This is a famous work of Lenin's which outlines what Marxist philosophy is all about. It was written over a century ago and we might ask ourselves what is still valid in this classic. Have new philosophical developments in the last hundred years or so made this work outmoded? I'm going to post some reflections on the book, section by section, and anyone who wants to read along and comment is welcome to do so. I hope to post three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting today (Wednesday) with:
THE PREFACES: Why did Lenin write this book? He tells us because a number of people calling themselves "Marxists" have been attacking "orthodox" Marxism ("dialectical materialism") and calling it outmoded and wanting to supplement it with new ideas borrowed from bourgeois philosophy. This is still going today in the 21st century as well.
Engels is specifically attacked as being "antiquated" and his views on dialectics are said to be a species of "mysticism." None of the books that Lenin attacks are of much interest today and the names of the authors have mostly been forgotten. Perhaps you will recall the name of A.A. Bogdanov and certainly the name Lunacharsky will ring a bell as he later became the first Commissar of Enlightenment (Minister of Education) under the Bolsheviks.
Lenin is not opposed to criticism of the views of Marx and Engels. He mentions approvingly Mehring's critique of "antiquated views of Marx" which was undertaken from a dialectical materialist standpoint. Any historians out there reading this are encouraged to send in comments about just what these views were and where Mehring made them as Lenin does not discuss them in the Prefaces. Franz Mehring (1846-1919) was the author of the “classical” biography of Karl Marx (published in 1918 and which all good Communists have read and studied): Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (Karl Marx. Geschichte seines Lebens). This is the "most comprehensive and interesting historical study of Marx”—Louis Althusser.
Besides defending the "orthodox" view from "heretics", Lenin also wanted to know what drove ostensible Marxists to bourgeois philosophy. What, he asks, "was the stumbling block to these people" that made them desert the orthodox position.
Well, as I mentioned above, in our own day we have a similar problem. Engels is still attacked and efforts are made to cut Marx away from Engels and make Engels some sort of hack. We also have ordinary language Marxists, existentialist Marxists, phenomenological Marxists, postmodern Marxists, etc., etc.
This coming Friday I'll look at "In lieu of an Introduction." I'm using Vol. 14 of the CW for the text. The book itself seems to be out of print. You should find a copy online (Lenin Internet Archive is the place to look). If you google "materialism and empirio-criticism" the first entry you get should be an on-line copy of the book so if you don't have a hard copy you can still read it.
Ленин живет в наших сердцах
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
Check out the following completed 'Commentary and Analysis' Series from Dr. Riggins:
Lenin's Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder
Lenin's State and Revolution
Short's Mao: A Life