Re: [xmca] Ilyenkov in A Stetsenko's articles

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Fri Nov 04 2005 - 13:56:57 PST

   ! I completely agree with you Victor!
   At 07:31 PM 4/11/2005 +0200, you wrote:

     Yes, my general impression is that the foundations of CHAT are good
     The social role of CHAT as an instrument for professional culture
     change appears to me a more likely direction for the development of
     a practical science of society than the unfortunate combination of
     doctrinal discipline and often unreflective political opportunism
     that marred the theoretical instrument at the hands of the militant
     party system we are both familiar with. CHAT suffers somewhat from
     objectivism, but it is hardly the expression of a short-term
     partisan (subjective) obscurantism dressed up as objective truth.
     It's more a problem of an expansion of the diversity of ideas
     within the CHAT forum, an expansion that the less politically
     focused CHAT can effectively absorb as compared with the
     pressure-cooker conditions of formulation of party based
     theoretics. After all, if Lois Holzman and Anna Stetsenko (or for
     that matter Steve Gabosch and I ) can exchange ideas with minimal
     rancour and we onlookers can deal with the substance of their
     differences rather than with the apparent immediate political
     implications relative to the interests of our own party or faction,
     then I think we may actually be getting somewhere.
     Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
     ----- Original Message ----- From: "Andy Blunden"
     To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
     Sent: Friday, November 04, 2005 10:58
     Subject: Re: [xmca] Ilyenkov in A Stetsenko's articles
       Thanks for that Victor.
        It always seemed to me that writers in the SU were unable to
         explicitly about exploitation, bureaucracy, privilege,
        conflict, etc., as really existing relations in their own
        society, and were therefore obliged to utilise very
        categories like "labour," "humanity," "activity," etc., which
        in a theory whose outward appearance was very objectivist,
        nevertheless, the underlying theoretical categories were not
     at all
        objectivist. I have always thought that this "sanitisation"
     of the
       theory due to Soviet conditions made it harder for people in the
        to fully understand it. Unfamiliarity with Marxist terminology
     is of
        course a further factor. There is a problem of objectivism;
     but I
        think it's not in the foundations; the foundations are good,
     as you
       appear to be saying.
         On the issue of object relatedness in CHAT:
          It has been for some time now that the CHAT model has
     appeared to
         me to be to be so strongly objectivist in approach that it
          difficult to impossible to utilize it for the analysis of
         inherent within all forms of social organization.
           My area of interest is mostly in organizational systems in
          conflict is not only inherent but so salient a feature of
          interaction that is impossible to ignore subjectivity as a
          force in the formation and development of the system,
     e.g. in
          economics and politics. As long-time student a sometimes
          my impression of the classroom situation and of educational
          in general (subjects more often discussed here in this forum
         economic and political relations) has ever been one of conflict
          precarious compromise where the unifying socio-cultural
     system is
          often more evident by its weaknesses rather than by its
          In general my impression of CHAT theories of the educational
         have been notably lacking in the determination of the unity of
          system as a function of the concatenation of the operation of
          conflicting wills. I would surely welcome a CHAT that
          more attention to the operation of subjectivity
          intersubjectivity in the accounting of the outcomes of
         On your paper:
          Most of your paper concerns the works of Leont'ev and
         Leont'ev's works I've read only a few times and so I'll
          have to acce=t your commentary on his works as is. I agree
         your comments on Vygotsky with a few reservations that are
          important to your main thesis so no discussion on his
     work is
          called for here. However, your description of Ilyenkov's
          concerning the relation of object to subject and on
          significance of subjectivity in the development of social
         appear to me to be seriously in need of correction.
                Ilyenkov's discussion on the relation between subject
         object though widely distributed throughout his works, is
         especial focus of his "The Concept of the Ideal" (1977) and of
          Chapter8, "The Materialist Conception of Thought as the
          Matter of Logic", of Dialectical Logic (1974). Ilyenkov
          certainly not an easy writer to understand; his logic though
          good is often unsystematic, he peppers his works with
          allusions to material that he does not cite, and his
     treatment of
          critical concepts is often diffident and even hidden.
          difficulty of Ilyenkov's works is that much of his writing is
          a Marxist-Leninist mode that's special to the language
         revolutionary communist literature, and is quite different from
          language of academic philosophy. The result has been in my
     view an
          array of egregious misinterpretations of Ilyenkov's
          especially by Anglo-Saxon academic philosophers without
           grounding in dialectical analysis. The idea that
          works tend towards objectivism and towards a
          contemplationist concept of scientific endeavor are precisely
            the errors disseminated by these recent
     interpretations of
         Ilyenkov's works.
          Ilyenkov's concrete formulation of the meaning of the ideal
         "The Concept of the Ideal" does refer repeatedly to one of the
         properties of the ideal as being "significant objects".
          However in this very sam= article Ilyenkov also reiterates
     in a
          number of passages that the comprehensive meaning of the
          ideal, is the necessary dialectical unity of the significant
         and of subjectivity. The ideal object is described as only
         embodiment of conscious, willed activity, i.e. subjectivity,
          that subjectivity is no less an essential component of the
         than the object that represents it. But this is not all.
          When, in his 1977 article, Ilyenkov finally gets
     around to
          describing the difference between the Marxian and Hegelian
          of the ideal (paragraph 93, 103, and here and there in
     between), he
          finds it in their respective theories of the genesis of the
          relative to subjectivity. His argument in brief runs as
         For Hegel subjectivity, the notion, i.e. subjective cognition,
          objectification are the prerequisite conditions for the
          of the ideal, the ideal being the consequences of the
         of categories of knowledge.
          For Marx (and Ilyenkov), subjectivity, the object, and the
           develop simultaneously as the outcome of the special
     conditions of
          human sociality; the voluntary (in the sense
