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Philosophy and Politics

Prepared by the Leningrad Institute of Philosophy under the Direction of
M. Shirokov 1941

No exposition of dialectical materialism can proceed for long without an excursion into political 
controversy. Again and again in this textbook we shall meet with practical applications to contemporary Russian problems. At first this may appear disconcerting and irrelevant, but a great deal would be lost if the theory remained on the abstract plane and never allowed itself to be mingled with practice.

In fact this is quite impossible, for this philosophy first of all reflects every kind of material and social change and helps us to understand it, and of such changes none are so important as political changes. Secondly, however, since political change requires above all things just such an understanding of events, a philosophy of this sort will itself be an indispensable agent of such change. Hence the political importance of this philosophy. Under these circumstances it is not difficult to understand two peculiarities of communist philosophy, :firstly it is taken seriously by everyone in Russia and is studied and debated universally with great insistence on correct conclusions; secondly, no discussion proceeds very far without plunging into political controversy.

The :first peculiarity will occasion suspicion in those who are influenced by the apparent irrelevance of ordinary philosophy to real problems in life and politics. But is it unimportant to reach correct conclusions in aeronautics ? Is it not a matter of life and death ? Is it not the responsibility of authority to see that aero­-nautical engineers are provided with correct and verified formula? This will explain the earnest and polemical tone of Russian political controversy. On more than one occasion the preservation or destruction of the new civilization has depended on a right understanding of social change and the trans valuations brought about by re-patterning. The great collective farm controversy is a case in point. This has become the classical working example by means of which every phase of 
dialectical materialism is demon­strated.

The second peculiarity arises from the insistence on the material unity of the world. We are here in this real world and all our thinking is about it. Moreover we think about it not as if we were looking at it from the moon, but because it is a going concern and we are on it. Every moment it is doing something and going somewhere, and it does nothing of itself. Its direction and its action are due to our activity and our thought. The job of philosophy is not to explain, to analyse, to sum up as good or had, as rational or irrational, a finished universe outside itself, but to take the primary responsibility of understanding how the world changes and in directing that change. Philosophy is the self-consciousness of a self-moving, self-directing world in process of progressive development.

Its goodness is not a fixed quantity but may be more to-morrow according to whether we know how to improve it. It is not either rational or irrational. It is as irrational as our ignorance and lack of control.

If philosophy is the analysis of social development we can understand the frequent incursions of dialectical materialism into the realm of social action. The contact is as close as that between the research department of a medical school and the hospital. Western philosophers who feel a little resentful and irritated at this philosophy of action might remember that it was Bradley who said, " There is no more fatal enemy than theories which are not also facts," and that both Plato and Hegel would have warmly approved of this indissoluble connection of politics and philosophy. It is a fin de siecle intellectualism that finds itself" above the battlefield."

The Impossibility  of Dogmatism
Should the charge of dogmatism be leveled at this political education one can point to two characteristics of dialectical materialism which are continuously undermining the dogmatic attitude. Firstly its belief in fluid concepts. While avoiding pure relativism, dialectical materialism  drills  its  students,  using  scores  of  examples drawn from current politics, in the habit of regarding things as  changing  with  changing  circumstances  both  in   their properties and in the laws that govern them, and even as passing  over  into  their  opposites.  

Capitalism ''  is  not  a fixed concept. The capitalism of the nineteenth century was progressive. It was releasing the forces of production. Capitalism in the world it has thus created is beset by difficulties  for  which  its very  achievements  are  responsible. It  has now become  retrogressive.  I t   restricts  production and moves in the direction of impoverishment, chaos and destruction.  " 

Democracy "  is  not  a fixed concept.  At  first it sets the bourgeoisie free  to  develop  capitalism,  later  it  may be a facade to  delude  the  politically  helpless  worker  that he is governing himself while really he  is  being  governed by a veiled dictatorship ; later  an  aroused  and  suffering proletariat trying to use  the  democratic  rights  hitherto only nominally theirs may find in the defence of their constitutional  rights  against Fascism  that   the  preservation of democracy  is the  proletarian  revolution.  "  

Man "  is  not a fixed concept. Human nature is not unalterable. His character and habits arise not from fixed instincts but, as psychology shows, from conditioning. He is what his institutions make him, but  he made  those  institutions  and can make new ones.  "  The  whole of history is  nothing  but the progressive transformation of human nature." Now it is impossible for a philosophy  of  this  sort  to  be  dogmatic  in the vicious sense and, when we remember its stress  on practice, we  see  here  too  a  characteristic bound up  with the doctrine of fluid concepts which also precludes dogmatic rigidity.  For  dogmatism  always  arises  out  of abstraction.  It is when  thought  is regarded  as giving  us in itself, apart from experience,  the  pattern  of  reality  that  a  static  system of doctrines is built up and can continue. Dialectical materialism creates systems out of reflection on the facts, verifies· them by action on the facts, and corrects  and  amplifies them by the changes  brought  about  by  that  very  action. Its method  precludes vicious abstraction.

If further proof were wanted it  can  be found in  the plain fact that the history of Bolshevism has not been marked by the rigid enforcement of inflexible dogmas. So far is this from being the fact that its enemies have never ceased to reproach it with abandoning its principles. How often have we not been told that Russia has reverted to capitalism, has abandoned Lenin's plans, has betrayed its internationalism and so on. It is the opponents of Stalin and the official philosophy who have stuck rigidly to dogmatic and schematic policies. Of course consistency may be more virtuous  than what may be termed vacillation and opportunism, but that is not the point at issue at the moment. If the Russians are guilty of this kind of fault  (if it is a fault) they are certainly not guilty of being dogmatists.

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