The Ideal in Human Activity

The Ideal in Human Activity by
Evald Vasilyevich Ilyenkov
with a preface by Mike Cole

Table of Contents
Dialectical Logic.................................................................................................. 1
Introduction ........................................................................................ 1
From the History of Dialectics

  1. Descartes & Leibniz – The Subject Matter of Logic................ 5
  2. Spinoza – Thought as an Attribute of Substance ...................14
  3. Kant – Logic and Dialectics......................................................42
  4. Fichte & Schelling – Dualism or Monism................................66
  5. Hegel – Dialectics as Logic .......................................................94
  6. Feuerbach – Idealism or Materialism?...................................122
    Certain Problems of the Marxist-Leninist Theory of Dialectics
    7: A Critique of Objective Idealism ...........................................132
    8: Thought as the Subject Matter of Logic ...............................146
    9: Dialectics and the Theory of Knowledge .............................167
    10: Contradiction as a Category of Dialectical Logic ..............185
    11: The Problem of the General in Dialectics..........................198
    Conclusion......................................................................................213
    Activity and Knowledge.................................................................................215
    The Universal ..................................................................................................225
    The Concept of the Ideal...............................................................................253
    Reflections on Lenin’s book: “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” .....285
    Introduction ....................................................................................285
  7. Marxism against Machism .......................................................296
  8. The Positive Programme of Russian Positivism...................320
  9. Dialectics – Philosophy and natural science..........................349
    Conclusion.......................................................................................383

Preface
The essays in this volume provide insight into the work of Evald
Ilyenkov, a Marxist philosopher who played an important part in the
revival of Russian Marxist philosophy following the death of Stalin. He is
best know for two lines of work. First he wrote about Marx’s dialectical
method known as “the method of ascent form the abstract to concrete”
which, as David Bakhurst has pointed out, provided a subtle critique of
empiricism at the same time that it served as a political critique of the
positivism and scientism that was prevalent in Soviet political and intellectual
culture during Ilyenkov’s lifetime. It also served as a philosophical
foundation for research into theoretically guided education made famous
in the work of Vasilii Davydov and his followers.
In connection with this work, Ilyenkov was a staunch supporter of
the work of a group of psychologists, who, following the inspiration of
Vygotsky, sought to conduct basic research on the development of
human psychological processes while at the same time providing an
existence proof of the humanitarian ideal that with sufficient care and
understanding, even children who suffered blind-deafness could become
fully functioning members of society.
Ilyenkov’s work is also important in helping us to think about the relationship
of the material and the ideal in human life. He referred to this
issue as “the problem of the ideal” by which he meant the place of the
non-material in the natural world. Central to his solution of this age-old
philosophical problem was his formulation of the concept of the artefact.
Ordinarily when one thinks of an artefact, a material object comes to
mind. Something manufactured by a human being. In anthropology, the
study of artefacts is sometimes considered part of the study of material
culture, which is somehow distinct from the study of human behaviour
and knowledge. According to this “artefact as object” interpretation, it is
easy to assimilate the concept of artefact into the category of tool, in
which case, nothing much is to be gained.
According to Ilyenkov’s views, trace their genealogy back to Hegel
and Marx and can be found in the writings of philosophers such as Jon
Dewey, an artefact is an aspect of the material world that has been modified
over the history of its incorporation in goal directed human activities.
By virtue of the changes wrought in the process of their creation and use,
artefacts are simultaneously ideal and material. They are manufactured in the
process of goal directed human actions. They are ideal in that their
10 E. V. ILYENKOV
material form has been shaped by their participation in the interactions of
which they were previously a part and which they mediate in the present.
David Bakhurst, in his influential book on Ilyenkov, puts the matter
thusly:
Rather, in being created as an embodiment of purpose and
incorporated into life activity in a certain way – being
manufactured for a reason and put into use – the natural object
acquires a significance. This significance is the “ideal form” of
the object, a form that includes not a single atom of the
tangible physical substance that possess it (Bakhurst, 1990, p.
182).
Bakhurst, D., Consciousness and revolution in Soviet philosophy: From the
Bolsheviks to Evald Ilyenkov. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991
Mike Cole
February 2009
Dialectical Logic *
Introduction
The task, bequeathed to us by Lenin, of creating a Logic (with a capital
‘L’), i.e. of a systematically developed exposition of dialectics understood
as the logic and theory of knowledge of modern materialism, has
become particularly acute today. The clearly marked dialectical character
of the problems arising in every sphere of social life and scientific knowledge
is making it more and more clear that only Marxist-Leninist dialectics
has the capacity to be the method of scientific understanding and
practical activity, and of actively helping scientists in their theoretical
comprehension of experimental and factual data and in solving the
problems they meet in the course of research.
In the past ten or fifteen years, quite a few works have been written
devoted to separate branches that are part of the whole of which we still
only dream; they can justly be regarded as paragraphs, even chapters, of
the future Logic, as more or less finished blocks of the building being
erected. One cannot, of course, cement these ‘blocks’ mechanically into a
whole; but since the task of a systematic exposition of dialectical logic can
only be solved by collective efforts, we must at least determine the most
general principles of joint work. In the essays presented here we attempt
to concretise some of the points of departure of such collective work.
In philosophy, more than in any other science, as Hegel remarked
with some regret in his Phenomenology of Mind, ‘the end or final result
seems ... to have absolutely expressed the complete fact itself in its very
nature; contrasted with that the mere process of bringing it to light would
seem, properly speaking, to have no essential significance’.1
That is very aptly put. So long as dialectics (dialectical logic) is looked
upon as a simple tool for proving a previously accepted thesis (irrespective
of whether it was initially advanced as the rules of mediaeval disputes

  • Written in 1974; first published in Dialectical Logic, Essays on its History and
    Theory, by Progress Publishers, 1977; Translated: English translation 1977 by H.
    Campbell Creighton.
    1 Hegel, “The Phenomenology of Mind,” tr. J B Baillie, 1931, Preface §2.
    2 E. V. ILYENKOV
    required, or only disclosed at the end of the argument, in order to create
    the illusion of not being preconceived, that is, of saying: “Look, here is
    what we have obtained although we did not assume it”), it will remain
    something of ‘no essential significance’. When dialectics is converted into
    a simple tool for proving a previously accepted (or given) thesis, it becomes
    a sophistry only outwardly resembling dialectics, but empty of
    content. And if it is true that real dialectical logic takes on life not in
    ‘naked results’, and not in the ‘tendency’ of the movement of thought,
    but only in the form of ‘the result along with the process of arriving at
    it‘,2 then during the exposition of dialectics as Logic, we must reckon
    with this truth. For it is impossible to go to the other extreme, taking the
    view that we had allegedly not set ourselves any aim determining the
    means and character of our activity from the very outset in the course of
    our analysis of the problem, but had set out swimming at random. And
    we are therefore obliged, in any case, to say clearly, at the very beginning,
    what the ‘object’ is in which we want to discover the intrinsically necessary
    division into parts.
    Our ‘object’ or ‘subject matter’ in general, and on the whole, is
    thought, thinking; and dialectical Logic has as its aim the development of
    a scientific representation of thought in those necessary moments, and
    moreover in the necessary sequence, that do not in the least depend
    either on our will or on our consciousness. In other words Logic must
    show how thought develops if it is scientific, if it reflects, i.e. reproduces
    in concepts, an object existing outside our consciousness and will and
    independently of them, in other words, creates a mental reproduction of
    it, reconstructs its self-development, recreates it in the logic of the
    movement of concepts so as to recreate it later in fact (in experiment or
    in practice). Logic then is the theoretical representation of such thinking.
    From what we have said it will be clear that we understand thought
    (thinking) as the ideal component of the real activity of social people
    transforming both external nature and themselves by their labour.
    Dialectical logic is therefore not only a universal scheme of subjective
    activity creatively transforming nature, but is also at the same time a
    universal scheme of the changing of any natural or socio-historical material
    in which this activity is fulfilled and with the objective requirements
    of which it is always connected. That, in our opinion, is what the real gist

2 Ibid., Preface §3.
of Lenin’s thesis on the identity (not ‘unity’ only, but precisely identity,
full coincidence) of dialectics, logic and the theory of knowledge of the
modern, scientific. i.e. materialist, world outlook consists in. This approach
preserves as one of the definitions of dialectics that given by
Frederick Engels (‘dialectics, however, is nothing more than the science
of the general laws of the motion and development of nature, human
society, and thought’, 3i.e. of natural and socio-historical development,
and not ‘specifically subjective’ laws and forms of thought).
We think that one can unite dialectics and materialism in precisely
that way, and show that Logic, being dialectical, is not only the science of
‘thinking’ but also the science of development of all things, both material
and ‘spiritual’. Understood in that way Logic can also be the genuine
science of the reflection of the movement of the world in the movement
of concepts. Otherwise it is inevitably transformed, as has happened to it
in the hands of Neopositivists, into a purely technical discipline, a description
of systems of manipulations with the terms of language.
The concretisation of the general definition of Logic presented above
must obviously consist in disclosing the concepts composing it, above all
the concept of thought (thinking). Here again a purely dialectical difficulty
arises, namely, that to define this concept fully, i.e. concretely, also
means to ‘write’ Logic, because a full description cannot by any means be
given by a ‘definition’ but only by ‘developing the essence of the matter’.
The concept ‘concept’ itself is also very closely allied with the concept
of thought. To give a ‘definition’ of it here would be easy, but would
it be of any use? If we, adhering to a certain tradition in Logic, tend to
understand by ‘concept’ neither ‘sign’ nor ‘term defined through other
terms’, and not simply a ‘reflection of the essential or intrinsic attributes
of things’ (because here the meaning of the insidious words ‘essential’
and ‘intrinsic’ come to the fore), but the gist of the matter, then it would
be more correct, it seems to us, to limit ourselves in relation to definition
rather to what has been said, and to start to consider ‘the gist of the
matter’, to begin with abstract, simple definitions accepted as far as
possible by everyone. In order to arrive at the ‘concrete’, or in this case at
a Marxist-Leninist understanding of the essence of Logic and its concretely
developed ‘concept’.

3 Engels, “Dialectics of Nature,” MECW vol. 25 p 356.
4 E. V. ILYENKOV
Everything we have said determines the design and plan of our book.
At first glance it may seem that it is, if not wholly, then to a considerable
degree, a study in the history of philosophy. But the ‘historical’ collisions
of realising the ‘matter of Logic’ is not an end-in-itself for us, but only the
factual material through which the clear outlines of the ‘logic of Matter’
gradually show through,4 those very general outlines of dialectics as Logic
which, critically corrected and materialistically rethought by Marx, Engels
and Lenin, also characterise our understanding of this science.

4 “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” Marx, MECW
vol. 3 p 18.
-- From the History of Dialectics --

  1. Descartes & Leibniz – The Problem of the
    Subject Matter and Sources of Logic
    The most promising means of resolving any scientific problem is the
    historical approach to it. In our case this approach proves a very essential
    one. The fact is that what are now called logic are doctrines that differ
    considerably in their understanding of the boundaries of this science.
    Each of them, of course, lays claim not so much simply to the title as to
    the right to be considered the sole modern stage in the development of
    world logical thought. That, therefore, is why we must go into the history
    of the matter.
    The term ‘logic’ was first introduced for the science of thinking by
    the Stoics, who distinguished by it only that part of Aristotle’s actual
    teaching that corresponded to their own views on the nature of thinking.
    The term itself was derived by them from the Greek word logos (which
    literally means ‘the word’), and the science so named was very closely
    related to the subject matter of grammar and rhetoric. The mediaeval
    scholastics, who finally shaped and canonised the tradition, simply converted
    logic into a mere instrument (organon) for conducting verbal disputes,
    a tool for interpreting the texts of the Holy Writ, and a purely
    formal apparatus. As a result not only did the official interpretation of
    logic become discredited, but also its very name. The emasculated ‘Aristotelean
    logic’ therefore also became discredited in the eyes of all leading
    scientists and philosophers of the new times, which is the reason why
    most of the philosophers of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries generally
    avoided using the term ‘logic’ as the name for the science of thought
    intellect, and reason.
    Recognition of the uselessness of the official, formal, scholastic version
    of logic as the organon of real thought and of the development of
    scientific knowledge was the leitmotif of all the advanced, progressive
    philosophers of the time. ‘The logic now in use serves rather to fix and
    give stability to the errors which have their foundation in commonly
    received notions than to help the search after truth. So it does more harm
    6 E. V. ILYENKOV
    than good’, Francis Bacon said.1 ‘I observed in respect to Logic’, said
    Descartes, ‘that the syllogisms and the greater part of the other teaching
    served better in explaining to others those things that one knows (or like
    the art of Lully, in enabling one to speak without judgment of those
    things of which one is ignorant) than in learning what is new’.2 John
    Locke suggested that ‘syllogism, at best, is but the Art of fencing with the
    little knowledge we have, without making any Addition to it ...’3 On this
    basis Descartes and Locke considered it necessary to classify all the
    problems of the old logic in the sphere of rhetoric. And insofar as logic
    was preserved as a special science, it was unanimously treated not as the
    science of thinking but as the science of the correct use of words, names,
    and signs. Hobbes, for example, developed a conception of logic as the
    calculation of word signs.4
    In concluding his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke defined
    the subject matter and task of logic as follows: ‘The business [of
    logic] is to consider the nature of signs the mind makes use of for the
    understanding of things, or conveying its knowledge to others’.5 He
    treated logic as ‘the doctrine of signs’, i.e. as semiotics.
    But philosophy, fortunately, did not jell at that level. The best brains
    of the period understood very well that it might be all right for logic to be
    interpreted in that spirit, but not for the science of thinking. True, in
    general, the representatives of purely mechanistic views of the world and
    of thinking held such a view of logic. Since they interpreted objective
    reality in an abstract, geometrical way (i.e. only purely quantitative characteristics
    were considered objective and scientific), the principles of thinking
    in mathematical science merged in their eyes with the logical principles
    of thinking in general, a tendency that took final form in Hobbes.

1 Francis Bacon, “Novum Organum,” in The Works of Francis Bacon, vol IV New
York 1968, pp 48-49.
2 René Descartes, “Discourse on Method,” in Great Books of the Western World,
vol. 31, Chicago 1952, p 46.
3 John Locke, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” vol. II London
1710 p 299.
4 See Thomas Hobbes, “Leviathan or the Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth,”,
London 1894, p 27.
5 John Locke, Op. cit., p 339.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 7
The approach of Descartes and Leibniz was much more careful.
They too took to the idea of creating a ‘universal mathematics’ in place of
the old, ridiculed, and discredited logic; and they dreamed of instituting a
universal language, a system of terms strictly and unambiguously defined,
and therefore admitting of purely formal operations in it.
Both Descartes and Leibniz, unlike Hobbes, were well aware of the
difficulties of principle standing in the way of realising such an idea.
Descartes understood that the definition of terms in the universal language
could not be arrived at by amicable agreement, but must only be
the result of careful analysis of the simple ideas, the bricks, from which
the whole intellectual edifice of man was built; and that the exact language
of ‘universal mathematics’ could only be something derived from
‘true philosophy’. Only then would one succeed in replacing thinking
about the things given in reflection or imagination (i.e. in the terminology
of the day, in contemplation) and in general in people’s real sense experience
by a kind of calculus of terms and statements, and in drawing conclusions
and inferences as infallible as the solutions of equations.
In supporting this point of Descartes’, Leibniz categorically limited
the field of application of the ‘universal mathematics’ solely to those
things that belonged to the sphere of the powers of imagination. The
‘universal mathematics’ should also, in his view, be only (so to say) a logic
of the powers of imagination. But that was precisely why all metaphysics
was excluded from its province, and also such things as thought, and
action, and the field of ordinary mathematics, commensurate only in
reason. A very essential reservation! Thought, in any case, thus remained
outside the competence of the ‘universal mathematics’.
It is not surprising that Leibniz, with unconcealed irony, classified
Locke’s treatment of logic, by which it was understood as a special doctrine
of signs, as purely nominalist. Leibniz revealed the difficulties
associated with such an understanding of logic. Above all, he said, the
‘science of reasoning, of judgments and inventions, seems very different
from recognition of the etymologies and usage of words, which is something
indeterminable and arbitrary. One must, moreover, when one wants
to explain words, make an excursion into the sciences themselves as was
8 E. V. ILYENKOV
seen in dictionaries; and one must not, on the other hand, engage in a
science without at the same time giving a definition of the terms’.6
Instead of the threefold division of philosophy into different sciences
(logic, physics, and ethics) that Locke had taken over from the Stoics,
Leibniz therefore suggested speaking of three different aspects, under
which the same knowledge, the same truth, would function, namely
theoretical (physics), practical (ethics), and terminological (logic). The old
logic thus corresponded simply to the terminological aspect of knowledge, or, as
Leibniz put it, ‘arrangement by terms, as in a handbook’.7 Such a systematisation,
of course, even the best, was not a science of thought, because
Leibniz had a more profound appreciation of thinking. And he classed
the true doctrine of thought as metaphysics, in this sense following
Aristotle’s terminology and the essence of his logic, and not the Stoics.
But why should thought be investigated within the framework of
‘metaphysics’? It was not a matter, of course, of indicating to which
‘department’ the theoretical understanding of thought ‘belonged’, but of a
definite way of approaching the solution of an essential philosophical
problem. And the difficulty constantly facing every theoretician lies in
understanding what it is that links knowledge (the totality of concepts,
theoretical constructions, and ideas) and its subject matter together, and
whether the one agrees with the other, and whether the concepts on
which a person relies correspond to something real, lying outside his
consciousness? And can that, in general, be tested? And if so, how?
The problems are really very complicated. An affirmative answer, for
all its seeming obviousness, is not quite so simple to prove, and as for a
negative answer, it proves possible to back it up with very weighty arguments,
such as that, since an object is refracted in the course of its apprehension
through the prism of the ‘specific nature’ of the organs of perception
and reason, we know any object only in the form it acquires as a
result of this refraction. The ‘existence’ of things outside consciousness is
thus by no means necessarily rejected. One thing ‘only’ is rejected, the
possibility of verifying whether or not such things are ‘in reality’ as we
know and understand them. It is impossible to compare the thing as it is
given in consciousness with the thing outside consciousness, because it is

6 G. W. Leibniz, “Neue Abhandlung über den menschlichen Verstand,” Leipzig
1915, p 640.
7 Ibid., pp 644-45.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 9
impossible to compare what I know with what I don’t know, what I do
not see, what I do not perceive, what I am not aware of. Before I can
compare my idea of a thing with the thing, I must also be aware of the
thing, i.e. must also transform it into an idea. As a result I am always
comparing and contrasting only ideas with ideas, although I may think
that I am comparing the idea with the thing.
Only similar objects, naturally, can be compared and contrasted. It is
senseless to compare bushels and rods, poles, or perches, or the taste of
steak and the diagonal of a square. And if, all the same, we want to
compare steaks and squares, then we will no longer be comparing ‘steak’
and ‘square’ but two objects both possessing a geometrical, spatial form.
The ‘specific’ property of the one and of the other cannot in general be
involved in the comparison.
‘What is the distance between the syllable A and a table? The question
would be nonsensical. In speaking of the distance of two things, we
speak of their difference in space.... Thus we equalise them as being both
existences of space, and only after having them equalised sub specie spatii
[under the aspect of space] we distinguish them as different points of
space. To belong to space is their unity’.8 In other words, when we wish
to establish a relation of some sort between two objects, we always
compare not the ‘specific’ qualities that make one object ‘syllable A’ and
the other a ‘table’, ‘steak’, or a ‘square’, but only those properties that
express a ‘third’ something, different from their existence as the things
enumerated. The things compared are regarded as different modifications
of this ‘third’ property common to them all, inherent in them as it were.
So if there is no ‘third’ in the nature of the two things common to them
both, the very differences between them become quite senseless.
In what are such objects as ‘concept’ (‘idea’) and ‘thing’ related? In
what special ‘space’ can they be contrasted, compared, and differentiated?
Is there, in general, a ‘third’ thing in which they are ‘one and the same’, in
spite of all their directly visible differences? If there is no such common
substance, expressed by different means in an idea and in a thing, it is
impossible to establish any intrinsically necessary relationship between
them. At best we can ‘see’ only an external relation in the nature of that
which was once established between the position of luminaries in the
heavens and events in personal lives, i.e. relations between two orders of

