Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963


It has already been mentioned that the high rank assigned to history by the Marxist-Leninist doctrine has promoted interest in and enlarged the scope for historical inquiry of every kind. With some signal exceptions – economic history, to which reference has been made, is an instance in point – and under certain conditions – historical inquiry had to be restricted to the national culture and be free from cosmopolitan influences as defined in Chapter 8 – the expansion of the existing and the initiation of new lines of historical studies were encouraged by Polish Marxist-Leninists in every possible way. A considerable and steadily rising number of research workers were engaged in the history of art, literature, education, technique, social and natural sciences, logic, mathematics, law, economic, social and political thought. The history of philosophy has also benefited from this stimulus. If the number of contributions only were considered, the history of philosophy could be described as flourishing in the last few years. In general, a definite and sometimes a considerable advance in many domains of historical inquiry has been achieved and the interest in the historical approach to knowledge has been greatly and fruitfully stimulated.

The encouragement given to historical inquiry was, however, prescriptive, and this spoiled much effort and harmed many results. The insistence that ‘cosmopolitism’ should be eliminated, narrowed down the boundaries of the historian’s outlook or even reduced it to parochial proportions. Under the inescapable methodological guidance of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine historical inquiry was often deflected from its cognitive end and served didactic or ideological purposes. Some definite directives were imposed from above and were strictly enforced. The main task of the historian was laid down once and for all. He had to differentiate between two main trends in the national culture, the progressive and the reactionary, and to show how the former has grown throughout the ages to reach its culmination point in Marxism-Leninism, the inheritor of everything that was healthy, vital, great and revolutionary in the national tradition. This approach to the past, inspired by one of Lenin’s polemical and marginal remarks, was obligatory for every historian, whatever his particular subject of study.

Thus, Marxist-Leninist historiography came into conflict with well-established facts, for its assumption and objective could not have been substantiated without inflicting violence on the silent material of the past. The history of nineteenth century philosophical thought in Poland may provide an example of how this conflict was resolved.

The first half of the last century was dominated by the so-called national philosophy, which arose under the influence of the Hegelian system and, as Engels would have said, of its conservative rather than revolutionary side. ‘The tradition of all the dead generations’, wrote Marx, ‘weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’. In the opinion of Marxist-Leninist historians, the nightmare that haunts the minds of the Polish people at the present time is still the national philosophy of the last century with its insistence on the worth of the individual, social solidarity, supremacy of the moral values, national independence as a prerequisite of the individual’s self-fulfilment, and the rule of Christian providence in history. To remove this weight would accomplish a twofold task. It would establish the bond between theory and practice in the field of the history of philosophy, that is, it would relate the history of philosophy to the current ideological and political struggle for the acceptance by the people of the Marxist-Leninist outlook. Second, to reveal the reactionary character of the national philosophy would be the first step toward its replacement in the social consciousness by the democratic and revolutionary trend, which, in the past, was overshadowed and concealed by the national philosophy. MarxistLeninists argued that this programme did not infringe upon objectivity, since objectivity presupposes a close bond between history and the struggle for progress. The victory of the scientific world outlook of Marxism-Leninism in the mind of the people would represent the resumption of the sway of progress over the forces of darkness and superstition[1192].

Consequently, the national philosophy was made to appear as an ideological expression of the fear of the revolution experienced by the propertied classes. These classes – the feudal gentry and aristocracy, later transformed into capitalist landowners – cherished no illusions but that a revolution would have deprived them of their privileged position in the community. The national philosophy was an ideology anti-national in character, socially and morally cynical and prompted by the hatred of progress which it tried to oppose[1193].

Parallel to the reactionary trend in the national tradition the progressive one has made its way, in the past obstructed and stifled by the furies of private interests and doomed to oblivion in historiography by revengeful classinspired scorn and forgetfulness. The progressive tradition was represented by the revolutionary nobles, the bourgeois democrats and, above all, the revolutionary democrats; the latter were the most advanced incarnation of preMarxian philosophical thought. Their guiding idea was to combine the struggle for national independence with a wide programme of social reforms or with a social revolution.

Marxist-Leninist historians concentrated all their efforts on the second thread in the cultural tradition and accomplished a complete reshuffle in the order of relative importance. The national philosophy, morally condemned and neglected, receded into the background to leave the intellectual scene for the representatives of the progressive and revolutionary trend.