     here of
          non-instinctive) collaboration of mostly if not entirely
          individuals for the purpose of producing the means for
         of collective and individual needs.
            Ilyenkov infers from this that while for Hegel
     objectification is
          an embodiment of pure activity in the ideal object, Marx
          the embodied activity as labour or productive activity.
          importance of this difference is not very evident in the
          article, but examination of Ilyenkov's interpretation of
          activity in paragraphs 44 to 51 (sorry I do not have a
          version of the book) of chapter 8 of Dialectical Logic is
          instructive in this regard. Here he makes the point that
          i.e. the creative interaction of the agent with natural
         is never be entirely encompassed by the objectification of
          activity (in paragraph 51). In effect Ilyenkov is saying here
          subjectivity can never be entirely subsumed by the object
     and as
          such remains a significant element in the prosecution of
         sociality whatever the concrete conditions of that sociality.
          What didn't Ilyenkov write: That which he could have and
         should have written?
         For Hegel the objectification of subjective activity, i.e.
          notion, does not in itself produce the ideal. The ideal
     only is
          realized when the objectified notion or acquired concept,
         negates Life, i.e. the actual extant conditions which are
          prerequisites of the formulation of the objective concept, and
          joins it in the realization of desirable (good) outcomes. For
          the acquired concept cannot be one with life, because
          and employment of the objective concept is implicitly
     informed by
          the yet unsatisfied subjective goals of the agents of the
         The Marxian concept of the ideal (as interpreted by Ilyenkov)
          no real need for the counterpoising of the objective
     concept to
          Life, it has a much more material target, namely the
          practices from which it emerges and of which it
     is a
         representation. This need not be understood to mean that
          formulation of an ideal is necessarily a broad rejection of
         communal practice, it can be quite a modest affair such as
         representation of the "legitimate" rules of a game, the right
          price for =a dozen eggs, and the proper way to eat peas
     with a
           fork. The ideal is invoked when an agent,
     individual or
          collective, mobilizes an objectified concept to change the
         practices of others to realize a social or material goal that
          wants satisfied. The outcome of her employment of ideas
     will be
           dependent on complexes of material factors, of
     production, of
          organization and the co-existence of other invoked ideals, but
         is a different problem altogether.
         Why didn't Ilyenkov write this?
            1.. The "idealist" bogeyman: The presentation of a fully
         practica=l theory of the ideal must posit that the ideal is
          only a consequent of social practice, but at more concrete
          of analysis must be regarded as a prerequisite of social
         (see chapter 2, section 3 of Dialectics of the Abstract and
          Concrete in Marx's Capital (1960) for more details). An
          presentation of the reciprocal effect of the ideal on
          relations would have provided his intellectual and
          opponents with powerful arguments for labeling him
     as an
             2.. Border conditions and focus of analysis: Ilyenkov was
          fastidious of the "border conditions" of his work. Most of
     hi s efforts were devoted to the elucidation of the later
     works of
          Marx and of Lenin's theoretical works. The focus of these
          is nearly entirely on political economy, and on political
          writ large. Subjectivity finds a place in these works
     either as
          descriptions of the rational activity of generic members of
          or as descriptions of the social activity of groups. When
         approaches the "borders" of the system of the relations of
          production, the issue of the historical development of the
         of production in see chapter 2, section 3 of Dialectics of
         Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital, or the "borders"
          of the abstract theory of the ideal, the relation of the
         to social organization in "The Concept of the Ideal" he draws
         back and "hands over the subject" to others. Ilyenkov is
          surely aware that borders between subjects of analysis
         relative, in dialectical theory the relations of all concepts
          essentially conditional and relative rather than causal
          absolute, so his fastidiousness is unlikely to be a
     matter of
          research domains consecrated by professional custom. It is
          likely that this fastidiousness reflects Ilyenkov's regard
          theory as a function of practical goals, and that his
     decision to
           limit his theorizing to the social interactions of
          and to the theory of political economic states is the
     outcome of
          his practical research aims rather than a universal law of
             3.. The political limitations on conflict theory in the
         From the point of view of all established elites, including
          academic elite, Marxist theory has all the endearing
     features of
           atomic weaponry. The unity of subjectivity and
         implicit in the dialectical approach to culture and history
           produced a theory of society that is inherently
     dynamic. It
          presents society as fundamentally unstable and changeable
          respite. Stalinist theoreticians, and not only Stalinist
          theoreticians, worked very hard to modify Marxist theory
          effecting changes in the population of Marxist theorists) so
     as to
         "stop" the dialectical process with the formation of the Soviet
          Social Republic. The critical implications of Ilyenkov's
         of the ideal (as well as his studies in dialectics in general)
          the official ideology that social development ends with
          establishment of the Soviet State were not lost on the
          authorities of his day, and he hardly was permitted to go as
     far as
         he did.
         As I see it Ilyenkov was hardly an "objectivist" theoretician.
         A reading of his two major works; Dialectical Logic (1974)
          Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's
         (1960) show Ilyenkov as severely critical of "contemplationist"
          theory and a firm, consistent partisan of theory as a
     function of
          practice and of practice as the test of theory. Ilyenkov is
          reticent in declaring his own objectives; paragraphs in
     Chapter 8
         of Dialectical Logic and his articles "Activity and Knowledge"
         (1974) and "From the Marxist Point of View" (1967) clearly
         indicate of what he thought the current task of theory should
           the critical review of the failures of the Soviet
     bureaucracy in
          realizing the aims of socialism and the development of
     means to
         correct them.
         Thanks for the article,
         Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
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