8 Marx, “Theories of Surplus Value, Part III” MECW vol. 32 p 330.
10 E. V. ILYENKOV
quite heterogeneous events, each of which proceeds according to its own,
particular, specific laws. And then Wittgenstein would be right in proclaiming
logical forms to be mystical and inexpressible.
But in the case of the relationship between an idea and reality there is
yet another difficulty. We know where the search for some sort of special
essence can and does lead, an essence that would at once not be an idea
and not material reality, but would constitute their common substance,
the ‘third’ that appears one time as an idea and another time as being. For
an idea and being are mutually exclusive concepts. That which is an idea
is not being, and vice versa. How, then, in general, can they be compared?
In what, in general, can the basis of their interaction be, what is
that in which they are ‘one and the same’?
This difficulty was sharply expressed in its naked logical form by
Descartes. In its general form it is the central problem of any philosophy
whatsoever, the problem of the relationship of ‘thought’ to the reality
existing outside it and independently of it, to the world of things in space
and time, the problem of the coincidence of the forms of thought and
reality, i.e. the problem of truth or, to put it in traditional philosophical
language, the ‘problem of the identity of thought and being’.
It is clear to everyone that ‘thought’ and ‘things outside thought’ are
far from being one and the same. It is not necessary to be a philosopher
to understand that. Everyone knows that it is one thing to have a hundred
roubles (or pounds, or dollars) in one’s pocket, and another to have
them only in one’s dreams, only in one’s thoughts. The concept obviously is
only a state of the special substance that fills the brain box (we could go
on, furthermore, explaining this substance as brain tissue or even as the
very thin ether of the soul keeping house there, as the structure of the brain
tissue, or even as the formal structure of inner speech, in the form of which
thinking takes place inside the head ); but the subject is outside the head, in
the space beyond the head, and is something quite other than the internal
state of thought, ideas, the brain, speech, etc.
In order to understand such self-evident things clearly, and to take
them into consideration, it is not generally necessary to have Descartes’
mind; but it is necessary to have its analytical rigour in order to define the
fact that thought and the world of things in space are not only and not simply
different phenomena, but are also directly opposite.
Descartes’ clear, consistent intellect is especially needed in order to
grasp the problem arising from this difficulty, namely, in what way do
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 11
these two worlds (i.e. the world of concepts, of the inner states of thought,
on the one hand, and the world of things in external space, on the other
hand) nevertheless agree with one another?
Descartes expressed the difficulty as follows. If the existence of
things is determined through their extension and if the spatial, geometric
forms of things are the sole objective forms of their existence outside the
subject, then thinking is not disclosed simply through its description in
forms of space. The spatial characteristic of thinking in general has no
relation to its specific nature. The nature of thinking is disclosed through
concepts that have nothing in common with the expression of any kind
of spatial, geometric image. He also expressed this view in the following
way: thought and extension are really two different substances, and a
substance is that which exists and is defined only through itself and not
through something else. There is nothing common between thought and
extension that could be expressed in a special definition. In other words,
in a series of definitions of thought there is not a single attribute that
could be part of the definition of extension, and vice versa. But if there is
no such common attribute it is also impossible to deduce being rationally
from thought, and vice versa, because deduction requires a ‘mean term’,
i.e. a term such as might be included in the series of definitions of the
idea and of the existence of things outside consciousness, outside
thought. Thought and being cannot in general come into contact with one
another, since their boundary (the line or even the point of contact)
would then also be exactly that which simultaneously both divides them
and unites them.
In view of the absence of such a boundary, thought cannot limit the
extended thing, nor the thing the mental expression. They are free, as it
were, to penetrate and permeate each other, nowhere encountering a
boundary. Thought as such cannot interact with the extended thing, nor
the thing with thought; each revolves within itself.
Immediately a problem arises: how then are thought and bodily functions
united in the human individual? That they are linked is an obvious
fact. Man can consciously control his spatially determined body among
other such bodies, his mental impulses are transformed into spatial
movements, and the movements of bodies, causing alterations in the
human organism (sensations) are transformed into mental images. That
means that thought and the extended body interact in some way after all.
But how? What is the nature of the interaction? How do they determine,
i.e. delimit, each other?
12 E. V. ILYENKOV
How does it come about that a trajectory, drawn by thought in the
plane of the imagination, for example a curve described in its equation,
proves to be congruent with the geometrical contours of the same curve
in real space? It means that the form of the curve in thought (i.e. in the
form of the ‘magnitude’ of the algebraic signs of the equation) is identical
with a corresponding curve in real space, i.e. a curve drawn on paper in a
space outside the head. It is surely one and the same curve, only the one is in
thought and the other in real space; therefore, acting in accordance with
thought (understood as the sense of words or signs), I simultaneously act
in the strictest accord with the shape (in this case the geometrical contour)
of a thing outside thought.
How can that be, if ‘the thing in thought’ and ‘the thing outside
thought’ are not only ‘different’ but are also absolutely opposite? For
absolutely opposite means exactly this: not having anything in ‘common’
between them, nothing identical, not one attribute that could at once be a
criterion of the concept ‘thing outside thought’ and of the concept ‘thing
in thought’, or ‘imagined thing’. How then can the two worlds conform
with one another? And, moreover, not accidentally, but systematically and
regularly, these two worlds that have absolutely nothing in common, nothing
identical? That is the problem around which all Cartesians spin, Descartes
himself, and Geulincx, and Malebranche, and the mass of their
followers.
Malebranche expressed the principal difficulty arising here in his own
witty way, as follows: during the siege of Vienna, the defenders of the city
undoubtedly saw the Turkish army as ‘transcendental Turks’, but those
killed were very real Turks. The difficulty here is clear; and from the
Cartesian point of view on thought it is absolutely insoluble, because the
defenders of Vienna acted, i.e. aimed and fired their cannonballs in
accordance with the image of Turks that they had in their brains, in
accordance with ‘imagined’, ‘transcendental Turks’, and with trajectories
calculated in their brains; and the shots fell among real Turks in a space
that was not only outside their skulls, but also outside the walls of the
fortress.
How does it come about that two worlds having absolutely nothing
in common between them are in agreement, namely the world ‘thought
of’, the world in thought, and the real world, the world in space? And
why? God knows, answered Descartes, and Malebranche, and Geulincx;
from our point of view it is inexplicable. Only God can explain this fact.
He makes the two opposing worlds agree. The concept ‘God’ comes in
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 13
here as a ‘theoretical’ construction by which to express the obvious but
quite inconceivable fact of the unity, congruence, and identity perhaps, of
phenomena that are absolutely contrary by definition. God is the ‘third’
which, as the ‘connecting link’, unites and brings into agreement thought
and being, ‘soul’ and ‘body’, ‘concept’ and ‘object’, action in the plane of
signs and words and action in the plane of real, geometrically defined
bodies outside the head.
Having come directly up against the naked dialectical fact that
‘thought’ and ‘being outside thought’ are in absolute opposition, yet are
nevertheless in agreement with one another, in unity, in inseparable and
necessary interconnection and interaction (and thus subordinated to
some higher law – and moreover, one and the same law), the Cartesian
school capitulated before theology and put the inexplicable (from their
point of view) fact down to God, and explained it by a ‘miracle’, i.e. by
the direct intervention of supernatural powers in the causal chain of
natural events.
Descartes, the founder of analytical geometry, could therefore not
explain in any rational way whatever the reason for the algebraic expression
of a curve by means of an equation ‘corresponding’ to the spatial
image of this curve in a drawing. They could not, indeed, manage without
God, because according to Descartes, actions with signs and on the basis
of signs, in accordance only with signs (with their mathematical sense),
i.e. actions in the ether of ‘pure thought’, had nothing in common with
real bodily actions in the sphere of spatially determined things, in accordance
with their real contours. The first were pure actions of the soul (or
thinking as such), the second – actions of the body repeating the contours
(spatially geometric outlines) of external bodies, and therefore
wholly governed by the laws of the ‘external’, spatially material world.
(This problem is posed no less sharply today by the ‘philosophy of
mathematics’. If mathematical constructions are treated as constructions
of the creative intellect of mathematicians, ‘free’ of any external determination
and worked out exclusively by ‘logical’ rules – and the mathematicians
themselves, following Descartes, are quite often apt to interpret
them precisely so – it becomes quite enigmatic and inexplicable why on
earth the empirical facts, the facts of ‘external experience’, keep on
agreeing and coinciding in their mathematical, numerical expressions with
the results obtained by purely logical calculations and by the ‘pure’ actions
of the intellect. It is absolutely unclear. Only ‘God’ can help.)
14 E. V. ILYENKOV
In other words the identity of these absolute opposites (‘thought’,
‘spirit’, and ‘extension’, ‘body’) was also recognised by Descartes as a
factual principle – without it even his idea of an analytical geometry
would have been impossible (and not only inexplicable) – but it was
explained by an act of God, by his intervention in the interrelations of
‘thought and being’, ‘soul and body’. God, moreover, in Cartesian philosophy,
and especially for Malebranche and Geulincx, could be understood
as the purely traditional Catholic, orthodox God, ruling both the
‘bodies’ and the ‘souls’ of men from outside, from the heights of his
heavenly throne, and co-ordinating the actions of the ‘soul’ with those of
the ‘body’.
Such is the essence of the famous psychophysical problem, in which
it is not difficult to see the specifically concrete and therefore historically
limited formulation of the central problem of philosophy. The problem
of the theoretical understanding of thought (logic), consequently, and
hence not of the rules of operating with words or other signs, comes
down to solving the cardinal problems of philosophy, or of metaphysics,
to put it in a rather old-fashioned way. And that assumes mastering the
culture of the genuinely theoretical thinking represented by the classical
philosophers, who not only knew how to pose problems with maximum
clarity, but also knew how to solve them.
2. Spinoza – Thought as an Attribute of Substance
An immense role in the development of logic, and in preparing the
ground for modern views on its subject matter, a role far from fully
appreciated, was played by Spinoza. Like Leibniz, Spinoza rose high
above the mechanistic limitations of the natural science of his time. Any
tendency directly to universalise partial forms and methods of thinking
only useful within the bounds of mechanistic, mathematical natural
science was also foreign to him.
Insofar as logic was preserved alongside the doctrine of substance,
Spinoza treated it as an applied discipline by analogy with medicine, since
its concern proved not to be the invention of artificial rules but the coordination
of human intellect with the laws of thought understood as an
‘attribute’ of the natural whole, only as ‘modes of expression’ of the
universal order and connection of things. He also tried to work out
logical problems on the basis of this conception.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 15
Spinoza understood thought much more profoundly and, in essence,
dialectically, which is why his figure presents special interest in the history
of dialectics; he was probably the only one of the great thinkers of the
pre-Marxian era who knew how to unite brilliant models of acutely
dialectical thought with a consistently held materialist principle (rigorously
applied throughout his system) of understanding thought and its
relations to the external world lying in the space outside the human head.
The influence of Spinoza’s ideas on the subsequent development of
dialectical thought can hardly be exaggerated. ‘It is therefore worthy of
note that thought must begin by placing itself at the standpoint of
Spinozism; to be a follower of Spinoza is the essential commencement of
all Philosophy’.9
But orthodox religious scholasticism, in alliance with subjective idealist
philosophy, has not ceased to flog Spinoza as a ‘dead dog’, treating
him as a living and dangerous opponent. Elementary analysis reveals that
the main principles of Spinoza’s thought directly contradict the conception
of ‘thought’ developed by modern positivism all along the line. The
most modern systems of the twentieth century still clash in sharp antagonism
in Spinoza; and that obliges us to analyse the theoretical foundation
of his conception very carefully, and to bring out the principles in it that,
in rather different forms of expression perhaps, remain the most precious
principles of any scientific thinking to this day, and as such are very
heatedly disputed by our contemporary opponents of dialectical thought.
Hegel once noted that Spinoza’s philosophy was very simple and easy
to understand. And in fact the principles of his thinking, which constitute
the essential commencement of all Philosophy, i.e. the real foundation on
which alone it is possible to erect the edifice of philosophy as a science,
are brilliant precisely in their crystal clarity, free of all reservations and
ambiguities.
It is not so easy, however, to bring these brilliant principles out because
they are decked out in the solid armour of the constructions of
formal logic and deductive mathematics that constitute the ‘shell’ of
Spinoza’s system, its (so to say) defensive coat of mail. In other words,
the real logic of Spinoza’s thinking by no means coincides with the
formal logic of the movement of his ‘axioms’, ‘theorems’, ‘scholia’, and
their proofs.

9 Hegel, “Lectures on the History of Philosophy,” Volume III p 257.
16 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘Even with philosophers who gave their work a systematic form, e.g.
Spinoza, the real inner structure of their system is quite distinct from the
form in which they consciously presented it’, Karl Marx wrote to Ferdinand
Lassalle.10
Our job then cannot be once more to paraphrase the theoretical
foundations on which Spinoza built his main work, the Ethics, and the
conclusions that he drew from them by means of his famous ‘geometric
modus’. In that case it would be more proper simply to copy out the text
of the Ethics itself once again. Our job is to help the reader to understand
the ‘real inner structure’ of his system, which far from coincides with its
formal exposition, i.e. to see the real ‘cornerstone’ of his reflections and
to show what real conclusions were drawn from them, or could be drawn
from them, that still preserve their full topicality.
That can only be done in one way, and one way only, which is to
show the real problem that Spinoza’s thought came up against quite
independently of how he himself realised it and in what terms he expressed
it for himself and for others (i.e. to set the problem out in the
language of our century), and then to trace what were the real principles
(once more independently of Spinoza’s own formulation of them) on
which he based the solution of the problem. Then it will become clear
that Spinoza succeeded in finding the only formulation exact for his time
of a real problem that remains the great problem of our day, only formulated
in another form.
We formulated this problem in the preceding essay. Spinoza found a
very simple solution to it, brilliant in its simplicity for our day as well as
his: the problem is insoluble only because it has been wrongly posed.
There is no need to rack one’s brains over how the Lord God ‘unites’
‘soul’ (thought) and ‘body’ in one complex, represented initially (and by
definition) as different and even contrary principles allegedly existing separately
from each other before the ‘act’ of this ‘uniting’ (and thus, also
being able to exist after their ‘separation’; which is only another formula-

10 Marx to Ferdinand Lassalle 31 May 1858, MECW vol. 40 p 316. Marx repeated
this idea eleven years later in a letter to M. M. Kovalevsky: ‘... It is necessary
... to distinguish between that which the author in fact offers and that which
he gives only in his representation. This is justifiable even for philosophical
systems: thus what Spinoza considered the keystone of his system, and what in
fact constitutes this keystone, are two quite different things’. This letter was
known only from an oral translation by Kovalevsky.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 17
tion of the thesis of the immortality of the soul, one of the cornerstones
of Christian theology and ethics). In fact, there simply is no such situation;
and therefore there is also no problem of ‘uniting’ or ‘coordination’.

There are not two different and originally contrary objects of investigation
body and thought, but only one single object, which is the thinking
body of living, real man (or other analogous being, if such exists anywhere
in the Universe), only considered from two different and even opposing
aspects or points of view. Living, real thinking man, the sole thinking
body with which we are acquainted, does not consist of two Cartesian
halves ‘thought lacking a body’ and a ‘body lacking thought’. In relation
to real man both the one and the other are equally fallacious abstractions,
and one cannot in the end model a real thinking man from two equally
fallacious abstractions.
That is what constitutes the real ‘keystone’ of the whole system, a
very simple truth that is easy, on the whole, to understand.
It is not a special ‘soul’, installed by God in the human body as in a
temporary residence, that thinks, but the body of man itself. Thought is a
property, a mode of existence, of the body, the same as its extension, i.e.
as its spatial configuration and position among other bodies.
This simple and profoundly true idea was expressed this way by
Spinoza in the language of his time: thought and extension are not two
special substances as Descartes taught, but only two attributes of one and
the same organ; not two special objects, capable of existing separately and
quite independently of each other, but only two different and even opposite
aspects under which one and the same thing appears, two different
modes of existence, two forms of the manifestation of some third thing.
What is this third thing? Real infinite Nature, Spinoza answered. It is
Nature that extends in space and ‘thinks’. The whole difficulty of the
Cartesian metaphysics arose because the specific difference of the real
world from the world as only imagined or thought of was considered to
be extension, a spatial, geometric determinateness. But extension as such
just existed in imagination, only in thought. For as such it can generally
only be thought of in the form of emptiness, i.e. purely negatively, as the
complete absence of any definite geometric shape. Ascribing only spatial,
geometric properties to Nature is, as Spinoza said, to think of it in an
imperfect way, i.e. to deny it in advance one of its perfections. And then
18 E. V. ILYENKOV
it is asked how the perfection removed from Nature can be restored to
her again.
The same argumentation applies to thought. Thought as such is the
same kind of fallacious abstraction as emptiness. In fact it is only a property,
a predicate, an attribute of that very body which has spatial attributes.
In other words one can say very little about thought as such; it is not
a reality existing separately from, and independently of, bodies but only a
mode of existence of Nature’s bodies. Thought and space do not really
exist by themselves, but only as Nature’s bodies linked by chains of
interaction into a measureless and limitless whole embracing both the one
and the other.
By a simple turn of thought Spinoza cut the Gordian knot of the
‘psychophysical problem’, the mystic insolubility of which still torments
the mass of theoreticians and schools of philosophy, psychology, physiology
of the higher nervous system, and other related sciences that are
forced one way or another to deal with the delicate theme of the relation
of ‘thought’ to ‘body’, of ‘spiritual’ to ‘material’, of ‘ideal’ to ‘real’, and
such like topics.
Spinoza showed that it is only impossible to solve the problem because
it is absolutely wrongly posed; and that such posing of it is nothing
but the fruit of imagination.
It is in man that Nature really performs, in a self-evident way, that
very activity that we are accustomed to call ‘thinking’. In man, in the form
of man, in his person, Nature itself thinks, and not at all some special
substance, source, or principle instilled into it from outside. In man,
therefore, Nature thinks of itself. becomes aware of itself, senses itself, acts
on itself. And the ‘ reasoning’, ‘consciousness’, ‘idea’, ‘sensation’, ‘will’, and
all the other special actions that Descartes described as modi of thought, are
simply different modes of revealing a property inalienable from Nature as
a whole, one of its own attributes.
But if thinking is always an action performed by a natural and so by a
spatially determined body, it itself, too, is an action that is also expressed
spatially, which is why there is not and cannot be the cause and effect relation
between thinking and bodily action for which the Cartesians were
looking. They did not find it for the simple reason that no such relation
exists in Nature, and cannot, simply because thinking and the body are
not two different things at all, existing separately and therefore capable of
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 19
interacting, but one and the same thing, only expressed by two different
modes or considered in two different aspects.
Between body and thought there is no relation of cause and effect,
but the relation of an organ (i.e. of a spatially determinate body) to the
mode of its own action. The thinking body cannot cause changes in
thought, cannot act on thought, because its existence as ‘thinking’ is
thought. If a thinking body does nothing, it is no longer a thinking body
but simply a body. But when it does act, it does not do so on thought,
because its very activity is thought.
Thought as a spatially expressed activity therefore cannot also be secreted
from the body performing it as a special ‘substance’ distinct from
the body, in the way that bile is secreted from the liver or sweat from
sweat glands. Thinking is not the product of an action but the action itself,
considered at the moment of its performance, just as walking, for example,
is the mode of action of the legs, the ‘product’ of which, it transpires,
is the space walked. And that is that. The product or result of thinking
may be an exclusively spatially expressed, or exclusively geometrically
stated, change in some body or another, or else in its position relative to
other bodies. It is absurd then to say that the one gives rise to (or
‘causes’) the other. Thinking does not evoke a spatially expressed change
in a body but exists through it (or within it), and vice versa; any change,
however fine, within that body, induced by the effect on it of other
bodies, is directly expressed for it as a certain change in its mode of
activity, i.e. in thinking.
The position set out here is extremely important also because it immediately
excludes any possibility of treating it in a vulgar materialist,
mechanistic key, i.e. of identifying thought with immaterial processes that
take place within the thinking body (head, brain tissue), while nevertheless
understanding that thought takes place precisely through these processes.
Spinoza was well aware that what is expressed and performed in the
form of structural, spatial changes within the thinking body is not at all
some kind of thinking taking place outside of and independently of them,
and vice versa (shifts of thinking by no means express immanent movements
of the body within which they arise). It is therefore impossible
either to understand thought through examination, however exact and
thorough, of the spatially geometric changes in the form of which it is
expressed within the body of the brain, or, on the contrary, to understand
the spatial, geometric changes in the brain tissue from the most detailed
20 E. V. ILYENKOV
consideration of the composition of the ideas existing in the brain. It is
impossible, Spinoza constantly repeated, because they are one and the same,
only expressed by two different means.
To try to explain the one by the other simply means to double the
description of one and the same fact, not yet understood and incomprehensible.
And although we have two full, quite adequate descriptions of
one and the same event, equivalent to one another, the event itself falls
outside both descriptions, as the ‘third thing’, the very ‘one and the same’
that was not yet understood or explained. Because the event twice described
(once in the language of the ‘physics of the brain’ and once in the
language of the ‘logic of ideas’) can be explained and correspondingly
understood only after bringing out the cause evoking the event described
but not understood.
Bishop Berkeley ascribed the cause to God. And so did Descartes,
Malebranche, and Geulincx. The shallow, vulgar materialist tries to
explain everything by the purely mechanical actions of external things on
the sense organs and brain tissue, and takes for the cause the concrete
thing, the sole object, that is affecting our bodily organisation at a given
moment and causing corresponding changes in our body, which we feel
within ourselves and experience as our thinking.
While rejecting the first explanation as the capitulation of philosophy
before religious theological twaddle, Spinoza took a very critical attitude
as well toward the superficially materialist-mechanistic explanation of the
cause of thought. He very well understood that it was only a ‘bit’ of an
explanation, leaving in the dark the very difficulty that Descartes was
forced to bring in God to explain.
For to explain the event we call ‘thinking’, to disclose its effective
cause, it is necessary to include it in the chain of events within which it arises
of necessity and not fortuitously. The ‘beginnings’ and the ‘ends’ of this chain
are clearly not located within the thinking body at all, but far outside it.
To explain a separate, single, sensuously perceived fact passing momentarily
before our eye, and even the whole mass of such facts, as the
cause of thought means to explain precisely nothing. For this very fact
exerts its effect (mechanical, say, or light) on stone as well, but no action
of any kind that we describe as ‘thinking’ is evoked in the stone. The
explanation must consequently also include those relations of cause and
effect that of necessity generate our own physical organisation capable
(unlike a stone) of thinking, i.e. of so refracting the external influences
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 21
and so transforming them within itself that they are experienced by the
thinking body not at all only as changes arising within itself, but as external
things, as the shapes of things outside the thinking body.
For the action produced on the retina of our eye by a ray of light reflected
from the Moon is perceived by the thinking being not simply as a
mechanical irritation within the eye but as the shape of the thing itself, as the
lunar disc hanging in space outside the eye, which means that the Ego,
the thinking substance or creature, directly feels not the effect produced
on it by the external thing but something quite different, viz. the shape or
form (i.e. the spatial, geometric configuration) and position of this external
body, which has been evoked within us as a result of the mechanical
or light effect. In that lies both the enigma and the whole essence of
thinking as the mode of activity of a thinking body in distinction to one
that does not think. It will readily be understood that one body evokes a
change by its action in another body; that is fully explained by the concepts
of physics. It is difficult, and from the angle of purely physical
concepts (and in Spinoza’s time of even ‘purely’ mechanical, geometric
concepts) even impossible, to explain just why and how the thinking
body feels and perceives the effect caused by an external body within
itself as an external body, as its, and not as its own shape, configuration, and
position in space.
Such was the enigma, in general, that Leibniz and Fichte came up
against later; but Spinoza had already found a fully rational, though only
general, theoretical solution. He clearly understood that the problem
could only be fully and finally solved by quite concrete investigation
(including anatomical and physiological) of the material mechanism by
which the thinking body (brain) managed to do the trick, truly mystically
incomprehensible (from the angle of purely geometric concepts). But that
it did the trick – that it saw the thing and not the changes in the particles
of the retina and brain that this body caused by its light effect within the
brain was an undoubted fact; and a fact calling for fundamental explanation
and in a general way outlining paths for more concrete study in the
future.
What can the philosopher say here categorically, who remains a philosopher
and does not become a physiologist, or an anatomist, or a
physicist? Or rather, what can he say, without plunging into a game of the
imagination, without trying to construct hypothetical mechanisms in the
fancy by which the trick mentioned ‘might’, in general, be performed?
What can he say while remaining on the ground of firmly established
22 E. V. ILYENKOV
facts known before and independently of any concrete, physiological
investigation of the inner mechanisms of the thinking body, and not
capable either of being refuted or made doubtful by any further probing
within the eye and the skull?
In the given, partial, though very characteristic case, there is another,
more general problem, namely that of the relation of philosophy as a
special science to the concrete research of the natural sciences. Spinoza’s
position on this point cannot in principle be explained if we start from
the positivist idea that philosophy has made all its outstanding achievements
(and makes them) only by purely empirical ‘generalisation of the
progress of its contemporary natural sciences’. Because natural science
did not find the answers to the problem before us either in the seventeenth
century, in Spinoza’s time, or even in our day, three hundred years
later. Furthermore, the natural science of his day did not even suspect the
existence of such a problem; and when it did, knew it only in a theological
formulation. As for the ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, and in general everything
connected one way or another with ‘spiritual’, psychic life, the natural
scientists of the time (even the great ones like Isaac Newton) found
themselves prisoners of the prevailing (i.e. religious, theological) illusions.
Spiritual life they gladly left to the Church, and humbly acknowledged its
authority, interesting themselves exclusively in the mechanical characteristics
of the surrounding world. And everything that was inexplicable on
purely mechanical grounds was not subjected to scientific study at all but
was left to the competence of religion.
If Spinoza had in fact tried to construct his philosophical system by
the method that our contemporary positivism would have recommended
to him, it is not difficult to imagine what he would have produced as a
‘system’. He would only have brought together the purely mechanical and
religious, mystical ‘general ideas’ that were guiding all (or almost all)
naturalists in his day. Spinoza understood very clearly that religious,
theological mysticism was the inevitable complement of a purely mechanistic
(geometrical, mathematical) world outlook, i.e. the point of view
that considers the sole ‘objective’ properties of the real world to be only
the spatial, geometrical forms and relations of bodies. His greatness was
that he did not plod along behind contemporaneous natural science, i.e.
behind the one-sided, mechanistic thinking of the coryphaei of the science
of the day, but subjected this way of thinking to well substantiated
criticism from the angle of the specific concepts of philosophy as a
special science. This feature of Spinoza’s thinking was brought out clearly
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 23
and explicitly by Frederick Engels: ‘It is to the highest credit of the
philosophy of the time that it did not let itself be led astray by the restricted
state of contemporary natural knowledge, and that from Spinoza
right to the great French materialists it insisted on explaining the world
from the world itself and left the justification in detail to the natural
science of the future’.11
That is why Spinoza has come down in the history of science as an
equal contributor to its progress with Galileo and Newton, and not as
their epigone, repeating after them the general ideas that could be drawn
from their work. He investigated reality himself from the special, philosophical
angle, and did not generalise the results and ready-made findings
of other people’s investigation, did not bring together the general
ideas of the science of his day and the methods of investigation characteristic
of it, or the methodology and logic of his contemporary science.
He understood that that way led philosophy up a blind alley, and condemned
it to the role of the wagon train bringing up in the rear of the
attacking army the latter’s own ‘general ideas and methods’, including all
the illusions and prejudices incorporated in them.
That is why he also developed ‘general ideas and methods of thought’
to which the natural science of the day had not yet risen, and armed
future science with them, which recognised his greatness three centuries
later through the pen of Albert Einstein, who wrote that he would have
liked ‘old Spinoza’ as the umpire in his dispute with Niels Bohr on the
fundamental problems of quantum mechanics rather than Carnap or
Bertrand Russell, who were contending for the role of the ‘philosopher of
modern science’ and spoke disdainfully of Spinoza’s philosophy as an
‘outmoded’ point of view ‘which neither science nor philosophy can
nowadays accept’.12 Spinoza’s understanding of thinking as the activity of
that same nature to which extension also belonged is an axiom of the true
modern philosophy of our century, to which true science is turning more
and more confidently and consciously in our day (despite all the attempts
to discredit it) as the point of view of true materialism.
The brilliance of the solution of the problem of the relation of thinking
to the world of bodies in space outside thought (i.e. outside the head
of man), which Spinoza formulated in the form of the thesis that thought

