The Catechesis of Marxism


The Catechesis of Marxism

(1905 – #115)

    There is need finally to greet the appearance in Russian translation of the catechism of Marxist philosophy.1  Let there now be perused the remarkable book of Engels, “Anti-Duering”, which Beltov has so talentedly transposed into the Russian language. It seems almost that it is the sole dogmatic part of Marxist theology. Let us take a look at this baggage of dialectical materialism, almost the sole baggage, and then the legend concerning this great, this all radically transforming philosophic theory, ought finally to be tossed aside.

The book of Engels possesses remarkable an historical interest, but at present to seek in it for some whatever satisfactory world-concept and teaching would be simply laughable. This book is outmoded in all its parts and does not stand at the heights of the current state of science and philosophy, it does not correspond to the current social actuality, and it coarsely argues against modern trends and investigations. Our modern “manner of being” ought to beget also a modern “consciousness”, yet in the name of the basics of the Marxist catechism it would be necessary to admit of its outmodedness. But for us it is inconceivable, how in former times they could find philosophic riches in Engels’ “Anti-Duering”.

The pretensions of Engels are sufficiently great, and no less perhaps, than with Duering himself. In critical form he seeks to provide an entire philosophic and social system and to resolve the most difficult of problems with an extraordinary quickness and levity. And first of all, in order to determine the nature of dialectical materialism, let us look, at what sort of theory of cognition that Engels presents us with.

In several words is decreed the naivo-realist theory of cognition, whereby realism is to be understood, as materialism. “If one enquire, as to suchlike thinking and consciousness and of what sort is their origin, then we shall find, that they manifest themselves as products of the human brain and that man himself is a product of nature, which evolves in a determinate means and together with this, from what already has made itself apparent, that the products of the human brain, which indeed in the final instance manifest themselves as products of nature, do not contradict everything remnant in nature, but instead correspond to it”.2  And here it all is.

I do not suggest going about the refuting of this primitive gnosseology, indeed no one at present could stand to defend it in such bare form. But it is very important to point out a basic contradiction of dialectical materialism, insufficiently taken note of by critics, and amidst herein which particularly tend to collapse the philosophic groundings of Marxism. Dialectical materialism presents of itself a logically absurd content of concepts, since in this content is lodged a simply monstrous logicising of matter. The ultra-empirical, realist and materialistic theory of cognition reveals itself also amidst this to be ultra-rationalistic, since it bases itself upon a boundless faith in the rationality of the material world process, a faith in a thing-like logic, a material rationality. But a rationalistic materialism, the logic of matter — is far worse, than wooden iron or a black whiteness.

The Marxist dialectic was begotten of the Hegelian dialectic and bears upon itself its fatal imprint. Engels sought to posit a dialectic with the head at the feet, but after this it ought to lose its head, since on its feet it stands on nothing. The Hegelian dialectic was idealist, and its logically binding premise was panlogism. Dialectics always is an ideational-logical process, it is possible only within Reason. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis — this is an aspect of the logical course of an idea, this is a process of the self-revealing of an idea, a process purely ideal and it is therefore rooted within the nature of the Logos. It is obvious, that the world process can be acknowledged as dialectical only amidst the idealist teaching concerning the identical aspect of being and thought, wherein being is understood, as idea, as Logos. Only then can the world process be interpreted as the dialectical self-revealing of idea, only then within the world Logos align the laws of being with the laws of dialectical logic. And this means, that only an idealist panlogism can justify a dialectical interpretation of being, which only can be spoken of concerning a dialectical idealism, and nowise concerning a dialectical materialism. And Marxism would again have to stand on its head with feet in the air, if it wanted to save the dialectics and safeguard the logical outcome obligatory to every philosophy. But then would perish the materialism, there would perish all the revelations of Marx and Engels concerning the mystery of the historical process and much as is actually of value and survivable. In any case it is necessary to choose: either the historical process is a dialectical process, — the self-revealing of an idea, and then in it there is an inexorable inner logic, or this is a materialistic process, and then in it there is no sort of logic, no sort of rationality, and alone only chaos.

