will be simplified to the last degree.

I have my reasons for saying this; I have a fair idea of your method of ‘philosophical’ (hm!) thinking, and I foresee the possibility of such a diversion, for example, as the following.

Engels said that it is no longer possible to believe – as was permissible in Kant’s time – that behind each thing forming part of nature around us there is concealed some kind of mysterious thing-in-itself which is beyond our knowledge. In view of this, Mr Bogdanov, you are capable of placing the great theoretician of Marxism in the same category as Mach for having denied the existence of the thing-in-itself. But a sophism like this is so pitiful that it is really not worth resorting to.

It is strikingly clear from Engels’ categorical admission of ‘the reality outside ourselves’, which may or may not correspond to our idea of it, that according to his teaching the existence of things is not confined to their existence in our perception. Engels denies the existence only of the Kantian thing-in-itself, that is to say, only one which is alleged not to be subject to the law of causality and is beyond our knowledge. Here again I am in complete agreement with Engels, as you may easily verify by scrutinising my articles against Conrad Schmidt, which were reprinted in A Critique of Our Critics, and which you referred to in your controversy with me. [79] Consequently, there is no need to ‘quibble’ in this respect.

All the more so, since, in accordance with the views of Engels, quoted at the beginning of my letter, the real unity of the world existing independently of our ideas is precisely in its materiality. This is exactly the standpoint which I advanced in my disputes with the neo-Kantians, and which served as a pretext for your ill-conceived attacks upon my definition of matter.

Logic has its own rules, and all ‘empty hypotheses’ are impotent before them. If you, Mr Bogdanov, really wish to be a Marxist, you will have above all to revolt against your mentor, Mach, and ‘bow’ to what he is trying to ‘burn’ after the example set by the bishop of blessed memory, Berkeley of Cloyne. You will have to confess that ‘bodies’ are not just the logical symbols of complexes of sensations, but that they are the basis of these sensations and exist independently of them. There is no other way out. One cannot be a Marxist yet reject the philosophical basis of Marxism.

He who, like Mach, considers that bodies are simple logical symbols for complexes of sensations must share the fate that inevitably befalls all subjective idealists: he will arrive at solipsism, or, in an endeavour to avoid this, will get entangled in insoluble contradictions. That is what happened to Mach. Don’t you believe that, Mr Bogdanov? I shall prove it to you all the more willingly, since in revealing your teacher’s weaknesses, I shall at the same time be revealing your own ‘philosophical’ weaknesses; no copy is ever better than the original. And after all it is more pleasant to deal with the original than with the copy, and particularly such a dim one as your ‘empiriomonist’ exercises.


So, I part with you, dear Sir, and go on to Mach. Well, that’s a load off my shoulders; and I’m sure the reader will also breathe a sigh of relief.

Mach wishes to combat metaphysics. The very first chapter of his book, Analysis of Sensations, is devoted to ‘preliminary remarks against metaphysics’. However, it is just these preliminary remarks which show that the survivals of idealist metaphysics are too tenacious in him.

He himself describes what exactly impelled him to philosophic reflections, and the character they took. He writes:

When I was very young (I was fifteen years old at the time) I once found in my father’s library Kant’s work, The Prolegomena To Every Future Metaphysic, and I have always looked upon this incident as a happy one for me. This work made a great and lasting impression on me, the equal of which I did not again experience in the reading of philosophical works. Two or three years later, I suddenly realised what a superfluous role was played by the ‘thing-in-itself’. One fine summer day, when I was strolling in the open air, the whole world all at once seemed to me to be one complex of interconnected sensations, and my ‘ego’ a part of this complex, a part in which these sensations were only more strongly connected. Although I did not reflect upon this properly until later, this moment had decisive importance for the whole of my world-outlook. [80]

We can see from this that Mach’s thought followed the same direction as Fichte’s, who at one time also took Kant’s transcendental idealism as his starting point and soon came also to the same conclusion that the thing-in-itself played a quite ‘superfluous’ role. However, Fichte had a good knowledge of philosophy, whereas Mach says of himself that he could devote time to philosophy only on his Sunday walks (doch nur als Sonntagsjäger durchstreifen). [81] Therefore, Fichte’s philosophical views shaped into a fairly orderly system, though suffering from internal contradictions, while Mach’s ‘anti-metaphysical’ Sunday walks ‘in the open air’ had quite sad consequences.

Judge for yourself. The whole world round Mach ‘all at once’ seemed to him to be one complex of sensations, and his ‘ego’ part of this complex. But if the ‘ego’ is only part of the world, it is clear that only an insignificant part of the worldly complex of sensations falls to the share of the ‘ego’, while the remaining and incomparably greater part exists ‘outside of the ego’, and is the external world in relation to him, the ‘non-ego’. What is the outcome of this? It is a case of ‘ego’ and ‘non-ego’, or subject and object, or that self-same antinomy which, as Engels justifiably remarked, is the fundamental question of all modern philosophy, and which Mach, imbued with a sovereign contempt for ‘metaphysics’, wished to transcend. Indeed, not at all a bad result of his Sunday walks. However, this was not the only result, as we shall see presently, of Mach’s meditations ‘in the open air’. There were other no less remarkable results.

Once the antinomy of the subject and the object (the ‘ego’ and the external world) is given, it must be resolved somehow; and for this it is certainly necessary to explain what exactly are the relationships between the two elements composing the antinomy. Mach declares that the whole world is one complex of interconnected sensations. Obviously, he believes this is the answer being sought to the question of the relationships between the ‘ego’ and the external world and the external world and the ‘ego’. But I ask, in the words of Heine: ‘Is that the answer, really?

Let us assume that the sensations of which the ‘ego’ consists are indeed ‘connected’ with the sensations that constitute the external world.

But in this assumption there is not even a hint of the character of this connection. Mach, for instance, does not approve of solipsism. He says: ‘es gibt keinen isolierten Forscher’ (‘there is no such thing as an isolated investigator’), [82] and, of course, he is right. But it will suffice us to assume that there are only two investigators to find ourselves besieged on all sides by those very metaphysical questions that Mach was anxious to abolish by means of the now famous coup d’état ‘in the open air’. We shall call our two ‘investigators’ A and B. Both A and B are connected with that great complex of sensations which – we are assured by Mach, although he does not prove his assurance in any way at all – constitutes the universe, the ‘whole world’. It may well be asked: can A and B know of each other’s existence? At first glance, the question appears to be almost superfluous; of course, they can know of each other, because if they could not then each would be in relation to the other an inaccessible and unknowable thing-in-itself and such a thing was pronounced non-existing on that Sunday when the whole world appeared to Mach as one integral complex of sensations. But the matter is more complicated precisely by the circumstance that ‘investigator’ A can become known to ‘investigator’ B, and contrariwise. If A has learned of B’s existence, it means he must have had a definite notion of him. And since this is the case, then B exists not only in himself, as a part of the great world complex of sensations, but also in the mind of A, who is also no more than a part of this complex. In other words, investigator B is in relation to investigator A an object, external to A, and producing a certain impression on him. Thus, we are confronted not only with the antinomy of the subject and object, but also with some idea of how it is resolved: the object exists outside the subject but this does not hinder the object from arousing certain sensations in the subject. The thing-in-itself, which we thought we had written off once and for all as a result of Mach’s Sunday discovery, has turned up again. True, Mach waged war on the unknowable thing-in-itself, but now we have to deal with a thing which is fully accessible to our consciousness: ‘investigator’ B can be ‘investigated’ by ‘investigator’ A, and B on his part can do the same good turn to A. And this shows that we have made a step forward. But it is a step forward only in relation to Kant’s transcendental idealism, and not at all in respect to materialism, which denies that the thing-in-itself is unknowable, as you and I, Mr Bogdanov, are perfectly well aware after all that has been said above. What then distinguishes Mach’s ‘philosophy’ from materialism? Let me explain.

The materialist will say that each of our two investigators is none other than a ‘subject-object’, a real material being, a body, possessing the capacity to sense and think. Whereas the rebel against metaphysics, Mach, will raise the objection that since bodies are but the ‘logical symbols for complexes of elements (complexes of sensations)’, we have no logical right to admit that our investigators are material beings, we are obliged to regard them as parts of the world complex of sensations. Meantime we shall neither dispute nor contradict this. For the moment, we shall agree that our ‘investigators’ represent, so to speak, small complexes of sensations. But our tractability does not remove the obstacles in our way; we are still in a state of complete ignorance regarding the way A gets to know of the existence and the properties of B. If we had assumed from the standpoint of materialism that B, by his organism and his acts, arouses definite sensations in A, which then become the basis of definite conceptions, the result would be sheer nonsense: one complex of sensations arousing certain sensations in another complex of sensations? This would have been even worse than the famous ‘philosophy’ which explains that the earth rests on whales, the whales swim on water, and the water is on the earth. Why, even Mach himself, as we shall see later, protests against such assumptions. However, let’s not stray from our interesting subject. The assumption that B becomes known to A by arousing certain sensations in the latter, has led us into absurdity. And we are led into the same absurdity, as we saw earlier, by the assumption that B is beyond the reach of A’s knowledge. What are we to do now? Where are we to find the answer to our importunate question? Someone may advise us to recall Leibnitz and appeal to his ‘pre-established harmony’. Since we happen to be very amenable at the moment, we might, perhaps, have accepted such advice, but the implacable Mach has deprived us of this last way out: he pronounces pre-established harmony to be a monstrous theory (monstruose Theorie). [83]

All right, we agree to reject it; what good is a monstrous theory to us! But, unfortunately, on page 38 of the Russian translation of Analyse der Empfindungen, we come across the following:

Independent scientific research is easily rendered unintelligible where a view suitable for a special, strictly limited aim is made beforehand the basis of all investigations. This happens, for instance, when we regard all experiences as ‘actions’ of the external world reaching our consciousness. This brings us up against a whole series of metaphysical difficulties that appear to be absolutely insoluble. But these evaporate directly we look at the problem in a mathematical sense, so to speak, that is, when we realise that what is valuable for us is only the establishment of functional relationships, the elucidation of the dependence existing between our experiences. Then it becomes first of all clear that the establishment of a connection between them and some kind of unknown and unspecified primordial variables (things-in-themselves) is a matter that is purely fictitious and without purpose.

Mach categorically declares that it is absurd to consider our experiences as the result of the action of the external world reaching our consciousness. We take his word for it and say to ourselves: if at a given moment we have the ‘experience’ of hearing another person’s voice, we should be very much in error if we thought to explain this ‘experience’ by the action upon us of the external world, or, strictly speaking, that part of it consisting of the person speaking. Every assumption of such action, Mach assures us, is obsolete metaphysics. It remains, therefore, for us to suppose that we hear the other person’s voice, not because he is speaking (and acting upon us through air vibrations), but because we have an ‘experience’ of him thanks to which he seems to us to be speaking. And if he hears our reply, this also is not to be explained by the fact that the air vibrations caused by us are exciting in him certain auricular sensations, but by his ‘experience’, the purport of which is that it seems to him we are replying. This, indeed, could not be more lucid, and here there are really no ‘metaphysical difficulties’. But isn’t this – by your leave! – again that same theory of ‘pre-established harmony’ that Mach described as monstrous? [84]

Mach proves to us that the only valuable thing for us is to establish functional relationships, that is to say, to elucidate the dependence of our experiences on one another. Again we accept his word for it, and again say to ourselves: since the whole matter is one of establishing the functional dependency of our experiences upon one another, we have no right to recognise that the existence of other people is independent of these experiences. Such recognition would give rise to a whole tangle of ‘metaphysical difficulties’. But still this is not all. The same consideration leads us to believe that we cannot, without sinning against logic, acknowledge the existence of those ‘elements’ which do not belong to our ‘ego’, and comprise the ‘non-ego’, the external world. In general, nothing exists except our experiences. Everything else is invention, ‘metaphysics’. Long live solipsism! [85]

#If Mach believes he can get over this undoubted ‘difficulty’ by distinguishing between ‘ego’ in its narrowest sense [86] and ‘ego’ in a wider sense, [87] he is terribly mistaken. His extended ‘ego’ does, in fact, include, as he himself indicates with a reassuring mien, the external world, in the composition of which there are also, by the way, other ‘egos’. But this distinction was made already by Fichte, with whom ‘ego’ is contrasted to ‘non-ego’ (and this ‘non-ego’ embraces other individuals). [88] However, this did not prevent Fichte from remaining a subjective idealist – and for a very simple reason: with him, as with Berkeley and Mach, ‘non-ego’ existed only in the conception of the ‘ego’. Since the way out of the boundaries of ‘ego’ was closed (very firmly) to Fichte by his denial of the existence of the thing-in-itself, all theoretical possibility of his escaping solipsism vanished. But neither is solipsism a way out; Fichte, therefore, sought safety in the absolute ‘ego’.

It is clear that my absolute ‘ego’ [he wrote to Jacoby] is not the individual... but the individual must be deduced from the absolute ‘ego’. My Doctrine of Science will do this in the doctrine of natural right.

Unfortunately, the Doctrine of Science did not do this. Fichte never succeeded in coping theoretically with solipsism. Neither does Mach. But Fichte, being a great master in the treatment of philosophical conceptions, was, at least, aware of the weaknesses in his own philosophy. Mach, who is (probably) a good physicist, is (undoubtedly) a bad thinker, and is completely unaware that his ‘philosophy’ is overflowing with the most unacceptable and glaring contradictions. He strolls in and out of these contradictions with an (imperturbable) calmness of spirit that is truly worthy of a better cause.

Here, look at this, Mr Bogdanov! A question occurs to Mach: does inorganic matter also experience sensations? He has this to say regarding it:

The question is natural enough, if we proceed from the current widespread physical notions according to which matter is the immediate and indisputably given reality, out of which everything, inorganic and organic, is constructed. Then, indeed, sensation must suddenly arise somewhere in this structure consisting of matter, or else must have previously been present in the foundation. From our standpoint, the question is fundamentally a false one. For us, matter is not what is primarily given. Rather, what is primarily given are the elements, which in a certain definite relation are designated as sensations. [89]

To give Mach his due, he is quite logical here. He is no less logical, too, on the following page, where, after repeating that matter is nothing else than a definite kind of connection between elements, he rightly deduces:

Consequently, the question of sensation in matter should be formulated in this way: does a definite kind of connection of elements experience sensations (elements which in a certain relationship are the selfsame sensations)? No one will put this question in such a form. [90]

That is so. But the following passage, which immediately precedes Mach’s logical (from Mach’s point of view) argument on matter just quoted, is completely illogical:

If, while I experience some sensation, I or someone else could observe my brain with all possible physical and chemical appliances, it would be possible to ascertain with what processes of the organism particular sensations are connected. Then, at least by analogy, we might come nearer to a solution of the oft-raised question: how far does sensation extend in the organic world, do the lower animals have sensations, do plants have sensations? [91]

Far be it from me to raise the question once again here: where the ‘someone else’ to observe ‘my’ brain would come from. We already know that in Mach’s ‘philosophy’ there is positively nowhere he could come from. But we are already accustomed to this lack of logic in our ‘philosopher’; it no longer interests us. We have something more important in mind. Mach told us that ‘the question of sensation in matter should be formulated in this way: does a definite kind of connection of elements experience ‘sensations (elements which in a certain relationship are the self-same sensations)’? And we agreed with him that it was absurd to put the question in this form. Now if this is true, it is no less absurd to pose the question as to whether the lower animals have sensations and the plants have sensations. Mach, however, has not lost hope of ‘coming nearer’ to a solution of this question, which, from his standpoint, is absurd. How to approach a solution? ‘At least by analogy.’ By analogy with what? With what goes on in my brain when I experience certain sensations. And what is my brain? Part of my body. And what is body? Matter. And what is matter? ‘Nothing else than a definite kind of connection of elements.’ Therefore, we have to deduce as Mach did: consequently, the question of what goes on in my brain when I experience a certain sensation should be formulated thus – what goes on in a definite kind of connection of a definite kind of ‘elements’ composing the ‘ego’, ‘which in a certain relationship are the selfsame sensations’, when the ‘ego’ experiences sensations? This question is as impossible logically (from Mach’s point of view) as the question regarding sensations in inorganic matter. Yet, we run into this question in one form or another on almost every page of Analyse der Empfindungen. Why is this?