11 Engels, “Dialectics of Nature,” MECW vol. 25 p 323.
12 Bertrand Russell, “History of Western Philosophy,” London 1946, p 601.
24 E. V. ILYENKOV
and extension are not two substances, but only two attributes of one and
the same substance, can hardly be exaggerated. This solution immediately
rejected every possible kind of interpretation and investigation of thought
by the logic of spiritualist and dualist constructions, so making it possible
to find a real way out both from the blind alley of the dualism of mind
and body and from the specific blind alley of Hegelianism. It is not
fortuitous that Spinoza’s profound idea only first found true appreciation
by the dialectical materialists Marx and Engels. Even Hegel found it a
hard nut to crack. In fact, on the decisive point, he returned again to the
position of Descartes, to the thesis that pure thought is the active cause of
all the changes occurring in the ‘thinking body of man’, i.e. in the matter
of the brain and sense organs, in language, in actions and their results,
including in that the instruments of labour and historical events.
From Spinoza’s standpoint thought before and outside of its spatial expression
in the matter proper to it simply does not exist. All talk about an idea
that first arises and then tries to find material suitable for its incarnation,
selecting the body of man and his brain as the most suitable and malleable
material, all talk of thought first arising and then ‘being embodied in
words’, in ‘terms’ and ‘statements’, and later in actions, in deeds and their
results, all such talk, therefore, from Spinoza’s point of view, is simply
senseless or, what is the same thing, simply the atavism of religious
theological ideas about the ‘incorporeal soul’ as the active cause of the
human body’s actions. In other words, the sole alternative to Spinoza’s
understanding proves to be the conception that an idea can ostensibly
exist first somewhere and somehow outside the body of the thought and independently
of it, and can then ‘express itself’ in that body’s actions.
What is thought then? How are we to find the true answer to this
question, i.e. to give a scientific definition of this concept, and not simply
to list all the actions that we habitually subsume under this term (reasoning,
will, fantasy, etc.), as Descartes did? One quite clear recommendation
follows from Spinoza’s position, namely: if thought is the mode of action of
the thinking body, then, in order to define it, we are bound to investigate the
mode of action of the thinking body very thoroughly, in contrast to the
mode of action (mode of existence and movement) of the non-thinking
body; and in no case whatsoever to investigate the structure or spatial
composition of this body in an inactive state. Because the thinking body,
when it is inactive, is no longer a thinking body but simply a ‘body’.
Investigation of all the material (i.e. spatially defined) mechanisms by
which thought is effected within the human body, i.e. anatomical, physio-
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 25
logical study of the brain, of course, is a most interesting scientific question;
but even the fullest answers to it have no direct bearing on the
answer to the question ‘What is thought?’. Because that is another question.
One does not ask how legs capable of walking are constructed, but
in what walking consists. What is thinking as the action of, albeit inseparable
from, the material mechanisms by which it is effected, yet not in any
way identical with mechanisms themselves? In the one case the question
is about the structure of an organ, in the other about the function the
organ performs. The structures, of course, must be such that it can carry
out the appropriate function; legs are built so that they can walk and not
so that they can think. The fullest description of the structure of an organ,
i.e. a description of it in an inactive state, however, has no right to present
itself as a description, however approximate, of the function that the organ
performs, as a description of the real thing that it does.
In order to understand the mode of action of the thinking body it is
necessary to consider the mode of its active, causal interaction with other
bodies both ‘thinking’ and ‘non-thinking’, and not its inner structure, not
the spatial geometric relations that exist between the cells of its body and
between the organs located within its body.
The cardinal distinction between the mode of action of a thinking
body and that of any other body, quite clearly noted by Descartes and the
Cartesians, but not understood by them, is that the former actively builds
(constructs) the shape (trajectory) of its own movement in space in
conformity with the shape (configuration and position) of the other body,
coordinating the shape of its own movement (its own activity) with the
shape of the other body, whatever it is. The proper, specific form of the
activity of a thinking body consists consequently in universality, in that very
property that Descartes actually noted as the chief distinction between
human activity and the activity of an automaton copying its appearance,
i.e. of a device structurally adapted to some one limited range of action
even better than a human, but for that very reason unable to do ‘everything
else’.
Thus the human hand can perform movements in the form of a circle,
or a square, or any other intricate geometrical figure you fancy, so
revealing that it was not designed structurally and anatomically in advance
for any one of these ‘actions’, and for that very reason is capable of performing
any action. In this it differs, say, from a pair of compasses, which
describe circles much more accurately than the hand but cannot draw the
outlines of triangles or squares. In other words, the action of a body that
26 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘does not think’ (if only in the form of spatial movement, in the form of
the simplest and most obvious case) is determined by its own inner construction
by its ‘nature’, and is quite uncoordinated with the shape of the other
bodies among which it moves. It therefore either disturbs the shapes of
the other bodies or is itself broken in colliding with insuperable obstacles.
Man, however, the thinking body, builds his movement on the shape of any
other body. He does not wait until the insurmountable resistance of other
bodies forces him to turn off from his path; the thinking body goes freely
round any obstacle of the most complicated form. The capacity of a thinking
body to mould its own action actively to the shape of any other body, to coordinate
the shape of its movement in space with the shape and distribution of all
other bodies, Spinoza considered to be its distinguishing sign and the
specific feature of that activity that we call ‘thinking’ or ‘reason’.
This capacity, as such, has its own gradations and levels of ‘perfection’,
and manifests itself to the maximum in man, in any case much
more so than in any other creature known to us. But man is not divided
from the lower creatures at all by that impassable boundary that Descartes
drew between them by his concept of ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’. The actions
of animals, especially of the higher animals, are also subsumed, though to
a limited degree, under Spinoza’s definition of thinking.
This is a very important point, which presents very real interest. For
Descartes the animal was only an automaton, i.e. all its actions were
determined in advance by ready-made structures, internally inherent to it,
and by the distribution of the organs located within its body. These
actions, therefore, could and had to be completely explained by the
following scheme: external effect → movement of the inner parts of the
body → external reaction. The last represents the response (action,
movement) of the body evoked by the external effect, which in essence is
only transformed by the working of the inner parts of the body, following
the scheme rigidly programmed in its construction. There is a full analogy
with the working of a self-activating mechanism (pressure on a button
→ working of the parts inside the mechanism → movement of its external
parts). This explanation excluded the need for any kind of ‘incorporeal
soul’; everything was beautifully explained without its intervention.
Such in general, and on the whole, is the theoretical scheme of a reflex
that was developed two hundred years later in natural science in the work
of Sechenov and Pavlov.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 27
But this scheme is not applicable to man because in him, as Descartes
himself so well understood, there is a supplementary link in the
chain of events (i.e. in the chain of external effect → working of the
inner bodily organs according to a ready-made scheme structurally embodied
in them → external reaction) that powerfully interferes with it,
forces its way into it, breaking the ready-made chain and then joining its
disconnected ends together in a new way, each time in a different way,
each time in accordance with new conditions and circumstances in the
external action not previously foreseen by any prepared scheme and this
supplementary link is ‘reflection’ or ‘consideration’. But a ‘reflection’ is
that activity (in no way outwardly expressed) which directs reconstruction of
the very schemes of the transformation of the initial effect into response. Here
the body itself is the object of its own activity.
Man’s ‘response’ mechanisms are by no means switched on just as
soon as ‘the appropriate button is pressed’, as soon as he experiences an
effect from outside. Before he responds he contemplates, i.e. he does not
act immediately according to any one prepared scheme, like an automaton
or an animal, but considers the scheme of the forthcoming action
critically, elucidating each time how far it corresponds to the needs of the
new conditions, and actively correcting, even designing all over again, the
whole set-up and scheme of the future actions in accordance with the
external circumstances and the forms of things.
And since the forms of things and the circumstances of actions are in
principle infinite in number, the ‘soul’ (i.e. ‘contemplation’) must be
capable of an infinite number of actions. But that is impossible to provide
for in advance in the form of ready-made, bodily programmed
schemes. Thinking is the capacity of actively building and reconstructing
schemes of external action in accordance with any new circumstances,
and does not operate according to a prepared scheme as an automaton or
any inanimate body does.
‘For while reason is a universal instrument which can serve for all
contingencies, these [‘bodily’ – EVI] organs have need of some special
adaptation for every particular action’, Descartes wrote.13 For that reason
he was unable to conceive of the organ of thought bodily, as structurally
organised in space. Because, in that case, as many ready-made, structurally
programmed patterns of action would have to be postulated in it as there

13 Descartes, Op. cit., p 59.
28 E. V. ILYENKOV
were external bodies and combinations of external bodies and contingencies
that the thinking body would generally encounter in its path, that is,
in principle, an infinite number. ‘From this it follows’, Descartes said,
that it is morally impossible that there should be sufficient diversity in any
machine to allow it to act in all the events of life in the same way as our
reason causes us to act’,14 i.e. each time taking account again of any of the
infinite conditions and circumstances of the external action. (The adverb
‘morally’ in Descartes’ statement, of course, does not mean impossible
‘from the aspect of morals’ or of ‘moral principles’, etc., moralement in
French meaning ‘mentally’ or ‘intellectually’ in general.)
Spinoza counted the considerations that drove Descartes to adopt
the concept of ‘soul’ to be quite reasonable. But why not suppose that the
organ of thought, while remaining wholly corporeal and therefore incapable
of having schemes of its present and future actions readymade and
innate within it together with its bodily-organised structure, was capable of
actively building them anew each time in accordance with the forms and
arrangement of the ‘external things’? Why not suppose that the thinking
thing was designed in a special way; that not having any ready-made
schemes of action within it, it acted for that very reason in accordance
with whatever scheme was dictated to it at a given moment by the forms
and combinations of other bodies located outside it? For that was the real
role or function of the thinking thing, the only functional definition of
thinking corresponding to the facts that it was impossible to deduce from
structural analysis of the organ in which and by means of which it (thinking)
was performed. Even more so, a functional definition of thinking as
action according to the shape of any other thing also puts structural,
spatial study of the thinking thing on the right track, i.e. study in particular
of the body of the brain. It is necessary to elucidate and discover in
the thinking thing those very structural features that enable it to perform
its specific function, i.e. to act not according to the scheme of its own
structure but according to the scheme and location of all other things,
including its own body.
In that form the materialist approach to the investigation of thought
comes out clearly. Such is the truly materialist, functional definition of
thought, or its definition as the active function of a natural body organised
in a special way, which prompts both logic (the system of functional

14 Descartes, Op. cit., p 59.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 29
definitions of thought) and brain physiology (a system of concepts reflecting
the material structure of the organ in and by which this function
is performed) to make a really scientific investigation of the problem of
thought, and which excludes any possibility of interpreting thinking and
the matter of its relation to the brain by the logic of either spiritualist and
dualist constructions or of vulgar mechanistic ones.
In order to understand thought as a function, i.e. as the mode of action
of thinking things in the world of all other things, it is necessary to
go beyond the bounds of considering what goes on inside the thinking
body, and how (whether it is the human brain or the human being as a
whole who possesses this brain is a matter of indifference), and to examine
the real system within which this function is performed, i.e. the
system of relations ‘thinking body and its object’. What we have in mind here,
moreover, is not any single object or other in accordance with whose
form the thinking body’s activity is built in any one specific case, but any
object in general, and correspondingly any possible ‘meaningful act’ or
action in accordance with the form of its object.
Thought can therefore only be understood through investigation of
its mode of action in the system thinking body – nature as a whole (with
Spinoza it is ‘substance’, ‘God’). But if we examine a system of smaller
volume and scale, i.e. the relations of the thinking body with as wide a
sphere of ‘things’ and their forms as you like, but still limited, then we
shall not arrive at what thought is in general (thought in the whole fullness
of its possibilities associated with its nature), but only at that limited
mode of thinking that happens in a given case; and we shall therefore be
taking only definitions of a partial case of thinking, only its modus (in
Spinoza’s parlance) as scientific definitions of thought in general.
The whole business consists in this, that the thinking body (in accordance
with its nature) is not linked at all by its structural, anatomical
organisation with any partial mode of action whatsoever (with any partial
form of the external bodies). It is linked with them, but only currently, at
the given moment, and by no means originally or forever. Its mode of
action has a clearly expressed universal character, i.e. is constantly being
extended, embracing ever newer and newer things and forms of things,
and actively and plastically adapting itself to them.
That is why Spinoza also defined thought as an attribute of substance,
and not as its modus, not as a partial case. Thus he affirmed, in the language
of his day, that the single system, within which thought was found
30 E. V. ILYENKOV
of necessity and not fortuitously (which it may or may not be), was not a
single body or even as wide a range of bodies as you wished, but only and
solely nature as a whole. The individual body possessed thought only by
virtue of chance or coincidence. The crossing and combination of masses
of chains of cause and effect could lead in one case to the appearance of
a thinking body and in another case simply to a body, a stone, a tree, etc.
So that the individual body, even the human body, did not possess
thought one whit of necessity. Only nature as a whole was that system
which possessed all its perfections, including thought, of absolute necessity,
although it did not realise this perfection in any single body and at
any moment of time, or in any of its ‘modi’.
In defining thought as an attribute Spinoza towered above any representative
of mechanistic materialism and was at least two centuries in
advance of his time in putting forward a thesis that Engels expressed in
rather different words: ‘The point is, however, that mechanism (and also
the materialism of the eighteenth century) does not get away from abstract
necessity, and hence not from chance either. That matter evolves
out of itself the thinking human brain is for him [Haeckel] a pure accident,
although necessarily determined, step by step, where it happens. But
the truth is that it is in the nature of matter to advance to the evolution of
thinking beings, hence, too, this always necessarily occurs wherever the
conditions for it (not necessarily identical at all places and times) are
present’.15
That is what distinguishes materialism, sensible and dialectical, from
mechanistic materialism that knows and recognises only one variety of
‘necessity’, namely that which is described in the language of mechanistically
interpreted physics and mathematics. Yes, only Nature as a whole,
understood as an infinite whole in space and time, generating its own
partial forms from itself, possesses at any moment of time, though not at
any point of space, all the wealth of its attributes, i.e. those properties that are
reproduced in its makeup of necessity and not by a chance, miraculous
coincidence that might just as well not have happened.
Hence it inevitably follows logically, as Engels said, ‘that matter remains
eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes
can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron neces-

15 Engels, “Dialectics of Nature,” MECW vol. 25 p 490.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 31
sity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking
mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it’.16
That was Spinoza’s standpoint, a circumstance that seemingly gave
Engels grounds for replying categorically and unambiguously to Plekhanov
when he asked: ‘So in your opinion old Spinoza was right in saying that
thought and extension were nothing but two attributes of one and the same substance?’
“Of course,” answered Engels, “old Spinoza was quite right.”’17
Spinoza’s definition means the following: in man, as in any other
possible thinking creature, the same matter thinks as in other cases (other
modi) only ‘extends’ in the form of stones or any other ‘unthinking
body’; that thought in fact cannot be separated from world matter and
counterposed to it itself as a special, incorporeal ‘soul’, and it (thought) is
matter’s own perfection. That is how Herder and Goethe, La Mettrie and
Diderot, Marx and Plekhanov (all great ‘Spinozists’) and even the young
Schelling, understood Spinoza .
Such, let us emphasise once more, is the general, methodological position
that later allowed Lenin to declare that it was reasonable to assume,
as the very foundation of matter, a property akin to sensation though not
identical with it, the property of reflection. Thought, too, according to
Lenin, is the highest form of development of this universal property or
attribute, extremely vital for matter. And if we deny matter this most
important of its attributes, we shall be thinking of matter itself ‘imperfectly’,
as Spinoza put it, or simply, as Engels and Lenin wrote, incorrectly,
one-sidedly, and mechanistically. And then, as a result, we should
continually be falling into the most real Berkeleianism, into interpreting
nature as a complex of our sensations, as the bricks or elements absolutely
specific to the animated being from which the whole world of ideas
is built (i.e. the world as and how we know it). Because Berkeleianism too
is the absolutely inevitable complement making good of a one-sided,
mechanistic understanding of nature. That is why Spinoza too said that
substance, i.e. the universal world matter, did not possess just the single
attribute of ‘being extended’ but also possessed many other properties
and attributes as inalienable from it (inseparable from it though separable
from any ‘finite’ body).

