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The Relation of Theory and Practice

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

The Relation of Theory and Practice

This insistence on the importance of " hard facts " is a reaction from speculative theories and pure abstraction, but sound theory is only the eye of practice and practice is blind without it. 

Just as a doctor must unite a sound knowledge of human physiology and pathology with his prac­tical experience and cannot know too much to be a good physician, so a politician must understand all there is to know of the laws of social change and the structure of society if his leadership is to take the class whose interests he represents anywhere but on to the rocks. . . .

The truth is that if form and content, which in this case are theory and practice, can be divided so as to be merely related they are of little importance. Philosophy and practice that fall below a certain standard can be discussed in this way; above that standard, theory and practice are not opposed, nor merely related; they are one. There ıs more than a bond-there is union and fusion.

Whitehead contrasts these two aspects of reason; the first seeking an immediate method of action, the second a complete understanding.
"The Greeks have bequeathed to us two figures, whose real or mythical lives conform to these two notions - Plato and Ulysses. The one shares Reason with the Gods, the other shares it with the foxes. Ulysses has no use for Plato, and the bones of his companions are strewn on many a reef and many an isle ! " 

 Until Philosophers are Kings

If in previous social crises political leaders could do no more than "play by ear" that is not necessary to-day; the knowledge of the social process given by the dialectical approach provides the basis for a conscious transformation of society. The way out is therefore being found by a whole class coming to a consciousness of its destiny and it follows that the leaders of that class must be enlighteners and therefore themselves enlightened. " Till the philosophic race have the government of the city, neither the miseries of the city nor of the citizens shall have an end, nor shall this republic, which we speak of in way of fable, come in fact to perfection." ı

But if rulers must be philosophers that means that in a State where the workers rule the workers must themselves be philosophers. This accounts for the severe training in dialectical materialism which is found in all Russian technical and higher education in the Soviet Union. It is felt in Russia that an engineer or a chemist who does not understand the philosophy of Socialism is not likely to be of much use in the new order. That is why thorough training in dialectical materialism is universal. Not only are the kings all philosophers in the republic, but the workers are all kings, or kings in the making. They must all be trained for rule and responsibility. " Every kitchen maid must learn to rule the country."

The result is that every educated Russian has something of that philosophic spirit which Shaw remarked in Marx when he wrote:
" . . . he never condescends to cast a glance of useless longing at the past, his cry to the present is, always ' Pass by; we are waiting for the future.' Nor is the future at all mysterious, uncertain or dreadful to him. There is not a word of fear, nor appeal to chance, nor to provi­dence, nor vain remonstrance with nature . . . nor any other familiar sign of the giddiness which seizes  men when they climb to heights which command a  view of the past, present and future of human society. Marx keeps his head like a god. He has discovered the law of social development, and knows what must come. The thread of history  is in  his hand."
That the Russians are submitting themselves to a vigorous intellectual discipline will be clear from the read­ing of this book which is not an easy one. It is significant that Hegel's Logic has been translated into Russian and has been printed in editions running to tens of thousands. It is doubtful whether fifty copies a year are sold in England. This, coupled with the practical dialectic of unending controversy and argument and with the constant test of practice, has made of the new philosophy a virile and sinewy intellectual instrument. Its outlines are rough and its details unfinished. It needs elaboration, expansion, much filling in of detail, a good deal of correction and revision, but in spite ofthis it is fundamentally an excellent illustration of its own thesis, the emergence on a higher level of a new evolutionary type, the fruit of the clash of opposites, the working out of older systems to exhaustion and yet to fulfillment, a reordering of the whole problem of philosophy.


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