Louis Althusser 1971
Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays
First Published: by François Maspero, 1968;
Translated: by Ben Brewster;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.
To avoid any misunderstanding of the meaning of this condemnation of philosophy teachers and of the philosophy that they teach, attention should be paid to the date of the text and to certain of its expressions. Echoing Dietzgen, Lenin condemns philosophy teachers as a mass, not all philosophy teachers without exception. He condemns their philosophy, but he does not condemn philosophy. He even recommends the study of their philosophy, so as to be able to define and pursue a different practice than theirs in philosophy. A triple observation, therefore, in which in the end the date and circumstances change nothing of substance.
1. Philosophy teachers are teachers, i.e. intellectuals employed in a given education system and subject to that system, performing, as a mass, the social function of inculcating the ‘values of the ruling ideology’. The fact that there may be a certain amount of ‘play’ in schools and other institutions, which enables individual teachers to turn their teaching and reflection against these established ‘values’ does not change the mass effect of the philosophical teaching function. Philosophers are intellectuals and therefore petty bourgeois, subject as a mass to bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology.
2. That is why the ruling philosophy, whose representatives or supports the mass of philosophy teachers are, even in their ‘critical’ freedom, is subject to the ruling ideology, defined by Marx from The German Ideology on as the ideology of the ruling class. This ideology is dominated by idealism.
3. This situation, shared by those petty-bourgeois intellectuals, the philosophy teachers, and by the philosophy they teach or reproduce in their own individual form, does not mean that it is impossible for certain intellectuals to escape the constraints that dominate the mass of intellectuals, and, if philosophers, to adhere to a materialist philosophy and a revolutionary theory. The Communist Manifesto itself evoked the possibility. Lenin returns to it, adding that the collaboration of these intellectuals is indispensable to the Workers’ Movement. On 7 February 1908, he wrote to Gorky: ‘The significance of the intellectuals in our Party is declining; news comes from all sides that the intelligentsia is fleeing the Party. And a good riddance to these scoundrels. The Party is purging itself from petty bourgeois dross. The workers are having a bigger say in things. The role of the worker-professionals is increasing. All this is wonderful.’ Gorky, whose cooperation Lenin was asking for, protested, so Lenin replied on 13 February 1908: ‘I think that some of the questions you raise about our differences of opinion are a sheer misunderstanding. Never, of course, have I thought of “chasing away the intelligentsia” as the silly syndicalists do, or of denying its necessity for the Workers’ Movement. There can be no divergence between us on any of these questions.’ On the other hand, in the same letter, the philosophical divergences persist: ‘It is in regard to materialism as a world outlook that I think I disagree with you in substance.’ This is hardly surprising, for Gorky was pleading the cause of empirio-criticism and neo-Kantianism.