The error of Marxist-Leninist historiography did not consist in recalling the existence of trends and aspirations in nineteenth century Poland which could not be accommodated within the tradition of the national philosophy, but in assigning to them a role that the available facts did not warrant. Whatever we may feel about the two trends, the fact remains that the national philosophy was dominant and the revolutionary democrats were a weak force. For instance, Edward Dembowski, the leading revolutionary democrat, not only failed to exercise a wider intellectual influence on his contemporaries in general, but also was entirely ignored by those who, according to Marxist-Leninists them selves, continued his programme[1194]. Moreover, it is hardly possible to differentiate the representatives of the revolutionary and the national trends from the philosophical viewpoint. The former were not materialists and the latter idealists in the Marxist-Leninist sense; they were all idealists. The differences between the two trends hardly touched any philosophical issue apart from those which in a very loose sense of these terms could be called problems of social philosophy and historiosophy. The real differences concerned the questions of political programmes and ideologies[1195].

The revolutionary democrats were ranked among the forerunners of MarxistLeninist materialism for reasons which have nothing to do with materialism in the accepted sense. They were described as harbingers of the materialist outlook for they formulated the ideology of the exploited masses, contrasted the existing social system with a utopian socialist ideal, voiced atheism or rejected religious inspirations in their thinking on social matters, and did not see in the individual but in the masses of the people the decisive force in history[1196]. They did not discuss these problems in a general and systematic manner, and their views had to be disentangled from their books and articles concerned with political, literary and ideological issues of the day.

There is considerable doubt whether their writings are of any philosophical interest, which does not mean that they are of no interest whatsoever. The advance of philosophy has been mainly dependent on the advance of science, and a close relation with the latter has a decisive, beneficial and fruitful influence upon philosophy. It should be recognised, however, that in the past other influences were often at work. Conceptions growing out of the religious, moral, artistic, political, and social life also affected philosophical thinking and in the popular social image they are philosophy par excellence. On this account there are, in principle, some reasons in the past philosophical tradition for the inclusion of the revolutionary democrats into the history of philosophy. But both the nature of what was uppermost in their minds and the manner in which they presented their views seem to justify the opinion that they were, above all, political writers. They were little interested in formulating theoretical views on reality unless they were clearly relevant to the practical direction of social and political life.

The history of philosophy which assigns to them the rank of the most important representatives of philosophical thought of the period necessarily becomes the history of political and social thought. This actually was the case with the Marxist-Leninist contribution to the history of the nineteenth century philosophy in Poland. It was no longer a history of philosophical ideas and problems, but a history of various political attitudes, political parties and groups, their programmes and ideologies [1197].

There was a cleavage or discrepancy between the Marxist-Leninist reconstruction of history and its ascertainable course. As the Marxist-Leninist historians of philosophy went along with their studies, the cleavage widened, and no amount of abuse showered on bourgeois historiography for its distortions of the objective historical truth could bridge this abyss. For they began to realise that the spirit of crusade and the sitting in judgment over the past was producing a history which was superficial and patently tendentious. The initial certainty of knowing all the truth and of having the inner light that was to enable them to see through the darkness of human destinies grew dim under the impact of the historical picture created by their own efforts. The feeling of intellectual uneasiness, apparent practically from the very outset, became ultimately transformed into the awareness that they must retrace their steps and start again. They were led to believe, Kolakowski explained, that they would converse with the great demiurge of History. The demiurge turned out to be a figment of the imagination created by a secular eschatology, cultivated under the name of scientific history.

The conclusion that was drawn by the Marxist-Leninist historians of philosophy from their experiences was the dissociation of the idea of progress from the concept of historical process. Progress may be real, but it is not inevitable. History may have a meaning and purpose, but they cannot be read out of the historical process as if they were the inner side of events, discernible to every unprejudiced mind. It is an error to face historical events and past epochs with a standard of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, which were not their own, or to rely on Hegel’s cunning of reason to bring about the golden age, or to believe that what is historically progressive is also morally good. Thus myths are created, and fallacies and self-deceptions are let loose upon the world to deprive the human mind of its power of understanding, of seeing clearly and fearlessly, of ever extending its imaginative and comprehensive range. To express one’s feelings towards the past or to turn history into an ideological holy war for the instruction and benefit of its contemporary participants is something different from trying to discover the truth about the past, that is, what the available evidence obliges the historian to assert[1198].

What Kolakowski tried to impress upon the historians who thought of their subject-matter in philosophical terms was an emphatic reminder that the supreme task of the historian’s craft is to disentangle myth and reality. This means that a historian must approach history with all the tolerance, reverence, reasonableness, and ingenuity that he can master, if he wishes to do justice to the past. Kolakowski followed his own advice in his study on Spinoza[1199]. It remains to be seen whether the others will discard the old assumptions as thoroughly as he did.