16 Engels, “Dialectics of Nature,” MECW vol. 25 p 335.
17 G V Plekhanov, “Bernstein and Materialism,” Sochineniya vol. XI, Moscow
1923 p 22.
32 E. V. ILYENKOV
Spinoza said more than once that it was impermissible to represent
thought as attribute in the image and likeness of human thought; it was only
the universal property of substance that was the basis of any ‘finite
thought’, including human thought, but in no case was it identical with it.
To represent thought in general in the image and likeness of existing
human thought, of its modus, or ‘particular case’, meant simply to represent
it incorrectly, in ‘an incomplete way’, by a ‘model’, so to say, of its far
from most perfected image (although the most perfected known to us).
With that Spinoza also linked his profound theory of truth and error,
developed in detail in the Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata (Ethics), Tractatus
de intellectus ernendatione, Tractatus theologico-politicus, and in numerous
letters.
If the mode of action of the thinking body as a whole is determined
in the form of an ‘other’, and not of the immanent structure of ‘this’
body, the problem arises, how ever are we to recognise error? The question
was posed then with special sharpness because it appeared in ethics
and theology as the problem of ‘sin’ and ‘evil’. The criticism of Spinozism
from the angle of theology was invariably directed at this point; Spinoza’s
teaching took all the sense out of the very distinguishing of ‘good and
evil’, ‘sin and righteousness’, ‘truth and error’. In fact, in what then did
they differ?
Spinoza’s answer again was simple, like any fundamentally true answer.
Error (and hence ‘evil’ and ‘sin’) was not a characteristic of ideas
and actions as regards their own composition, and was not a positive
attribute of them. The erring man also acted in strict accordance with a
thing’s form, but the question was what the thing was. If it were ‘trivial’,
‘imperfect’ in itself, i.e. fortuitous, the mode of action adapted to it would
also be imperfect. And if a person transferred this mode of action to
another thing, he would slip up.
Error, consequently, only began when a mode of action that was limitedly
true was given universal significance, when the relative was taken
for the absolute. It is understandable why Spinoza put so low a value on
acting by abstract, formal analogy, formal deduction based on an abstract
universal. What was fixed in the abstract ‘idea’ was what most often
struck the eye. But it, of course, could be a quite accidental property and
form of the thing; and that meant that the narrower the sphere of the
natural whole with which the person was concerned, the greater was the
measure of error and the smaller the measure of truth. For that very
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 33
reason the activity of the thinking body was in direct proportion to the
adequateness of its ideas. The more passive the person, the greater was the
power of the nearest, purely external circumstances over him, and the
more his mode of action was determined by the chance form of things;
conversely, the more actively he extended the sphere of nature determining
his activity, the more adequate were his ideas. The complacent position
of the philistine was therefore the greatest sin.
Man’s thinking could achieve ‘maximum perfection’ (and then it
would be identical with thought as the attribute of substance) only in one
case, when his actions conformed with all the conditions that the infinite
aggregate of interacting things, and of their forms and combinations,
imposed on them, i.e. if they were built in accordance with the absolutely
universal necessity of the natural whole and not simply with some one of
its limited forms. Real earthly man was, of course, still very, very far from
that, and the attribute of thought was therefore only realised in him in a
very limited and ‘imperfect’ (finite) form; and it would be fallacious to
build oneself an idea of thinking as an attribute of substance in the image
and likeness of finite human thought. On the contrary one’s finite
thought must be built in the image and likeness of thought in general. For
finite thought the philosophical, theoretical definition of thinking as an
attribute of substance poses some sort of ideal model, to which man can
and must endlessly approximate, though never having the power to bring
himself up to it in level of ‘perfection’.
That is why the idea of substance and its all-embracing necessity
functioned as the principle of the constant perfecting or improvement of
intellect. As such it had immense significance. Every ‘finite’ thing was
correctly understood only as a ‘fading moment’ in the bosom of infinite
substance; and not one of its ‘partial forms’, however often encountered,
should be given universal significance.
In order to disclose the really general, truly universal forms of things
in accordance with which the ‘perfected’ thinking body should act, another
criterion and another mode of knowledge than formal abstraction
was required. The idea of substance was not formed by abstracting the
attribute that belonged equally to extension and thought. The abstract
and general in them was only that they existed, existence in general, i.e. an
absolutely empty determination in no way disclosing the nature of the
one or the other. The really general (infinite, universal) relation between
thought and spatial, geometric reality could only be understood, i.e. the
idea of substance arrived at, through real understanding of their mode of
34 E. V. ILYENKOV
interaction within nature. Spinoza’s whole doctrine was just the disclosure
of this ‘infinite’ relation.
Substance thus proved to be an absolutely necessary condition, without
assuming which it was impossible in principle to understand the
mode of the interaction between the thinking body and the world within
which it operated as a thinking body. This is a profoundly dialectical
point. Only by proceeding from the idea of substance could the thinking
body understand both itself and the reality with and within which it
operated and about which it thought; any other way it could not understand
either the one or the other and was forced to resort to the idea of
an outside power, to a theologically interpreted ‘God’, to a miracle. But,
having once understood the mode of its actions (i.e. thought), the thinking
body just so comprehended substance as the absolutely necessary
condition of interaction with the external world.
Spinoza called the mode of knowledge or cognition described here
‘intuitive’. In creating an adequate idea of itself, i.e. of the form of its own
movement along the contours of external objects, the thinking body thus
also created an adequate idea of the forms and contours of the objects
themselves. Because it was one and the same form, one and the same contour. In
this understanding of the intuitive there was nothing resembling subjective
introspection. Rather the contrary. On Spinoza’s lips intuitive knowledge
was a synonym of rational understanding by the thinking body of
the laws of its own actions within nature. In giving itself a rational account
of what and how it did in fact operate, the thinking body at the
same time formed a true idea of the object of its activity.
From that followed the consistent materialist conclusion that ‘the
true definition of any one thing neither involves nor expresses anything
except the nature of the thing defined’.18 That is why there can only be
one correct definition (idea) in contrast and in opposition to the plurality
and variety of the individual bodies of the same nature. These bodies are
as real as the unity (identity) of their ‘nature’ expressed by the definition
in the ‘attribute of thought’ and by real diversity in the ‘attribute of
extension’ Variety and plurality are clearly understood here as modes of
realisation of their own opposition i.e. of the identity and unity of their ‘nature’.
That is a distinctly dialectical understanding of the relation between them,
in contrast to the feeble eclectic formula (often fobbed off dialectics) that

18 Spinoza, “Ethics,” in Great Books of the Western World, vol. 31 p 357.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 35
‘both unity and plurality’, ‘both identity and difference’ equally really
exist. Because eclectic pseudodialectics, when it comes down to solving
the problem of knowledge and of ‘definition’ or ‘determination’, arrives
safely at exactly the contrary (compared with Spinoza’s solution), at the
idea that ‘the definition of a concept’ is a verbally fixed form of expression
in consciousness, in the idea of a real, sensuously given variety.
Talk of the objective identity, existing outside the head, of the nature
of a given range of various and opposing single phenomena thus safely
boils down to talk about the purely formal unity (i.e. similarity, purely
external identity) of sensuously contemplated, empirically given things, of
isolated facts, formally subsumed under ‘concept’. And it then generally
becomes impossible to consider the ‘definition of the concept’ as the
determination of the nature of the defined thing. The starting point then
proves to be not the ‘identity and unity’ of the phenomena but in fact the
‘variety and plurality’ of isolated facts allegedly existing originally quite
‘independently’ of one another, and later only formally united, tied together
as it were with string, by the ‘unity of the concept’ and the ‘identity
of the name’. So the sole result proves to be the identity in consciousness
(or rather in name) of the initially heterogeneous facts, and their purely
verbal ‘unity’.
Hence it is not difficult to understand why Neopositivists are dissatisfied
with Spinoza and attack the logical principle of his thinking.
‘Spinoza’s metaphysic is the best example of what may be called “logic
monism” – the doctrine, namely, that the world as a whole is a single
substance, none of whose parts are logically capable of existing alone.
The ultimate basis for this view is the belief that every proposition has a
single subject and a single predicate, which leads us to the conclusion that
relations and plurality must be illusory’.19
The alternative to Spinoza’ s view, in fact, is the affirmation that any
‘part’ of the world is not only ‘capable’ of ‘existing’ independently of all
other parts, but must do so. As another authority of this trend postulated
it, ‘the world is the totality of facts not of things’, by virtue of which ‘the
world divides into facts’, and so ‘any one can either be the case or not be
the case, and everything else remain the same’.20

19 Russell, Op. cit., pp 600-01.
20 Wittgenstein, “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” London 1955, p 31.
36 E. V. ILYENKOV
Thus, according to the ‘metaphysic of Neopositivism’, the external
world must be considered some kind of immeasurable accumulation, a
simple conglomeration, of ‘atomic facts’ absolutely independent of each
other, the ‘proper determination’ of each of which is bound to be absolutely
independent of the determination of any other fact. The determination
(definition, description) remains ‘correct’ even given the condition
that there are no other facts in general. In other words, ‘a scientific
consideration of the world’ consists in a purely formal, verbal uniting of a
handful of odd facts by subsuming them under one and the same term,
under one and the same ‘general’. The ‘general’, interpreted only as the
‘meaning of the term or sign’, always turns out to be something quite
arbitrary or ‘previously agreed upon’, i.e. ‘conventional’. The ‘general’
(unity and identity) – as the sole result of the ‘scientific logical’ treatment
of the ‘atomic facts’, is consequently not the result at all, but a previously
established, conventional meaning of the term, and nothing more.
Spinoza’s position, of course, had no connection with this principle
of ‘logical analysis’ of the phenomena given in contemplation and imagination.
For him the ‘general’, ‘identical’, ‘united’ were by no means illusions
created only by our speech (language), by its subject-predicate
structure (as Russell put it), but primarily the real, general nature things.
And that nature must find its verbal expression in a correct definition of
the concept. It is not true, moreover, that ‘relations and plurality must be
illusory’ for Spinoza, as Russell said. That is not at all like Spinoza, and
the affirmation of it is on Russell’s conscience, that he should have
stooped so low to discredit the ‘concept of substance’ in the eyes of
‘modern science’ as ‘incompatible with modern logic and with scientific
method’.21
One thing, however, is beyond doubt here: what Russell called ‘modern
logic and scientific method’ really is incompatible with the logic of
Spinoza’s thinking, with his principles of the development of scientific
definitions, with his understanding of ‘correct definitions’. For Spinoza
‘relations and plurality’ were not ‘illusory’ (as Russell described them) and
‘identity and unity’ were not illusions created solely by the ‘subjectpredicate
structure’ (as Russell himself thought). Both the one and the
other were wholly real, and both existed in ‘God’, i.e. in the very nature of

21 Russell, Op. cit., p 601.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 37
things, quite irrespective of whatever the verbal structures of the so-called
‘language of science’ were.
But for Bertrand Russell, both the one and the other were equally illusions.
‘Identity’ (i.e. the principle of substance, of the general nature of
things), was an illusion created by language and ‘relations and plurality’
were illusions created by our own sensuality. But what, in fact, is independent
of our illusions? I do not know and I don’t want to know; I
don’t want to know because I cannot, Russell answered. I know only
what is the ‘world’ given to me in my sensations and perceptions (where
it is something ‘plural’) and in my language (where it is something ‘identical’
and related). But what is there besides this ‘world’? God only knows,
answered Russell, word for word repeating Bishop Berkeley’s thesis,
though not risking to affirm categorically after him that ‘God’ in fact
‘knew’ it, because it was still not known if God himself existed.
There we have the polar contrast of the positions of Spinoza and of
Berkeley and Hume (whom the Neopositivists are now trying to galvanise
back to life). Berkeley and Hume also primarily attacked the whole concept
of substance, trying to explain it as the product of an ‘impious
mind’. Because there is a really unpersuasive alternative here, namely two
polar and mutually exclusive solutions of one and the same problem –
the problem of the relation of ‘the world in consciousness’ (in particular
in ‘correct definition’) to the ‘world outside consciousness’ (outside
‘verbal definition’). For here a choice must be made: either nature, including
man as part of it, must be understood through the logic of the ‘concept
of substance’, or it must be interpreted as a complex of one’s sensations.

But let us return to consideration of Spinoza’s conception. Spinoza
well understood all the sceptical arguments against the possibility of
finding a single one correct definition of the thing that we are justified in
taking as a definition of the nature of the thing itself and not of the
specific state and arrangement of the organs within ourselves, in the form
of which this thing is represented ‘within us’. In considering different
variants of the interpretation of one and the same thing, Spinoza drew
the following direct conclusion: ‘All these things sufficiently show that
every one judges things by the constitution of his brain, or rather accepts
the affections of his imagination in the place of things’.22 In other words,

22 Spinoza, Op. cit., p 372.
38 E. V. ILYENKOV
we have within us, in the form of ideas, not the thing itself and its proper
form, but only the inner state that the effect of the external things evoked
in our body (in the corpus of the brain).
Therefore, in the ideas we directly have of the external world, two
quite dissimilar things are muddled and mixed up: the form of our own
body and the form of the bodies outside it. The naive person immediately
and uncritically takes this hybrid for an external thing, and therefore
judges things in conformity with the specific state evoked in his brain and
sense organs by an external effect in no way resembling that state.
Spinoza gave full consideration to the Cartesians’ argument (later taken
up by Bishop Berkeley), that toothache was not at all identical in geometric
form to a dentist’s drill and even to the geometric form of the changes
the drill produced in the tooth and the brain. The brain of every person,
moreover, was built and tuned differently, from which we get the sceptical
conclusion of the plurality of truths and of the absence of a truth one
and the same for all thinking beings. ‘For every one has heard the expressions:
So many heads, so many ways of thinking; Each is wise in his own
manner; Differences of brains are not less common than differences of
taste;— all which maxims show that men decide upon matters according
to the constitution of their brains, and imagine rather than understand
things’.23
The point is this, to understand and correctly determine the thing itself,
its proper form, and not the means by which it is represented inside
ourselves, i.e. in the form of geometric changes in the body of our brain
and its microstructures. But how is that to be done? Perhaps, in order to
obtain the pure form of the thing, it is simply necessary to ‘subtract’ from
the idea all its elements that introduce the arrangement (disposition) and
means of action of our own body, of its sense organs and brain into the
pure form of the thing:
But (1) we know as little of how our brain is constructed and what
exactly it introduces into the composition of the idea of a thing as we
know of the external body itself; and (2) the thing in general cannot be
given to us in any other way than through the specific changes that it has
evoked in our body. If we ‘subtract’ everything received from the thing in
the course of its refraction through the prism of our body, sense organs,

23 Spinoza, Op. cit., p 372.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 39
and brain, we get pure nothing. ‘Within us’ there remains nothing, no
idea of any kind. So it is impossible to proceed that way.
However differently from any other thing man’s body and brain are
built they all have something in common with one another, and it is to
the finding of this something common that the activity of reason is in
fact directed, i.e. the real activity of our body that we call ‘thinking’.
In other words an adequate idea is only the conscious state of our
body identical in form with the thing, outside the body. This can be represented
quite clearly. When I describe a circle with my hand on a piece of paper
(in real space), my body, according to Spinoza, comes into a state fully
identical with the form of the circle outside my body, into a state of real
action in the form of a circle. My body (my hand) really describes a circle,
and the awareness of this state (i.e. of the form of my own action in the
form of the thing) is also the idea, which is, moreover, ‘adequate’.
And since ‘the human body needs for its preservation many other
bodies by which it is, as it were, continually regenerated’,24 and since it
‘can move and arrange external bodies in many ways’,25 it is in the activity
of the human body in the shape of another external body that Spinoza
saw the key to the solution of the whole problem. Therefore ‘the human
mind is adapted to the perception of many things, and its aptitude increases
in proportion to the number of ways in which its body can be
disposed’.26 In other words, the more numerous and varied the means it
has ‘to move and arrange external bodies’, the more it has ‘in common’
with other bodies. Thus the body, knowing how to be in a state of
movement along the contours of circle, in that way knows how to be in a
state in common with the state and arrangement of all circles or external
bodies moving in a circle.
In possessing consciousness of my own state (actions along the shape
of some contour or other), I thus also possess a quite exact awareness
(adequate idea) of the shape of the external body. That, however, only
happens where and when I actively determine myself, and the states of
my body, i.e. its actions, in accordance with the shape of the external
body, and not in conformity with the structure and arrangement of my
own body and its ‘parts’. The more of these actions I know how to

24 Ibid., p 380
25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
40 E. V. ILYENKOV
perform, the more perfect is my thinking, and the more adequate are the
ideas included in the ‘mind’ (as Spinoza continued to express it, using the
language normal to his contemporaries), or simply in the conscious states of
my body, as he interpreted the term ‘mind’ on neighbouring pages.
Descartes’ dualism between the world of external objects and the inner
states of the human body thus disappeared right at the very start of
the explanation. It is interpreted as a difference within one and the same
world (the world of bodies), as a difference in their mode of existence
(‘action’). The ‘specific structure’ of the human body and brain is here,
for the first time, interpreted not as a barrier separating us from the world
of things, which are not at all like that body, but on the contrary as the
same property of universality that enables the thinking body (in contrast
to all others) to be in the very same states as things, and to possess forms
in common with them.
Spinoza himself expressed it thus: ‘There will exist in the human
mind an adequate idea of that which is common and proper to the human
body, and to any external bodies by which the human body is generally
affected – of that which is equally in the part of each of these external
bodies and in the whole is common and proper.
‘Hence it follows that the more things the body has in common with
other bodies, the more things will the mind be adapted to perceive’.27
Hence, also it follows that ‘some ideas or notions exist which are
common to all men, for ... all bodies agree in some things, which ... must
be adequately, that is to say, clearly and distinctly, perceived by all’.28 In
no case can these ‘common ideas’ be interpreted as specific forms of the
human body, and they are only taken for the forms of external bodies by
mistake (as happened with the Cartesians and later with Berkeley), despite
the fact that ‘the human mind perceives no external body as actually
existing, unless through the ideas of the affections of its body’.29
The fact is that the ‘affections of one’s body’ are quite objective, being
the actions of the body in the world of bodies, and not the results of
the action of bodies on something unlike them, ‘in corporeal’. Therefore,

27 Spinoza, Op. cit., pp 386-7.
28 Ibid., p 386.
29 Ibid., p 384.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 41
‘he who possesses a body fit for many things possesses a mind of which
the greater part is external’. 30
From all that it follows that ‘the more we understand individual objects,
the more we understand God’,31 i.e. the general universal nature of
things, world substance; the more individual things our activity embraces
and the deeper and more comprehensively we determine our body to act
along the shape of the external bodies themselves, and the more we
become an active component in the endless chain of the causal relations
of the natural whole, the greater is the extent to which the power of our
thinking is increased, and the less there is of the ‘specific constitution’ of
our body and brain mixed into the ‘ideas’ making them ‘vague and inadequate’
(ideas of the imagination and not of ‘intellect’). The more active
our body is, the more universal it is, the less it introduces ‘from itself’,
and the more purely it discloses the real nature of things. And the more
passive it is, the more the constitution and arrangement of the organs
within it (brain, nervous system, sense organs, etc.) affect ideas.
Therefore the real composition of psychic activity (including the logical
component of thought) is not in the least determined by the structure
and arrangement of the parts of the human body and brain, but by the
external conditions of universally human activity in the world of other
bodies.
This functional determination gives an exact orientation to structural
analysis of the brain, fixes the general goal, and gives a criterion by which
we can distinguish the structures through which thinking is carried on
within the brain from those that are completely unrelated to the process
of thought, but govern, say, digestion, circulation of the blood, and so on.
That is why Spinoza reacted very ironically to all contemporaneous
‘morphological’ hypotheses, and in particular to that of the special role of
the ‘pineal gland’ as primarily the organ of the ‘mind’. On this he said
straight out: since you are philosophers, do not build speculative hypotheses
about the structure of the body of the brain, but leave investigation
of what goes on inside the thinking body to doctors, anatomists, and
physiologists. You, as philosophers, not only can, but are bound to, work
out for doctors and anatomists and physiologists the functional determination
of thinking and not its structural determination, and you must do

