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


MAN wHo Lıves in a world of peril is compelled to seek for safety. The way most familiar to us is the control of nature. We build houses, weave garments, make flame and electricity our friends instead of our enemies and . develop the complicated arts of social living. This is the method of changing the world through action. 

But there is another method. The method of changing the self in emotion and idea because it is too difficult to change the world. This is the way first of religion and subsequently of philosophy. It begins with propitiation, but passes at length from the attempt to conquer destiny to the resolve to ally oneself with it and so perchance escape destruction. Out of religion philosophy developed as man came to reflect upon this sharp contrast between a feeble, uncertain practice and an imaginative apprehension ofa supernatural world of potencies and certainties. In other words out of the conflict of knowledge and practice arises the major problem of philosophy and the conflict between idealism aiıd materialism.

As the mythological elements fell away from the religious attitude philosophy retold the story of the universe in the form of rational discourse instead of emotionalized imagina­tion. The result was the apprehension by Reason of an ideal world of logical constructions constituting, as it was finally declared, " a realm of fixed Being which, when grasped by thought, formed a complete system ofimmutable and necessary truth."ı Reason provided the patterns to which ultimately real objects had to conform. But unfor­tunately science and its world falls far short ofthe logicality and unity of the world of pure reason. It is, as it were, an inferior world in which things change, which is subject to illusion and in which multiformity is more to be found than uniformity. But this, unfortunately, is the world of action. Activity therefore is always of less importance than con­templation since it deils with the less real. Hence ever since the Greeks philosophy has been ruled by the notion that " the office of Knowledge is to .uncover the ante­cedently real, rather than, as is the case with our practical judgments, to gain the kind of understanding which is necessary to deal with problems as they arise."2 

Right on through Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant and Hegel the same quest for the rational and the unchangeable was pursued. For Plato the changing and passing forms of this world are but the transitory and partial embodiments of ideal realities laid up in heaven and only to be appre­hended by reason. In the same way our virtues are · but pale reflections of the perfect virtues which exist in the Absolute. I am kind because a little of the perfect kindness of God dwells in me for a moment. Thus goodness is an almost measurable quality which inheres in men to a greater or less degree. 

Descartes, as we shall see, drew the sharpest pattern ofa purely logical physical world, so Jogical in fact as to be mathematical. Spinoza,. however, went even farther and embraced mental and physical events in one perrectly rational whole where the order and connection of ideas were proved to be, in reality, the order and connection of facts. Kant was still haunted by the obstinate refusal ofthe facts to look as orderly and connected as they should, and therefore had to assert that in order to be rational ali facts must be considered within the mind and fitting neatly.into its logical .pigeon-holes. Hegel completed the argument by simply declaring that anything which does not fit the pattern is not properly understood and described. If yoıi see it completely you will see it to be rational. If it is not quite rational that is because you do not really see it-as it is. You are witnessing something illusory and partial. 

The struggle to make things orderly therefore becomes not a struggle with nature, but either with our imperfect theories, which must be scrapped one by one until at last the perfect explanation which comprehends and justifies everything, or with our worldly habit of regarding experi­ence as more valid than the ideal. A really disciplined mind will rise above this appearance of disorder, and grasp by spiritıİal apprehension the goodness and truth that alone is real. 

No matter what the detailed conclusions of experience, perfect truth and goodness are ours in ultimate Being, independently of both experience and human action. 

Thus philosophers have tended to depreciate action, doing, making, and the reason has not been entirely the impulse of the mind to outrun practical human achieve­ment. Work has been despised ever since a class oflabourers was segregated and set to the world's work. From that moment work was done under compulsion and the pressure of necessity, while intellectual activity was associated with leisure. The social dishonour in which the class of serfs was held was extended to the work they did. 

Idealism will always be the popular philosophy of a leisured class. This is not a sufficient reason for its existence, but it is a condition which favours its rise. Hence the more complete the separation between mental and physical work, and the greater the degree of exploitation of one dass by another, the more is this class relationship reflected in an idealist philosophy.
" The division of labour," says Marx, " does not become an actual division until the division of material and spiritual work appears. From that moment con­sciousness may actually seem to be something other than a consciousness of the real world and of the activity within that world. As soon as consciousness begins actually to represent something, without that something being a real representation, we find it ready to free itself from world connections and to become a cult of ' pure theory,' theology, philosophy, morals, ete."
It would, however, be a complete mistake to suppose that because idealism is a projection of man's yearning for order in a disorderly world, or because such phantasies flourish among the leisured classes, that it has no justifica­tion and no truth. It is justified by the evolution of the world towards the ideal of order. It is true, as Leonardo said, that " Nature is full of infinite reasons which were never in experience," and the scientist who does not, in the words of Galileo, make headway with reason against experience is a very poor scientist indeed. 