And in actual fact, who among the adherents of dialectical materialism would attempt to prove this unprovable and absurd position, that within matter, by which also is created thought, is created reason itself, that there is an inner logic, on the strength of which the material processes are wrought dialectical, i.e. can become identical with the logical coursing of the idea? I made an attentive reading of Engels’ book and I find striking its naivte, — he does not even suspect the difficulties and impossibilities, connected with this position, and upon which he so firmly attempts to stand. And all the Marxists lack any such suspicion. Engels, certainly, is an empiricist and he regards experience as the sole source of knowledge, but there does not enter into his head a single fatal question, fatal for every positivist empiricism and quite lethal for every materialism. What guarantee is there to the rationality of the experience, rendering the world measurable by laws, upon what is created the assurance, that within experience there be not given us something extraordinary, exceeding all the bounds? No sort of inherent reason is necessary for us, say Messrs. the positivists and materialists. No, please, Messieurs, for you especially inherent reason is more necessary, than otherwise would be, since the devil well knows what can happen, there can happen a miracle, and ye would not be able to put up with this, for indeed no sort of scientific prognosis would be possible, depriving you of measurable-laws.

Both all the positivists, and even moreso the materialists sacredly and supremely believe in the inherent rationality of experience, in a certain inherent rationality of the world process, in a logic to things. Everything for them is by law, everything is within the limits, and “law” indeed always is from reason, and they are all rationalists in the purest sense, but not aware of it. With the Kantians everything is demonstrable within the natural order and it is impossible to expect any sort of miracles, since reason posits the laws governing experience, but the materialist has no right to make any sort of prescribings to experience and ought instead to expect any second the most unpleasant surprises from out of the material chaos creating our experience, — our sole stimulant. But the materialist takes the easy way out of this tragedy, for self-consolation he becomes convinced in the inherent rationality of experience, in the inherent rationality of matter, in the logic of the course of things. Suchlike is even the most simple, most vulgar materialist, but the dialectical materialist is still a thousand times more rational. The dialectical materialist somehow regards it possible to believe, that “material productive powers” (a certain mass of things) is endowed with an inner logic, that material social developement flows along a rational scheme, literally, that in the thing-ness of the world there is reason, upon which it is possible to position oneself, as upon a mountain of stone. The whole system of Marxism is purely rationalistic, Marxism naively and optimistically believes in the triumph of reason within the historical fate of mankind, everything for it is made into rational schemae, everything is conclusive, everything foreseen. And even the Marxists, who dispense with the dialectics, continue to believe in the inherent rationality of being, in the schema-aspect of developement, and in the stability of experience. In the system of Marxism with its rationalism there is tightly connected a monism, a typical companion. Marxism believes, that there is a single basis and from it is to be inferred, that everything individual is illusory. And in this monism, as also in the rationalism, all still quite alive is the Hegelianism.

And why not presuppose, that being is irrational and manifold, why not presuppose it though only for a second? A claim for this indeed would be in quite many of the “empirical” groundings. Perhaps, in a world of much absurdity, perhaps, only the individual is real and not singly one, but the rather several principles come into play within the mystery of the world-construct, perhaps, within experience is manifest to us something miraculous and extraordinary. One can more quickly believe in all this, than in the rationalistic-monistic system of Marxism.