30 Ibid., p 462.
31 Spinoza, Op. cit., pp 458.
42 E. V. ILYENKOV
it strictly and precisely, and not resort to vague ideas about an ‘incorporeal
mind’, ‘God’, and so on.
But you can find the functional determination of thought only if you
do not probe into the thinking body (the brain), but carefully examine the
real composition of its objective activities among the other bodies of the
infinitely varied universum Within the skull you will not find anything to
which a functional definition of thought could be applied, because thinking
is a function of external, objective activity. And you must therefore
investigate not the anatomy and physiology of the brain but the ‘anatomy
and physiology’ of the ‘body’ whose active function in fact is thought, i.e.
the ‘inorganic body of man’, the ‘anatomy and physiology’ of the world
of his culture, the world of the ‘things’ that he produces and reproduces
by his activity.
The sole ‘body’ that thinks from the necessity built into its special
‘nature’ (i.e. into its specific structure) is not the individual brain at all, and
not even the whole man with a brain, heart, and hands, and all the anatomical
features peculiar to him. Of necessity, according to Spinoza, only
substance possesses thought. Thinking has its necessary premise and
indispensable condition (sine qua non) in all nature as a whole.
But that, Marx affirmed, is not enough. According to him, only nature
of necessity thinks, nature that has achieved the stage of man socially
producing his own life, nature changing and knowing itself in the person
of man or of some other creature like him in this respect, universally
altering nature, both that outside him and his own. A body of smaller
scale and less ‘structural complexity’ will not think. Labour is the process
of changing nature by the action of social man, and is the ‘subject’ to
which thought belongs as ‘predicate’. But nature, the universal matter of
nature, is also its substance. Substance, having become the subject of all
its changes in man, the cause of itself (causa sui).
3. Kant – Logic and Dialectics
The most direct path to the creation of dialectical logic, as we have
already said, is ‘repetition of the past’, made wise by experience, repetition
of the work of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, or critical, materialist rethinking
of the achievements that humanity owes in the realm of the Higher Logic
to classical German philosophy of the end of the eighteenth and beginning
of the nineteenth centuries, to the process of spiritual maturing,
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 43
striking in its rapidity, associated with the names of Kant, Fichte, Schelling,
and Hegel.
The ‘matter of logic’ then underwent, in a very short historical period,
the most prodigious ‘flight of imagination’ since antiquity, marked in
itself by an inner dialectic so tense that even simple acquaintance with it
still cultivates dialectical thinking.
First of all we must note that it was German classical philosophy that
clearly recognised and sharply expressed the fact that all problems of
philosophy as a special science somehow or other turned on the question
of what thought was and what were its interrelations with the external world. Understanding
of this fact, already matured earlier in the systems of Descartes
and Locke, Spinoza and Leibniz, was now transformed into the
consciously established jumping-off point of all investigations, into the
basic principle of a critical rethinking of the results of the preceding
development. Philosophy, completing in Kant a more than two-century
cycle of investigation, entered on a fundamentally new stage of understanding
and resolving of its special problems.
The need to examine and analyse the path critically was not of course
dictated only by the inner needs of philosophy itself, by the striving to
completeness and orderliness (although the philosophers themselves so
expressed it), but mainly by the powerful pressure of outside circumstances,
the crisis-ridden, prerevolutionary state of all intellectual culture.
The intense conflict of ideas in all spheres of intellectual life, from politics
to natural science, willy-nilly involved in ideological struggle, more
and more insistently impelled philosophy to dig down ultimately to the
very roots and sources of what was happening, to understand where the
general cause of the mutual hostility between people and ideas was hidden,
to find and point out to people the rational way out of the situation
that had arisen.
Kant was the first to attempt to embrace within the framework of a
single conception all the main opposing principles of the thought of the
time which was approaching a catastrophic collision. In trying to unite
and reconcile those principles within one system he only, against his will,
exposed more clearly the essence of the problems which were unresolvable
by the tried and known methods of philosophy.
The actual state of affairs in science presented itself to Kant as a war
of all against all; in the image of that ‘natural’ state which, following
Hobbes, he characterised (as applied to science) as ‘a state of injustice
44 E. V. ILYENKOV
and violence’. In this state scientific thought (‘reason’) ‘can establish and
secure its assertions only through war...’. In that case ‘the disputes are
ended by a victory to which both sides lay claim, and which is generally
followed by a merely temporary armistice, arranged by some mediating
authority....’32
Putting it another way, it was the tension of the struggle between opposing
principles, each of which had been developed into a system
claiming universal significance and recognition, that constituted the
‘natural’ state of human thought for Kant. The ‘natural’, actual, and
obvious state of thought, consequently, was just dialectics. Kant was not
at all concerned to extirpate it once and for all from the life of reason, i.e.
from science understood as a certain developing whole, but only ultimately
to find a corresponding ‘rational’ means of resolving the contradictions,
discussions, disputes, conflicts, and antagonisms arising in
science. Could reason itself, without the aid of ‘authority’, overcome the
anguish of dissension?
‘The endless disputes of a merely dogmatic reason’, as he put it, ‘thus
finally constrain us to seek relief in some critique of reason itself, and in a
legislation based upon such criticism’.33
The state of endless disputes, and hostility between theoreticians,
seemed to Kant to be a consequence of the fact that the ‘republic of
scholars’ did not as yet have a single, systematically developed ‘legislation’
recognised by all, or ‘constitution of reason’, which would enable it to
seek solution of the conflicts not in war ‘to the death’ but in the sphere of
polite, academic discussion, in the form of a ‘legal process’ or ‘action’ in
which each party would hold to one and the same ‘code’ of logical substantiation
and, recognising the opponent as an equally competent and
equally responsible party as himself, would remain not only critical but
also self-critical, always ready to recognise his mistakes and transgressions
against the logical rules. This ideal of the inter-relations of theoreticians –
and it is difficult to raise any objection against it even now – loomed
before Kant as the goal of all his investigations.
But thereby, at the centre of his attention, there was above all that
field which tradition assigned to the competence of logic. It was quite
obvious to Kant, on the other hand, that logic in the form in which it

32 Kant, “Critique of Pure Reason,” tr. N. K. Smith, London 1929 p 601.
33 Ibid., p 604.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 45
existed could not in any way satisfy the pressing needs of the situation
created, or serve as a tool to analyse it. The very term ‘logic’ was so
discredited by then that Hegel was fully justified in speaking of the universal
and complete scorn for this science that for ‘hundreds and thousands
of years ... was just as much honoured as it is despised now’.34 And
only the profound reform that it underwent in the work of the classical
German philosophers restored respect and dignity to the very name of
the science of thought. Kant was the very first to try to pose and resolve
the problem of logic specifically by way of a critical analysis of its content
and historical fate. For the first time he compared its traditional baggage
with the real processes of thinking in natural science and in the sphere of
social problems.
Kant above all set himself the goal of bringing out and summing up
the undisputed truths which had been formulated within the framework
of traditional logic, though also scorned for their banality. In other words
he tried to bring out those ‘invariants’ that had remained unaffected
during all the discussions on the nature of thinking stretching over centuries
and millennia, the propositions that no one had called in question,
neither Descartes nor Berkeley, neither Spinoza nor Leibniz, neither
Newton nor Huygens, not one theoretically thinking individual. Having
singled this ‘residue’ out from logic, Kant was satisfied that what remained
was not very much, a few quite general propositions formulated
in fact by Aristotle and his commentators.
From the angle from which Kant surveyed the history of logic it was
impossible to draw any other conclusion; for it went without saying that
if one sought only those propositions in logic with which everyone
equally agreed, both Spinoza and Berkeley, both the rationalist-naturalist
and the theologian, and all their disagreements were taken out of the
brackets, then nothing else would remain within the brackets, nothing
except those completely general ideas (notions) about thought that
seemed indisputable to all people thinking in the defined tradition. There
thus existed a purely empirical generalisation, really stating only that not a
single one of the theoreticians so far occupying themselves with thought
had actually disputed a certain totality of judgments. But you could not
tell from these judgments whether they were true in themselves, or were
really only common and generally accepted illusions.

34 Hegel, “Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Vol. II,” p 210.
46 E. V. ILYENKOV
For all theoreticians had hitherto thought (or had only tried to think)
in accordance with a number of rules. Kant, however, transformed the
purely empirical generalisation into a theoretical judgment (i.e. into a
universal and necessary one) about the subject matter of logic in general,
about the legitimate limits of its subject matter: ‘The sphere of logic is
quite precisely delimited; its sole concern is to give an exhaustive exposition
and a strict proof of the formal rules of all thought ...’.35 Here ‘formal’
means quite independent of how thought precisely is understood,
and of its origins and objects or goals, its relations to man’s other capacities
and to the external world, and so on and so forth, i.e. independent of
how the problem of the ‘external’ conditions within which thinking is
performed according to the rules is resolved, and of metaphysical, psychological,
anthropological, and other considerations. Kant declared
these rules to be absolutely true and universally obligatory for thought in
general, ‘whether it be a priori or empirical, whatever be its origin or
object, and whatever hindrances, accidental or natural, it may encounter
in our minds (Gemüt)’.36
Having thus drawn the boundaries of logic (‘that logic should have
been thus successful is an advantage which it owes entirely to its limitations,
whereby it is justified in abstracting indeed, it is under obligation to
do so from all objects of knowledge and their differences. ...’37), Kant
painstakingly investigated its fundamental possibilities. Its competence
proved to be very narrow. By virtue of the formality mentioned, it of
necessity left out of account the differences in the views that clashed in
discussion, and remained absolutely neutral not only in, say, the dispute
between Leibniz and Hume but also in a dispute between a wise man and
a fool, so long as the fool ‘correctly’ set out whatever ideas came into his
head from God knew where, and however absurd and foolish they were.
Its rules were such that it must logically justify any absurdity so long as
the latter was not self-contradictory. A self-consistent stupidity must pass
freely through the filter of general logic.
Kant especially stresses that ‘general logic contains, and can contain,
no rules for judgment’,38 that is ‘the faculty of subsuming under the rules;

35 Kant, Op. cit., p 18.
36 Ibid., p 18.
37 Ibid.
38 Ibid., p 177.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 47
that is, of distinguishing whether something does or does not stand under
a given rule (casus datae legis)’.39 The firmest knowledge of the rules in
general (including the rules of general logic) is therefore no guarantee of
their faultless application. Since ‘deficiency in judgment is just what is
ordinarily called stupidity’, and since ‘for such a failing there is no remedy’,40
general logic cannot serve either as an ‘organon’ (tool, instrument)
of real knowledge or even as a ‘canon’ of it, i.e. as a criterion for testing
ready-made knowledge.
In that case then, for what is it in general needed? Exclusively for
checking the correctness of so-called analytical judgments, i.e. ultimately,
acts of verbal exposition of ready-made ideas already present in the head,
however unsound these ideas are in themselves, Kant stated in full
agreement with Berkeley, Descartes, and Leibniz. The contradiction
between a concept (i.e. a rigorously defined idea) and experience and the
facts (their determinations) is a situation about which general logic has no
right to say anything, because then it is a question already of an act of
subsuming facts under the definition of a concept and not of disclosures
of the sense that was previously contained in the concept. (For example,
if I affirm that ‘all swans are white’, then, having seen a bird identical in
all respects except colour with my idea of a swan, I shall be faced with a
difficulty, which general logic cannot help me to resolve in any way. One
thing is clear, that this bird will not be subsumed under my concept
‘swan’ without contradiction, and I shall be obliged to say: it is not a
swan. If, all the same, I recognise it as a swan, then the contradiction
between the concept and the fact will already be converted into a contradiction
between the determinations of the concept, because the subject of
the judgment (swan) will be defined through two mutually exclusive
predicates (‘white’ and ‘not white’). And that is already inadmissible and
equivalent to recognition that my initial concept was incorrectly defined,
and that it must be altered, in order to eliminate the contradiction.)
So that every time the question arises of whether or not to subsume a
given fact under a given concept, the appearance of a contradiction
cannot be taken at all as an index of the accuracy or inaccuracy of a
judgment. A judgment may prove to be true simply because the contradiction
in the given case demolishes the initial concept, and reveals its

39 Kant, Op. cit.
40 Ibid.
48 E. V. ILYENKOV
contradictoriness, and hence its falsity. That is why one cannot apply the
criteria of general logic unthinkingly where it is a matter of experimental
judgments, of the acts of subsuming facts under the definition of a
concept, of acts of concretising an initial concept through the facts of
experience. For in such judgments the initial concept is not simply explained
but has new determinations added to it. A synthesis takes place, a
uniting of determinations, and not analysis, i.e. the breaking down of
already existing determinations into details.
All judgments of experience, without exception, have a synthetic
character. The presence of a contradiction in the make-up of such a
judgment is consequently a natural and inevitable phenomenon in the
process of making a concept more precise in accordance with the facts of
experience.
To put it another way, general logic has no right to make recommendations
about the capacity of a judgment since this capacity has the right
to subsume under the definition of a concept those facts that directly and
immediately contradict that definition.
Any empirical concept is therefore always in danger of being refuted
by experience, by the first fact that strikes the eye. Consequently, a judgment
of a purely empirical character, i.e. one in which an empirically
given, sensuously contemplated thing or object functions as subject (e.g.
our statement about swans), is true and correct only with the obligatory
reservation: ‘All swans that have so far come within our field of experience are
white’. Such a statement is indisputable, because it does not claim to
apply to any individual things of the same kind that we have not yet been
able to see. And further experience has the right to correct our definitions
and to alter the predicates of the statement.
Our theoretical knowledge is constantly coming up against such difficulties
in fact, and always will.
But if that is so, if science develops only through a constant juxtaposition
of concepts and facts, through a constant and never ending process
of resolving the conflict that arises here again and again then the problem
of the theoretical scientific concept is sharply posed immediately. Does a
theoretical scientific generalisation (concept), claiming universality and
necessity, differ from any empirical, inductive ‘generalisation’? (The
complications that arise here were wittily described a century or more
later by Bertrand Russell in the form of a fable. Once there was a hen in a
hen-coop. Every day the farmer brought it corn to peck, and the hen
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 49
certainly drew the conclusion that appearance of the farmer was linked
with the appearance of corn. But one fine day the farmer appeared not
with corn but with a knife, which convincingly proved to the hen that
there would have been no harm in having a more exact idea of the path
to a scientific generalisation.)
In other words, are such generalisations possible as can, despite being
drawn from only fragmentary experience relative to the given object,
nevertheless claim to be concepts providing scientific prediction, i.e., to be
extrapolated with assurance to future experience about the self-same
object (taking into consideration, of course, the effect of the diverse
conditions in which it may be observed in future)? Are concepts possible
that express not only and not simply more or less chance common
attributes, which in another place and another time may not be present,
but also the ‘substance’ itself, the very ‘nature’ of the given kind of object, the
law of their existence? That is to say, are such determinations possible, in
the absence of which the very object of the given concept is absent
(impossible and unthinkable), and when there is already another object,
which for that very reason is competent neither to confirm nor to refute
the definition of the given concept? (As, for example, consideration of a
square or a triangle has no bearing on our understanding of the properties
of a circle or an ellipse, since the definition of the concept ‘circumference
of a circle’ contains only such predicates as strictly describe the
boundaries of the given kind of figure, boundaries that it is impossible to
cross without passing into another kind). The concept thus presupposes
such ‘predicates’ as cannot be eliminated (without eliminating the object
of the given concept itself) by any future, ‘any possible’ (in Kant’s terminology)
experience.
So the Kantian distinction between purely empirical and theoretical
scientific generalisations arises. The determinations of concepts must be
characterised by universality and necessity, i.e. must be given in such a
way that they cannot be refuted by any future experience.
Theoretical scientific judgments and generalisations, unlike purely
empirical ones, in any case claim to be universal and necessary (however
the metaphysical, psychological, or anthropological foundations of such
claims are explained), to be confirmable by the experience of everybody
of sound mind, and not refutable by that experience. Otherwise all science
would have no more value than the utterances of the fool in the
parable who produces sententious statements at every opportune and
inopportune moment that are only pertinent and justified in strictly
50 E. V. ILYENKOV
limited circumstances, i.e. thoughtlessly uttering statements applicable
only on particular occasions as absolutes and universals, true in any other
case, in any conditions of time and place.
The theoretical generalisations of science (and judgments linking two
or more) have to indicate not only the definition of the concept but also
the whole fullness of the conditions of its applicability, universality, and
necessity. But that is the whole difficulty. Can we categorically establish
that we have listed the whole series of necessary conditions? Can we be
sure that we have included only the really necessary conditions in it? Or
have we perhaps included superfluous ones, not absolutely necessary?
Kant remained open on this question, too; and he was right, since
there is always the chance of a mistake here. In fact, how many times
science has taken the particular for the general. In any case it is clear that
‘general’, i.e. purely formal, logic has no right here either to formulate a
rule making it possible to distinguish the simply general from the universal;
to distinguish that which has been observed up to now from that which
will be observed in the future, however long our experience goes on for
and however broad the field of facts that it embraces. For the rules of
general logic judgments of the type of ‘all swans are white’ are quite
indistinguishable from statements of the type of ‘all bodies are extended’,
because the difference in them consists not in the form of the judgment
but exclusively in the content and origin of the concept embraced in it.
The first is empirical and preserves its full force only in relation to experience
already past (in Kant’s parlance it is only true a posteriori); the
second claims to a greater force, to be correct also in relation to the
future, and to any possible experience regarding natural bodies (in Kant’s
parlance it is true a priori, i.e. prior to, before being tested by experience).
For that reason we are convinced (and science lends our conviction the
character of an apodictic affirmation) that however far we travelled in
space and however deep we penetrated into matter we would never and
nowhere encounter a ‘natural body’ that refuted our conviction, i.e. ‘a
body without extension’.
Why? Because there cannot be a body without extension in nature?
To answer thus, Kant said, would be impudent. All we can say is the
following: if, even in the infinite universe, such remarkable bodies did
exist, they could never, in any case, come within our field of vision,
within our field of experience. And if they could, then they would be
perceived by us as extended, or would not be perceived at all. For such is
the structure of our organs of perception that they can only perceive
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 51
things in the form of space, only as extensions and continuities (in the
form of time).
It may be said that they are such ‘in themselves’; Kant did not consider
it possible to deny that, or to assert it. But ‘for us’ they are precisely
such, and cannot be otherwise, because then they would not in general be
part of our experience, would not become objects of experience, and
therefore would not serve as the basis for scientific statements and
propositions, for mathematics, physics, chemistry, and other disciplines.
The spatial-temporal determinations of things (the modes of describing
them mathematically) are thus rescued from danger of refutation by
any possible experience, because they are precisely true on condition of
that very experience being possible.
All theoretical propositions as such (i.e. all statements linking two or
more determinations together) acquire a universal and necessary character
and no longer need to be confirmed by experience. That is why Kant
defined them as a priori, synthetic statements. It is by virtue of this character
of theirs that we can be quite confident that two times two are four
and not five or six not only on our sinful earth but also on any other
planet; that the diagonal of a square will be just as incommensurate with
its sides; and that the laws discovered by Galileo, Newton, and Kepler
will be the same in any corner of the Universe as in the part investigated
by us. Because only and exclusively universal and necessary definitions (in
the sense explained above), predicates of the concept, are linked together
(synthesised) in these propositions.
But if the main problem that science comes up against proves not to
be analytical judgments but synthetic ones, and general logic is only
competent to judge analytical correctness, then we must inevitably conclude
that there must be a special logic, apart from general logic, having
to do only with theoretical applications of the intellect, with the rules of
producing theoretical (in Kant’s parlance, a priori, synthetic) judgments,
i.e. judgments that we are entitled to appraise as universal, necessary, and
therefore objective.
‘When we have reason to consider a judgment necessarily universal ...
we must consider it objective also, that is, that it expresses not merely a
reference of our perception to a subject, but a quality of the object. For
there would be no reason for the judgments of other men necessarily
agreeing with mine, if it were not the unity of the object to which they all
52 E. V. ILYENKOV
refer, and with which they accord; hence they must all agree with one
another’.41
True, we still do not know anything about the thing in itself, i.e. outside
the experience of all people in general; but that, in the experience of
all existing and future people organised like ourselves, it will necessarily
look exactly the same (and therefore anybody will be able to test the
correctness of our statement) a theoretical judgment must guarantee.
Hence Kant also drew the conclusion that there must be a logic (or
rather a section of logic) that dealt specially with the principles and rules
of the theoretical application of thought or the conditions of applying the
rules of general logic to the solution of special theoretical problems, to
acts of producing universal, necessary, and thus objective judgments. This
logic was still not entitled, unlike general logic, to ignore the difference
between knowledge (ideas) in content and origin. It could and must serve
as an adequate canon (if not as an organon) for thinking that laid claim to
the universality and necessity of its conclusions, generalisations, and
propositions. Kant conferred the title of transcendental logic on it, i.e. the
logic of truth.
The centre of attention here naturally turned out to be the problem
of what Kant called the intellect’s synthetic activity, i.e. the activity by
which new knowledge was achieved, and not ideas already existing in the
head clarified. ‘By synthesis, in its most general sense’, he said, ‘I understand
the act of putting different representations together and of grasping
what is manifold in them in one (act of) knowledge’.42 Thus he assigned
synthesis the role and ‘sense’ of the fundamental operation of thinking,
preceding any analysis in content and in time. Whereas analysis consisted
in act of arranging ready ideas and concepts, synthesis served as an act of
producing new concepts. And the rules of general logic had a very conditional
relation to that act, and so in general to the original, initial forms of
the working of thought.
In fact, Kant said, where reason had not previously joined anything
together there was nothing for it to divide and ‘before we analyse our
representations, the representations must themselves be given, and

41 Kant, “Prologomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik,” Sämtliche Werke
(Leipzig 1938) p 58.
42 Kant, “Critique of Pure Reason,” p 111.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 53
therefore as regards content no concepts can arise by way of analysis’.43
So the original, fundamental, logical forms, it transpired, were not the
principles of general logic, not the fundamental principles of analytical
judgments (i.e. not the law of identity and the principle of contradiction),
but only universal forms, schemas, and means of uniting various ideas into
the body of some new idea, schemas ensuring unity of diversity, means of
identifying the different and uniting the heterogeneous.
Thus, notwithstanding the formal order of his exposition, and despite
it, Kant in essence affirmed that the really universal initial and fundamental
logical forms were not those at all that were considered such by traditional
formal logic, but that these were rather the ‘second storey’ of
logical science, and so derivative, secondary, and true only insofar as they
agreed with the more universal and important, with the propositions
relating to the synthesis of determinations in the composition of a concept
and judgment.
It was clearly a complete revolution in views on the subject matter of
logic as the science of thought. Not enough attention is usually paid to
this point in expounding Kant’s theory of thought, although it is here that
he proved to be the real progenitor of a fundamentally new dialectical
stage in the development of logic as a science. Kant was the first to begin
to see the main logical forms of thinking in categories thus including everything
in the subject matter of logic that all preceding tradition had put
into the competence of ontology and metaphysics, and never into that of
logic.
‘The union of representations in one consciousness is judgment.
Thinking therefore is the same as judging, or referring representations to
judgments in general. Hence judgments are either merely subjective,
when representations are referred to a consciousness in one subject only,
and united in it, or objective, when they are united in a consciousness
generally, that is, necessarily. The logical functions of all judgments are
but various modes of uniting representations in consciousness But if they
serve for concepts, they are concepts of their necessary union in a consciousness,
and so principles of objectively valid judgments’.44
Categories are also ‘principles of objectively valid judgements’. And
just because the old logic had turned up its nose at investigating these

