Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963


Those were some of the reasons which explain the fact that hardly were the rules of Marxist-Leninist methodology and the plan of historical-philosophical inquiry announced, when the soundness of the rules and the feasibility of the plan were brought into question. The first misgivings and suggestions concerning the advisability of methodological revisions appeared in print towards the end of 1954. The following year the unsatisfactory state of inquiries on the history of philosophy in Poland was brought into the open, and its causes were analysed. Finally, about the middle of 1956 the retreat was publicly sounded, for it was recognised that without an extensive modification of the methodological principles laid down in 1952 no useful progress could be made.

The defences of the scissors-and-paste history of philosophy were breached by the simple observation that while philosophical doctrines may serve as an instrument in the class struggle, they are not exclusively a class weapon. They contain some knowledge about the world, which is not determined by the class struggle but by the stage reached in the development of science.

The question whether a philosophical system is an adequate reflection of the world is not decided by ascertaining the class origin of its author. For the pressure of the class consciousness determines only the urge for knowledge and not its content. Moreover, if the thinker’s class origin were to be considered as a decisive factor, a historian of philosophy could hardly make any use of it. It should be remembered, for instance, that the founders of modern philosophy were ‘an escaped monk, a state-chancellor, a cobbler, a nobleman, a proscribed Jew, a learned diplomat, independent men of letters and journalists’ [1182].

To say that Marx’s teaching has been a turning point in philosophy does not mean that he has solved every possible philosophical problem and brought the development of philosophy to its final destination beyond which no further progress can be made. Such interpretations would militate against the very essence of Marx’s mode of thinking. The great service rendered by Marx to philosophy is the complete emancipation of human thought of every illusion, whether ideological or religious, which precisely removes all obstacles to an unimpeded progress of science and philosophy[1183].

If philosophical doctrines are not determined solely by the class struggle, it is impermissible to treat their history as a constant advance of materialist systems gradually approximating true knowledge, the progress of which is obstructed or disrupted by the interference of idealist thinking. If that were the case, Duns Scotus, Averroes, Giordano Bruno, Descartes and many other thinkers would have to be dismissed as having contributed nothing to philosophy. Marxist-Leninist would succumb to the spirit of a sectarian narrow-mindedness and to falsehood, if it denied the patent fact that thinkers of all classes and of all kinds, including the idealists, can make a contribution to the development of the scientific world outlook. It should be observed that prior to Marx the protagonists of materialism came always from the progressive groups of the propertied classes; that the systems of Leibniz and Hegel are purely idealist and yet without them scientific socialism would be unthinkable; and that the various plebeian movements, however much they might have contributed to the scientific world outlook, combined, as a rule, ideological radicalism with irrationalism, religious ideas and mysticism.

Any philosophical opinion of the past should be examined from the viewpoint of its role in the development of philosophical thought. In a certain superficial sense of this term, the Cogito of Descartes and Spinoza’s ontological proof of God’s existence are idealist. But what Descartes and Spinoza wished to and did accomplish by these means was to emancipate philosophy from the tutelage of theology. They took advantage of them to show the autonomy of Reason and the independent existence of Nature. To be rightly assessed, the particular achievements of Descartes or Spinoza or any other thinker should be viewed in relation to their other opinions, examined against the background of the past ages and in the light of the conclusions drawn by their successors. For it will then be found that cum duo faciunt idem, non est idem. Bacon’s reliance on perception is the point of departure for the assertion that empirical knowledge is not only possible, but the only fruitful and valuable one. When Thomas Aquinas speaks of the priority of knowledge through the senses he embarks upon the proof that was to show the limitations of natural knowledge and its need for supernatural enlightenment[1184].