The absurdity of dialectical materialism is quite clear for philosophic thinking, but even dialectical idealism ought to be put to the test, though concerning this teaching in its extreme measure it is possible to speak. In a journalist jotting as regards the book of Engels I cannot go into a critique of dialectics in its classical idealist form, and my task should but be to point out the inner inconsistency and inadmissibility of combining dialectics with materialism, upon this namely, that the dialectical weave can be woven from ideas, but nowise from material things. I cite here merely a few places from the critique of Trendelenburg [Friedrich Adolf; 1802-1872], who is little known amongst us: “For a dialectics of pure thought there results an inescapable dilemma. Either that negation, by which is mediated in it the progressing course of the second and third moments, is a logical negation (A = not A), and then it is powerless to beget anything definite in the second moment, and in the third has not the wherewithal to permit of unification. Or it however — is a real contradiction and then it is inadmissible by the logical path, and therefore dialectics is not a dialectics of pure thinking”. “Without a living contemplation, it would be the consequence for the logical method indeed to decisively put an end to it all with ideas, — this is an eternal unity of the subjective and the objective. But the method does not do this, being aware, that the logical world in the abstract element of thought is merely a “realm of shadows”, nothing more. It would begin to seem for it certainly, that there is another, a fresh and palpitatingly-alive world, but certainly, — not from the purely thinking”. “It is appropriate for dialectics to show, that the thinking enclosed within it actively encompasses the whole entirety of the world. But the proof of this is not a given. The imaginarily-closed circle everywhere is broken stealthily, in order to admit from without, what suffices it not from within. The shut eye usually sees before it but a single phantasmagoria. Human thinking lives by contemplation and dies from starvation, when it is compelled to feed itself off its own belly”.3

The Marxists believe however, that they have made the transition to the “fresh and palpitatingly-alive world”, that their thinking cannot “die from starvation”, since it is fed by experience, that their dialectics is based upon facts. But by facts of experience it is impossible to have a basis for dialectics, without subjecting the experience itself to logicisation and rationalisation, which then happens by stealth. And the point of contact of Marxist matter has seemed deadly for dialectics. Marxism has never however been able to make the transition towards live contemplation, otherwise it would not have persisted in this error, wherein that the world is rationalistic and monistic and that living experience cannot be forced by conditional schemae. I moreso than the dialectical materialists tend to believe in reason, in the cognitive power of this instrument, in this even I am closer to such of the old rationalists, like Leibniz, but I deny the rationality of experience and of empirical being.

This has been about the theory of cognition for Engels, which fails any critique and even does not make attempts seriously to provide a grounding for dialectical materialism. And now I pass on to other aspects of the book, and first of all to the teaching about freedom and necessity.

In the catechism is contained a remarkable teaching concerning a leap from the realm of necessity over to the realm of freedom, which long ago already tempted many a “student”. It would seem rather strange, how one fine day suddenly “necessity” gives birth to “freedom”, and certain even began to introduce corrective variants, that, perhaps, earlier either there was a bit of freedom, perhaps, or later there would be a bit of necessity. In the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom was something attractive and alluring, but amidst this also something mysterious, almost mystical. Here, perhaps, lies concealed the peculiar romanticism of Marxism, but the theory, veiling the romantic expectations of freedom, is very grey and in a philosophical regard weak.

Engels, in essence, proposes a totally rationalistic teaching concerning freedom. “Freedom of the will signifies nothing other, than the capacity of man to be in a condition to decide with the knowledge of a matter… Freedom basically consists in an understanding of natural necessity, mastery over oneself and over external nature, since it of necessity is manifest as a product of historical developement”.4

Freedom is a product of necessity, is a conscious necessity. This again is a materialisation of Hegelianism. Freedom — is the product of a material social developement and together with this is the result of the triumph of consciousness, of reason. How is to be posited the mystery of the transformation of necessity into freedom, if there be not the potentiality of freedom, by what miracle does matter create spirit, the mind? Not only Marxism, but also positivist evolutionism commands a belief in this. By way of chemistry they want to cook up freedom in a retort-flask, but we repudiate suchlike a freedom and do not believe in it. Neither Engels, nor the Marxists, nor the evolutionists, nor the Kantians tend to conjecture, that there might yet be a teaching about freedom, as a creative, as a constructive power, without which never will be accomplished the longed-for liberation. And the leap into the realm of freedom, a long leap stretching across the whole historical process, is admissible only under this presupposition, that freedom, as a creative capacity, is lodged within the nature of the world, within the nature of man, that it drowses there even in the initial stages of the world developement, in each of the monads, comprising the world. I would even tend to say, that necessity is a product of freedom, that necessity is only a strange for us manner of freedom. In the teaching about necessity and freedom Engels is crudely rationalistic, he has no suspicion of an irrational freedom, and in the final end he becomes aligned with a quite vulgar evolutionism. And here the Hegelian understanding of the world-historical process as a liberation, set with the head over the feet, gives grievous results, for in materialism perishes both dialectics, and freedom.