Here is the reason. As a naturalist, Mach is constantly compelled to adopt the materialist standpoint, though he is quite unaware of it. And every time he does this, he comes into logical conflict with the idealist basis of his own ‘philosophy’. Here is an example. Mach says:

Together with a vast number of physiologists and contemporary psychologists, I... am convinced that the phenomena of will must become comprehensible exclusively – to put it briefly, and in generally understood terms – from organic-physical forces. [92]

This sentence, ‘to put it briefly, and in generally understood terms’, makes sense only when it comes from the pen of a materialist. [93]

Another example.

The adaptation to chemical and living conditions’, we read on page 91 of the same book, ‘expressed in colour, demands a great deal more movement than adaptation to the chemical living conditions manifested in taste and smell.

This is a very apt way of putting it, but it is still a completely materialist idea. [94]

Third example. Mach writes:

If some kind of process is going on in both inorganic and organic bodies, a process fully determined by the circumstances of the given moment, and limited to itself so that no further effects arise from it, we can scarcely speak of an aim; such a case, for example, as when irritation causes a sensation of light, or a muscular contraction. [95]

It is impossible not to agree with this. But the case analysed by Mach presupposes such irritation (of an organ of the given subject) the effect of which is sensation. This is a purely materialist view on the origin of sensations, and as such it simply does not tally with Mach’s teaching that the body is but the symbol (of some aggregate of sensations).

The naturalist in Mach tends towards materialism. It could not be otherwise; there cannot be a non-materialist natural science. But the ‘philosopher’ in Mach tends towards idealism. This is also perfectly understandable. The public opinion of the contemporary (conservative) bourgeoisie, at grips with the contemporary (revolutionary) proletariat, is too hostile to materialism for it to be anything but exceedingly rare that a naturalist should declare himself outright, as Haeckel did, on the side of materialist monism. Mach has two souls in his breast. Hence his inconsistency. [96]

For all that, I must again give him his due. He is not only ill-informed on the question: idealism or materialism? It is not only that he does not understand materialism. He does not understand idealism either.

You do not believe this, Mr Bogdanov? Read on. Mach complains that it was considered possible to convert him either into an idealist – a follower of Berkeley (Berkeleyaner) or into a materialist. He considers such an accusation to be groundless. ‘To this charge, I plead not guilty’, he says. [97] On page 288 (of the Russian translation) the same ‘protest’ is repeated. But on page 292, Mach, defining his ‘very peculiar’ relationship with Kant, writes:

Kant’s critical idealism was, as I must acknowledge with the deepest gratitude, the starting point of all my critical thought. But I found it impossible to remain faithful to it. Very soon I returned to the views of Berkeley, which are maintained in more or less hidden form in the works of Kant. Through research in the field of the physiology of the sense-organs, and the study of Herbart, I arrived at views akin to those of Hume, although at that time I was not acquainted with Hume’s own works. And even today I cannot help regarding Berkeley and Hume as far more consistent thinkers than Kant.

It follows, then, that there is no smoke without fire. And what a fire! One might say we have a real blaze here! In fact, Machism is only Berkeleyism refashioned a little and repainted in the colours of ‘twentieth-century natural science’. It was not by chance that Mach dedicated his work Erkenntnis und Irrthum to Wilhelm Schuppe, who, say what you like, is an idealist of the purest water, a fact that can be easily verified by reading his Erkenntnistheoretische Logik.

But – it is impossible to speak of Mach’s philosophy without numerous ‘buts’ – our philosopher does also hold views which, perhaps, draw him away from Berkeley. Thus he says:

It is true that some species have perished, just as there is no doubt that some species have come into being. Therefore the sphere of action of will, striving after pleasure and avoiding suffering, must extend beyond the bounds of the preservation of the genus. Will preserves the genus when it is worth preserving, and destroys it when its further existence ceases to be useful. [98]

What ‘will’ is this? Whose? Where did it spring from? Berkeley would have replied, of course, that it is the will of God. And such a reply would have ended many misunderstandings in the mind of a religious person. It would also have had the advantage that it might have provided a new argument in favour of the religious views of that friend of yours, Mr Bogdanov – the Blessed Anatoly. However, Mach does not say a word about God; therefore, we shall reject the ‘hypothesis of God’ and turn our attention to the following words of our ‘thinker’ – Mach. ‘One may accept Schopenhauer’s idea of the relationship between will and power without perceiving anything metaphysical in either of them.’ [99] Now, as you see, Schopenhauer has stepped on to the stage, and the question inevitably arises: how can one perceive nothing metaphysical in Schopenhauer’s idea of the relationship between will and power? Mach has no reply to this question, nor is he likely ever to have one. Be that as it may, the fact remains that when he began to talk about the will which preserves the genus that is worth preserving and destroys it when it is not worth preserving, Mach has plunged into metaphysics of the very lowest order.

There is still more of it. On page 45 of his Analysis of Sensations, Mach speaks of the ‘nature of green in itself’ (his italics – GP), a nature which remains immutable, no matter from which angle we may look at it. In the German original, in the corresponding passage, we read: ‘das Grüne an sich’ – ‘green-in-itself’. [100] But how can there be ‘green-in-itself’? Did not the same Mach assure us that there could not possibly be any thing-’in-itself’? Just imagine, the thing-in-itself turns out to be stronger than Mach. He drives it out through the door, and it flies in again through the window, having assumed the utterly absurd appearance of ‘colour-in-itself’. What an invincible power!

One may exclaim involuntarily (as L Büchner did):

O Ding an sich,
Wie lieb’ich dich,
Du, aller Dinge Ding! [101]

How can this possibly be? What kind of philosophy is this after all? That’s just the point, gentlemen, it isn’t a philosophy at all. Mach himself declares this: ‘Es gibt vor allem keine Mach’sche Philosophie’ (‘Above all, there is no Machist philosophy’), he says in the preface to Erkenntnis und Irrthum. The same statement occurs in Analysis of Sensations: ‘Again I repeat, there is no philosophy of Mach.’ [102]

Well, there’s no denying the truth! There is really no Machist philosophy. And there is none, because Mach was quite unable to digest the philosophical concepts with which he wanted to operate. However, the position would have been little better even if he had been seriously prepared for the part of philosopher. Subjective idealism, which was his point of view, would then have led him either to solipsism, which he does not want, or to a whole series of insoluble logical contradictions and to reconciliation with ‘metaphysics’. There is no Machist philosophy. This is very important for us, the Russian Marxists; for some years now we have had this ‘philosophy’ of Mach thrust upon us, and have been urged and pressed to combine this non-existing philosophy with the teaching of Marx. But still more important is that this philosophy à la Mach – or more truly, à la Berkeley or Fichte – cannot be relieved of its incurable contradictions. Especially at the present time: even in the eighteenth century, subjective idealism was the still-born child of philosophy. Now, in the atmosphere of contemporary natural science, there is hardly any room for it to breathe. Therefore even those who would fain revive it have to be continuously renouncing it. I repeat, logic has its own rules.

I think I may now part with you, Mr Bogdanov. I shall make only one further remark. In your open letter to me, you complain that my associates in philosophy in Russia are spreading all kinds of cock-and-bull stories about you. You are wrong. I am not going to assure you that the people you are accusing of deliberate – so I understand you – distortion of your ideas have a greater sense of morality than to stoop to such conduct. I look on the question from the purely practical point of view, and ask: why should anyone distort your ideas when to tell the truth about them can be far more damaging than any lie?

I express my sincere sympathy with you over this – alas – undoubted possibility.

GV Plekhanov

Third Letter

‘Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin!’

Dear Sir

A whole year has passed since I finished my second letter to you. I thought that I should never again have any dealings with you; however, I have to take up my pen once more to write you this third letter. This came to pass in this way.


You are unquestionably a pupil of Mach’s. But not all pupils are alike: some are modest and some immodest. The modest ones hold dear the interests of truth and are never anxious to extol their own virtues; the immodest ones think only of how to procure the limelight for themselves, and are indifferent to the interests of truth. The history of thought shows that a pupil’s modesty is almost always in direct proportion to his talent, while immodesty is in inverse proportion. Take, for example, Chernyshevsky. He was modesty personified. In expounding Feuerbach’s philosophical ideas, Chernyshevsky was always willing to give full credit to Feuerbach, even for ideas that were Chernyshevsky’s own. If he did not mention Feuerbach by name, this was only because of the censorship; he did everything he could to let the reader know whose philosophical principles Sovremennik [103] was defending. He was just as modest in other fields apart from philosophy. In the domain of socialism, Chernyshevsky was a follower of the brilliant West European Utopians. Consequently, with his innate modesty, when presenting and defending his socialist opinions, he constantly made it clear to the reader that these opinions were, strictly speaking, not his own, but those of his ‘great Western teachers’. But for all that, Chernyshevsky displayed great wealth of intellect, logic, knowledge and talent both in his philosophical works and in his socialist articles. To repeat: a pupil’s modesty is almost always in direct proportion to his talent, while immodesty in inverse proportion. You belong to the category of immodest students. When spreading Mach’s ‘philosophy’ throughout Russia, you reveal qualities that are exactly the reverse of those shown by Chernyshevsky in disseminating Feuerbach’s philosophy: yet you claim independence and originality of mind. You expressed surprise because, in my second letter where I refuted your would-be critical remarks concerning some of my philosophical conceptions, I confined myself to dealing with the insoluble and really ludicrous contradictions in which Mach entangled himself, and did not think it necessary to take up your own concoctions. Anyone who is not utterly bereft of logic knows that when the foundation of some philosophical doctrine collapses, the superstructures that might be erected by the pupils of the thinker who proclaimed this foundation is bound to collapse too. And if everybody were acquainted with your own relationship to Mach, all would grasp at once that with the collapse of Machism, nothing could remain of your own ‘philosophical’ constructions but dust and debris. But like the immodest student you are, you took every precaution to conceal from your readers your true relationship to Mach. Consequently, there may still be people today who will be impressed by that attitude of studied carelessness with which you try to prove – as, for instance, you did at one public meeting soon after my second letter to you came out – that the objections to Mach’s ‘philosophy’ are no concern of yours. It is for the benefit of such people as these that I again take up the pen; I wish to free them from their delusions. When I wrote my first two letters to you, I had comparatively little space at my disposal, and could not deal both with original and copy. Naturally, I preferred to analyse the original. Now I am not so cramped for space, and, besides, I have a few days of leisure. So I may deal with you.


You are pleased to remark:

I learned a great deal from Mach. I think that Comrade Beltov could also learn much of interest from this outstanding scientist and thinker, this great destroyer of scientific fetishes. My advice to young comrades is not to be disturbed by the argument, that Mach is not a Marxist. Let them follow the example of Comrade Beltov, who learned so much from Hegel and Holbach, who, if I am not mistaken, were not Marxists either. However, I cannot own myself a ‘Machist’ in philosophy. In the general philosophical conception, there is only one thing I borrowed from Mach – the idea of the neutrality of the elements of experience in relation to the ‘physical’ and ‘psychical’, and the dependence of these characteristics solely on the connection of experience. In all that follows – the theory of the genesis of psychical and physical experience, the doctrine of substitution, the teaching regarding the ‘interference’ of complex processes in the general world picture founded on all these premises – in all of these I have nothing in common with Mach. In short, I am much less of a ‘Machist’ than Comrade Beltov is a ‘Holbachian’, and I hope that this does not prevent either of us from being good Marxists. [104]

I shall not follow your example by paying compliments either to myself or to my opponent. As far as the latter is concerned, that is, you, dear Sir, I am afraid, I must again be unkind and remind you of what I said in my previous letters, namely, how utterly impossible it is for anyone who rejects the materialist basis of the world-outlook of Marx and Engels to be a ‘good Marxist’. [105] You are not only very far removed from ‘being a good Marxist’, but you have the bad luck to attract all those who, while claiming the title of Marxist, want to adapt their outlook to suit the palate of our contemporary little bourgeois supermen. But that by the way. I quoted your words only to show what a large dose of self-conceit you have injected into the explanation of your attitude to your teacher, Mach. If you are to be believed, it would seem that you have very little in common with Mach on a whole series of propositions that are highly important from the standpoint of ‘empiriomonism’. The trouble is that we cannot believe you in the present case. You are blinded by self-conceit. To become convinced of this, one need only take into consideration the incontestable and very simple circumstance that even where you imagine yourself to be independent of your teacher you only spoil the teaching you borrowed from him. What’s more, you do this while remaining quite true to his spirit, so that all your ‘empiriomonism’ is nothing more than making distinctly absurd what was absurd only potentially (absurdum an sich, as Hegel would have said) in your teacher’s doctrine. What kind of independence is this? Where is there even a hint of independence here? Enough, our most esteemed friend. Your ridiculous pretensions collapse like a house of cards at the least breath of criticism.

You consider me unjust? That is understandable. I repeat, you are blinded by self-conceit. But the case is just as I have stated it. Proofs? There is no lack of them. I take for the time being the first on the list of your contributions to the philosophy of ‘empirio-criticism’ which you detailed above, your ‘theory of the genesis of physical and psychical experience’. Nothing could be more characteristic of you than this theory, so it deserves every attention. What does this theory consist of? Of this:

In presenting the world-outlook of Mach and Avenarius as ‘deeply-rooted in the acquisitions of contemporary science’, [106] you add:

If we call this outlook critical, evolutionary, coloured sociologically with positivism, we shall indicate at one stroke the main currents of philosophical thought which merge in it into one stream. [107]

Then you proceed:

Resolving all that is physical and psychical into identical elements, empirio-criticism does not permit the possibility of any kind of dualism whatever. But here arises a new critical question: dualism has been refuted, eliminated, but has monism been achieved? Does the standpoint of Mach and Avenarius really free our thinking from its dualistic nature? We have no choice but to answer this question in the negative. [108]

Further on you explain why you find yourself ‘compelled’ to be dissatisfied with your teachers. You state that these writers still have two connections, distinct in principle and not susceptible of being united under any higher law. These are: connection of the physical series on the one hand, and connection of the psychical series on the other. Avenarius finds duality here, but not dualism. You consider this idea of his to be wrong.

You argue:

The fact is that laws, distinct in principle and irreducible to unity, are but little better for integral and orderly knowledge than realities, distinct in principle and irreducible to unity. When the domain of experience is divided into two series, with which knowledge is forced to work quite differently, knowledge cannot feel itself whole and harmonious. Inevitably we are confronted with a number of questions aimed at eliminating duality, at replacing it by a higher unity. Why can there be two laws that are distinct in principle in the united stream of human experience? And why precisely two? Why is the dependent ‘psychical’ series to be found in close functional relationship precisely with the nervous system and not with some other ‘body’; and why are there not in the field of experience countless numbers of dependent series connected with the ‘bodies’ of other types? Why do some complexes of elements appear in both series of experiences – both as ‘bodies’ and as ‘notions’ – while others are never bodies and belong always to one series, and so forth. [109]

Since the world-outlook of Mach and Avenarius, ‘deeply-rooted in the acquisitions of contemporary science’, cannot furnish the answer to your numerous and profound ‘whys’, you, with your characteristic self-confidence, undertake ‘the task of overcoming this duality’. [110] And it is just here, in your battle with ‘this duality’, that your philosophical genius is displayed in all its glory.

