Re: [xmca] Ilyenkov and Lenin Again

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Sat Dec 23 2006 - 02:03:13 PST

Mike, I have not read Bakhurst, but the second paragraph in your excerpt
identifies two potentialities in M&E-C, and this seems to be a promising
line of enquiry. I am intrigued by the characterisations "radical
empiricism" and "conservative" "reflection theory."

M&E-C was always part of a political struggle. In 1908, it was directed
against the runaway idealism resulting from the confluence of the reaction
following the defeat of the 1905 Revolution and the Quantum/Relativity
Revolution in Physics. In hitting away interminably against idealist
conclusions drawn from modern physics, Lenin quite mistakenly dismisses
fruitful lines of interpretation which find their expression in Vygotsky,
Leontyev and inevitably, Ilyenkov. But Lenin was politically right at the
time in insisting over and over again on philosophical materialism.

I think this passage of M&E-C sums up Lenin's position (pity he had to go
on for 300 pages on the same points):

"1) Things exist independently of our consciousness, independently of our
perceptions, outside of us, for it is beyond doubt that alizarin existed in
coal tar yesterday and it is equally beyond doubt that yesterday we knew
nothing of the existence of this alizarin and received no sensations from it.

"2) There is definitely no difference in principle between the phenomenon
and the thing-in-itself, and there can be no such difference. The only
difference is between what is known and what is not yet known. And
philosophical inventions of specific boundaries between the one and the
other, inventions to the effect that the thing-in-itself is beyond
phenomena (Kant), or that we can and must fence ourselves off by some
philosophical partition from the problem of a world which in one part or
another is still unknown but which exists outside us (Hume) all this is the
sheerest nonsense, Schrulle, crotchet, invention.

"3) In the theory of knowledge, as in every other branch of science, we
must think dialectically, that is, we must not regard our knowledge as
ready-made and unalterable, but must determine how knowledge emerges from
ignorance, how incomplete, inexact knowledge becomes more complete and more

Evidently Bakhurst characterises this as "radical empiricism" - radical in
the sense of extreme empiricism or in the sense of "radicalised"?

I find the metaphor of reflection, so popular amongst al the Russians,
extremely problematic. The "radical" aspects of the notions are (1) that it
emphasises thinking as the function of an organism in opposition to logical
positivism, the earlier positivism of Lenin's times, spiritualism and
religion; (2) it emphasises the dominance of the object in cognition, as
opposed to the subject. I agree that this can lead to a very conservative
form of Lockean empiricism, even if it made sense in Lenin's times as a
response to positivism. I see no place for this metaphor today,


At 04:54 PM 22/12/2006 -0800, you wrote:
>Bakhurst, p. 122
>For Ilyenkov, Lenin's great contribution lay in his rejection of
>empiricism and positivism, a rejection
>that, Ilyenkov believed, requires materialism to eschew the dualisms of
>subject and object, scheme
>and content, thought and being. Thus Ilyenkov saw Lenin as bequeathing the
>task of dissolving these
>dualisms -- a task that came to be the focus of Ilyenkov's career.
>However, if the radical empiricism in Materialism and Empirio-criticism
>inspired Ilyenkov, the conservative
>thread in Lenin's thought [associated with idea of reflection -- mike]
>influenced philosophers of a different
>persuasion. For them, reflection theory offered an attractive modern
>version of Lockean empiricism.
>Perhaps this is helpful, perhaps not.
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651

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