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Nigel Harris

Philosophical desiccation

(Autumn 1960)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 2, Autumn 1960, p. 35.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Science, Faith and Scepticism
John Lewis
Lawrence & Wishart 13s. 6d.

Kolakowski in a recent article in Stadia Filozoficzne (1959, 2), extracts of which are translated and reprinted in Soviet Survey (April-June 1960) draws attention to what he thinks are differences in implication between Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts and later philosophic works written by Engels. The crux of the divergence, he thinks, is that the young Marx saw nature as made up of particular categories, as an ‘artificial’ creation arising from man’s practical needs and his effort to master nature. The young Marx saw nature and man interacting in the process of ‘creating’ consciousness. Schaff’s reply to Kolakowski’s article is a pure hatchet job written on behalf of the Party. It reveals quite clearly the brutal Compteian positivism that is the philosophic garb of Stalinism. The world is ‘out there’ and science is the process of drawing increasingly accurate pictures of a pre-set reality. In Stalinist philosophy, direct correspondence (theory must ‘mirror’ the facts) is the sole acknowledged means of verification. Lewis has written a further philosophic footnote to the arid sequence that started with Stalin’s Chapter IV of the History of the CPSU(B). This trail runs very close to classical empiricism.

As long as Lewis stays on the safe ground of examining popular (and less popular) mythology, we can stay with him – it is when he explores the more esoteric waters of ‘truth’ that his craft is seen to be rotten. We then see how Stalinism remains a straight-jacket for philosophy, how it has chained philosophy to a determinate picture of the world, the ‘correct’ picture, as defined by the General Secretary. The essence of Marxism, ‘practice’, the fusion of aim and reality in action, is missing. We are hived off into the academic waters of polite jousts with bourgeois philosophers. As Marcuse notes about Stalinism in general, the dialectic is missing. In Stalinism Russian philosophy has returned to its roots: the common superstitions of class-ridden society.

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