First of all, you try to elucidate wherein lies the distinction between the two series of experience, the physical and the psychical; and then you wish, ‘if it appears feasible, to examine the genesis of this distinction’. [111] Thus, the problem you set yourself falls into two separate problems. The first of these is solved in the following way.

According to you, a constant character of everything physical is its objectivity. The physical is always objective. Therefore, you try to find a definition for the objective. It is not long before you are convinced that the following definition must be accepted as the most correct:

We term those data of experience objective which have the same vital meaning for us and for other people, those data upon which not only do we construct our activities without contradiction, but upon which, we are convinced, other people must also base themselves in order to avoid contradiction. The objective character of the physical world consists in the fact that it exists not for me personally, but for everybody, and has a definite meaning for everybody, the same, I am convinced as for me. The objectivity of the physical series is its universal significance. As for the ‘subjective’ in experience, it is that which does not have universal significance, that which has meaning only for one or several individuals. [112]

Having found this definition, which reduces itself to objectivity being universal significance and universal significance the coordination of the experience of various people, you believe you have solved the first of the two secondary problems into which you had subdivided your principal problem. Now you proceed to the second. ‘Where’, you ask, ‘do we get this coordination, this mutual conformity? Should it be regarded as “pre-established harmony” or as the result of development?’ [113] It is easy to guess in which sense you solve these questions: you stand for ‘development’. You say:

A general characteristic of the ‘physical’ domain of experience, as we have learned, is objectivity, or universal significance. To the physical world we relate exclusively that which we regard as objective... The coordination of collective experience which is expressed in this ‘objectivity’ could appear only as the result of the progressive coordination of the experience of various people by means of mutual utterances. The objectivity of the physical bodies we encounter in our experience is in the last analysis established by the mutual verification and coordination of the utterances of various people. In general, the physical world is socially-coordinated, socially harmonised, in a word, socially organised experience. [114]

This is sufficiently lucid in itself. But you are afraid of being misunderstood. You assume that someone may ask: must a person, who has bruised his leg on a stone, wait for some stranger’s utterance to be convinced of the objectivity of the stone? To forestall what is indeed a far from idle question, you reply:

The objectivity of external objects is always reduced to the exchange of utterances in the last analysis, but is by far not always directly founded on it. In the process of social experience certain general relationships are created, general law-regulated relationships (abstract space and time are among these), which characterise the physical world which they embrace. These general relationships, socially formed and consolidated, are for the most part connected by the social coordination of experience, and are for the most part objective. Every new experience which entirely agrees with these relationships, which fits entirely in the bounds of these relationships, we identify as objective, without waiting for anybody’s utterances. New experience, naturally, receives the characteristics of the old experience in the forms of which is has crystallised. [115]

You see, dear Sir, that in expounding your opinions, I have readily afforded you the right to speak for yourself, as the one most competent to deal with what some readers, for instance Mr Dauge, naively regard as ‘A Bogdanov’s philosophy’. You cannot say that by presenting your ideas in my own words I have thereby changed their content. That is a great convenience. Therefore, I again invite you to speak for yourself in order to dispel any misunderstandings that might have arisen concerning your example with the stone. You said that the stone confronts us as something objective because it is to be found amidst the spatial and temporal consistency of the physical world. But it may be objected that even ghosts haunt the spatial and temporal consistency of the physical world. Really, are ghosts ‘objective’, too? You smile condescendingly and remark that the objectivity of phenomena comes under the control of developing social experience, and is sometimes ‘revoked’ by it:

The hobgoblin that smothers me in the night has for me the character of objectivity, perhaps not a bit less than the stone against which I bruise myself; but the utterances of others take away this objectivity. If this higher criterion of objectivity is forgotten, systematic hallucinations could create an objective world with which healthy people could scarcely agree. [116]


Now I shall cease to trouble you for a while. You have said enough; I want to ponder your words. Now that we have, thanks to you, a ‘higher criterion of objectivity’, I should like to examine just how ‘objective’, that is to say, alien to subjectivism, is your own ‘theory’ concerning it.

Speaking personally, no hobgoblin ever smothers me in the night. But it is said that this quite often happens to the stout wives of Zamoskvorechye merchants who like to have a hearty meal just before bedtime. To these worthy ladies the hobgoblin is no loss objective than the stones which pave (unfortunately, not always) the streets of Zamoskvorechye. The question arises: is the hobgoblin objective? You warrant it isn’t, since the utterances of other people take away objectivity from the hobgoblin. This, to be sure, is very pleasant, since everyone will agree that life would be more peaceful without hobgoblins than with them. Here, however, we come up against a small, but rather nasty, ‘snag’. Nowadays, there are quite a few people indeed who express themselves categorically in the sense that there are no devils in general and hobgoblins in particular. Nowadays, all these ‘evil spirits’ have been deprived of the hallmark: ‘universal significance’. But there was an epoch – an extremely protracted one at that – when this hallmark belonged wholly and completely to the ‘evil spirits’ and when it would never have entered anybody’s head to deny the ‘objectivity’ of the hobgoblin. What follows from this? That the hobgoblins displayed all the distinctive features of objective existence? If we argue from the standpoint of your ‘higher criterion of objectivity’, we should answer in the affirmative. This alone is quite sufficient for us to see how highly absurd this ‘higher criterion’ is, and to reject your theory of objectivity as the most inept handiwork of a most inexpert pedant.

Somewhat further on you give the question still another twist: you say:

Social experience is far from being all socially organised and always contains various contradictions, so that certain of its parts do not agree with others. Sprites and hobgoblins may exist in the sphere of social experience of a given people or of a given group of people – for example, the peasantry; but they need not therefore be included under socially organised or objective experience, for they do not harmonise with the rest of collective experience, and do not fit in with its organising forms, for example, with the chain of causality. [117]

Sprites and hobgoblins do not harmonise with the rest of collective experience! Really, dear Sir, with the rest of whose experience, if the whole of the given people believes in the existence of sprites and hobgoblins? It is clear the sprites and hobgoblins do not in the least contradict the collective experience of this particular people. You will perhaps retort that in speaking of the rest of collective experience you had in mind the social experience of more developed peoples. If so, I beg you to tell us how matters stood when even the most developed peoples believed in sprites and hobgoblins. There was really such a period; you yourself know that (primitive animism). Consequently, in the period of primitive animism sprites and hobgoblins and all other kinds of spirits in general had objective existence. And as long as you hold on to your ‘higher criterion of objectivity’, no reservation will ever save you from this conclusion.

And the chain of causality? By what right do you cite it here? Didn’t you yourself declare some pages before this that ‘Hume had every reason to deny the absolute universal significance of causal connection’? [118] This is fully understandable when looked at from the angle of your doctrine of experience. According to this doctrine, causal connection is but a comparatively ‘late product of socially cognitive development’. Besides, in a certain period of the evolution of this product (the period of animism) the notion of sprites and hobgoblins was perfectly at home with the concept of causal connection. It is clear, therefore, that from your standpoint causal connection cannot serve as a ‘higher criterion of objectivity’.

No, Mr Bogdanov, no matter how you twist and turn you will never shake off the hobgoblins and sprites, as they say, neither by the cross, nor by the pestle. Only a correct doctrine of experience can ‘relieve’ you of them, but your ‘philosophy’ is as far removed from such a doctrine as we are from the stars of heaven. Guided by the clear and incontestable meaning of your theory of objectivity, we must reply to the question of the existence of the hobgoblin in this way: the time was when the hobgoblin had objective existence; subsequently this ‘granddad’ (as our peasants used to call him only recently) lost objective being, and now exists only for the wives of Zamoskvorechye merchants and for other personages who have the silly habit of making ‘utterances’ in the same sense as they do.

What a ‘development’ the hobgoblin has passed through! And why ‘passed through’? Because people began to make ‘utterances’ against it. It must be admitted that one hears on occasion some truly remarkable ‘utterances’. Indeed, contemporary ‘utterances’ against the hobgoblin completely deprive it of objective existence, whereas in the Middle Ages one could only be ‘delivered’ from them by incantation and exorcism. By this method, a particular merchant’s wife might chase away the hobgoblin, but did not do away with it altogether. Nowadays things are much better!

And there are still people who doubt the force of progress!

If there was a time when the hobgoblin had objective existence, it may be assumed also that this same objective existence extended simultaneously to witches, for example. That being so, what are we to think of those judicial proceedings by means of which mankind in the Middle Ages hoped to put an end to some unpleasant machinations of the devil, then existing ‘objectively’? It would appear that these proceedings, later denounced as infamous, had some ‘objective’ basis. Isn’t that true, Mr Bogdanov?

It is clear that the entire history of human thought must take on a quite new appearance after being investigated with the aid of your ‘higher criterion of objectivity’. That in itself is an excellent thing. It is enough to win one the title of philosophical genius. But the question is not yet exhausted, not by a long chalk. Viewing matters from the standpoint of your ‘higher criterion of objectivity’, the entire history of the earth appears in a completely new light. In the course of the last seventy years, natural science in general has been striving to master the idea of development. But, after listening to you, Mr Bogdanov, we are forced to confess that the idea of development that is gradually being mastered by modern natural science has nothing in common with the idea of development you have advanced, while leaning, as you say, on the same natural science. In this respect, you have unquestionably accomplished yet another revolution. You are a genius twice over!

All we profane people who clung to the old theory of development were firmly convinced that the emergence of man and, consequently, man’s ‘utterances’, were preceded by a very long period in the development of our planet.

Then you appeared and, like Molière’s Sganarelle, Vous avez changé cela. [119] Now we are compelled to see the march of events completely in reverse.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that our planet belongs to the objective, ‘physical’ world. Likewise, there cannot be the least shadow of doubt that the process of development of this planet is part and parcel of the same world.

But we have been informed by you, Mr A Bogdanov, that ‘in general, the physical world is socially-coordinated, socially-harmonised, in a word, socially organised experience’. [120] It follows, therefore, that the existence of men preceded the existence of our planet: first came men; men began to give ‘utterance’, while socially organising their experience; out of this happy circumstance came the physical world in general and our own planet in particular. This, of course, is also ‘development’, but it is development in reverse: or more correctly, development inside out.

It might seem to the reader that if the existence of men preceded the existence of the earth, people must have been, as it were, suspended in the air for some time. But you and I know, Mr Bogdanov, that this is simply a ‘misunderstanding’ – the consequence of a certain inattention to the demands of logic. You see, the air too belongs to the physical world. So that at the time under discussion there was no air either. In general, there was nothing in the objective, physical sense, but there were people, who ‘uttered’ their experiences to each other, coordinated their experience and thus created the physical world. All this is plain and above board. I shall remark in passing that it now becomes quite clear why your like-minded friend, Mr Lunacharsky, felt his religious vocation, and invented for us a religion ‘without God’. Only those people believe in God who think that he created the world; but you, Mr Bogdanov, have clearly demonstrated to all of us, and especially to your colleague, Mr Lunacharsky, that the world was created by men and not by God.

Some reader will observe that the ‘philosophy’ which claims that the physical world was created by men is the most thoroughgoing, though of course very confused, idealist philosophy. And he may add, perhaps, that only an eclectic is capable of attempting to make such a philosophy agree with the teaching of Marx and Engels. But you and I, Mr Bogdanov, will again say that this is just a ‘misunderstanding’. The philosophy that pronounces the physical world to be the result of socially organised experience is more able than any other to make deductions in the spirit of Marxism. Socially organised experience is really the experience gained by man in the struggle for existence. And man’s struggle for existence presupposes the economic process of production; the economic process of production presumes the existence of certain relations of production, that is to say, a certain economic order of society. The concept of an economic order of society opens before us the wide field of ‘economic materialism’. We have only to gain a foothold in this field in order to acquire the untrammelled right to call ourselves convinced Marxists. And, besides, what Marxists! The most extreme of all those who existed both before the appearance of the earth as the outcome of socially organised experience, and after that gratifying event. We are not just ordinary Marxists, we are super-Marxists. Ordinary Marxists say: ‘On the basis of the economic relationships and the social existence of men which they determine, corresponding ideologies arise.’ But we super-Marxists add: ‘Not only ideologies, but the physical world as well.’ The reader can now see that we are much better Marxists than Marx himself, better even than Mr Shulyatikov, [121] and that’s saying something!

Naturally, Mr Bogdanov, you are going to shout about our exaggeration; but you will be wasting your breath. There is not the least exaggeration in my words. I have given a completely accurate account of the obvious meaning of your, it is true, quite incredible, theory of objectivity, as well as of the motive behind your theory. You imagined that by identifying the physical world with socially organised experience, you had opened before economic materialism a quite new and ever so broad theoretical perspective. Generally naive, you are probably most naive of all on the subject of economic materialism. When speaking about you, I keep to Newton’s rule: hypothesis non fingo. [122] But here I shall make a small exception to this general rule. I confess to having a strong suspicion that you were primarily attracted to Mach through your extreme simple-mindedness. You say: ‘Where Mach outlines the connection between cognition and the social-labour process, the coincidence of his views with Marx’s ideas occasionally becomes really striking.’ [123] To substantiate this, you cite the following from Mach: ‘Science arose from the needs of practical life... from technique.’ Now that is just this ‘technique’ combined with the word ‘economy’ – also often used by Mach – that has brought about your undoing, Mr Bogdanov. You thought that by combining Mach and Marx you would approach the theory of cognition from a new direction altogether, and proclaim ‘unuttered words’ to us. You thought you were called upon to correct and supplement both the teaching of Marx and Engels and the teaching of Mach and Avenarius. But this was a misunderstanding – this time without quotation marks. First of all, you reduced Mach to absurdity; secondly, you demonstrated before the eyes of all how grossly you erred in considering yourself a ‘good Marxist’. In short, the results you achieved were quite different from what you expected. [124]


Hold on a minute, though. After I had written the foregoing chapter, I asked whether I had indeed quite accurately presented your idea by asserting that it follows from your theory of ‘objectivity’ that at first there were men, and later the physical world was created by them. I admit frankly that after turning the matter over in my mind, I saw that things were not quite, or, perhaps, not at all as I had written. The expressions ‘at first’ and ‘later’ show how facts relate to one another in point of time. If there were no such thing as time, these expressions would be meaningless. But you have it that time itself, like space, was created by the process of the social organisation of human experience. Here are your own words: ‘Coordinating his experiences with the experiences of other people, man created the abstract forms of time.[125] And further:

Thus, what do the abstract forms of space and time in the last analysis signify? They express socially organised experience. While exchanging countless utterances, people constantly mutually eliminate the contradictions of their social experience, harmonise it, organise it into generally significant, that is to say, objective forms. The further development of experience now proceeds on the basis of these forms and is necessarily confined within their limits. [126]

As you see, we are now coming to the conclusion that there was a time when there was no time. This is somehow strange. Evidently, I am using the wrong terminology, which is very difficult for those of us who are profane in regard to empiriomonism to get rid of. It is impossible to say there was a time when there was no time. It is impossible for the obvious reason that when time did not exist there was no time. This is one of those truths the discovery of which does the greatest credit to the human mind. But such truths are blinding, like lightning, and a blind person is easily lost among terms. I shall think and express myself otherwise, abstracting myself from time: there is no socially organised experience, neither is there time. What then is there? There are people from whose experience time ‘is developing’. Very good. But if time ‘is developing’, it means, therefore, that it will have developed. Which brings us to the point that there will be a time when there will be time. Here again I have returned involuntarily to the old terminology. But what is to be done, Mr Bogdanov, when I am so obviously incapable of thinking of development outside time?