No less important for Marxist philosophy is the teaching about the transition of the quantitative into the qualitative. If there be eroded away from this teaching the remnants of Hegelianism, then we receive the typical quantitative world-understanding. Almost all the evolutionists deny the independence and originality of qualities in the world and they preach a mechanical ideal of knowing. They tend to say, that from what is pleasing can be from what is pleasantly received, the question merely but in the quantitative combination. And this metaphysics of a crude sort they tend to pass off as positive science. It mustneeds be admitted, that we still do not possess a somewhat satisfactory theory of developement, only mere pieces, only indicators to separate factours. A true theory of developement would have to reckon with the mystery of the individual and would have to admit of the originality of the qualitative. There exists already a strong movement against Darwinism, since Darwinism has lost sight of the inner creative moment of developement. Now generally there is to be noted the contention between two types of world-view, and in this contention we resolutely stand on the side of the qualitative world-view. Alongside the monistic theory, which singlehandedly sought to hold sway, there is the breaking through of a pluralistic theory, which, perhaps, belongs to the future both in science, and in philosophy, after getting free of certain of the shortcomings of rationalism. Experience indeed is pluralistic and we need, perhaps, to construct a new ideal of cognition, more closely aligning us with life and the individual. And when the conditional lie of monism vanishes, then it will become clear, that the qualitative cannot be created by the quantitative, that qualities are initial and indissoluble and that only from a combination of qualitative monads is created the world and its developement. The arguments of Engels are striking by their poverty.

From whence, in actual fact, have they taken it, that the world is monistic, that at its basis lies qualitatively one, begetting of itself various qualities by way of quantitative combinations? Such a presumption there cannot be and there ought not to be, this question can be decided, evidently, empirically, and experience already in any case speaks out the sooner for pluralism. Monism is purely a rationalistic “premise”, based upon this, that what is an oneness of nature for reason creates an oneness of nature for the world, and terms it this oneness. A monistic tendency exists in thinking, but indeed from this it is nowise possible to infer it concerning a monistic aspect of being. But, through a strange misunderstanding, the ones who speak most of all about monism are those selfsame materialists, who least of all have any right to this, since they tend to deny reason itself, as the source of monistic strivings. And with the falling of the monistic “premise” falls also the theory of the transition of the quantitative into the qualitative. Engels is little in a condition to uphold this theory, just the same as for dialectics, just as for freedom. The philosophic drama of Engels consists in a contrary-nature co-uniting of materialism with rationalism and this is a drama habitual, since materialism does not possess any logical right to be rationalistic and together with this always proves rationalised. In this is the lack of thought and the impossibility of materialism.