43 Kant, Op. cit., p 111.
44 Kant, “Prologomena,” Op. cit., p 66.
54 E. V. ILYENKOV
fundamental logical forms of thinking, it could neither help the movement
of theoretical, scientific knowledge with advice nor tie up the loose
ends in its own theory. ‘I have never been able to accept the interpretation
which logicians give of judgment in general’, Kant said. ‘It is, they
declare, the representation of a relation between two concepts. I do not
here dispute with them as to what is defective in this interpretation that
in any case it applies only to categorical not to hypothetical and disjunctive
judgments (the two latter containing a relation not of concepts but of
judgments), an oversight from which many troublesome consequences
have followed. I need only point out that the definition does not determine
in what the asserted relation consists’.45
Kant clearly posed the task of understanding categories as logical
units, and of disclosing their logical functions in the process of producing
and transforming knowledge. True, as we shall see below, he also displayed
an almost uncritical attitude to the definitions of the categories
borrowed by logic from ontology. But the problem was posed: the definitions
of categories were understood as logical (i.e. universal and necessary)
schemas or the principles of linking ideas together in ‘objective’
judgments.
Categories were thus those universal forms (schemas) of the activity
of the subject by means of which coherent experience became possible in
general, i.e. by which isolated perceptions were fixed in the form of
knowledge: ‘...Since experience is knowledge by means of connected
perceptions, the categories [my italics – EVI] are conditions of the possibility
of experience, and are therefore valid a priori for all objects of experience’.46
Any judgment, therefore, that claimed to universal significance,
always overtly or covertly included a category: ‘we cannot think an object
save through categories. ...’47
And if logic claimed to be the science of thinking it must also develop
just this doctrine of categories as a coherent system of categorial
determinations of thought. Otherwise it simply had no right to call itself
the science of thought. Thus it was Kant (and not Hegel, as is often
thought and said) who saw the main essence of logic in categorial definitions
of knowledge, and began to understand logic primarily as the sys-

45 Kant, “Critique of Pure Reason,” p 158.
46 Kant, “Prologomena,” Op. cit., p 171.
47 Ibid., p 173.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 55
tematic exposition of categories, universal and necessary concepts characterising
an object in general, those very concepts that were traditionally
considered the monopoly of metaphysical investigations. At the same
time, and this is linked with the very essence of Kant’s conception,
categories were nothing other than universal forms (schemas) of the
cognitive activity of the subject, purely logical forms of thinking understood
not as a psychic act of the individual but a ‘generic’ activity of man,
as the impersonal process of development of science, as the process of
the crystallising out of universal scientific knowledge in the individual
consciousness.
Kant, not without grounds, considered Aristotle the founder of this
understanding of logic, that same Aristotle on whom, following mediaeval
tradition, responsibility had been put for the narrow, formal understanding
of the boundaries and competence of logic, though in fact it was
not his at all. Kant, however, reproached Aristotle for not having given
any ‘deduction’ of his table of categories, but simply only setting out and
summing up those categories that already functioned in the existing
consciousness of his time. The Aristotelean list of categories therefore
suffered from ‘empiricism’. In addition, and on Kant’s lips the reproach
sounds even more severe, Aristotle, not having been content with explaining
the logical function of categories, had also ascribed a ‘metaphysical
meaning’ to them, explaining them not only as logical (i.e. theoretical
cognitive) schemes of the activity of the mind but also as universal forms
of existence, universal determinations of the world of things in themselves,
that is to say he ‘hypostatised’ the purest logical schemas as metaphysics,
as a universal theory of objectivity as such.
Kant thus saw Aristotle’s main sin as having taken the forms of
thinking for the forms of being or existence, and so having converted
logic into metaphysics, into ontology. Hence also the task of having, in
order to correct Aristotle’s mistake, to convert metaphysics into logic. In
other words Kant still saw the real significance of Aristotle, through the
converting prism of his initial precepts, as the ‘father of logic’ and understood
that Aristotle was such in his capacity as author of the Metaphysics.
So Kant once and for all cut the roots of the mediaeval interpretation
both of Aristotle and of logic, which had seen the logical doctrine of the
Stagirite only in the texts of the Organon. This unnatural separation of
logic from metaphysics, which in fact was due not to Aristotle at all but
to the Stoics and Scholastics, acquired the force of prejudice in the Middle
Ages, but was removed and overcome by Kant.
56 E. V. ILYENKOV
Kant did not give his system of categories in the Critique of Pure Reason,
but only posed the task of creating one in general fashion, ‘since at
present we are concerned not with the completeness of the system, but
only with the principles to be followed in its construction...’.48 He also did
not set out the logic, but only the most general principles and outlines of
its subject matter in its new understanding, its most general categories
(quantity, quality, relation, and modality, each of which was made more
concrete in three derivatives). Kant considered that the further development
of the system of logic in the spirit of these principles no longer
constituted a special work: ‘... it will be obvious that a full glossary, with
all the requisite explanations, is not only a possible, but an easy task’.49 ‘...
It can easily be carried out, with the aid of the ontological manuals for
instance, by placing under the category of causality the predicables of
force, action, passion; under the category of community the predicables
of presence, resistance; under the predicaments of modality, the predicables
of coming to be, ceasing to be, change, etc.’50
Here again, as was the case with general logic, Kant displayed an absolutely
uncritical attitude to the theoretical baggage of the old metaphysics,
and to the determinations of categories developed in it, since he
reduced the business of creating the new logic to very uncritical rethinking,
to a purely formal transformation of the old metaphysics (ontology)
into logic. In practice it sometimes resulted simply in the renaming of
‘ontological’ concepts as ‘logical’. But the very carrying out of the task
posed by Kant very quickly led to an understanding that it was not so
simple to do, since what was required was not a formal change but a very
serious and far reaching, radical transformation of the whole system of
philosophy. Kant himself still did not clearly and completely realise this
fact; he had only partially detected the dialectical contradictions of the old
metaphysics, in the form of the famous four antinomies of pure reason.
A start, however, had been made.
According to Kant categories were purely logical forms, schemas of
the activity of the intellect linking together the facts of sensuous experience
(perceptions) in the form of concepts and theoretical (objective)
judgments. In themselves categories were empty, and any attempt to use

48 Kant, “Prologomena,” Op. cit., p 114.
49 Ibid., p 115.
50 Ibid., p 115.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 57
them as other than logical forms of the generalisation of empirical facts
led one way or the other only to balderdash and logomachy. Kant expressed
this idea in his own manner, affirming that it was impossible in
any case to understand categories as abstract determinations of things in
themselves as they existed outside the consciousness of people and
outside experience. They characterised, in a universal (abstract-universal)
way only the conceivable object, i.e. the external world as and how we of
necessity thought of it, as and how it was represented in consciousness after
being refracted through the prism of our sense organs and forms of
thinking. Transcendental logic, therefore, the logic of truth, was logic,
and only logic, only the doctrine of thinking. Its concepts (categories)
told us absolutely nothing about how matters stood in the world outside
experience, whether in the world of the ‘transcendental’ outside the
bounds of experience, there was causality, necessity, and chance, quantitative
and qualitative differences, a difference in the probability and inevitability
of an event occurring, and so on and so forth. That question Kant
thought it impossible to answer; but in the world as given to us by experience
matters stood exactly as logic pictured them, and science needed
nothing more.
Science was therefore always and everywhere obliged to discover
causes and laws, to differentiate the probable from the absolutely inevitable,
to explain and numerically express the degree of probability of any
particular event happening, and so on. In the world with which science
was concerned there was no need, even as hypothetically assumed factors,
for ‘unextended’ or ‘eternal’ factors (i.e. taken outside the power of
the categories of space and time), ‘incorporeal’ forces, absolutely unalterable
‘substances’, and other accessories of the old metaphysics. The place
of the old ontology must now be taken not by some one science, even
though new in principle and clarified by criticism, but only the whole
aggregate of real experimental sciences mathematics, mechanics, physics,
chemistry, celestial mechanics (i.e., astronomy), geology, anthropology,
physiology. Only all the existing sciences (and those that might arise in
the future) together, generalising the data of experience by means of the
categories of transcendental logic, were in a position to tackle the task
that the old ontology had monopolised.
To tackle it Kant, however, emphasised, but by no means to solve it.
They could not solve it; for it was insoluble by the very essence of the
matter and not at all because the experience on which such a picture of
the world as a whole was built was never complete, and not because
58 E. V. ILYENKOV
science, developing with time, would discover more and more new fields
of facts and correct its own propositions, thus never achieving absolute
finality in its constructions of the world in concepts. If Kant had argued
like that he would have been absolutely right; but with him this quite true
thought acquired a rather different form of expression, and was converted
into a basic thesis of agnosticism, into an affirmation that it was
impossible in general to construct a unified, scientifically substantiated
picture of the world even relatively satisfactory for a given moment of
time.
The trouble was that any attempt to construct such a picture inevitably
collapsed at the very moment of being made, because it was immediately
smashed to smithereens by antinomies and immanent contradictions,
by the shattering forces of dialectics. The picture sought would
inevitably be self-contradictory, which was the equivalent for Kant of its
being false. Why was that so? The answer is in the chapter of the Critique
of Pure Reason devoted to analysis of the logical structure of reason as the
highest synthetic function of the human intellect.
Another task, it turned out, remained outside the competence of either
general or transcendental logic, a task with which scientific understanding
was constantly in collision, that of the theoretical synthesis of all
the separate ‘experimental’ statements that made up a single theory
developed from a single common principle. Now the job already was not
to generalise, i.e. to unite and link together, the sensuously contemplated,
empirical facts given in living contemplation, in order to obtain concepts,
but the concepts themselves. It was no longer a matter of schemas of the
synthesis of sensuous facts in reason, but of the unity of reason itself and
the products of its activity in the structure of a theory, in the structure of
a system of concepts and judgments. Generalising of the factual data by
means of a concept, and the generalising of concepts by means of a
theory, by means of an ‘idea’ or general guiding principle, were of course
quite different operations. And the rules for them must be different.
There is therefore yet another storey in Kant’s logic, a kind of ‘metalogic
of truth’ bringing under its critical control and surveillance not
individual acts of rational activity but all reason as a whole: Thinking with
a capital ‘T’, so to say; thinking in its highest synthetic functions and not
separate and partial operational schemas of synthesis.
The striving of thought to create a single, integral theory is natural
and ineradicable. It cannot be satisfied, and does not wish to be, by
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 59
simple aggregates, simple piling up of partial generalisations, but is always
striving to bring them together, to link them together by means of general
principles. It is a legitimate striving, and since it is realised in activity and
thus appears as a separate power, Kant called it reason in distinction from
understanding. Reason is the same as understanding, only it is involved in
the solving of a special task, explanation of the absolute unity in diversity,
the synthesis of all its schemas and the results of their application in
experience. Naturally it also operates there according to the rules of logic,
but in resolving this task, thought, though exactly observing all the rules
and norms of logic (both general and transcendental) without exception,
still inevitably lands in a contradiction, in self-destructing. Kant painstakingly
showed that this did not happen as a consequence of slovenliness or
negligence in any thinking individuals at all, but precisely because the
individuals were absolutely guided by the requirements of logic, true,
where its rules and norms were powerless and without authority. In
entering the field of reason, thinking invades a country where these laws
do not operate. The old metaphysics struggled for whole millennia in
hopeless contradictions and strife because it stubbornly tried to do its job
with unsuitable tools.
Kant set himself the task of discovering and formulating the special
‘rules’ that would subordinate the power of thinking (which proved in
fact to be its incapacity) to organise all the separate generalisations and
judgments of experience into a unity, into the structure of an integral,
theoretical schema, i.e. to establish the legislation of reason. Reason, as
the highest synthetic function of the intellect, ‘endeavours to carry out
the synthetic unity, which is thought in the category, up to the completely
unconditioned’.51 In this function thinking strives for a full explanation of
all the conditions in which each partial generalisation of understanding
(each concept and judgment) can be considered justified without further
reservations. For only then would a generalisation be fully insured against
refutation by new experience, i.e. from contradiction with other, just as
correct generalisations.
The claim to absolutely complete, unconditional synthesis of the existing
determinations of a concept, and so of the conditions within which
these determinations are unreservedly true is exactly equivalent to a claim
to understand things in themselves. In fact, if I risk asserting that subject

51 Kant, “Prologomena,” Op. cit., p 318.
60 E. V. ILYENKOV
A is determined by predicate B in its absolute totality, and not just in part
that existed or might exist in our field of experience, I remove the very
limitation from my assertion (statement) that transcendental logic has
established for all experimental judgments; that is to say, I am no longer
stating that it is true only in conditions imposed by our own forms of
experience, our modes of perception, schemas of generalisation, and so
on. I begin to think that the statement ascribing predicate B to subject A
is already true not only within the conditions of experience but outside
them, that it relates to A not only as the object of any possible experience
but also irrespective of that experience, and defines A as an object existing
in itself.
That means to remove all the limitations governing it from the generalisation,
including the conditions imposed by experience. But all the
conditions cannot be removed, ‘for the conception of the absolute totality
of conditions is not applicable in any experience, since no experience
is unconditioned’.52 This illegitimate demarche of thinking Kant called
transcendental application of reason, i.e. the attempt to affirm that things
in themselves are such as they appear in scientific thinking, that the properties
and predicates we attribute to them as objects of any possible experience
also belong to them when they exist in themselves and are not
converted into objects of somebody’s experience (perceptions, judgments,
and theorising).
Such a transcendental application of understanding entails contradictions
and antinomies. A logical contradiction arises within reason itself,
disrupting it, breaking up the very form of thinking in general. A logical
contradiction is also an index for thought indicating that it has taken on
the solution of a problem that is in general beyond its strength. A contradiction
reminds thought that it is impossible to grasp the ungraspable
(boundless).
Understanding falls into a state of logical contradiction (antinomy)
here not only because, and even not so much because, experience is
always unfinished, and not because a generalisation justified for experience
as a whole has been drawn on the basis of partial experience. That is
just what reason can and must do, otherwise no science would be possible.
The matter here is quite different; in trying fully to synthesise all the
theoretical concepts and judgments drawn from past experience, it is

52 Kant, “Prologomena,” Op. cit., p 318.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 61
immediately discovered that the experience already past was itself internally
antinomic if it of course was taken as a whole and not some arbitrarily
limited aspect or fragment of it in which, it goes without saying, contradiction
may be avoided. And the past experience is already antinomic
because it includes generalisations and judgments synthesised according
to schemas of categories that are not only different but are directly opposite.
In the sphere of understanding, as transcendental logic showed, there
were pairs of mutually opposing categories, i.e. schemas of the action of
thinking having diametrically opposite directions. For example, there is
not only a category of identity orienting the intellect to discovering the
same invariant determinations in various objects, but also its polar category
of difference, pointing to exactly the opposite operation, to the
discovery of differences and variants in objects seemingly identical. In
addition to the concept of necessity there is the concept of chance, and
so on. Each category has another, opposite to it and not unitable with it
without breaking the principle of contradiction. For clearly, difference is
not identity, or is non-identity, while cause is not effect (is non-effect).
True, both cause and effect are subsumed purely formally under one and
the same category of interaction, but that only means that a higher category
embracing both of them is itself subordinated to the law of identity,
i.e. ignores the difference between them. And any phenomenon given in
experience can always be comprehended by means both of one and of
another categorial schema directly opposite to it. If, for example, I look
on some fact as an effect, my search is directed to an infinite number of
phenomena and circumstances preceding the given fact, because behind
each fact is the whole history of the Universe. If, on the contrary, however,
I wish to understand a given fact as a cause, I shall be forced to go
into the chain of phenomena and facts following it in time, and to go
further and further away from it in time with no hope of encountering it
again anywhere. Here are two mutually incompatible lines of search,
never coinciding with one another, two paths of investigating one and the
same fact. And they will never converge because time is infinite at both
ends, and the causal explanation will go further and further away from
the search for effects.
Consequently, relative to any thing or object in the Universe, two
mutually exclusive points of view can be expressed, and two diverging
paths of investigation outlined, and therefore two theories, two conceptions
developed, each of which is created in absolute agreement with all
the requirements of logic and with all the facts (data of experience)
62 E. V. ILYENKOV
relating to the matter, but which nevertheless, or rather precisely because
of this, cannot be linked together within one theory without preserving
and without reproducing this same logical contradiction within it. The
tragedy of understanding is that it itself, taken as a whole, is immanently
contradictory, containing categories each one of which is as legitimate as
the other, and whose sphere of applicability within the framework of experience
is not limited to anything, i.e. is as wide as experience itself. In relation
to any object, therefore, two (at least, of course) mutually opposite
theories inevitably must always arise and develop, before, now, and
henceforth, forevermore, each of which advances a fully logical claim to
be universal, to be correct in relation to all experience as a whole.
The antinomies could be eliminated in one way only, by discarding
from logic exactly half of its categorial schemas of synthesis, recognising
one category in each pair as legitimate and correct, and banning the other
from use in the arsenal of science. That is what the old metaphysics did.
It, for example, proclaimed chance or fortuity a purely subjective concept,
a characteristic of our ignorance of the causes of phenomena, and
so converted necessity into the sole objective categorial schema of a
judgment, which led to recognition of the fatal inevitability of any fact,
however minute and ridiculous.
That is why Hegel somewhat later called this method of thinking
metaphysical. It was, in fact, characteristic of the old, pre-Kantian metaphysics,
delivering itself from internal contradictions simply by ignoring
half of all the legitimate categories of thought, half of the schemas of
judgments with objective significance; but at the same time the question
arises of which category in the polar pair to prefer and keep, and which
to discard and declare a ‘subjective illusion’. Here, Kant showed, there
was not, and could not be, any objective basis for choosing. It was decided
by pure arbitrariness, by individual preference. Both metaphysical
systems were therefore equally correct (both the one and the other went
equally with the universal principle) and equally subjective, since each of
them denied the objective principle contrary to it.
The old metaphysics strove to organise the sphere of reason directly
on the basis of the law of identity and of the principle of contradiction in
determinations. The job was impracticable in principle because, if categories
were regarded as the universal predicates necessarily inherent in some
subject, then this subject must be the thing in itself; but the categories,
considered as the predicates of one and the same subject of a judgment,
prove to contradict one another and to create a paradoxical situation. And
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 63
then the statement fell under the principle of contradiction, which Kant
formulated thus: ‘...No predicate contradictory of a thing can belong to it.
...’53 So, if I determine a thing in itself through a category, I still have no
right, without breaking the principle, to ascribe the determinations of the
opposing category to it.
Kant’s conclusion was this: quite rigorous analysis of any theory
claiming to be an unconditionally full synthesis of all determinations (all
the predicates of one and the same thing in itself, claiming the unconditional
correctness of its own judgments, will always discover more or less
artfully disguised antinomies in the theory.
Understanding, clarified by criticism, i.e. conscious of its legitimate
rights and not claiming any sphere of the transcendental banned to it, will
always strive for an unconditionally full synthesis as the highest ideal of
scientific knowledge, but will never permit itself to assert that it has
already achieved such a synthesis, that it has finally determined the thingin-itself
through a full series of its universal and necessary predicates, and
so given a full list of the conditions of the truthfulness of its concept.
The age-old theoretical opponents should therefore, instead of waging
endless war to the death, come to some kind of peaceful co-existence
between them, recognising the equal rights of each other to relative truth,
to a relatively true synthesis. They should understand that, in relation to
the thing-in-itself, they are equally untrue, that each of them, since he
does not violate the principle of contradiction, possesses only part of the
truth, leaving the other part to his opponent. Conversely, they are both
right in the sense that understanding as a whole (i.e. reason) always has
not only different interests within it but also opposing ones, equally
legitimate and of equal standing. One theory is taken up with the identical
characteristics of a certain range of phenomena, and the other with their
differences (the scientific determinations, say, of man and animal, man
and machine, plant and animal). Each of the theories realises in full the
legitimate, but partial interest of reason, and therefore neither the one nor
the other, taken separately, discloses an objective picture of the thing as it
exists outside of and prior to consciousness, and independently of each
of these interests. And it is impossible to unite these theories into one
without converting the antinomic relation between them into an anti-