This reminds me of the retort made by Engels to Dühring on this very doctrine of time. Dühring contended that time has a beginning and based this idea on the consideration that formerly the world was in an unchanging and self-equal state, that is, in a condition in which there were no successive changes. And when there are no successive changes, he argued, the concept of time necessarily transforms itself into the more general notion of being. Engels was thoroughly justified in replying to this as follows:

In the first place we are here not in the least concerned with what ideas change in Herr Dühring’s head. The subject at issue is not the idea of time, but real time, which Herr Dühring cannot rid himself of so cheaply. In the second place, however much the idea of time may convert itself into the more general idea of being, this does not take us one step further. For the basic forms of all being are space and time, and being out of time is just as gross an absurdity as being out of space. The Hegelian ‘timelessly past being’ and the neo-Schellingian ‘unpreconceivable being’ [unvordenkliches Sein] are rational ideas compared with this being out of time. [127]

That is how matters stand from the point of view of Marx and Engels, with whom you, dear Sir, would like to be ‘treated as one of the family’. Being outside time is just as gross an absurdity as being outside space. You affixed both these absurdities to Mach’s ‘philosophy’ and on that really not very firm basis you imagined that, thanks to your enlightened efforts, ‘empirio-criticism’ had been transformed into ‘empiriomonism’. And when I criticised your teacher, Mach, you didn’t turn a hair, as they say. That, you implied, is no concern of mine; I am obliged to Mach for much, but, after all, I am an independent thinker. Indeed what a thinker you are! Indeed, what fine independence you show! It resembles Russia before the Varangians. True, it is not large, but it is fertile (fancy, two whopping absurdities!) and... there is no order in it either. [128]

But, once again, accuracy before everything! In the interests of accuracy, I shall add that you, following Mach’s example, ‘strictly distinguish’ geometrical, or abstract, space, from physiological space. And you adopt exactly the same attitude to the concept of time. Let us see if this distinction saves you from the two absurdities which threaten to immortalise your name.

In what way is physiological space related to geometrical space?

Physiological space [you say] is the result of development; in the life of a child it only gradually crystallises out of the chaos of visual and tactile elements. This development continues beyond the first years of life: distance, size, as well as the forms of objects are more stable in the perception of the adult than in that of the child. I distinctly recall that, as a five-year-old boy, I conceived the distance between the earth and the sky two or three times the height of a two-storey house, and was very much surprised when, from roof level, I found I was not noticeably nearer to the canopy of heaven. That is how I became acquainted with one of the contradictions of physiological space. These contradictions are less in the perception of the adult, but they are always there. Abstract space is free of contradictions. In it, one and the same object, not subjected to sufficient action, never proves to be larger or smaller than another definite object, of this or that form, and so on. This is space conforming strictly to law, everywhere completely uniform. [129]

Now what have you to say about time?

The relationship of physiological and abstract time is, in general, the same as the relationship of the forms of space we have examined. Physiological time as compared to abstract time lacks uniformity. It flows unevenly, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly; sometimes it appears as though it had ceased to exist for consciousness, namely, during deep sleep or a fainting fit. Besides, it is restricted by the limits of personal life. Corresponding to all this, the ‘temporal magnitude’ of one and the same phenomenon, taken in physiological time, is also variable. One and the same process, not experiencing any external action, may flow for us ‘quickly’ or ‘slowly’ and now and then seems to be completely outside our physiological time. Not so with abstract time (‘the pure form of contemplation’): it is strictly uniform and constant in its flow, and in it phenomena conform strictly to law. In both its directions (past and future) it is infinite. [130]

Abstract space and time, you say, are products of development. They arise from physiological space and time, by the lack of uniformity characteristic of the latter being eliminated, by continuity being introduced into them, and, finally, by their mental extension beyond the bounds of every given experience. [131] Very good. But physiological space and time are also products of development. Therefore we are again confronted with importunate questions:

1. Does a child in whose life physiological space is only gradually crystallised from the chaos of visual and tactile elements exist in space?

2. Does the child in whose life physiological time develops but gradually exist in time?

Let’s assume that we are entitled – although, strictly speaking, we are not – to answer these questions as follows: the child in whose life physiological space and time are formed only gradually, exists in abstract space and abstract time. But obviously such a reply makes sense only if we assume that abstract space and time have already appeared as a result of development (that is, social experience). Therefore it is still not clear how matters stood before they appeared. Common sense inevitably suggests that prior to the appearance of abstract space and time the child existed outside space and outside time. To us, the profane, or even to your ‘modern natural science’, children existing outside space and time are inconceivable. We can only conjecture that in those truly sombre days before the formation of abstract space and time children were, to be more precise, not children, but angels. It is probably a great deal easier for angels to exist outside space and outside time than it would be for children. However, in saying this, I am not sure that I have not committed heresy. According to the Bible, even angels seem to exist both in space and in time.

There is still one more equally confounded question closely connected with the foregoing. If abstract time and abstract space are objective forms created by people through ‘countless utterances’, is this process of ‘countless utterances’ accomplished outside time and outside space? If the answer is yes, again it does not make sense; if the answer is no, it means that we have to distinguish not two types of space and time (physiological and abstract time and physiological and abstract space) but three. And then all your wonderful ‘philosophical’ construction disperses like smoke and you enter, albeit somewhat unsteadily, on the sinful ground of materialism, according to which space and time are not only forms of contemplation, but also forms of being.

No, Mr Bogdanov, here things do not turn out well with you at all. Of course, it is very, very touching that at the tender age of five, when, perhaps, your physiological space had not yet fully ‘crystallised’ and your physiological time had not yet fully ‘developed’, you engaged in measuring the distance between the earth and the sky. Such measurements belong more to astronomy than to philosophy. It would therefore have been better for you if you had remained an astronomer. You were not born for philosophy, if one may say so without being either complimentary or ironical. In this ‘subject’ you attain nothing but the most incredible discomfiture.

Here is an example. You write:

We are so accustomed to conceive all other people of the past, present, and future – and even the animals – as ‘living in the same space and time as ourselves’. But custom is not proof. It is incontestable that we conceive these people and animals in our space and time, but there is nothing to show that they conceive themselves and us in exactly the same space and time. Of course, in so far as their organisation in general resembles ours, and in so far as their utterances are comprehensible to us, we may presume that they have similar, but not identical, ‘forms of contemplation’ to ours. [132]

Earlier in this letter, I deliberately reproduced your lengthy ‘utterance’ concerning the distinction between physiological space and time and abstract space and time in order to contrast them with the passage I have just cited. Do not think that I want to catch you out in a contradiction. There are no contradictions here, your propensity for them notwithstanding; this passage is fully corroborated by those ‘utterances’. These and others make clear even to the most short-sighted that you do not distinguish, and indeed, while you continue to uphold your ‘empiriomonism’, you cannot distinguish, between the ‘forms of contemplation’ and its objects. You admit as incontestable that ‘we’ conceive people and animals in ‘our’ time and space, but you question whether ‘they’ can conceive of themselves in the same time and space. As an inveterate and incorrigible idealist, it just does not occur to you that the question might be put quite differently, that you might be asked: do those animals which do not conceive of themselves in any kind of time or any kind of space exist at all in any kind of time and space? And how is it with plants? I doubt very much whether you would attribute to them any form of contemplation, although they also exist both in time and in space. But they exist not only ‘for us’, Mr Bogdanov, because the history of the earth leaves us in no doubt at all that they existed before us. In developing further his objection to Dühring which I mentioned earlier, Engels wrote: ‘According to Herr Dühring time exists only through change; change in and through time does not exist.’ [133] You repeat Dühring’s mistake. To you, time and space exist only because living beings perceive them. You refuse to admit the being of time independent of anybody’s thinking – of that time in which organisms developed, raising themselves little by little to the level of ‘thinking’. The objective, physical world to you is only a conception. And you are offended when you are called an idealist. It is indisputable that everybody has the right to be a crank, but you, Mr Bogdanov, are obviously and constantly abusing this unquestionable right.


Indeed, and what exactly are these animal ‘utterances’? Let us leave the mammals, for instance, the donkey, who sometimes makes very loud ‘utterances’ although not entirely pleasing to ‘our ears’; let us get down again to the level of the amoeba. I invite you, Mr Bogdanov, to make a resolute ‘utterance’ on this: can the amoeba ‘give utterance’? In my view, scarcely. But if it cannot ‘give utterance’, then, taking into consideration that the physical world is the result of utterances, we again reach this absurdity: when organisms were at the stage of development corresponding to that of the amoeba, the physical world did not exist. Further. Since matter enters into the composition of the physical world, which had not yet come into being in the period concerned, it must be acknowledged that the lower animals were immaterial, on which I congratulate with all my heart both these interesting animals and you, dear Sir!

But why lower animals? Human organisms, too, belong to the physical world. And since the physical world is the result of development (‘utterances’ and so forth) we shall never and in no way avoid the conclusion that prior to the manifestation of this result human beings also had no organisms, that is to say, that the process of coordinating experience must, at the very least, have been started by creatures who were incorporeal. This, of course, is not bad in the sense that human beings lose any reason to envy the amoebas, but this can hardly be convenient for the ‘Marxism’ professed by you, dear Sir, and those who think like you. In fact, while rejecting the materialism of Marx and Engels, you try to persuade us that you support their materialist explanation of history. But tell us, for the sake of Mach and Avenarius, can there be a materialist explanation of such history which is preceded by the ‘pre-historical life’... of incorporeal creatures? [134]

Later, when I come to analyse your theory of ‘substitution’, I shall have again to touch upon the question of what the human body is, and how this body originates. Then it will become as clear as crystal that you are ‘supplementing’ Mach in the spirit of a distorted idealism. Just now, consider this. You think fit to deduce the physical, objective world out of people’s ‘utterances’. But where did you find these people? I assert that in recognising the existence of other people, you, dear Sir, are being frightfully inconsistent, and have knocked the feet from under your ‘utterances’ in the domain of philosophy. In other words, that you have not the slightest logical right to repudiate solipsism. This is not the first time I have had to reproach you with this, Mr Bogdanov. In the preface to your Volume 3 of Empiriomonism, you tried to reject this reproach, but failed. Here is what you wrote in this regard:

Here I have to focus attention on yet another circumstance that is characteristic of the school: in the ‘criticism’ of experience it regards intercourse between people as a previously given moment, as a sort of ‘a priori’, and in striving to create the most simple and most exact picture of the world, this school also has in mind the general applicability of this picture, its practical suitability for the greatest possible number of ‘fellow-men’ for the longest possible length of time. It is already clear from this how mistaken Comrade Plekhanov is in accusing this school of a tendency to solipsism, to acknowledging only individual experience as the Universum, as the ‘all’ that exists for the cogniser. The recognition of the equivalence of ‘my’ experience and the experience of my ‘fellow-men’, in so far as their experience is accessible to me by way of their ‘utterances’, is characteristic of empiric-criticism. Here we have something in the nature of an ‘epistemological democratism’. [135]

It is obvious from this that you, Mr ‘Epistemological Democrat’, simply did not understand the charge ‘Comrade Plekhanov’ made against you. You regard the intercourse between people as a previously given moment, as a sort of ‘a priori’. But the question is: have you the logical right to do this? I denied it, but instead of advancing reasons for your claim, you put forward as proof that which has yet to be proved. An error such as this is called in logic petitio principii. You must agree, dear Sir, that petitio principii cannot serve as a support for any kind of philosophical doctrine.

You continue:

It appears that out of all this school, the one whom our native philosophers suspect most of ‘idealism’ and ‘solipsism’ is the true father of the school, Ernst Mach (who, by the way, does not call himself an empirio-criticist). Let’s see how he pictures the world. To him, the Universum is an infinite network of complexes consisting of elements that are identical with the elements of sensation. These complexes change, unite, disintegrate; they enter into various combinations, according to various types of connection. In this network there are what might be called ‘key points’ (my expression), places where the elements are connected with each other more compactly and densely (Mach’s formulation). These places are called human ‘egos’; there are less complicated combinations similar to them – the psyche of other living beings. Various complexes enter into the connection of these complicated combinations – and then they turn out to be ‘experiences’ of various beings: then this connection is broken – the complex disappears from the system of experiences of the given being; it may then enter into the system anew, may be in a changed form, and so on. But, in any case, as Mach emphasises, this or that complex does not cease to exist if it disappears from the ‘consciousness’ of one individual or another; it appears in other combinations, perhaps in connection with other ‘key points’, with other ‘egos’... [136]

In this ‘utterance’, dear Sir, you again reveal with irrepressible energy a longing to lean upon petitio principii. Once more you accept as proven a basic proposition that has still to be proved. Mach ‘emphasises’ that this or that complex does not cease to exist if it disappears from the consciousness of this or that individual. That is so. But what logical right has he to acknowledge that ‘these or those’ individuals exist? That is the whole question. Yet in spite of all your verbosity, you give no answer at all to this basic question, and, as I said previously, you cannot furnish an answer to it so long as you cling to the views on experience that you have borrowed from Mach.

What does this or that person, ‘this or that individual’ represent for me? A certain ‘complex of sensations’. That is how your theory (that is, of course, your teacher’s theory) explains it. But if, according to this theory, this or that individual is for me but a ‘complex of sensations’, the question arises: what logical right have I to assert that this individual exists not only in my perception, which is based on my ‘sensations’, but also outside my conception, that is to say, that he has independent existence quite apart from my sensations and perceptions? Mach’s doctrine on ‘experience’ denies me this right. This doctrine lays it down that if I assert that other people exist outside myself, I pass beyond the boundaries of experience, I ‘utter’ a proposition that is above experience. And you, my dear Sir, call a proposition that is above experience, or, to use your own exact term: met-empirical, a metaphysical proposition. So it turns out that you and Mach are metaphysicians of the purest water. [137] That is very bad. But what is even worse is that, though you are a metaphysician of the purest water, you are quite unaware of the fact. You swear by all the gods of Olympus that you and your tutors, Mach and Avenarius, always stay within the orbit of experience, and from there you look down on ‘metaphysicians’ with the greatest contempt. When reading your works, and also of course, the works of your teachers, one involuntarily recalls the Krylov fable:

A Monkey in a mirror viewing form and face

Nudged with her leg a Bear who chanced near the place. [138]

Not only do you violate the most elementary requirements of logic, but you make yourself extremely ridiculous by simulating the ‘critical attitude’ of the monkey. If the Dauges, Valentinovs, Yushkeviches, Bermans, Bazarovs, and other long-winded wiseacres whose names are known to the Lord, if all this philosophical rabble (to use Schelling’s energetic expression) accept you as a more or less serious thinker (although not always agreeing with you), everyone who knows the subject, everyone who has studied philosophy not just in currently popular books, must smile ironically when reading your onslaughts on the ‘metaphysicians’, and repeat to himself the lines from the same fable:

To count thy friends though thou dost yearn,
T’were better, gossip, on thyself thy gaze to turn!

At any rate, you renounce solipsism. You admit the existence of ‘fellow-men’. I take note of this and say: if ‘these or those individuals’ both exist in my perception and at the same time have separate being independent of my perception, then surely this means that they exist not only ‘for me’, but also ‘in themselves’. ‘This or that individual’ thus turns out to be but a particular case of the notorious ‘thing-in-itself’, which has created such a furore in philosophy. And what have you to say, honoured Sir, about the ‘thing-in-itself’?