The idealist rightly asserts that it is not the function of mind ınerely to reflect the universe, it has in some way to participate in it. The materialist is wholly wrong when he denies the active rôle of consciousness and asserts that it merely reflects processes that are going on in nature. Con­sciousness is no lifeless mirror. In the fırst place it has itself slowly developed along with man and society and is a function ofsocial humanity. In the second place it is creative, for it is always developing man and society a stage farther, planning his activities, devising ways and means, creating new institutions. Thus at any given stage consciousness is both limited by the social forıns which society takes and yet is striving, not unsuccessfully, to transcend those limits. 

This free activity of consciousness can be so isolated from the conditions which determine it as to appear to be the sole creative force of history. In the saıne way the power to generalize and create concepts and theories can easily be separated from the action with which true thought is always wedded, until this aspect of man's activity becomes dominant, self-su:fficient, overshadowing everything else. At last it breaks away from the concrete man and his tasks altogether, especially under such conditions as separate the workers and the thinkers aınong men, and becoınes "pure thought." Scientific concepts, even, becoıne mental fictions or reflections of an " iınınanent reason " in nature, ofthe spirituality ofthe universe. In these ways every break that thinking makes with practice leads to a one-sided idealism. Idealisın, in fact, is nothing more or less than the isolation of one feature ef knowledge from the whole and the turning of it into something absolute, namely the power of ideas to reveal the nature ofreality and enable us to control it, the power to abstract froın the coınplexity of life and single out special aspects. 
Thus Lenin writes:
" Philosophical idealism is nonsense only from the standpoint of a crude, simple and metaphysical ma­terialism. On the contrary, from the standpoint of dialectical materialisın, philosophical idealisın is a one-sided, exaggerated, swollen developınent (Dietzgen) of one of the characteristic aspects or liınits of know­ledge into a deified absolute, into something dissevered from ınatter, from nature. Idealisın means clericalism. True ! But philosophical idealism is (ınore 'correctly' expressed and 'in addition ') a road to clericalism through one of the nuances of the infinitely complicated knowledge (dialectical) of man. The knowledge of man does not follow a straight line but a curved line which infinitely approaches a system of circles, the spiral. Every fragment, every segınent, every bit of this curved line can be transformed (transforrned one­sidedly) into a self-sufficient whole straight line which, if one does not see the wood for the trees leads us directly into the mire, into clericalism (which is strengthened by the class interests of the ruling class)."
Lenin points out that the result is superstition. What does he ınean by that ? That it is by means of such idealisın that the legal standards that regulate social relationships are given the sanctity of absolute obligations, and come to be regarded as independent forces which . stand above society . and determine: its structure: In . the same way economic laws are regarded as absolute and precluding social _change; Utopian socialists come to believe that the way to progress lies in creating an imaginative social structure, and showing that it is compatible with human nature and reason. Idealists believe that social institutions are created by ideas, that human history is the result of the change of ideas. If anything in society changes, it happens because consciousness has changed first. Preachers and educationists therefore seek to alter the world by in­culcating improved ideas into people's heads, by moralizing and indoctrinating. Psychologists see the essence of society not in the productive relations of cla.sses but in the instincts, feelings and thoughts of people. Even scientists come to believe that the laws of nature are not objectively deter­mined by nature, but subjectively determined by the consciousness of scientists, that the atom is " only a mental construction," that the theory of evolution is "a useful way of thinking," held because we choose to believe it. Even politicians pursue the will-of the-wisp of pure idea. Trotsky believes in his " destiny," in the mysterious "will of the people," apart from strictly defined objective condi­tions. Like . all idealists, " he treats the possible as the actual," he believes in the existence of what he desires should be, thus he sought to skip the stage ofa bourgeois­democratic revolution in 1905, and proceed directly to the proletarian revolution. Bukharin lapses into the idealism which substitutes doctrinaire formulıe and over-schemat­ized stages of development for a close objective study of the kaleidoscopic changes of the face of society. 

Lenin views this whole process of detachment of ideas and ideals, theories and generalizations, from the stand­point of the concrete fusion of theory and practice. This is that idealism, he argues, that is really superstition, that is really myth-making, and the only purpose of such thinking (i.e. what the theory means in practice) is to justify things as they are in the interests ofthe owning class and to betray reforıners into paths of folly and futility.


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