By Frank Jackman
For the attentive reader of this unabashedly left-wing publication which moreover not only takes history seriously but commemorates some historical nodal points worthy of attention today I have drawn attention this month of January to the 100th anniversary of the assassinations of key nascent German Communist Party leaders Rosa Luxemburg, the rose of the revolution, and Karl Liebknecht the heart of the left-wing German workers movement. In that commentary I noted that history in the conditional, especially when things turned out badly as they did in Germany with the failure of the Communists to take power within a few years of the Armistice and aid the struggling isolated and devastated Russian revolution, is tricky business. There were certainly opportunities closed off by the decimation of the heads of the early German Communist Party that were never made up. That failure helps in its own way to pave the road to the Nazi takeover and all that meant for Europe and the world later. I also cautioned against stretching such conditionals out too far without retreating to an idea that the rise of the Nazis was inevitable. Give it some thought though.
History in the conditional applies as well to events that would in the future turn out well, well at the beginning in any case, and that leads to the role played by what many parties including Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky referred to as the “dress rehearsal” for the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. That was the Revolution of 1905 which although it was shattered and many of the leading participants either killed, exiled or banished still provided some hope that things would turn on that proverbial historical dime in the end. The key organization structure set up in 1905, the Workers Soviets, councils, which in embryo provided the outline for the workers government everybody from Marx and to his left argued for to bring socialist order to each country, to the world in the end almost automatically was reestablished in the early days of 1917. Who knows in conditions of war and governmental turmoil what would have happened if that organizational form had not already been tested in an earlier revolutionary episode. Again, let’s not get too wide afield on history in the conditional on this end either. Think about those episodes though as we commemorate that 1905 revolution.
Click on title to link the Vladimir Lenin Internet Archive's copy of his philosophical treatise in defense of the Marxist worldview, "Materialism and Empirio-criticism"
Workers Vanguard No. 945
23 October 2009
In Defense of Dialectical Materialism
(Quote of the Week)
This year marks the centennial anniversary of the publication of Materialism and Empirio-criticism,written by Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin in 1908 during the period of victorious reaction following the defeat of the 1905 Russian Revolution. This work is a powerful repudiation of bourgeois philosophical idealism—embraced at the time even by some Bolshevik leaders—which in the end always amounts to a defense of reaction and the status quo. In the excerpt below, Lenin provides a concise exposition of the Marxist materialist outlook.
Yesterday we did not know that coal tar contains alizarin. Today we have learned that it does. The question is, did coal tar contain alizarin yesterday?
Of course it did. To doubt it would be to make a mockery of modern science.
And if that is so, three important epistemological conclusions follow:
1) Things exist independently of our consciousness, independently of our sensations, 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 cannot be any such difference. The only difference is between what is known and what is not yet known....
3) In the theory of knowledge, as in every other sphere 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 exact.
Once we accept the point of view that human knowledge develops from ignorance, we shall find millions of examples of it just as simple as the discovery of alizarin in coal tar, millions of observations not only in the history of science and technology but in the everyday life of each and every one of us that illustrate the transformation of “things-in-themselves” into “things-for-us,” the appearance of “phenomena” when our sense-organs experience an impact from external objects, the disappearance of “phenomena” when some obstacle prevents the action upon our sense-organs of an object which we know to exist. The sole and unavoidable deduction to be made from this—a deduction which all of us make in everyday practice and which materialism deliberately places at the foundation of its epistemology—is that outside us, and independently of us, there exist objects, things, bodies and that our perceptions are images of the external world.
—V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism (1909)