Among other things, this:

Each particular part of the complex may be lacking in our experience at the given moment, but we nevertheless recognise the ‘thing’ for the very same as a whole complex would be for us. Does this not mean that all ‘elements’, all ‘features’ of a thing may be discarded, and it will still remain, not as a phenomenon, but as ‘substance’? Of course, this is only an old error in logic. Pluck each hair off a man’s head separately, the man will not be bald; pluck all the hairs together, the man will be bald. Such is also the process by which ‘substance’ is created, the ‘substance’ which Hegel called, not without reason, the ‘caput mortuum’ of abstraction. If all the elements of the complex are discarded, there will be no complex; nothing will remain but the word denoting it. The word – that is the ‘thing-in-itself’. [139]

Thus the ‘thing-in-itself’ is but an empty word, devoid of all content, a caput mortuum of abstraction, as you repeat after Hegel, whose name, however, you decidedly take in vain here. Well, I shall agree with you: after all, I am an easy-going ‘individual’. The ‘thing-in-itself is an empty word. But if this is the case, the individual ‘in himself’ is also an empty word. And if an individual ‘in himself’ is an empty word, these or those ‘individuals’ exist only in my perception, and if so, ‘I’ am quite alone in the world and... inevitably arrive at solipsism in philosophy. Solus ipse! Yet you, Mr Bogdanov, reject solipsism. How is it possible? Doesn’t it again follow that in the mouthing of empty, meaningless words it is precisely you, ‘above all’, who are guilty, and not other ‘individuals’? You crammed these empty words, devoid of all meaning, into a lengthy article which you entitled, as if in mockery of yourself, ‘The Ideal of Cognition’. An extremely lofty ideal!

Speaking between ourselves, Mr Bogdanov, you are entirely at sea in regard to philosophical matters. Therefore I shall try to explain my thoughts to you by means of a graphic example.

You have probably read Hauptmann’s play Und Pippa tanzt!. In Act II, Pippa, on regaining consciousness after a fainting spell, asks: ‘Wo bin ich denn?’ [140] To which Hellriegel replies: ‘In Meinem Kopfe!’ [141]

Hellriegel was right. Pippa really did exist in his head. But the question now arises: was it only in his head that she existed? Hellriegel, who on seeing her thought he himself was delirious, at first assumed that Pippa did indeed exist only in his head. Of course, Pippa cannot agree with this and protests: ‘Aber sieh doch, ich bin doch von Fleisch und Blut!’ [142]

Hellriegel gradually yields to her argument; he places his ear against her chest (like a doctor, says Hauptmann) and exclaims: ‘Du bist ja lebendig! Du hast ja ein Herz, Pippa!’ [143]

Now, what happened here? To begin with, Hellriegel had a ‘complex of sensations’ which led him to think that Pippa existed only in his perception, and then a number of new ‘sensations’ (heartbeats, etc) were added to this ‘complex’ and at once turned Hellriegel into a metaphysician in the sense in which you, Mr Bogdanov, mistakenly use this word. He admitted Pippa’s existence outside the bounds of his ‘experience’ (again in your meaning of the word, Mr Bogdanov), that is to say, that she had separate existence quite regardless of his sensations. It is as simple as ABC. Let us proceed.

As soon as Hellriegel had recognised that Pippa had not been created by his sensations, combined in a certain way, but that his sensations had been sparked off by Pippa, he fell at once into what you, Mr Bogdanov, not understanding what it is all about, call dualism. He began to think that Pippa existed not only in his perception but also in herself. Now, Mr Bogdanov, perhaps you too have guessed that there is no dualism here at all, and that if Hellriegel had continued to deny Pippa’s existence in herself he would have arrived at that same solipsism which you so strongly and so vainly strive to disavow.

That’s what speaking popularly means! Having used this example from Hauptmann’s play, I am beginning to think that I shall at last be understood even by many of those readers thanks to whom several editions of your ‘philosophical’ works are dispersed over the broad face of the Russian land. What I say is extremely simple. All that is needed to understand me is a little effort.

O, children, learn your ABC,
ABC, and learn it right,
We shall all be happy,
When we can read and write!


You say, dear Sir, that the thing-in-itself, deprived of all meaning by Kant, has become cognitively useless. [144] And having said this, you imagine yourself, as usual, to be a profound thinker. However, it is not hard to understand that the truth you expressed here is a very cheap one. Kant taught that the thing-in-itself is inaccessible to knowledge. If it is inaccessible to knowledge, no one, even those who know nothing about empiriomonism, should have the least difficulty in guessing that it is cognitively useless. After all, isn’t it one and the same thing? What then follows? Not at all what you think, dear Sir. Not that the thing-in-itself does not exist, but only that Kant’s teaching about it was wrong. But you have so badly digested the history of philosophy, and especially of materialism, that you constantly forget that one can accept some other teaching about the thing-in-itself than Kant’s. Meanwhile, it is clear that if ‘these or those individuals’ exist not only in my head, they represent things-in-themselves in relation to myself. And if this is clear, it should also be obvious that we have to take into account the mutual relationship of subject and object. In as much as you spurn solipsism – although, as I have already pointed out, you are always being drawn involuntarily (that is, unnoticed by you) to its melancholy shores by some mysterious force – in as much as you are not a solipsist, you too try to resolve the question of the relationship of object and subject. Your absolutely incongruous theory of objectivity, which I analysed above, is just such an endeavour to solve this question. But, in doing so you restricted the scope of the question. You excluded from the objective world all people in general, and, consequently, ‘these or those individuals’ to whom you referred in talking yourself out of solipsism. Again you had no logical right whatever to do this, since the objective world for every separate person is the whole external world, to which also belong, incidentally, all other persons, to the extent that they exist not only in this person’s mind. You forgot about this, for the very simple reason that the point of view of the doctrine you have accepted concerning experience is the point of view of solipsism. [145] But I again meet you halfway. I again admit you are right in maintaining that ‘these or those individuals’ do not belong to the objective world. I only beg you to explain to me what is the relationship of ‘these or those individuals’ one to another and how they communicate with one another? This question will not embarrass you, I hope, but on the contrary will make you happy, since it offers you the chance to reveal before all of us one of the most ‘original’ features of your world-outlook.

You naturally (to use your own expression) take as the starting point of the investigation of this question the concept of man as a definite ‘complex of immediate experiences’. But for another person man appears ‘above all as a perception amidst other perceptions, as a definite visual-tactile-acoustic complex amidst other complexes’. [146] Here I might make the point again that if for person A person B is above all nothing more than a definite visual-tactile-acoustic complex, person A has the logical right to recognise the independent, separate existence of person B only in the case when he, person A, does not adhere to your (or rather Mach’s) teaching on experience. If he adheres to it, he must, at least, have the honesty to admit that in declaring person B to have separate existence from him, ‘individual’ A, he is ‘uttering’ a met-empirical, that is, a metaphysical (I am using these terms in the sense you understand them) proposition; otherwise he is rejecting the whole basis of Machism. But I shall not insist on this, since I suppose the reader now understands well enough this aspect of your inconsistency. The important point for me now is to ascertain how one ‘complex of immediate experiences’ (person B) ‘appears to another’ ‘complex of immediate experiences’ (person A), as a ‘perception amidst other perceptions’, or as a definite visual-tactile-acoustic complex amidst other complexes. In other words, I should like to understand how the process of the ‘immediate experienceof one ‘complex of immediate experiencesby another ‘complex of immediate experiencesis accomplished. The matter appears ‘above all’ to be obscure to the last degree. True, you try to shed some light on it by explaining that one person becomes for another a coordination of immediate experiences thanks to the fact that people understand each other’s ‘utterances’. [147] But I have to confess that I find it impossible to thank you for this ‘thanks to the fact’, since ‘thanks’ to it the matter is not any clearer than it was before. In view of this, I once again resort to my system of making lengthy excerpts from your articles. They may perhaps assist me in ascertaining what are your ‘independent’ discoveries in the sphere I am now interested in.

Between complex A and complex B certain relationships are established, a mutual influence, as you say. [148] Complex A is directly or indirectly reflected in complex B; complex B is reflected, or, at least, can be reflected in complex A. At the same time, you give the quite timely explanation that although any given complex may be directly or indirectly reflected in other analogous complexes, [149] ‘it is not reflected in them as it is, in its immediate form, but in the form of this or that series of alterations of these complexes, in the form of a new grouping of the elements entering into the complexes, complicating their “inner” relationships’. [150]

We shall keep these words of yours in mind; they contain an idea which is absolutely necessary for the comprehension of your theory of ‘substitution’. At the moment, let’s turn to the elucidation of another circumstance, which you, Mr Bogdanov, consider very important.

This is as follows. The interaction of ‘living beings’, you say, is not accomplished directly, immediately; the experiences of one being do not lie within the orbit of another’s experience. One vital process is ‘reflected’ in another only indirectly. [151] And this is accomplished through the intermediary of the environment.

This is not unlike a materialist theory. Feuerbach says in his Vorläufigen Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie: ‘Ich bin Ich – für mich, und zugleich Du – für Andere.’ (‘I am “I” for myself, and at the same time “Thou” for others.’) [152] But in his theory of cognition, Feuerbach remains a consistent materialist: he does not separate ‘I’ (nor those ‘elements’ into which ‘I’ could be divided) from body. He writes: ‘I am a real and sensuous being, my body belongs to my being: it might be said that my body in its totality [in seiner Totalität] is my ego, my very being.’ [153] Therefore, from Feuerbach’s materialist standpoint, the interaction of two people is ‘above all’ the interaction of two bodies organised in a definite way. [154] This interaction sometimes takes place directly, for example, when person A touches person B, and sometimes through the intermediary of the environment, for example, when person A sees person B. It need hardly be said that for Feuerbach the environment of men could be only a material environment. But this is much too simple for you: vous avez changé tout cela. [155] So tell us, please, what is that environment through the intermediary of which there occur, according to your ‘original’ teaching, the reciprocal actions of those complexes of immediate experiences which we profane creatures call people, and which you, making allowances for our weakness, but not wishing to be infected by it yourself, call ‘people’ (that is, people in empirio-critical quotation marks).

We need not wait for your reply. It is already here:

But what is ‘environment’? This concept has meaning only in contrast to that which has its own ‘environment’, or, in the present instance, to the life process. If we regard the life process as a complex of immediate experiences, the ‘environment’ will be all that does not enter into this complex. But if this is that ‘environment’ thanks to which some life processes are ‘reflected’ in others, it must represent the totality of elements not entering into the organised complexes of experiences – totality of unorganised elements, a chaos of elements in the proper meaning of the term. This is what appears to us in our perceptions and cognition as the ‘inorganic world’. [156]

Thus, the reciprocal actions of the complexes of immediate experiences are accomplished through the intermediary of the inorganic world, which in turn is nothing else but a ‘chaos of elements in the proper meaning of the term’. Good. But the inorganic world, as everyone knows, is part of the objective, physical world. What then is the physical world? Now we know this excellently, owing to your revelations, Mr Bogdanov. You have told us (and we have not forgotten) that ‘in general, the physical world is socially-coordinated, socially-harmonised, in a word, socially organised experience’. [157] Not only have you said this, but you have repeated it with the stubbornness of Cato insisting that Carthage must be destroyed. Now before us there ‘naturally’ arise five torturing questions.

First: Under which category of ‘experiences’ falls that fearful catastrophe as a result of which ‘socially-coordinated, socially-harmonised, in a word, socially organised experience’ has been transformed into a ‘chaos of elements in the proper meaning of the term’?

Second: If the reciprocal actions of people (whom for the sake of variety you call living beings – of course, in empirio-critical quotation marks) are not accomplished directly and immediately, ‘but only’ through the intermediary of the environment, that is, the inorganic world which is part of the physical world; if, further, the physical world is socially organised experience and as such is a product of evolution (as we have also heard from you many times), how were the reciprocal actions of people feasible before this product of development originated, that is to say, prior to experience being ‘socially organised’, that experience which is the physical world, including the inorganic world, that is to say, that same environment which, according to you, is necessary in order that the complexes of immediate experiences, or people, may influence one another?

Third: If the inorganic environment did not exist prior to experience being ‘socially organised’, how could the beginning of the organisation of this experience have been brought about? Have we not been told that ‘the reciprocal actions of living beings are not accomplished directly and immediately’?

Fourth: If the reciprocal actions of people were out of the question before the formation of the inorganic environment as the result of the development indicated, how could any kind of world processes have come about; how could anything of any kind arise apart from the isolated complexes of immediate experiences which appeared from the Lord knows where?

Fifth: What in fact could these complexes ‘experience’, at a time when absolutely nothing existed and when, consequently, there was nothing to ‘experience’?


You yourself feel that here is something ‘not quite right’ again and find it necessary ‘to eliminate possible misunderstandings’. How do you eliminate them?

In our experience [you write], the inorganic world is not a chaos of elements, but a series of definite space-time groups; in our cognition, the inorganic world is even transformed into an orderly system, united by relationships in continuous conformity to law. But ‘in experience’ and ‘in cognition’ means in somebody’s experiences; unity and order, continuity and conformity to law belong precisely to experiences as the organised complexes of elements; when regarded separately from this organised state, regarded ‘an sich’, the inorganic world is indeed a chaos of elements, a complete or almost complete indeterminateness. This is by no means metaphysics, it is simply the expression of the fact that the inorganic world is not life, and of that fundamental monistic idea that the inorganic world is distinguished from living nature, not by its material (those same ‘elements’ that are the elements of experience), but by its unorganised state. [158]

Not only does this ‘utterance’ not eliminate any misunderstandings; it does the exact opposite: it has produced some that were not there before. In referring to the ‘fundamental monistic idea’, you revert to the distinguishing of two forms of being which, following the example of Mach and Avenarius, cost you so much effort to criticise. You distinguish being ‘an sich’ from being in our cognition, or, to put it another way, experienced by somebody, that is, in ‘experience’. But if this distinction is correct, then your theory, in accordance with your own definitions, is met-empirical, that is, metaphysical. You yourself sense this and therefore you declare, without the least vestige of proof, ‘this is by no means metaphysics’. No, dear Sir, in the light of your doctrine of experience – and on this doctrine is founded the whole of ‘empirio-criticism’, the whole of Machism, and the whole of ‘empiriomonism’ – as well as in the light of your criticism of the ‘thing-in-itself’, this is the pure unmistakable metaphysics. But you could not avoid becoming a ‘metaphysician’ here, since you got yourself entangled in hopeless contradictions by remaining under the spell of your doctrine of experience. What can be said of a ‘philosophy’ which only acquires some hope of salvation from absurdity when it repudiates its own basis?

But you also feel that, in acknowledging a distinction between being ‘in experience’ and being ‘an sich’, your ‘philosophy’ is cutting its own throat. Therefore, you resort to what might be described as a terminological trick. You distinguish the world ‘in experience’ not from the world in itself, but from the world ‘an sich’ and fence in this latter world with quotation marks. If ‘this or that’ individual points out that here you are citing being-in-itself, which you yourself declared to be ‘cognitively useless’, you will reply that although you did use the old term signifying a ‘cognitively useless’ concept, you gave it an entirely new meaning by placing it in quotation marks. Very smart! It was no accident that in my first letter I likened you to cunning monk Gorenflot.

By divesting being-in-itself of its Russian dress and investing it in a German costume, and putting a screen of quotation marks round it, you wished to forestall objections from ‘this or that’ inopportunely shrewd individual; this is revealed in the note you made somewhat later, to be exact, on page 159. [159] You ‘recall’ there that you by no means used the expression ‘an sich’ in a metaphysical sense. And you prove this in the following way:

For certain physiological processes of other people, we substitute the ‘immediate complexes’ – consciousness; criticism of psychological experience compels us to extend the domain of this substitution, and we regard all physiological life as the ‘reflection’ of immediate, organised complexes. But the inorganic processes are not distinct in principle from the physiological, which are only their organised combination. Being in one continuous series with the physiological processes, the inorganic processes must also, obviously, be regarded as ‘reflection’. But of what? – of immediate unorganised complexes. We are as yet unable to carry out this substitution concretely in our consciousness. What of it! We are often unable to do this in relation to animals as well (the experiences of the amoeba) and even in relation to other people (‘incomprehension’ of their psychology). But in place of concrete substitution, we can formulate the relationships of these cases (‘life an sich’ – immediate, organised complexes, ‘environment an sich’ – unorganised complexes).