The criticism of the methodological rules was soon extended to what was initially called the ‘fundamental historical law of philosophical development’ – the division of all systems into two mutually exclusive classes of idealist and materialist philosophies. This division was to be coextensive with another and equally important one, namely, that of progressive and retrograde or reactionary doctrines. It was, however, clear that they were not coextensive. For Hobbes is a materialist and Hegel an idealist, but, according to Marxist-Leninists, neither the former is a progressive nor the latter a retrograde thinker[1185]. Still greater difficulty arises when a particular question and its various solutions of fundamental importance in philosophy are to be evaluated. The problem of universals provides an instance in point. Nominalism, already considered in the preceding pages, is often associated with materialism and was its first harbinger in modern times. It does not follow from this, however, that nominalism has always played a progressive role and that the anti-nominalistic solutions have obstructed the progress of philosophy. Sometimes just the opposite has been the case. Not every doctrine, even an important one, can be unambiguously described as either idealist or reactionary[1186].

The initial methodological rules have thus been considerably revised. First and foremost the distinction has been made between the ideological and cognitive function of philosophical ideas. More generally, the inference that the content of philosophical ideas is exclusively social, since it might be given a causal social and historical explanation, has been rejected. This clearly implied the re-establishment of the relative independence of philosophical thought and its examination in relation to what its predecessors handed down, to contemporary scientific knowledge, and to its internal order and coherence. This restored the immanent interpretation of history to its rightful position in historical inquiry from which it had been previously banished. Contrary to the initial wholesale condemnation, there was no longer the question of denying that bourgeois historical studies may have some value. While a Marxist-Leninist disagrees with many important findings and the general direction of the traditional history of philosophy, he is not duty-bound to dismiss as worthless nonsense every result obtained by traditional methods[1187].

The difference between a Marxist-Leninist and a non-Marxist historian does not consist in the fact that the former rejects and the latter accepts the immanent interpretation of history. They both accept it but with one difference. For a Marxist-Leninist historian does not consider the immanent interpretation as self-sufficient and applies to the history of philosophy as a whole and to the actual research work the rules of procedure provided by historical materialism. In this sense the historian’s immanent approach is restricted by being considered as a first stage of historical inquiry whose results are subject to another interpretation of a higher order.

The revised methodology has been finally and universally accepted in 1956, and the occasion was provided by the publication of Lenin Philosophical Notebooks in a Polish translation. Kroński, once the leading exponent of the scissor-and-paste history of philosophy, acknowledged that Zhdanov’s principles produced a ‘vulgarised historiography’ and a ‘false picture of the development of philosophy’. The revision of the methodological rules, once again restated with a flourish, characteristic for this Sturm und Drang Periode, was supported by Lenin’s authority, whose original ideas on ‘scientific history of philosophy’ could be rediscovered upon the publication of Philosophical Notebooks. In Kroński’s opinion, it paved the way for the return to Hegel’s historicism after the ‘ruthless and brutal retrogression from Hegelianism’ in Marxist-Leninist thinking during the past years[1188].

The reference to the rediscovery of Lenin’s original ideas was clearly a facesaving formula. Philosophical Notebooks were widely available in the original and, since 1949, in German translation[1189]. Zhdanov’s standpoint could have been as profusely supported by quotations from Lenin’s writing as its criticism, made by the disenchanted supporter of Zhdanov’s line.

Whether Hegel can teach common sense, respect for facts and logic is a moot question. There is no doubt, however, that interest in and respect for Hegel is no longer concealed and that this revival has at present a beneficial effect upon Marxist-Leninist historiography[1190]. Whether this influence would remain beneficial in the long-run is by no means a foregone conclusion. For while in the past Hegel has inspired fruitful lines of approach to the history of law, political institutions, art, moral and philosophical ideas, his historicism has exercised a baleful influence. His use of Spinoza’s principle: omnis determinatio est negatio, has produced a method of thinking which is as empty as it is arbitrary. Practically every preconceived idea, every prejudice or superstition can be ‘rationally’ established by applying Hegel’s dialectic mode of thinking. The present revival of the Hegelian philosophy in Polish Marxism-Leninism is not associated, however, with Hegel’s historicism, but with his historism. Hegel’s greatness, wrote Kroński, should be seen in his rising above the horizon of thought of his own epoch and in making it possible for others to follow in his footsteps[1191]. The liberating effect of the Hegelian philosophy, which its admirers at present experience, rests upon its interpretation as an antidogmatic historical philosophy, denying the finality of any intellectual achievement.