Let us move on to the social system of Engels, though questions purely economic I shall not touch upon. Engels in general is quite unjust and contentious towards Duering, but particularly this mustneeds be said regarding Duering’s critique of the theory of coercive force, very interesting and meriting of attention. I shall not touch upon the economic materialism, which Engels defends in critiquing Duering; about this much has been written, by me also, but I shall say a few words about the theory of coercive force in essence. In this theory is included a very important and profound philosophic thought, which cannot be toppled by allusions to the role of economics and economic exploitation within history. Economic exploitation never was and cannot be an end in itself, as Engels attempts to assert, it was merely he means for the domination of man over man, a domination already not economic. In the history of violent relationships of people the form of economic oppression played no small role; from economics might depend the form of domination, but the radical evil of human inter-relationships, its fall into sin, as Duering justly asserts, consists in an act of violence by one human being over another, in the will admitting of non-equivalence. Within the world struggle two principles: the principle of power, of violent force, of being tied down, and the principle of freedom. The principle of violent force is evil, the principle of freedom is godly, and therefore with the limiting condition of mankind there can only be an ultimate freedom, an ideal of non-power. Economic oppression is only one of the manifestations of this radical evil, of a primary violence. The elimination of economic exploitation is obligatory, but this is only one of the ways towards a removal of violence from human relations. Still more radical would be a denial of the sovereignty of every ruling power, even though it be of the people, but the ruling power and the forceful violence connected with it are not abolished by a simple elimination of economic oppression. Political violence sits deeper than economic exploitation, and this is a truth, which is not explodable by any relative correctness of economic materialism.

I cannot but note, that Engels ignores the philosophy of law, the basis of every true social philosophy, and for him this is — a bourgeois metaphysics. In the book of Engels is decisively repudiated the inherent value of the rights of the person, and therein already it cannot instruct us nor give guidance for difficult moments experienced by us. Such a book might provide slogans for other times, for us however it can only annoy.

The social politics of Engels in general is very outmoded, and this is admitted by the modern German social movement, even though and vainly so certain old-believers want to transplant it on Russian soil, in a completely different combination of conditions. We vividly have in us a feeling of the dreadful harm of doctrinarism in politics, it hinders the educating of our broad radical-democratic current, away from the promptings of our historical task. This doctrinaire aspect, evidenced in the reading of Engels’ catechism, is an indisputable indicator of cultural deficiency, the inability to differentiate between the various spheres of human life. In it politics gets scrambled with ethics, and with religion, together with a demand from politics of a confession of quite limited a philosophic theory, etc.

Oh yes, theoretical thought is needful for politics, it helps differentiate our interests and helps provide a way out from that lack of thinking, which is sustained by our doctrinaire elements. We have reverent a regard for theoretical thought, theoretical interests for us are an end in themself, but they mustneeds be separate from real politics within independent a sphere, a sphere lofty. Science and philosophy are thus set free from the role of being facilitators of practical politics, and politics is set free from the deadening doctrinaire aspect. We cannot however seek our God in politics, our souls for this are already too differentiated, and our utmost pathos we put into another corner. But in politics we have to be idealistically attuned realists. Realism however demands of us the democratic bloc, into which ought to enter all the radical elements of society. And woe to any sort of catechisms, if they hinder us from fulfilling our historical duty.

We have survived difficult and responsible a time, and very burdensome now it is to be a writer, twice as burdensome. Concerning this one aspect, — important for the given moment, they do not give permission to write; concerning the other, — the eternally important, the moment itself does not permit to write. In acute periods of political upheaval the moment tends to overshadow the eternal ends of the creativity of culture and therefore indeed transpires more quickly all the desired. The necessity of freedom is motivated diversely, but perhaps, the greatest motive appears to be the impossibility to conceive of a spiritual culture without it. If the historical hour of freedom does not soon strike, then what threatens us instead is a quite gloomy cultural reactionism, a gruesome spiritual decay.
N. A. Berdyaev


©  2013  by Fr. S. Janos

(1905 – 115(3,11) – en)

KATEKHIZIS  MARKSIZMA. Article was first published in monthly literary-social journal “Voprosy Zhizni”, 1905, No. 2, p. 369-379. Later incorporated by Berdyaev into his 1907 book, “Sub Specie Aeternitatis”, Chapter 11 (p. 266-276) in year 2002 Moscow Kanon reprint edition.

1 Regretably, the Russian translation is very distorted.

2  p. 29.

3 Trendelenburg. “Logical Investigations”, [1840], tom I, p. 61, 81, 110.

4 p. 153-154.