The significance of this new reservation of yours will be fully disclosed only when we come to determine the use-value of your theory of ‘substitution’ which, as we have seen, is one of the foundations of your claim to originality in the field of philosophy. However, it may already be said that this reservation is ‘cognitively useless’. Think it out for yourself, Mr Bogdanov. What significance can your formulation of the ‘relationships’ of the ‘cases’ you have indicated have here? Let us assume that this formulation – ‘life an sich’ is immediate, organised complexes; ‘environment an sich’ is the unorganised – is quite correct. What, then? After all, the question is not how ‘life an sich’ relates to ‘environment an sich’, but how ‘life an sich’ and ‘environment an sich’ relate to life and environment ‘in our experience’, in our ‘cognition’. Absolutely no reply can be found to this question in your new reservation. Therefore, neither that reservation nor the artful device of changing the clothes of being-in-itself from a Russian dress to a German costume will prevent shrewd ‘individuals’ from exercising their right to declare that, if momentarily you evade the irreconcilable contradictions inherent in your ‘philosophy’, it is only by admitting the ‘cognitively useless’ distinction between being-in-itself and being-in-experience. [160] Like your tutor Mach, out of the most elementary logical necessity, you burn that which you invite us to adore, and adore that which you invite us to burn.


Just one last word, and then I shall be able to wind up the list of your mortal sins against logic. I go on to your theory of ‘substitution’. It is this particular theory which must explain to us, the profane, how one man ‘appears to another’ as a definite ‘visual-tactile-acoustic complex amidst other complexes’.

We are already aware that there is interaction between the complexes of immediate experiences (or, to put it simply, people). They influence one another, ‘are reflected’ in one another. But how are they ‘reflected’? That is the whole question.

Here we shall have to recall that idea of yours, which I noted already, that although each given ‘complex’ can be reflected in other analogous complexes, it is reflected in them, not in its immediate form but in the form of certain alterations of these complexes, ‘in the form of a new grouping of elements entering into the complexes, complicating their inner relationships’. I remarked that this idea is absolutely necessary for the comprehension of your theory of ‘substitution’. The time has now come to deal with it.

Expressing this important idea in your own words, Mr Bogdanov, I shall say that the reflection of complex A in complex B is reduced to ‘a definite series of alterations of this second complex, alterations connected with the content and structure of the first complex by functional dependency’. [161] What does ‘functional dependency’ mean in this instance? Only this, that in the interaction between complex A and complex B, the content and structure of the first complex corresponds to a definite series of alterations of the second complex. No more and no less. This means that when I have the honour to converse with you, my ‘experiences’ come into conformity with yours. How is this conformity explained? There is nothing to explain it apart from those same words ‘functional dependency’ – and these explain absolutely nothing. So I ask you, Mr Bogdanov, is there really anything to distinguish this ‘functional’ conformity from that ‘pre-established harmony’ which you reject with such supreme contempt, following your teacher, Mach? Think again and you will see for yourself that there is absolutely no difference between them and that, therefore, you have been insulting old granny ‘pre-established harmony’ for no reason at all. If you really wish to be frank (although I have little hope of that) you will tell us that your reference to ‘environment’ stemmed from a vague consciousness of a (for you) embarrassing resemblance between the old theory of ‘pre-established harmony’ and your ‘functional dependency’. But after what I have said above, it is hardly necessary to explain that in the present difficult case environment is ‘cognitively useless’, if only for one reason that, since in your theory it is the result of the interaction of complexes, it does not explain how such interaction is possible, apart from ‘pre-established harmony’.

To proceed.

Having expounded the clearly ‘met-empirical’ (that is, ‘metaphysical’) proposition that the inorganic world ‘an sich’ is something totally distinct from the inorganic world ‘in our experience’, you continue:

If the unorganised ‘environment’ is the intermediate link in the interactions of vital processes, if through its intermediary the complexes of experiences are ‘reflected’ in one another there is nothing new and strange in the fact that through its intermediary the given vital complex is ‘reflected’ also in itself. Complex A, acting on complex B, can, through the intermediary of B, exert influence on complex C as well as on complex A, that is to say, on itself... From this point of view, it is perfectly understandable that the living being can have ‘external perception’ of itself, can see, feel, hear itself, and so on, that is to say, among the series of its own experiences can find those that represent an indirect (through the intermediary of ‘environment’) reflection of this self-same series. [162]

To translate all this into everyday language, it means that when a man perceives his own body, he ‘experiences’ some of his own ‘experiences’, which take on the form of a ‘visual-tactile complex’ because they are being reflected through the intermediary of environment. This is utterly incomprehensible ‘an sich’. Just try to understand how a man ‘experiences’ his own ‘experiences’ even if through the intermediary of ‘environment’, which, as we know already, explains absolutely nothing. [163] Here, Mr Bogdanov, you become a metaphysician in the sense attributed to the word by Voltaire, who averred that when a man says something he himself does not understand, he is dealing in metaphysics. But the idea you have expressed, incomprehensible ‘an sich’, may be reduced to this: our body is nothing else but our psychical experience reflected in a certain way. If this is not idealism, what is?

You have supplemented Mach splendidly, Mr Bogdanov, I am not saying this for fun. Mach as a physicist none the less occasionally wandered into materialism. I demonstrated this in my second letter to you with the help of some graphic illustrations. In this sense, Mach committed the sin of dualism. You have corrected his error. You have made his philosophy idealist from A to Z. We cannot but praise you for this. [164]

Please do not think I am mocking you over this, Mr Bogdanov. Quite the contrary; I am about to pay you a compliment – perhaps even a very big compliment. The arguments of yours that I have just been quoting remind me of Schelling’s teaching about the creative intellect which contemplates its own activity but is not conscious of this process of contemplation, and therefore conceives of its products as objects coming from outside. Of course, with you this teaching of Schelling has changed considerably and, indeed, has assumed the aspect, one may say, of a caricature. But it must already be some consolation for you that you are at least the caricature of a great man.

You should note, however, that in paying you this compliment, which, I confess, may seem doubtful to you, I have no wish to infer in any way that, in making your own supplement to Mach’s ‘philosophy’, you were aware that you were only changing someone else’s idealist doctrine and a fairly old one at that. No, I suppose that this old doctrine, thanks to some properties of your ‘environment’, was ‘reflected’, quite without your knowledge, in your head as a ‘complex’ of philosophical conclusions from the main acquisitions of ‘modern natural science’. But idealism is still idealism, no matter whether he who preaches it is conscious of its nature or not. While developing after your own fashion, that is, distorting, the idealism you have unconsciously assimilated, you ‘naturally’ arrive at a purely idealist view of matter. And although you reject the supposition that, in your opinion, the ‘physical’ is only the ‘other-being’ of the ‘psychical’, [165] in point of fact this assumption corresponds fully to the truth. Your view of matter, and of everything physical, is, I repeat, saturated through and through with idealism. To become convinced of this, it will suffice to read, for instance, your most profound observations relating to the domain of physiological chemistry:

In a word, it should be regarded as most probable that the organised living albumen is the physical expression (‘or reflection’) of immediate experiences of a psychical character and, of course, the more elementary they are, the more elementary is the organisation of this living albumen in each given instance. [166]

It is obvious that the chemist and physiologist who wished to take this point of view would have had to create purely idealist ‘disciplines’, to return to Schelling’s ‘speculative’ natural science.

Now it is not difficult to understand what exactly takes place when one person perceives the body of another person. But first of all we must revert to the inverted commas which have such an outstanding part to play in your ‘philosophy’, Mr Bogdanov. One person does not by any means see the body of another person – that is a materialism unworthy of ‘modern natural science’! He sees the ‘body’, that is, the body in inverted commas, although he notices the inverted commas only if he belongs to the ‘empiriomonistic’ school. And the body in inverted commas means that ‘this has to be understood spiritually’, as the Catechism puts it, or psychically, as you and I put it, Mr Bogdanov. ‘Body’ is nothing else but the peculiar reflection (reflection through the intermediary of inorganic environment) of one complex of experiences in another such complex. The psychical (in inverted commas and without them) precedes both the ‘physical’ (and the physical) and the ‘physiological’ (and the physiological).

There, Mr Bogdanov, is your book-learning. There is the meaning of all your philosophy!

Or to express it more modestly, there is the meaning of what bears your grandiloquent title of systematised, reformed substitution.

From the point of view of systematised, reformed substitution [you announce], all nature appears as an infinite series of ‘immediate complexes’, the material of which is the same as the ‘elements’ of experience, while their form is characterised by the most varying degrees of organisation from the lowest, corresponding to the ‘inorganic world’, to the highest, corresponding to man’s ‘experience’. These complexes influence one another. Each individual ‘perception of the external world’ is a reflection of some one of these complexes in a definite, formed complex – the living psyche, while ‘physical experience’ is the result of the collectively organising process, harmoniously uniting such perceptions. ‘Substitution’ gives a kind of reverse reflection of reflection, more resembling the ‘reflected’ than the first reflection: thus the melody reproduced by a phonograph is the second reflection of the melody perceived by it, and bears a much greater resemblance to the latter than the first reflection – the indentations and dots on the cylinder of the phonograph. [167]

It is useless to engage in a philosophical discussion with anyone who doubts even for a moment the idealist character of such a philosophy, for he is quite hopeless from the point of view of philosophy.

I might describe you as the enfant terrible of Mach’s school, if such a ponderous ‘complex of immediate experiences’ could be compared to a frolicsome and mischievous child. But, in any case, you have blurted out the school’s secret, saying openly what the school was too shy to speak about in public. You have put the idealist ‘dots’ over the idealist ‘i’s’ that have stamped Mach’s ‘philosophy’. And, I repeat, you did this because Mach’s (and Avenarius’) ‘philosophy’ seemed to you to be insufficiently monistic. You sensed that the monism of this ‘philosophy’ was idealist monism. So you resolved to ‘supplement’ it in the idealist spirit. In this case, your work-tool was the theory of objectivity constructed by you. With its help, you easily fashioned all your other philosophical – shall we say, acquisitions. You yourself admit this in the following passage, which, unfortunately for you, is distinguished by a remarkable clarity, quite unlike the other passages that have come from your ponderous pen:

Since the history of psychical development shows that objective experience, with its connection with the nervous system, and its orderly conformity to law, is the result of prolonged development, and is crystallised only step by step from the torrent of immediate experiences, it remained for us only to accept that the objective physiological process is the ‘reflection’ of the complex of immediate experiences, and not the other way round. The question further remained: if it is ‘reflection’, then in what exactly? The reply we gave corresponds to the social-monistic conception of experience we had adopted. Recognising the universal significance of objective experience as an expression of its socially organised state, we arrived at the following empiriomonist conclusion: physiological life is the result of the collective harmonisation of ‘external perceptions’ of the living organism, each of which is the reflection of one complex of experiences in another complex of experiences (or in itself). In other words, physiological life is the reflection of immediate life in the socially organised experience of living beings. [168]

This last phrase: ‘physiological life is the reflection of immediate life in the socially organised experience of living beings’ vouches both for you being an idealist, and for you being an ‘original’ idealist. Only an idealist can regard physiological processes as the ‘reflection’ of immediate psychical experiences. And only the most muddled of idealists can assert that ‘reflections’ pertaining to the domain of physiological life are the result of socially organised experience, that is to say, the product of social life.

But having let out the secret of ‘empirio-criticism’, you added absolutely nothing to this ‘philosophical’ doctrine apart from some utterly incongruous and irreconcilably contradictory fantasies. Reading these fantasies, one goes through almost the same as Chichikov had to ‘experience’ when he took a night’s lodging in Korobochka’s house. [169] The feather-bed was so skilfully made up for him by Fetinia that it almost touched the ceiling:

When, by standing up on a chair, he clambered into the feather-bed, it sank under him almost to the floor, and the feathers, crowded out of their confining covering, flurried to every corner of the room.

Your ‘empiriomonist’ fantasies too rise almost to the ceiling, they are so stuffed with various learned terms and sham wisdom. But at the first touch of criticism the feathers from your ‘philosophical’ feather-bed start flying in all directions, while the astonished reader, swiftly falling, feels himself descending into the murky depths of the most vapid metaphysics. Just because of that, it is very easy to criticise you: but it is an extremely dull business. That is why I left you alone last year and undertook instead the criticism of your teacher. But since you claimed to have your independent importance, I was compelled to deal with your claim. I have demonstrated how inconsistent your ‘theory of objectivity’ is, and to what extent your doctrine of ‘substitution’ distorts the natural connection of phenomena. That is sufficient. To pursue you further would be a sheer waste of time; the reader sees what your ‘independent’ philosophy is worth.

I shall say just one thing more in conclusion. The regrettable thing is not that such a ‘complex of immediate experiences’ as yourself, Mr Bogdanov, could appear in our literature, but that this ‘complex’ could play some part in it. Your books were read, some of those on philosophy ran into several editions. One could even be reconciled to that, were your books bought, read and approved only by obscurantists, [170] who do not deserve a better spiritual fare. But we cannot be reconciled to the fact that people of an advanced mode of thought read and accepted you seriously. That is a very bad sign. It shows that we are passing through a period of unprecedented intellectual decline. To accept you as a thinker capable of furnishing a philosophical justification of Marxism, one would need to have positively no knowledge either of philosophy or of Marxism. Ignorance is always a bad thing. It is dangerous to all men at all times, but it is especially so for those who wish to go forward. And for them it is doubly dangerous to be ignorant during periods of social stagnation, when they are called upon to do ‘battle with spiritual weapons’ with increased energy. The weapons you have forged, Mr Bogdanov, are quite unsuitable for advanced people; such weapons assure not victory but defeat. Worse than that. Fighting with such weapons, advanced people are themselves transformed into knights of reaction, opening up the way for mysticism and all varieties of superstition.

Those abroad who hold the same views as ourselves are very much mistaken in thinking, like my friend Kautsky, that there is no need to cross swords over that ‘philosophy’ which is disseminated in Russia by you and similar theoretical revisionists. Kautsky does not know the relationships existing in Russia. He disregards the fact that the theoretical bourgeois reaction which is now causing real havoc in the ranks of our advanced intellectuals is being accomplished in our country under the banner of philosophical idealism, and that, consequently, we are threatened with exceptional harm from such philosophical doctrines, which, while being idealist to the core, pose as the last word in natural science, a science foreign to every metaphysical premise. The struggle against such doctrines is not only not superfluous, it is obligatory, just as obligatory as it is to protest against the reactionary ‘revaluation of values’ which the prolonged efforts of Russian advanced thought have produced.

I had intended to say something about your pamphlet The Adventures of One Philosophical School (St Petersburg, 1908), but I am now pressed for time and must renounce this intention. Besides there is no great need to analyse this pamphlet. I hope that my three letters will be quite sufficient to elucidate how the philosophical views of the school to which I belong relate to your views, dear Sir, and particularly to the views of your teacher, Mach. That is all I want. There are more than enough people ready to carry on useless arguments, but I am not one of them. Therefore I had better wait until you write something against me and in defence of your teacher, or at least in defence of your own ‘objectivity’ and your own ‘substitution’. Then we shall have another talk!

GV Plekhanov

Notes – Notes are by Plekhanov, except those by the Moscow editors of this edition of the work, which are noted ‘Editor’.

1. ‘You asked for it, Georges Dandin!’ As an epigraph to each letter Plekhanov used the exclamation of the ill-starred peasant Georges Dandin, the title character of Molière’s play. The choice of the epigraph is explained by the fact that by his ‘Open Letter to Plekhanov’ Bogdanov provoked Plekhanov to criticise empiriomonism – Editor.

