I guess like you I was initiated into Marxist philosophy by reading Cliff Slaughter's pamphlets. But Bereiter says that if you really want to understand a theory such as evolution you really need to go back and think about the problem that was being addressed and compare it to the other theories that were addressing the sam problem at that time. I find this useful in thinking about both Materialism and Empiriocriticism and the Healyites obession with Volume 38 in the 1970s.
1908 was really the dog days in the Bolshevik Party and a lot of people (particularly the group around Bogdanov in Capri) were getting off into some strange stuff, including the highly subjectivist epistemology of Ernst Mach. When I read M&EC (and when I re-read it ten years later) I thought it was Lenin's attempt to catch up on his own homework so that he could contest philosophical leadership of the party with Bogdanov, and as such it is brilliantly successful. Lenin was extremely good at homework, as Volume 38 shows.
Similarly, I always thought that Cliff Slaughter's and Gerry Healey's obsession with "empiricism" had to do with their struggle with people like Ernest Mandel and Michel Pablo. In the dog days of the 1950s, Mandel had decided that since Stalinism had won World War II and had actually succeeded in spreading something that looked very like a revolution as far afield as China and Cuba, then Stalinism had become revolutionary. Healey's skepticism about "empiricism" certainly makes good sense in that context (though he wasn't good at making sense in other contexts).
I wasn't in the Workers' League (I was a Spartacist) but I remember that at one of their classes in Chicago they asked a ghetto youth off the street to read a particularly obscure passage of Volume 38 and explain what it meant. I don't remember the passage, but I remember that the kid's gloss was something like "We gotta have revolution right NOW!" I'm occasionally reminded of this kid when Mike breaks into the philosophical discussions with a question about how all this can be related to the question at hand (he usually uses the word "empirical", rather than empiricist, when he does this).
Seoul National University of Education
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