53 Kant, “Prologomena,” Op. cit., p 190.
64 E. V. ILYENKOV
nomic relation between the concepts within one theory, without disrupting
the deductive analytical schema of its concepts.
What should ‘critique of reason’ give to scientific understanding?
Not, of course, recipes for eliminating dialectics from knowledge; that is
impossible and impracticable because knowledge as a whole is always
obtained through polemic, through a struggle of opposing principles and
interests. It is therefore necessary that the warring parties in science will
be fully self-critical, and that the legitimate striving to apply its principle
rigorously in investigating the facts will not be converted into paranoiac
stubbornness, into dogmatic blindness preventing the rational kernel in
the theoretical opponent’s statements from being seen. Criticism of the
opponent then becomes a means of perfecting one’s own theory, and
helps stipulate the conditions for the correctness of one’s own judgments
more rigorously and more clearly, and so on and so forth.
Thus the ‘critique of reason’ and its inevitable dialectic were converted
by Kant into the most important branch of logic, since prescriptions
were formulated in it capable of rescuing thought from the bigoted
dogmatism into which understanding inevitably fell when it was left to its
own devices (i.e. thinking that knew and observed the rules of general
and transcendental logic and did not suspect the treacherous pitfalls and
traps of dialectics), and also from the natural complement of this dogmatism,
scepticism.
After this broadening of the subject matter of logic, after the inclusion
in it both of the categorial schemas of thinking and principles of
constructing theories (synthesis of all concepts), and after the comprehension
of the constructive and regulative role and function of ideas in
the movement of knowledge, this science acquired the right for the first
time to be, and to be called, the science of thinking, the science of the universal
and necessary forms and patterns of real thought, of the processing
of the facts of experience and the facts of contemplation and representation.
In addition, dialectics was also introduced into the structure of logic,
as the most important branch crowning the whole, that same dialectics
that had seemed, before Kant, either a ‘mistake’, only a sick state of the
intellect, or the result of the casuistic unscrupulousness and incorrectness
of individual persons in the handling of concepts. Kant’s analysis showed
that dialectics was a necessary form of intellectual activity, characteristic
precisely of thinking concerned with solving the highest synthetic prob-
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 65
lems54 and with constructing a theory claiming universal significance, and
so objectivity (in Kant’s sense). Kant thus weaned dialectics, as Hegel put it,
of its seeming arbitrariness and showed its absolute necessity for theoretical
thinking.
Since it was the supreme synthetic tasks that were pushed to the
foreground in the science of that period, the problem of contradiction
(the dialectics of determinations of the concept) proved to be the central
problem of logic as a science. At the same time, since Kant himself
considered the dialectical form of thought a symptom of the futility of
scientists’ striving to understand (i.e. to express in a rigorous system of
scientific concepts) the position of things outside their own Ego, outside
the consciousness of man, the problem also rapidly acquired ideological
significance. The fact is that at that time the development of science was
generating ever tenser conflicts between its theories, ideas, and conceptions.
The Kantian ‘dialectic’ did not in fact indicate any way out, no path
for resolving conflicts of ideas. It simply stated in general form that conflict
of ideas was the natural state of science, and counselled ideological
opponents everywhere to seek some form or other of compromise
according to the rule of live and let live, to hold to their truth but to
respect the truth of the other man, because they would both find themselves
ultimately in the grip of subjective interests, and because objective
truth common for all was equally inaccessible to both of them.
In spite of this good advice, however, not one of the really militant
theories of the time wanted to be reconciled with such a pessimistic
conclusion and counsel, and orthodoxy became more and more frantic in
all spheres as the revolutionary storm drew nearer. When, in fact, it
broke, Kant’s solution ceased to satisfy either the orthodox or the revolutionaries.
This change of mood was also reflected in logic in the form of a
critical attitude to the inconsistency, reticence, and ambiguity of the
Kantian solution.
These moods were expressed most clearly of all in the philosophy of
Fichte; through it the ‘monistic’ strivings of the times to create a single
theory, a single sense of law, a single system of all the main concepts on
life and the world, also burst into the sphere of logic, into the sphere of
understanding of the universal forms and patterns of developing thought.

54 See V F Asmus, Dialektika Kanta, Moscow 1930, pp 126-27.
66 E. V. ILYENKOV
4. Fichte and Schelling – The Structural Principle
of Logic, Dualism or Monism
Kant did not accept the improvements that Fichte suggested for his
theory of thought, on the grounds that they led directly to a need once
more to create that very unified metaphysic that Kant had declared
impossible and doomed to death from internal contradictions. Before
Fichte, in fact, there loomed the image of a certain, perhaps transcendental
(in the Kantian sense), but still single and uncontradictory system of
concepts providing the main principles of life for humanity. Dialectics
was dialectics, but a true theory appertaining to the most important
things in the world should still be the one and only theory: ‘The author of
this system, for his part, is convinced that there is only one single philosophy,
as there is only one single mathematics, and that as soon as this
one possible philosophy had been founded and recognised, no new one
will arise, and that everything that hitherto had been called philosophy
will be counted as an attempt and preparation’.55
This single system should still, in spite of Kant’s advice, defeat any
other not agreeing with it. For that it would have to be ‘more rational’ in
every respect, in other words would have to explain and interpret the
other system and so become broader than it.
For Fichte the position that Kant pictured as eternally insuperable,
i.e. the existence of two equally true, and at the same time equally untrue,
theories, was only a temporary, transitional state of spiritual culture that
had to be overcome and resolved in a united, single world conception
(Weltanschauung). The dialectic that Kant recognised on the scale of all
scientific knowledge developing through discussion Fichte therefore
wished to incorporate into a single scientific system that would include
the principle opposing it, interpret it in a certain fashion, and convert it
into its own, partial and derivative, principle.
Let the single world conception be transcendental as before, i.e. let it
equally say nothing about the world in itself; but for all normally thinking
people it should be one and the same, necessarily universal, and in that
sense absolutely objective. The dualism that Kant affirmed as a quality of
the eternally insuperable state of spiritual culture seemed to revolution-

55 J G Fichte, “Sonnenklarer Bericht an das grössere Publikum über das eigentliche
Wesen der neuesten Philosophie,” Berlin 1801, p iv.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 67
ary-minded Fichte only a manifestation of the timidity and inconsistency
of thought in realising its own principles. Logic could not justify two
mutually exclusive systems at once and if, for all that, it did, then not
everything in it was in order.
Fichte sought and found the fundamental inconsistency in the Kantian
doctrine on thought in the initial concept that Kant consciously
proposed as the basis of all his constructions, in the concept of the
‘thing-in-itself’. Already, in this concept, and not in the categorial predicates
that might be ascribed to things, there was a flagrant contradiction:
the supreme fundamental principle of all analytical statements was violated,
the principle of contradiction in determinations. This concept was
thus inconsistent in a logically developed system-theory. In fact, in the
concept ‘of a thing as it exists before and outside any possible experience’
there was included a bit of nonsense not noted by Kant: to say that the
Ego was conscious of a thing outside consciousness was the same as to say that
there was money in one’s pocket outside one’s pocket.
Whether the famous ‘thing-in-itself’ existed was not the question
here; for, Fichte was convinced that its concept was logically impossible. It
was therefore also impossible to build a system of concepts on this foundation
because the flaw of contradiction ran right through the very foundation
of Kant’s theoretical construction.
Fichte’s conclusion was irreproachable: to think a thing-in-itself
meant to think the unthinkable (from the standpoint of the principle of
contradiction, of course), meant to violate the supreme fundamental
principle of all analytical statements in the very course of their substantiation.
He reproached Kant with having set a bad example of juggling with
the rules of logic itself in the course of substantiating his own system of
logic.
Fichte posed the problem as follows. Was logic itself, as a science,
obliged to follow the same principles that it affirmed as absolutely universal
for any correct thinking, or was it entitled to ignore them? Should
logic be a science among other sciences, or was it rather to be likened to a
wilful princeling who dictated laws obligatory for all other people but not
binding in himself? The question, it would seem, was purely rhetorical.
But surely, according to Kant, it was right after all that man thought of
things given in contemplation (i.e. in the field of all special sciences) by
one set of rules (those of the logic of truth) and about the things given in
thought by another set (in the spirit of transcendental dialectics). It was
68 E. V. ILYENKOV
not surprising that contradictions and the flaws of antinomies appeared
between understanding and reason, and, furthermore, within reason itself.
But in that case the very concept of thinking, of the subject, I, was
made senseless from the very beginning, i.e. was made contradictory
within itself. All the fundamental categories of logic proved to be concepts
that denoted not only different but diametrically opposite objects of
thought. So we got the position that there were two different Is in every
person, in every thinking individual, in constant polemic with each other.
One of them contemplated the world and the other thought. Correspondingly,
it was suggested, there were two different worlds, the contemplated
and the thought of, although they merged into one in direct
experience and in real life.
In general Kant was also inclined to that idea, that the I itself, the
subject of thinking, was also a ‘thing-in-itself’. And for that reason, when
one tried to create a system of all the determinations of this I, i.e. a logic
as a system of the logical parameters of thinking, the system proved
contradictory through and through, i.e. self-destroying. As a result, if one
followed Kant, it was quite impossible to construct a logic as a science. It
was impossible, in constructing it, to observe the very rules that it prescribed
as universal and necessary for all other sciences. But then there
was no thought in general as one and the same capacity in different
applications, but two different subjects, two different Is (each of which
had to be considered without connection with the other) as two fundamentally
heterogeneous objects, yet nevertheless called by one and the
same name.
Apart from the fact that this led to a muddle of concepts (Kant himself
was forced to call one of the Is phenomenal and the other
noumenal), the very idea of logic as a science quite lost sense for, according
to Fichte, all the conclusions drawn from considering thinking about
thinking (as a ‘thing-in-itself’ or noumenon) would equally have no relation
at all to thinking about things given in contemplation and representation. So
all the propositions of logic (i.e. of thinking about thinking) would have
no binding force for thinking about things, i.e. for the thinking of natural
scientists.
Hence that central idea of Fichte’s philosophy was born, the idea of a
general scientific doctrine, a theory that, unlike Kantian logic, would set
out principles that were really significant for any application of thought
This science would set out laws and rules equally binding on both think-
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 69
ing about thinking and thinking about things. Thinking about thinking,
i.e. logic, must provide a model and example of observation of the principles
of thought (the principles of scientific scholarship) for the other
sciences in general. These principles must remain the same both when
thinking was directed to phenomena in mathematics, physics, or anthropology,
and when directed to concepts, i.e. to itself.
For a concept was just as much an object of scientific study as any
other object; the more so that we only knew any other object scientifically
insofar as it was expressed in concepts, and in no other way. That meant
that to determine or define a concept and to determine the object were
absolutely identical expressions.
The initial principle of Fichte’s science of science (Wissenschaftslehre)
was therefore not the contrast or opposition of things and consciousness,
of the object and its concept, but the opposition within the I itself. From
two different, dualistically isolated halves, having no connection at all
with each other, you could not create a single, integral system. What was
needed was not dualism, but monism, not two initial principles but one
only. Because, when there were two different initial principles, there were
two different sciences, which never merged into one.
Fichte also interpreted the object and its concept as two different
forms of existence of one and the same I, as the result of selfdifferentiation
of the I into itself. What had appeared to Kant as the
object or ‘thing-in-itself’ (object of the concept) was in fact the product
of the unconscious, unreflecting activity of the I, since it produced the
sensuously contemplated image of the thing by virtue of imagination. A
concept was the product of the same activity, but taking place with
consciousness of the course and meaning of the activities themselves.
The initial identity of concept and object, or rather of the laws by
which the sensuously contemplated world was constituted and those by
which the world thought about, the world of concepts, was built, was
therefore already included in the identity of their subject, of their origin.
The Ego initially created a certain product, by virtue of imagination, and
then began to look on it as something distinct from itself, as the object of
the concept, as the non-Ego or not-I. But in fact the Ego, in the form of
the not-I, was solely concerned, as before, with itself, and regarded itself
as it were from the side, as in a mirror, as an object located outside itself.
The job of thought as such thus consisted in understanding its own
activity in creating an image of contemplation and representation, in
70 E. V. ILYENKOV
consciously reproducing that which it had produced earlier unconsciously,
without giving itself a clear account of what it was doing. The laws and
rules of discursive thinking (i.e. of thinking that consciously obeyed the
rules) were in fact nothing more nor less than the conscious laws (expressed
in logical schemas) of intuitive thinking, i.e., of the creative activity of the
subject, the I, creating the world of contemplated images, the world as it
is given in contemplation.
Only from that angle did the operation of comparing a concept with
its object acquire rational sense. Fichte showed that the opposition, in no
way mediated, between the thing-in-itself and its concept (dualism) had
also led Kant into the fullest dualism both within the concept itself and
within the system of concepts. Fichte quite consistently, from his point of
view, showed that denying the principle of the identity of an object and
its concept as the initial principle of logic and logical thinking meant, as
well, denying the principle of identity in its general form, as a logical postulate. In
other words, if logic as a science considered the principles of identity and
contradiction (the latter was nothing but a negative formulation of the
law of identity) as an absolutely indispensable condition of the correctness
of any thinking, then it must apply them to the understanding of
thinking itself, and to determinations of its specific object or subject
matter, which was the concept.
In logic, in fact, the concept was also the object of study; and logic must dissect
the concept of concept. That being so, in logic, of all sciences, the
concept and its object were fully synonymous because any other object
could only interest logic to the extent that, and insofar as, it had already
been converted into a concept, expressed in a concept; for logic was not
concerned with sensuously contemplated or intuited things.
There was no place in logic, therefore, as a scientific system of determinations
of thought, and could not be, for such expressions as a
‘thing-in-itself’ or ‘the object before its expression in a concept’. Logic
had no business in general with such objects, for they were transcendental
things for it, that is lying beyond its possibilities of expression, beyond
its competence. Beyond those limits began the sphere of super-rational
understanding, faith, irrational intuition, and other aptitudes; but they
were not competent to operate within science. And Fichte did not want
to have anything to do with them, at least within his Wissenschaftslehre.
Such, in essence, was Fichte’s criticism of Kant’s attempt to create a
logic, a classically consistent model (from the logical angle) of a ‘right-
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 71
wing’ critique of dualism, i.e. from the position of subjective idealism. It
is no accident that all modern Neopositivists repeat Fichte word for
word, discarding the question of the relation of a concept to the external
object in a similar way, and replacing it by the question of its relation to
the concept (i.e. of a concept to itself). The latter relation is also naturally
defined as an identity of ‘sign’ (the term that takes the place of ‘concept’)
and of the designatum. The law of identity (and correspondingly the
principle of contradiction) then boils down to this, that one and the same
sign must designate one and the same thing, must have one and the same
meaning or sense.
Let us, however, return to Fichte. He, having contemplated building
a system of logic and a logical model of the world, naturally came into
conflict with the conceptions of his teacher Kant. To Kant his venture
immediately seemed unacceptable: ‘...I declare herewith: that I consider
Fichte’s science of knowledge a completely untenable system. Because a pure
science of knowledge is nothing more nor less than a naked logic, which,
with its principles, does not achieve the material of understanding but
abstracts from the content of the latter as pure logic, from which it is a vain
task to pick out a real object and therefore one never attempted, but
which, when transcendental philosophy is at stake, must pass into metaphysics’.56
Kant from the outset repudiated the attempt to create a metaphysic;
not because it must describe the world of things in themselves but only
because Fichte wanted to create a logic which when applied, would
ensure the building of a single system of concepts not cracked by the
flaws of antinomies, a system that would synthesise in itself all the most
important conclusions and generalisations of science. That, according to
Kant, was unrealisable however the system obtained was interpreted,
whether objectively (materialistically) or subjectively (transcendentally).
One way or the other it was equally impossible. It was quite natural
therefore that Kant considered it a groundless reproach that he ‘had not
created a system’ but had only posed the task and equipped science with
the important (though not completely and consistently worked out)
principles needed for such a construction: ‘The presumption, attributing
to me the intention, that I wished to provide a propaedeutic to transcen-

56 “Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Leben und literarischer Briefwechsel von seinem Sohne
Immanuel Hermann Fichte,” Bd. II Leipzig, 1862, p 161. See also R. Adamson,
“Fichte,” London 1881, pp 50-51.
72 E. V. ILYENKOV
dental philosophy and not the system of the philosophy itself, is incomprehensible
to me’.57
Fichte began by insisting that Kant’s system of philosophical concepts
was not a system but only a concatenation of the opinions and
principles needed for constructing such and, moreover, very inconsistent
ones. The argument therefore passed to a new plane: what was a system?
What were the principles and criteria enabling us to differentiate a system
of scientific concepts from a concatenation of judgments each of which might
be true of and by itself, but was not, all the same, linked with the others?
In explaining his concept of ‘system’, Fichte formulated it as follows:
‘...My exposition, as any scientific one must [my italics – EVI], proceeds from
the most indefinite, which is again determined before the reader’s eyes;
therefore, in the course of it, quite other predicates will, of course, be
linked to the objects than were originally linked to them; and further this
exposition will very often pose and develop propositions which it will
afterward refute, and in this way advance through antithesis to synthesis.
The finally determined true result obtained from it is only found here in
the end. You, of course, only seek this result; and the way that it is found
is of no interest to you’.58 Thus, according to him a system proved to be
the result of the removal of contradictions. They remained unmediated
outside the system, and as such negated each other. Therefore there was
no system in Kant, but only propositions unmediated by development
that he took over ready-made and vainly tried to link together formally,
which was impossible since they had already negated one another. With
Fichte the whole arose precisely from bits, through their successive
unification.
In counterposing his position to Kant’s, Fichte said: ‘The generality
that I affirm in no way arises through apprehension of plurality under
unity, but rather through derivation of endless plurality from the unity
grasped in a glance’.59 The initial generality, which was differentiated in
the course of its own disintegration into a variety of particulars, also had
to be established in scientific system before all else.
But Kant’s image of the whole, too, was brought to light through the
particulars from which it was built up, as from bits. And now, after Kant,

57 Ibid., p 162.
58 Fichte, “Sonnenklarer Bericht,” pp 217-18.
59 Ibid., pp 112-13.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 73
the task could only consist in getting from this whole to the particulars, in
testing and re-testing them critically, in purging the system of everything
superfluous and fortuitous, and in preserving in it only the diverse definitions
that were required of necessity in order to construct the whole. The
whole (the generality) then proved to be a criterion for the selection of
particulars; it was now necessary to develop the whole system of particulars
systematically, step by step, starting from that one, single principle.
Then we would get science, a system.
In other words, the logic of analysing Kant’s philosophy had immediately
concentrated Fichte’s attention on the problems that had been
brought together in the section of the Critique of Pure Reason on transcendental
dialectic, on the problems of the absolute synthesis of concepts
and judgments into a theory understood as a single system. There also
was to be found the ‘growing point’ of logical science. Fichte proposed
calling the new field of investigation of thought ‘the science of knowledge’
(Wissenschaftslehre), i.e. the science of the universal forms and laws of
development of a system of scientific determinations. These determinations
would, of course, be invariant for any particular science, be it
mathematics or physiology, celestial mechanics or anthropology. They
must define any object, and that meant they must represent a system of
universal determinations of every possible object of scientific study, its
logical ‘parameters’.
Science, consequently, must give itself a clear account of its own activities,
achieve self-consciousness, and express its self-consciousness
through the same categories through which it comprehended everything
else, any other object given in experience. The science of science was in
fact a system of determinations outlining any possible object, and at the
same time the structure of the subject constructing that object, and the
logical forms in turn were the forms realised, abstractly expressed, and
built up into a system of rational consciousness in general, i.e. not the
empirical consciousness of this or that individual, but only the necessary
and universal forms (schemas) of the activity of any possible being possessing
thought.
What used to be called ‘logic’ was only an abstract schema of this
universal activity of constructing any possible object in consciousness.
Fichte specially investigated and explained his understanding of the
relation between his Wissenschaftslehre and ‘logic’. The latter proved to be
only an abstract schema of the same activity as was outlined in the former.
Therefore, as he put it, the Wissenschaftslehre could not be demon-
74 E. V. ILYENKOV
strated logically, and it was impossible to premise any logical proposition
on it, even the law of contradiction; on the contrary, any logical thesis and all
logic must be deduced from the Wissenschaftslehre. Thus logic received its
significance from the science of knowledge and not the science of knowledge
from logic.
The fact was that theoretical ‘schematising’ (i.e. operations controlled
by logical rules and propositions) by no means lacked necessary and
natural premises. Their analysis became vitally important precisely when
thinking came up against certain changes, which in essence were a uniting
of contradictory, opposing determinations.
Here Fichte did not differ with Kant, who well understood that
change ‘presupposes one and the same subject as existing with two
opposite determinations’,60 and that one and the same thing could at
different moments of time have a certain predicate A, and then lose it and be
not-A. If, however, a thing could lose predicate A without ceasing to be
itself, and be transformed into something else (into the object of another
concept), that meant, according to Kant, that the disappearing predicate
did not belong to the concept of the given thing, was not one of its universal
and necessary determinations. The concept (in contrast to the empirically
general representation) expressed only the absolutely unaltered characteristics
of the thing. Theory was not interested in change – that old prejudice also
trapped Kant. All change was a matter of empirical views and not of
theory. Theory, constructed according to the rules of logic, must give a
picture of the object withdrawn, as it were, from the power of time.
Theory had no right to include in the definitions of a concept those
determinations that the passage of time had washed off a thing. A concept
therefore always came under the protective cover of the principle of
contradiction.
But how did matters stand if the object represented in theory (in the
form of a theoretical schema constructed according to the rules of logic)
began to be understood not as something absolutely unchanging but as
something coming into being, if only in consciousness, as with Fichte? How
did it stand with the principle of contradiction, if the logical schema had
in fact to picture a process of change, the beginning or the becoming of a
thing in consciousness and by virtue of consciousness? What was to be
done if logic itself was understood as an abstract schema of the construc-

60 Kant, “Critique of Pure Reason,” p 218.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 75
tion of an object in the eyes of a reader, i.e. as a schema of the consistent
enriching of the initial concept with newer and newer predicates, a process
whereby there was initially only A, but later B necessarily arose (which
in itself was understandably not A or was not-A), and then C, D, E, right
down to Z? For even the simple combination of A and B was a combination
of A and not-A. Or was B nevertheless A?
Fichte’s conclusion was: choose between these two – either the principle
of contradiction was absolute (but then no synthesis was possible in
general, not uniting of different determinations) or there was development
and a synthesis of the determinations of concepts (and they did not
conform to the absolute requirements of the principle of contradiction).
Fichte followed another, third path. He started from the point that
what was impossible to represent in a concept, that is to say the combination
or synthesis of mutually exclusive determinations, constantly occurred
in contemplation or intuition (in activity to construct the image of a
thing). Thus, by analysing. Zeno’s famous paradox and showing that we
divide any finite length into infinity, Fichte concluded: ‘From this you see
that what is impossible and contradictory in the concept actually happens
in the intuition of space.61
If, therefore, you came up against a contradiction in a logical expression,
the thing was not to hasten to declare that it could not be, but to
return to the intuition (Anschauung), the rights of which were higher than
those of formal logic; and if analysis of the act of intuition showed you
that you were forced of necessity to pass from one determination to another,
opposing one in order to unite it with the first, if you saw that A
was necessarily transformed into not-A, you would then be obliged to
sacrifice the requirement of the principle of contradiction. Or rather, that
principle could not then be regarded as the indisputable measure of truth.
Fichte also demonstrated this dialectic from the example of the origin
of consciousness, of the ‘positing’ of the non-Ego (not-I) by the
activity of the Ego, the differentiation of the person himself as the thinking
being from himself as thought of, as the object of thought. Could a
person become aware of himself, of the acts of his own consciousness, of
his own constructive activity? Obviously he could. He not only thought,
but also thought about his thinking, and converted the very act of thinking
into an object; and that exercise was always called logic.