2. Vestnik Zhizni (Herald of Life) – a scientific, literary and political journal, the legal organ of the RSDLP (Bolsheviks) which was published in St Petersburg from March 1906 to September 1907. Besides articles devoted to current political problems, the journal printed many items on literary criticism, art and philosophy – Editor.

3. Literally: ‘call a cat a cat’ – Editor.

4. Pompadour – a collective satirical character created by MY Saltykov-Shchedrin in his Messieurs et Mesdames Pompadours, in which the great Russian satirist branded high tsarist officials, ministers and governors. The word became synonymous with petty tyranny and arbitrary administration – Editor.

5. A Bogdanov, Empiriomonism, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1905), p 39. [’Beltov’ was Plekhanov’s pen name – Editor.]

6. Quotation from Pushkin’s poem Poltava – Editor.

7. Vasili Kirillovich Tredyakovsky (1703-1769) – Russian poet, philologist and literary theorist – Editor.

8. I have plenty to do without that; literally: I have other cats to whip – Editor.

9. The reference is to Arturo Labriola’s book Reformism and Syndicalism – Editor.

10. The reference is to god-building – a religious philosophical trend which arose in Russia during the years of reaction (1907-10) among a group of party intellectuals who deserted Marxism after the defeat of the 1905-07 revolution. The god-builders (A Lunacharsky, V Bazarov and others) advocated the establishment of a new, ‘socialist’ religion, trying to blend Marxism with religion – Editor.

11. See Engels’ article ‘Die Lage Englands’, which was first published in Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher and reprinted in Nachlass, Volume 1, p 484. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), p 462 – Editor.]

12. They will soon do so. Our intellectuals’ infatuation with every fashionable anti-materialist ‘ism’ is a symptom of the adaptation of their ‘world-outlook’ to the ‘complex’ of ideas peculiar to the modern bourgeoisie. But as yet, many of the intellectuals who oppose materialism still imagine themselves to be spokesmen of the proletariat, whom they try to influence, sometimes not without success.

13. PB Struve, Critical Notes on Russia’s Economic Development (Russian edition, First Issue, St Petersburg, 1894) – Editor.

14. Mikhail Petrovich Artsybashev (1878-1927) – Russian novelist: his novels reflected the decadent trends during the period of reaction (1907-10) – Editor.

15. Molchalina character from A Griboyedov’s Wit Works Woe, synonymous with servility and toadyism – Editor.

16. See his Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit, and his controversy with Price.

17. See his remarkable attempts at a materialist explanation of history, which I mentioned in the second of my Beiträge zur Geschichte des Materialismus.

18. Preface, Empiriomonism, Volume 3, pp. x-xi.

19. Whoever says A, must say B – Editor.

20. Ludwig Feuerbach (St Petersburg, 1906), p 30. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p 337 – Editor.]

21. Supplement 1 to Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach (St Petersburg, 1906) p. 87. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 4 (Moscow, 1975), p. 130 – Editor.]

22. Ibid, p 88. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 4 (Moscow, 1975), p. 131 – Editor.]

23. Avis [advice] for you, Mr Bogdanov, but especially for your colleague, the Blessed Anatoly founder of the new religion. [Blessed Anatoly – AV Lunacharsky – Editor.]

24. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1973), p. 383 – Editor.

25. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p. 335 – Editor.

26. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), pp. 107-09 – Editor.

27. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] Allusion to Hobbes’ reference to the people: puer robustus et malitiosus (a strong and malicious child). I should say, by the way, that even in Hobbes’ system, materialism was far from being completely deprived of revolutionary spirit. The ideologists of the monarchy even at that time understood that monarchy by the grace of God was one thing, whereas monarchy according to Hobbes was quite another. Lange rightly said: ‘Dass jede Revolution, welche Macht hat, auch berechtigt ist, sobald es ihr gelingt, irgend eine neue Staatsgewalt herzustellen, folgt aus diesem System von selbst; der Spruch “Macht geht vor Recht” ist als Trost der Tyrannen unnöthig, da Macht und Recht geradezu identisch sind; Hobbes verweilt nicht gern bei diesen Konsequenzen seines Systems und malt die Vortheile eines absolutistischen Erbkönigtums mit Vorliebe aus; allein die Theorie wird dadurch nicht geändert.’ (FA Lange, Geschichte des Materialismus, Volume 1 (Leipzig, 1902), p. 244) [’that every revolution which is strong enough is also justified, as soon as it succeeds, in establishing a new form of state power follows of itself from this system: tyrants need not comfort themselves with the proverb “Might comes before Right” since might and right are actually identical. Hobbes is reluctant to dwell on the consequences of his system, and prefers to paint the advantages of an absolute hereditary monarchy; but that does not modify the theory.’] The revolutionary role of materialism in the world of antiquity was mentioned by Lucretius, writing eloquently apropos of Epicurus: ‘When human life lay foully on the earth, before all eyes, ‘neath Superstition crushed, who from the heavenly quarters showed her head and with appalling aspect lowered on men; Then did a Greek first lift eyes to hers – first brave her face to face. Him neither myth of gods, nor thunderbolts, nor sky with roar and threat could quell...’ Even Lange, who, in general, is not well disposed to materialism, recognised that idealism had a protective role to play in Athenian society.

28. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p. 113 – Editor.

29. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] ‘Notre morale, notre religion, notre sentiment de nationalité’, says Maurice Barrès, ‘sont choses écroulées, constatais-je, auxquelles nous ne pouvons emprunter des règles de vie, et en attendant que nos maîtres nous aient refait des certitudes, il convient que nous nous en tenions à la seule réalité, au Moi. C’est la conclusion du premier chapitre (assez insuffisant, d’ailleurs) de Sous loeil des Barbares.’ (Maurice Barrès, Le Culte du Moi. Examen de trois idéologies (Paris, 1892)) [’Our morality, our religion, our national sentiment have already suffered collapse, I noted. We cannot draw rules of life from them, and until our teachers have restored our confidence in these matters, it is fitting that we should cling to our only reality, our ego. This is the conclusion of the first chapter of the (not very adequate, by the way) book From the Barbarian Point of View.’] It is very clear that such sentiments must predispose those who hold them to idealism, and to its weakest variety at that – subjective idealism. People whose whole outlook is closed to everything except their precious ego, cannot have any sympathy for materialism. Yet there are people who consider materialism to be an immoral doctrine! It is not necessary to remind those who have even the slightest acquaintance with contemporary French literature, where Barrès, with his cult of the ego, finally landed.

30. I say ‘varied’, because in eighteenth-century French materialism there were several distinct trends, although all were akin to one another.

31. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] Confirmation of this may be found in a speech by the famous naturalist J Reinke on 10 May 1907 in the Prussian Upper Chamber about the League of Monists founded by Haeckel. This Kiel botanist tries in every possible way to convince himself and his audience that the ‘fanatic’ Haeckel causes his displeasure by the scientific groundlessness of the ‘materialist monism’ he preaches. (That is how Reinke, quite correctly, describes Haeckel’s teaching.) However, anyone who takes the trouble to read Reinke’s speech carefully will find that he is defending, not science, but what he calls ‘the light of the old world-outlook’ (Licht der alten Weltanschauung). There is no need to enlarge upon the social relations in which there arose this ‘light’, so pleasing to Reinke and scientists such as he. (Reinke’s speech was reproduced in a pamphlet, Haeckels Monismus und seine Freunde, von J Reinke (Leipzig, 1907).)

32. Ludwig Feuerbach (St Petersburg, 1906), p. 43, my italics – GP. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p. 347 – Editor.]

33. Empiriomonism, Volume 3, p. 11.

34. Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 41. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p. 346 – Editor.]

35. Empiriomonism, Volume 3 (St Petersburg, 1906), p. xiii.

36. He laughs best who laughs last – Editor.

37. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] On this matter, see the articles: ‘Conrad Schmidt Versus Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’, and ‘Materialism or Kantianism?’ in my work A Critique of Our Critics (St Petersburg, 1906), pp. 167-202. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), pp. 379-97, 398-414 – Editor.]

38. Of course, absolute idealism, too, does not share the materialist view on matter; but its teaching on matter as the ‘other-Being’ of spirit does not interest us here, just as it was of no interest to me in my dispute with the neo-Kantians.

39. The Works of George Berkeley DD, formerly bishop of Cloyne, Volume 1 (Oxford, 1871), pp. 157-58.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid, p. 200.

42. Feuerbach’s Werke, Volume 2, p. 308. I may be asked: does that not exist which exists only in thought? It exists, I reply slightly changing Hegel’s expression, subsisting as the reflection of real existence.

43. Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, fifth edition, p. 31. [Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow, 1975), p. 55 – Editor.]

44. Analysis of Sensations, translated by G Kotlyar, published by Skirmunt, p. 33.

45. According to Priestley, matter is the object of any of our senses (Disquisitions..., 1777, p. 142). [The last six words are in English in the original – Editor.]

46. La Matière, Memoire présenté a lInstitute de France, p. 5. The paper was read in April this year.

47. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] When characterising Plato’s theory of knowledge, Windelband said: ‘If notions include knowledge which, although formed by perceptions, does not develop from them and remains essentially distinct from them, then ideas, which are the objects of notions, must possess, together with the objects of perceptions, an independent and higher reality. But the objects of perceptions in all cases are bodies and their movements, or as Plato put it in plain Greek, the visible world; consequently, ideas, as the object of cognition expressed in notions, must represent an independent, separate reality, the invisible and incorporeal world.’ (Plato, p. 84) This will suffice for anyone to understand why, in contrasting materialism to idealism, I defined matter as the source of our sensations. In doing so I was emphasising the main feature which distinguishes the materialist theory of knowledge from the idealist. Mr Bogdanov did not understand this, and burst out laughing when he should have thought the matter over. My opponent says that all one can make out of my definition of matter is that it is not spirit. This again proves that he is not familiar with the history of philosophy. The concept ‘spirit’ developed by way of abstraction from the properties of material objects. It is a mistake to speak of matter as non-spirit. We have to say: spirit (that is, of course, the notion of spirit) is non-matter. Windelband asserts (p. 85) that the peculiarity of Plato’s theory of knowledge ‘consists of the demand that the higher world must be an invisible or immaterial world’. This demand could arise, obviously, only a very long time after man, on the basis of experience, had formed a notion of the world as ‘visible’ and material. The ‘peculiarity’ of the materialist criticism of idealism consisted in the revelation that it was inconsistent to demand the existence of a higher ‘world’ – ‘invisible’ and ‘immaterial’. The materialists affirmed that there exists only the material world which we – in one way or another, directly or indirectly – perceive with the aid of our senses, and that there is and can be no other knowledge apart from experience.

48. Ludwig Feuerbach (St Petersburg, 1906), p. 118. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), p. 459 – Editor.]

49. About this contradiction of Kant’s see my A Critique of Our Critics, p. 167. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), p. 379 et seq – Editor.]

50. In fact, animals are also capable of experience, but there is no need to deal with this here, since what I have said about human experience suffices to make my point clear.

51. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] ‘Kein Objekt ohne Subjekt’, said Schuppe, whose ‘immanent philosophy’ in its basis is identical with the teaching of Mach and Avenarius.

52. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] ‘Therefore the kernel of Plato’s philosophy is dualism, established in this philosophy between two types of cognition – thinking and perception – and similarly between their two objects – the immaterial and the material world.’ (W Windelband, Plato, pp. 85-86)

53. ‘Das Ding an sich hat Farbe erst an das Auge gebracht, Geruch an die Nase, und so weiter’, Hegel says. (Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik, Volume 1, Book 2 (Nürnberg, 1813)) [’the Thing in itself has colour only in relation to the eye, smell in relation to the nose, and so forth.’]

54. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] But this is precisely why Messrs the empiriomonists and ‘empirio-symbolists’ try to answer it. I examine the attempt made by J Petzoldt and P Yushkevich to answer this, in the article Cowardly Idealism to be found in this work. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1976), pp. 424-54 – Editor.]

55. A Critique of Our Critics, pp. 193-94. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), pp. 398-414 – Editor.]

56. Plekhanov makes a concession to agnosticism when he asserts that the first distinctive feature of space and time is subjectivity. In actual fact, space and time are objective, real forms of matter reflected by the human mind – Editor.

57. On the question of the identity of being and thinking I may now refer to my work Fundamental Problems of Marxism (St Petersburg, 1908), pp. 9 et sec. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1976), p. 125 et seq – Editor.]

58. A Critique of Our Critics, pp. 233-34. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), p. 419 – Editor.]

59. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] In mentioning this contribution of Hegel’s, I am not saying that he was the first to notice this distinction in the concepts of ‘appearance’ and ‘form’; I am only stating that he defined this distinction better than other great idealists.

60. Venevitinov, Collected Works (St Petersburg, 1855), p. 125. Dmitri Vladimirovich Venevitinov (1805-1827) – Russian poet, active member of a study group in philosophy known as ‘Lovers of Wisdom’ – Editor.

61. See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), p. 454 – Editor.

62. Pages 102-03 of the foreign edition; 111-12 of the Petersburg edition. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), pp. 454-55 – Editor.]

63. I became convinced of the unsatisfactory nature of this terminology when I reread Critique of Pure Reason, where I noticed the following passage in the first edition: ‘In order that the noumen signify a real object which is not to be confused with all phenomena, it is not sufficient for me to free my thought of all conditions of sensuous contemplation. Besides, I must have some grounds for recognising another form of contemplation apart from sensuous, in which a similar object could be given, otherwise my thought would be empty although free from contradictions.’ (Critique of Pure Reason translation by NM Sokolov, p. 218, Note). I wished to emphasise that no other form of contemplation apart from the sensuous is possible, but this does not prevent us from knowing things through the impressions they produce on us. But you of course did not understand this, Mr Bogdanov. What a lot of trouble you give me! Now you see what it means to begin studying philosophy straight from Mach!

64. Ludwig Feuerbach, St Petersburg edition, p. 112. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), p. 455 – Editor.]

65. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] In saying this, I do not mean that my critics would be right if I continued to hold to the old terminology. No, even in this case, their views would remain completely unfounded, as are all the objections made by the idealists against the materialists. Here the difference may be one of degree only, but it must be recognised that my honourable opponents have revealed an extreme degree of weakness. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that my rejection of a term I once employed was responsible for drawing these gentlemen’s attention for the first time to something which they began to portray as the weakest side of ‘my’ materialism. I am very happy to have given them an opportunity to distinguish themselves. But I regret very much that even an opponent of idealism such as VI Ilyin thought it necessary to have a go at my hieroglyphics in his book Materialism, etc; why should he have placed himself on this occasion in the same bracket with people who had given the most undeniable and obvious proof that they had not invented gunpowder! [In expounding and defending the Marxist theory of knowledge, Plekhanov made a mistake when he asserted that man’s perceptions are not copies of real things and processes of nature, but conventional signs, hieroglyphs. Lenin remarked in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism that ‘Plekhanov was guilty of an obvious mistake in his exposition of materialism’, that ‘Machists fastened with glee on Plekhanov’s “hieroglyphs,” palming off their renunciation of materialism as a criticism of “hieroglyphism"’ (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 14, pp. 238 and 232) – Editor.]

66. Empiriomonism, Volume 3, p. xv.

67. Ludwig Feuerbach, Notes, pp. 112-13. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), p. 455 – Editor.]

68. ‘Ein Ding hat Eigenschaften; sie sind erstlich seine bestimmten Beziehungen auf anderes... Aber zweitens ist das Ding in diesem Gesetztsein an sich... Ein Ding hat die Eigenschaft, dies oder jenes im Andern zu bewirken und auf eine eigenthümliche Weise sich in seiner Beziehung zu äussern.’ (Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik, Volume 1, Book 2, pp. 148-49) [’A Thing has properties. These are, firstly, its determinate relations to others... But, secondly, in this positedness, the Thing is in itself... A Thing has the property of effecting this or that in another, and of disclosing itself in a peculiar manner in its relation.’]

