Reading Lenin: Materialism and Empiro-criticism

March 9, 2013 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Materialism and Empiro-criticism is a famous work by Lenin that outlines what Marxist philosophy is all about. The book will be 100 years old this year. What still makes it valid today? Have new philosophic developments in the last 100 years made this work outmoded? I’m going to write some reflections on the book section by section and anyone who wants to read along and comment is welcome to do so. I hope to post weekly updates and Sunday seems the best day to do this as it is a free day for me.
The Prefaces: Why did Lenin write this book? He stated that it was because a number of people calling themselves “Marxists” had been attacking “orthodox” Marxism (“dialectical materialism”) and calling it outmoded and wanting to supplement it with new ideas borrowed from bourgeois philosophy.
Engels is specifically attacked by these critics as being “antiquated” and his views on dialectics are said to be a species of “mysticism.” None of the books that Lenin attacks are of much interest today and the names of the authors have mostly been forgotten. Perhaps some might recall the name of A.A. Bogdanov. The name Lunacharsky may ring a bell as he later became the first Commissar of Enlightenment under the Bolsheviks.
Lenin is not opposed to criticism the views of Marx and Engels. He mentions approvingly Mehring’s critique of “antiquated views of Marx” which was undertaken from a dialectical materialist standpoint. Any historians out there reading this are encouraged to send in comments about just what these views were and where Mehring made them as Lenin does not discuss them in the Prefaces.
Besides defending the “orthodox” view from “heretics”, Lenin also wanted to know what drove ostensible Marxists to bourgeois philosophy. What, he asks, “was the stumbling block to these people” that made them desert the orthodox position?
Well, in our own day we have a similar problem. Engels is still attacked and efforts are made to cut Marx away from Engels and make Engels some sort of hack. We also have ordinary language Marxists, existentialist Marxists, phenomenological Marxists, postmodern Marxists, etc., etc.
Next week I’ll look at “In lieu of an Introduction.” I’m using Vol. 14 of the CW for the text. The book itself seems to be out of print. Maybe you can find a copy on line. If you google “materialism and empiro-criticism” the first entry you get should be an online copy of the book so if you don’t have a hard copy you can still read it.

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This post was written by Thomas Riggins

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