69. Critique of Pure Reason, p. xv.

70. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] Now some of those who think like Mach, for example, J Petzoldt, wish to dissociate themselves from Verworn, themselves admitting his idealism. Verworn is indeed an idealist, but he is the same kind of idealist as Mach, Avenarius and Petzoldt. He is only more consistent than they are; he is not scared of the idealist conclusions which frighten them and which they try to evade by the most ridiculous sophisms.

71. Werke, Volume 10, p. 193.

72. Werke, Volume 2, pp. 348-49.

73. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] According to Spinoza, the thing (res) is the body (corpus) and at the same time the idea of the body (idea corporis). But since he who is conscious of himself, also is conscious of his own consciousness, the thing is a body (corpus), the idea of a body (idea corporis) and finally the idea of the idea of the body (idea ideae corporis). It can be seen from this how close Feuerbach’s materialism is to Spinoza’s teaching.

74. Cf Fundamental Problems of Marxism, p. 9 et seq. [See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1976), p. 125 et seq – Editor.]

75. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p. 101 – Editor.

76. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p. 101 – Editor.

77. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p. 102 – Editor.

78. Plekhanov put in inverted commas the expression from Heine’s poem To Lazarus – Editor.

79. See Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1976), pp. 379-414 – Editor.

80. Ernst Mach, Analysis of Sensations, p. 34, note.

81. Erkenntnis und Irrthum (Leipzig, 1905), Foreword, pp. vi-vii.

82. Ibid, p. 9.

83. Ibid, p. 7.

84. Mach says in another part of Analysis of Sensations (p. 265, Russian edition): ‘The various sense-perceptions of one person, as well as the sense-perceptions of various people, are dependent on each other in conformity to law. This is what matter consists of.’ Perhaps. However, the whole question here is: is there, from Mach’s point of view, another dependence besides that which corresponds to established harmony?

85. Hans Cornelius, whom Mach regards as a person holding the same views as himself, admits outright that he knows of no scientific way out of solipsism. (See his Einleitung in die Philosophie (Leipzig, 1903), p. 323, especially the Note.)

86. See Erkenntnis und Irrthum, p. 6.

87. Ibid, p. 29.

88. [Note to the collection From Defence to Attack.] This much must be added: of course, Fichte was not the only one to make this distinction. It foisted itself, so to speak, not only on all idealists, but even on solipsists.

89. Mach, Analysis of Sensations, p. 197.

90. Ibid.

91. Ibid.

92. Ibid, pp. 141-42.

93. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] I say ‘only from the pen of a materialist’, since this phrase of Mach’s assumes that consciousness, that is to say, by the way, also ‘the phenomena of will’, is defined by ‘being’ (the material structure of those organisms in which the phenomena referred to are observed). It is nonsense, therefore, to say that this being is only being in the perception, or in the sensation of beings revealing the ‘phenomena of will’; being is certainly also ‘being-in-itself’. With Mach it appears, on the one hand, that matter is but one of the conditions (‘experiences’) of consciousness and, on the other hand, that matter, that is to say, the material structure of the organism, determines those of his ‘experiences’ which our thinker calls phenomena of will.

94. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] Certain ‘chemical and living conditions’ exist. The adaptation of the organism to them is ‘manifested’, by the way, in ‘taste and smell’, or, in the character of the sensations peculiar to this organism. It may well be asked: can one now assert, without lapsing into the most glaring contradiction, that the above-mentioned ‘chemical and living conditions’ are only a complex of sensations peculiar to that organism? Apparently, no. But, according to Mach, this not only may, but must, be said. Mach holds stolidly to the ‘philosophical’ proposition that the earth rests on whales, the whales swim on water, and the water is on the earth. It is to this conviction that he is obliged for the great discovery which so delighted my young friend Friedrich Adler (see his pamphlet Die Entdeckung der Weltelemente, Sonderabdruck aus no 5 der Zeitschrift Der Kampf (Vienna, 1908)). Incidentally, I have not lost hope that one day my young friend will ponder somewhat more deeply the basic questions of philosophy, and will himself smile at his present naive infatuation with Mach.

95. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack] Mach, Analysis of Sensations, p. 85.

96. [Note from the collection From Defence to Attack.] For the ‘penetrating reader’, with whom NG Chernyshevsky fought at one time in his novel What Is To Be Done?, I shall add the following qualification. I do not at all wish to say that Mach and like-minded thinkers consciously adjust their would-be philosophical views to the ‘spiritual’ needs of the contemporary bourgeoisie. In cases such as this, the adaptation of social (or class) consciousness to social (or class) being takes place for the most part unperceived by individuals. Besides, in the present case, the adaptation of consciousness to being was accomplished a long time before Mach began his ‘Sunday walks’ in the domain of philosophy. Mach’s guilt lay only in the fact that he did not have time to take a critical attitude to the predominant philosophical trend of his time. But this sin is committed by many, even more gifted people than he.

97. Mach, Analysis of Sensations, p. 49 of the Russian translation. In the fourth German edition the passage concerned is on page 39.

98. Mach, Analysis of Sensations, p, 74.

99. Ibid, Note.

100. Page 36 of the fourth edition.

101. ‘Oh, thing-in-itself, How I love you: You, thing of all things!’ – Editor.

102. Mach, Analysis of Sensations, p. 203.

103. Sovremennik (The Contemporary) – a scientific, political and literary monthly published in St Petersburg from 1836 to 1866. Among its contributors were NG Chernyshevsky, VG Belinsky, and MY Saltykov-Shchedrin. It was the best journal of the time expressing the aspirations of the revolutionary democrats and exerting a considerable influence on progressive elements in Russia – Editor.

104. A Bogdanov, Empiriomonism, Volume 3 (St Petersburg, 1906), p. xii.

105. Here I shall add just one small point: in the preface to the second edition of Anti-Dühring, Engels said: ‘Marx and I were pretty well the only people to rescue conscious dialectics from German idealist philosophy and apply it in the materialist conception of nature and history.’ (F Engels, Philosophy, Political Economy, Socialism (St Petersburg, 1907), p. 5). [Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow, 1975), p. 15 – Editor.] As you see, the materialist explanation of nature was to Engels as equally necessary a part of a correct world-outlook as the materialist explanation of history. This is too often and too readily forgotten by those with an inclination to eclecticism, or, what is almost the same thing, to theoretical ‘revisionism’.

106. Naturally, dear Sir, I disclaim all responsibility for your original style.

107. Empiriomonism, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1903), p. 18.

108. Ibid, pp. 18-19.

109. Ibid, pp. 19-20.

110. Ibid, p. 20.

111. Ibid.

112. Ibid, pp. 22-23.

113. Ibid, p. 23.

114. Ibid, pp. 32-33.

115. Ibid, p. 33.

116. Ibid, p. 34.

117. Ibid, p. 41, note.

118. Ibid, p. 34, note.

119. You have changed all that – Editor.

120. See above. I remind you, dear Sir, that this profound thought was expressed by you on page 33 of the third edition of Volume 1 of Empiriomonism.

121. Vladimir Mikhailovich Shulyatikov (1872-1912) – Russian literary critic and philosopher; opposed idealism from positions of vulgar sociology, thereby distorting Marxism – Editor.

122. I do not invent a hypothesis – Editor.

123. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, p. 8.

124. You know very little about the history of the views that were prevalent in the social sciences of the nineteenth century. If you knew it, you would not bring together Mach and Marx on the sole grounds that the Austrian professor of physics explains the origin of science by ‘the needs of practical life... technique’. This is a long way from being a new idea. Littre said as early as the 1840s: ‘Toute science provient d’un art correspondant, dont elle se détache peu à peu, le besoin suggérant les arts et plus tard la réflexion suggérant les sciences; c’est ainsi que la physiologie, mieux dénommée biologie, est née de la médecine. Ensuite et à fur et à mesure les arts reçoivent des sciences plus qu’ils ne leur ont d’abord donné.’ [’Every science originates from a corresponding art, from which it is detached little by little; the need suggests the art and then later reflection suggests the science. In this way, physiology, more exactly called biology, was born of medicine. Then, gradually, the arts receive from science more than they initially gave to it.’] (Quoted by Alfred Espinas, Les origines de la technologie (Paris, 1897), p. 12)

125. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, p. 30. Your italics.

126. Ibid, p. 31.

127. Engels, op. cit, p. 39. [Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow, 1975), p. 63 – Editor.]

128. The expression is taken from a Russian chronicle, according to which the Slav tribes appealed to the Varangians saying: ‘Our land is great and fertile, but there is no order in it. Come and rule us.’ Modern historical science has proved the untenability of this allegation – Editor.

129. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, p. 25.

130. Ibid, pp. 26-27.

131. Ibid, p. 28.

132. Ibid, p. 32, note.

133. Engels, op. cit, p. 40. [Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow, 1975), p. 64 – Editor.]

134. In an article that was not to your liking, ‘A New Variety of Revisionism’, Lyubov Axelrod reminded you, Mr Bogdanov, of Marx’s jocular remark that no one had yet devised the art of catching fish in waters where there were none to be found (Philosophical Essays (St Petersburg, 1906), p. 176). Unfortunately, this reminder did not cause you to change your mind. Right up to the present you go on maintaining that people, coordinating their experiences in the sphere of fishing and ‘making utterances’ to one another regarding this useful occupation, have created both fish and water. Very fine historical materialism!

135. Empiriomonism, Volume 3 (St Petersburg, 1906), pp. xviii-xix.

136. Ibid, p. 19.

137. In the article ‘Self-Knowledge of Philosophy’, you say: ‘Our Universum is above all the world of experience. But this is not only a world of immediate experience – no, it is much wider.’ (Empiriomonism, Volume 3, p. 155) Really, ‘much wider’! So much wider that a ‘philosophy’ supposedly based on experience relies, in fact, on a purely dogmatic doctrine of ‘elements’ that is very closely connected with idealist metaphysics.

138. From Ivan Krylov’s fable ‘The Mirror and the Monkey’ – Editor.

139. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, pp. 11-12, note.

140. Where am I then? – Editor.

141. In my head! – Editor.

142. Don’t you see, I am made of flesh and blood! – Editor.

143. Yes, you are alive, you have a heart, Pippa! – Editor.

144. Empiriomonism, Volume 2 (St Petersburg, 1906), p. 9.

145. When I say ‘experience’, I have in mind one of two things: either my personal experience or not only my personal experience, but also the experience of my ‘fellow-men’. In the first instance I am a solipsist, because in my personal experience I am always alone (solus ipse). In the second instance, I steer clear of solipsism, because I cross the bounds of personal experience. But by accepting the existence of ‘fellow-men’ independent of myself, I thereby affirm that these have being in themselves, separate and apart from my perception of them, from my personal experience. In other words, by recognising the existence of ‘fellow-men’, I, or better to say: you and I, Mr Bogdanov, declare to be sheer nonsense that which you, Mr Bogdanov, say against being-in-itself, that is to say, we overthrow the entire philosophy of ‘Machism’, ‘empirio-criticism’, ‘empiriomonism’, etc, etc, etc.

146. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, p. 121.

147. ‘Finally, thanks to the fact that people mutually “understand” one another’s “utterances” man becomes also for others a coordination of immediate experiences, a “psychical process"’, etc – ibid, p. 121.

148. Ibid, p. 124.

149. On the following page of the same book, you state the contrary, as I have said above, that the interaction of ‘living beings’ (and of the complexes) does not take place directly and immediately (ibid, p. 125). This is one of your innumerable contradictions that are not worth examination.

150. Ibid, p. 124.

151. Ibid, p. 125.

152. Plekhanov is mistaken. This thesis, as well as two others cited below, are actually from Feuerbach’s ‘Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft’ (‘Fundamental Principles of the Philosophy of the Future’), Werke, Volume 2 (Leipzig, 1846), p. 322 – Editor.

153. Werke, Volume 2, p. 325.

154. ‘Nicht dem Ich, sondern dem Nicht-Ich in mir, um in der Sprache Fichtes zu reden, ist ein Objekt, das heisst, anderes Ich gegeben; denn nur da, wo ich aus einem Ich in ein Du umgewandelt werde, wo ich leide, entstehet die Vorstellung einer ausser mir seienden Aktivität, das heisst, Objektivität. Aber nur durch den Sinn ist Ich – Nicht-Ich.’ (Werke, Volume 2, p. 322) [’the object, that is to say, the other “I,” is not given to the “I,” but to the Non-"I” in me, if this may be expressed in Fichte’s language; indeed, it is only where I am transformed from “I” into “Thou,” where I suffer, impressions are formed of activity outside me, that is to say, of objectivity. But it is only through the faculty of sensation that “I” am Non-"I.”]

155. You have changed all that – Editor.

156. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, p. 125.

157. This passage will be found on page 33 of Volume 1 of Empiriomonism, and the italics are yours, Mr Bogdanov.

158. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, pp. 125-26.

159. Empiriomonism, article ‘Universum’ (‘Empiriomonism of the Separate and Continuous’).

160. I say you evade irreconcilable contradictions momentarily because you are not destined to evade them for any length of time. Actually, if the inorganic world ‘an sich’ is a chaos of elements, whereas ‘in our cognition it is even transformed into an orderly system, united by relationships in continuous conformity to law’, it is a case of one of two things: either you yourself do not know what you are talking about, or you, who imagine yourself to be an independent thinker of the latest pattern, revert in the most disgraceful way to the point of view of old Kant, who asserted that reason prescribed its laws to external nature. Truly, truly I say unto you, Mr Bogdanov: until the end of your days you will continue to drift without rudder or sail from one contradiction to another. I am beginning to suspect that your ‘philosophy’ is that very chaos of elements of which, you tell us, the inorganic world is composed.

161. Empiriomonism, Volume 1, p. 124.

162. Ibid, p. 126.

163. We can ‘experience’ our own ‘experiences’ only by recollecting something that we have undergone previously. But you, Mr Bogdanov, are talking about something quite different.

164. You found that the recognition by Mach and Avenarius of the ‘psychical’ and ‘physical’ as two separate series was tantamount to the recognition of a certain ‘duality’. You wished to eliminate this duality. Those numerous and profound ‘why’s’ with which you pestered Mach and Avenarius were very transparent hints that you knew the secret of how to get rid of the embarrassing duality. In fact, you said so outright. Now we know the secret: you declare the ‘physical’ to be the other-being of the ‘psychical’. This is, indeed, monism. Unfortunately it is idealist monism.

165. I have placed these three words in inverted commas because they were thus enclosed by you in the hope of foiling any attempt by the reader to understand them in a direct, that is to say, a correct sense. See Empiriomonism, Volume 2, p. 26.

166. Ibid, p. 30. Elsewhere you say: ‘To every living cell there corresponds, from our point of view, a certain, even though insignificant, complex of experiences.’ (Empiriomonism, Volume 1, p. 134) Those who would have thought that in saying this, you were alluding to the ‘cellular souls’ of Haeckel, would have made a serious error. In your view, the conformity between the ‘living cell’, and even an insignificant complex of experiences consists in this, that the cell is but the ‘reflection’ of this complex, that is, once again its other-being.

167. Empiriomonism, Volume 2, p. 39.

168. Ibid, p. 136; your italics.

169. Chichikov, Korobochkacharacters from Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls – Editor.

170. William James, in trying to substantiate his religious point of view, says: ‘Concrete reality is composed exclusively of individual experience.’ (L’expérience religieuse, Paris and Geneva, 1908, p. 417) This is equivalent to the assertion that ‘complexes of immediate experiences’ underlie all reality. James is not mistaken in thinking that such assertions throw the door wide open to religious superstitions.