61 Fichte, “Thatasachen des Bewußtseyns,” Stuttgart and Tübingen 1817, p 9.
76 E. V. ILYENKOV
The starting point in this case, as was shown above, could only be I,
the Ego (Ich, das Selbst) understood as the subject of an activity producing
something different from itself, that is to say the product, the recorded
result. The Ego was initially equal to itself (I= I) and, considered as
something active, creative, creating, already contained in itself the necessity
of its own transformation into a non-Ego (not-I). We saw and knew
this directly, from self-observation, for consciousness in general was
realised only insofar as a representation of something else arose in it, a
representation of a non-Ego, a thing, an object. There could not be
empty consciousness not filled by anything.
The transformation of the I into the not-I occurred, of course, quite
independently of study of the rules of logic, and before their study. It was
a matter of natural ‘primary’ thought. It was a prototype of logical, reflective
thinking that discovered a certain law-governed necessity in itself, in
its activity in constructing images of things, and then expressed it in the
form of a number of rules, in the form of logic, in order henceforth to
follow them consciously (freely) and to submit to them.
All logical rules must therefore be deduced, derived by analysis of actual
thinking. In other words they had a certain prototype with which
they could be compared and contrasted. This approach differed radically
from Kant’s position, according to which all fundamental logical principles
and categories had only to be consistent in themselves so that their
predicates did not include contradictions. Kant therefore postulated the
laws and categories of logic, while Fichte required them to be deduced, and
their universality and necessity demonstrated.
True, Fichte, like Kant, did not encroach on the actual content of
logical forms and laws. On the contrary, he wanted to demonstrate the
correctness of all the logical schemas known in pre-Kantian and Kantian
logic, by indicating more rigorous conditions for their application. But he
thereby also limited them, establishing that the principle of contradiction
was only fully authoritative in relation to one determination, and that
within a developing system it was constantly being set aside or discarded,
since each succeeding determination negated the preceding one both
individually and absolutely.
Fichte tried in that way to deduce the whole system of logical axioms
and categories, in order to understand them as the universal schemas,
consistently taken into practice, for uniting of empirical data, as degrees
or phases of the production of concepts, for concretising the initial, still
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 77
undivided concept into a number of its universal and necessary predicatedefinitions.
There is no need here to explain why Fichte did not succeed
in his programme of deducing the whole system of logical categories, why
he did not succeed in turning logic into an exact science, into a system. In
this case it was important to have posed the problem. Let us merely note
that the ensuing criticism of his conception was directed precisely at
explaining the reasons for his failure, and at analysing the premises that
hindered his idea of reforming logic, of deducing its whole content from
an investigation of actual thinking, and in that way of uniting within one
and the same system categories that stood in a relation of direct negation
of one another (formal contradiction), and that had seemed to Kant to be
antinomically uncombinable, and not includable within one noncontradictory
system.
Schelling, too, occupied himself primarily, from the very start, with
the problem of a system of knowledge, or rather, with the problem of the
antinomies that inevitably arose in attempts to create such a system. The
difficulty lay exclusively in representing in a logically systematic way the
fact (directly apparent (intuitive) to every thinking being) that the world is
one, and that thought, striving for its own systematic presentation, was
also one in itself. But the rules of logic and laws of the activity of the
intellect were such that the single world, refracted through them, was split
into two in the eyes of reason. And each of the halves so formed claimed
the role of the sole true absolute and unconditional, logically systematic
representation of the whole world.
Like Kant, Schelling saw the way out not on the plane of logically
consistent constructing of determinations but in the practical realisation
of the system that presented itself to the human mind as most worthy of
it, most acceptable to it, most in accord with its innate strivings. It was
impossible to demonstrate anything by formal logic, i.e. to work out a
system of uncontradictory proofs that could not be counterposed by its
opposite. Such a system simply had to be taken on direct trust and followed
unconditionally. The system that Schelling himself chose was
expressed in the following principle: ‘My vocation in criticism is to strive for
unchangeable selfness (Selbstkeit), unconditional freedom, unlimited activity’.62 This
system could never be completed, it must always be ‘open-ended’ in the

62 F W J Schelling, “Frühschriften,” Erster Band, Berlin 1971, p 152.
78 E. V. ILYENKOV
future – such was the concept of activity. Activity when completed,
embodied! ‘fixed’ in its product, was already not activity.
It is easy to discern Schelling’s proud principle in these arguments. It
was activity that was the absolute and unconditional that could never and
must never be completed by the creation of a system crystallised once and
for all; the absolutely universal in which new differences, differentiations,
peculiarities, and particulars would ever be arising and accordingly be
merged (identified) with what had previously been established, and on ad
infinitum. This form of criticism, according to Schelling, embraced dogmatism
as its own moment, because it confirmed the thesis that the whole
edifice of man’s spiritual culture must henceforth be built on a clear and
categorically established foundation, namely on the understanding that
the sole subject of all possible predicates was the Ego, i.e., the infinite
creative principle existing in every human being and freely presuming
both itself and the whole world of objects that it saw, contemplated
(intuited), and thought, and on the understanding that no one result
already achieved had the force of an absolute, ‘objective’ authority for the
Ego, i. e. the force of dogma.
And if there were an opposing system that looked upon man as the
passive point of application of previously given, externally objective
forces, as a speck of dust in the vortex of elemental world forces, or a toy
in the hands of God and his representatives on earth, that dogmatic
system, though it had been rigorously proved formally and was not selfcontradictory,
would have to be combated by the supporter of true
criticism until final victory.
Like Fichte, Schelling stood for a new, critical, ‘enlightened’ dogmatism:
‘Dogmatism – such is the result of our common inquiry – is irrefutable
in theory because it itself has quit the theoretical field to complete its
system in practice. It is thereby refutable in practice for us to realise a system
in ourselves absolutely opposed to it’.63
Practical activity was the ‘third’ thing on which all mutually contradictory
systems came together as on common soil. It was there, and not
in the abstractions of pure reason, that the real battle raged that could
and must be won. That was where the proof lay that one party, unswervingly
following its principle, defended not only its own, egoistic private

63 Ibid., p 156.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 79
interest, but also an interest coinciding with the universal tendencies of
the universe, i.e. with absolute and unconditional objectivity.
‘Criticism cannot follow dogmatism into the sphere of the Absolute
[understood purely theoretically – EVI], nor can the latter follow it,
because for both there can be only one assertion as an absolute assertion
that takes no notice of the opposing system, and that determines nothing
for the opposing system.
‘Only now, after both have encountered one another, one of them
can no longer ignore the other, and whereas before [i.e. in the purely
theoretically logical sphere – EVI] they were without any resistance to
the position won, now the position must be won by victory’.64
That is the point that divided Fichte and Schelling from Kant; the intellectual
culture of humanity cannot lie eternally like Buridan’s ass between
two equally logical systems of ideas about the most important
things in life. Mankind has, in practice, to act, to live; but it is impossible
to act simultaneously in accordance with two opposing systems of recommendations.
We are forced to choose one of them and then to act
strictly in the spirit of its principles.
Kant himself, it is true, demonstrated in his last works that the arguments
of practical reason must all the same tip the scales in favour of one
system or the other, although on a purely theoretical plane they are
absolutely equal. But with him this theme only broke through as one of
the trends of his thinking, while Fichte and Schelling transformed it into
the starting point of all their meditations. Hence the slogan about victory,
too, in the theoretical sphere. One of the clashing logical conceptions
must still prevail over the other, its opposite, and for that it must be
reinforced by arguments no longer of a purely logical, rather purely
scholastic quality, but armed with practical (moral and aesthetic) advantages
as well. Then it was assured of victory, and not simply of the right
and the chance of waging an eternal academic dispute.
Like Fichte, Schelling saw the main problem of the theoretical system
in synthetic statements and in uniting them: ‘It is these riddles that oppress
the critical philosopher. His chief question is not how there can be
analytical statements, but how there can be synthetic ones... The most
comprehensible thing is how we define everything according to the law

64 Ibid., pp 131-32.
80 E. V. ILYENKOV
of identity, and the most enigmatic how we can define anything still
outside this law’.65
That is aptly formulated. Any elementary act of synthesising determinations
in a judgment – be it that A is B – in fact already requires us to go
beyond the law of identity, i.e. to infringe the boundaries established by
the principle of contradiction in determinations; for, whatever the adjoined
statement B, it is in any case not A, is not-A. It is clearly the logical
expression of the fact that any new knowledge infringes the strictly
acknowledged limits of the old knowledge, refutes it, and revises it.
Any dogmatism that obstinately insisted on the knowledge already attained
and mastered would therefore always reject any new knowledge
from the outset on the sole grounds that it contradicted the old. And it
did in fact formally contradict it because it was not analytically included in
the old and could not be ‘derived’ from it by logical contrivances of any
kind. It must be united with the old knowledge in spite of the fact that it
formally contradicted it.
That meant, according to Schelling, that a genuine synthesis was not
realised by purely theoretical ability that strictly adhered to the rules of
logic, but by quite another capacity, which was not bound by the strict
limitations of the fundamentals of logic, and even had the right to transgress
them when it experienced a powerful need to do so. ‘A system of
knowledge is necessarily either a trick, a game of ideas... – or it must
embrace reality not through a theoretical ability, but through a practical
one, not through a perceptive ability but through a productive, realising one,
not through knowledge but through action’.66
With Kant this productive ability was called power of imagination
(Einbildungskraft). Following him Schelling also plunged into analysis of it,
which took him along a rather different road than Fichte’s, onto the rails
of an objective idealism that was not only reconciled to the thesis of the
real existence of the external world but also built a theory of understanding
it, although with Schelling himself this theory proved to be something
quite different from logic and tended rather to a kind of aesthetics, to a
theory of the artistic, aesthetic comprehension of the mysteries of the
universe. For the men of science Schelling retained, as a working tool, the
same old logic that he himself, following Fichte, declared to be a com-

65 Schelling, “Frühschriften,” pp 129-30.
66 Ibid., pp 126-27.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 81
pletely unsatisfactory instrument for understanding and to be justified
solely as a canon of the outward systematisation and classification of
material obtained by quite other, illogical and even alogical, means.
Whereas Fichte had provided a classical model of criticism of Kant
and his logic from the right, from the standpoint of a consistently constructed
subjective idealism, another motif began to be clearly seen in the
reformatory strivings of the young Schelling, in tendencies leading him to
materialism.
In the circles in which he moved, and where his thinking matured,
quite other moods prevailed than those induced by Fichte’s philosophy.
All Fichte’s thought had been concentrated on the social and psychic
revolution stimulated in minds by the events of 1789-93. The flight of his
imagination was also linked with the events and problems of those years;
as the revolutionary wave subsided his philosophy folded its wings, and
he could not find a new source of inspiration. For Schelling the fervour
born of the revolution was only a certain stage that he reached as a
sympathiser and even a disciple of Fichte; but, just as the forces of rude
reality forced the most zealous Jacobins to reckon with them, so too it
became clear to Schelling that to insist on one infinite creative power, the
Ego, and on the strength of its moral fervour, in face of the persistent
external world meant to bang one’s head against the wall of incomprehension,
as had actually happened in the end to Fichte.
Being closely linked with the circle of Goethe and the romantic writers,
Schelling was much more interested than Fichte in nature (read:
natural science) on the one hand, and in the inherited, traditional (in the
parlance of Kant and Fichte, objective) forms of social life on the other
hand. From the very beginning natural science and art constituted the
medium that shaped his mind and his aspirations as an inquirer.
Schelling, it is true, began in the same way as Fichte; he too treated
the opposition between subject and object as an opposition within human
consciousness, as an opposition between the images of the external
world that a person produced ‘freely’, and the images of the same world
that he produced not freely. but unconsciously, in obedience to a compelling
force of necessity unknown to him. Like Fichte, Schelling warred
with dogmatism (in the idea of which, for him, there were merged both
religious orthodoxy, which ascribed necessity to an external God, and
philosophical materialism, which ascribed it to external things, to ‘pure
objects’). For Schelling criticism was a synonym for the standpoint that
82 E. V. ILYENKOV
the objective (universal and necessary) determinations of the human
psyche were initially innate in the psyche itself and discovered in it in the
course of its active self-discovery.
In that way Schelling, following Fichte, tried to overcome the dualism
of Kant’s conception; but with Fichte the dualism had still been
preserved and even reproduced in ever sharper form within his conception.
All the Kantian antinomies had in fact been merged by him in a
single antinomy, in the contradiction between two halves of one and the
same Ego. One of them unconsciously created the objective world of
images by the laws of causality, space, and time, while the other reconstructed
it in the spirit of the requirements of the transcendental ideal, in
accordance with the requirements of ‘morality’.
It was presupposed, as before, that there were two different Egos in
every person, but it was not known how and why they were connected
together; and although Fichte united them in the concept of activity, the
opposition was reproduced again within the Ego in the form of two
different principles of activity. And as before it remained an open question
what was the inner necessary relation between the two halves of the
human Ego. Did they have a common root, a common source, a common
‘substance’, through the splitting of which the two halves of necessity
arose?
Fichte did not find the solution, in spite of his concept of activity.
The world of necessary ideas was formed within all Egos quite independently
of the activity of the ‘better’ I, before it awoke in man. The ‘better’ I
already, during its awakening, found the existing world in itself. In turn it
(the pure form of practical reason or the ideal) came into the world of
necessarily produced ideas, as it were, from outside, like a judge who
emerged from somewhere unknown and who brought with him the
criteria for evaluating and re-evaluating what existed, i.e. the fruits of the
Ego’s past labour.
The human Ego was again converted into a field of endless battle between
two originally heterogeneous principles. The absolute Ego must
take the world of existing ideas, incomplete and unconnected, even
mutually contradictory, in accordance with itself and one another. But
that again was only attainable in infinity. ‘Full agreement of man with
himself, and – so that he can agree with himself – agreement of all things
outside him with his necessary practical concepts of them – concepts that
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 83
determine how they must be ...’ (as Fichte formulated the essence of the
problem67), proved unattainable in the existing world.
Fichte freed himself from the Kantian form of antinomies but reproduced
them all intact in the form of contradictions within the very concept
of ‘activity’. The problem was simply transferred to the sphere of the
individual psyche and so made completely insoluble. Schelling reached
the same conclusion and began to seek a way out along a new path with
the young Hegel. Gradually, in the course of criticising Fichte, the main
outlines of a new conception began to appear.
Schelling and Hegel were more and more dissatisfied with the following
‘points’ in the position of Kant and Fichte:

  1. the posing of all the concrete burning issues of the day in a
    subjective, psychological form;
  2. the feeble appealing to ‘conscience’ and ‘duty’ that stemmed
    from that, which put the philosopher into the pose of a
    preacher of fine and noble but impracticable phrases and
    slogans;
  3. the interpretation of the whole sensuous empirical world, if
    not as hostile, at least as a passive obstacle to the dictates of
    ‘duty’ and the ‘ideal’;
  4. the absolute indifference to everything except pure morality
    (including the history of humanity and of nature), and to
    natural science (which underlay Fichteanism);
  5. the powerlessness of the categorical imperative (ideal) in the
    struggle against the ‘egoistic’, ‘immoral’, ‘irrational’ motives of
    man’s behaviour in society, the indifference of real earthly
    men to the preachers of the higher morality (how light were
    all the means of paradise developed by the Church and
    supported by the fullest scholastic explanations in the scales
    when the passions and forces of circumstance, upbringing,
    example, and government were thrown into the other pan; the
    whole history of religion from the beginning of the Christian
    era went to prove that Christianity could only make people
    good when they were already good, the young Hegel said,
    having in mind by the ‘scholastic explanations’ any philosophy
    oriented on morality, including that of Kant and Fichte);

67 Fichte, “Über den Gelehrten,” Berlin 1956, p 45.
84 E. V. ILYENKOV
6. the difference, insuperable in principle, between the real and
the proper, between necessary and free activity, between the
world of phenomena and the active essence of man, etc., etc.
All that led to one thing, namely, to comprehending that it was ultimately
necessary to find the ‘common root’ itself of the two halves of
human being from which they both stemmed and could be understood.
Only then would the human personality appear before us not as the
passive point of application of external forces (be they nature or God),
i.e. not as an object, but as something acting independently (das Selbst), as
subject.
From that was born the idea of the philosophy of identity. Like any
idea it existed originally only in the form of an hypothesis, in the form of
a principle not yet realised in detail, in the spirit of which the whole mass
of existing theoretical material, and in particular the conception of Kant
and Fichte, had to be critically revised.
Originally the young Schelling only affirmed that the two halves of
the human being, which had been depicted by Kant and Fichte as originally
heterogeneous in essence and origin (in spite of their efforts to link
them), had something in common after all, i.e. that somewhere in the
depths, in the initial essence of matter, they had been merged in one
image before being torn apart and separated in dispute, discussion, and
antinomy. Schelling’s thesis stated that both forms of the Ego’s activity
(the unconscious and the consciously free) had really to be understood as
two branches growing from one and the same trunk, and that it was
necessary to discover that trunk first and then trace its growth before it
forked.
Schelling had not yet affirmed anything more concrete and definite
besides that such identity must be and was. He had said nothing about
where exactly this initial identity was to be seen. His description was, in
essence, negative; it was not consciousness, but it was also not matter; it
was not spirit, but it was also not substance; it was not ideal, but it was also
not real. What then was it?
Here, in Heine’s witty comment ‘philosophy ends with Herr Schelling
and poetry – I mean folly – begins’. ‘But Herr Schelling has now left
the philosophical path and is seeking through an act of mystical intuition
to achieve contemplation of the absolute itself; he is seeking to intuit it at
its centre, in its essence, where there is nothing ideal and nothing real,
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 85
neither idea nor extension, neither subject nor object, neither mind nor
matter, but there was who knows what!’68
Why did Schelling nevertheless turn from the path of philosophy
here, from the path of thinking in rigorously defined determinations, to
the path of poetry, to the path of metaphors and a kind of aesthetic
intuition? Only because the logic that he knew and recognised did not
permit the uniting of opposing contradictory predicates in concepts of
one and the same subject. He, like Kant, held it sacred that the law of
identity and the principle of contradiction were absolutely unbreakable
laws for conceptual thinking, and that breaking them was tantamount to
breaking the laws of thought in general, the forms of scientism. Here, he
thought, in agreement with Fichte, that everything that was impossible in
a concept (because of contradiction) became possible in contemplation
or intuition.
Schelling supposed that all the acts performed consciously by man in
accordance with the rules of logic had been quite fully and exactly described
in the transcendental philosophy of Kant and Fichte. That part of
philosophy seemed to him to have been created once and for all. He did
not intend to reform it at all; he only wanted to broaden the scope, the
sphere of action, of its principles, wanted them to embrace the fields that
had fallen outside Fichte’s field of vision, in particular natural science.
The turn to natural science here was not fortuitous. The fact was that
the attempt to investigate the sphere of unconscious activity in more detail
led directly to it, that is to say the attempt to investigate the mode of vital
activity that man had followed before and irrespective of how he began a
special reflection, converted himself into an object of special investigation,
and began to reflect specifically on what originated within himself,
and how it did so. In all his activity at this stage (which also followed
from Kant’s point of view) being subordinated to the conditions of
space, time, and causality, came within the competence of the natural
sciences. In other words, the forms and modes of unconscious activity
were scientifically described precisely through the concepts of physics,
chemistry, physiology, psychology, and so on.
For unconscious activity was nothing else than life, the mode of existence
of organic nature, of the organism. But in the life of the organism (of

68 Heinrich Heine, “Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland,
“ in Werke und Briefe, Bd. 5, Berlin 1961, p 299.
86 E. V. ILYENKOV
any biological individual) mechanical, chemical, and electrical motions
were joined together, and the organism could therefore be studied by
mechanics, chemistry, physics, and optics. In the living organism, Nature
had concentrated all her secrets and determinations, and had synthesised
them. After the organism had been broken down into its constituents,
however, the chief thing of all remained uncomprehended, namely, why
were they linked together that way and not in some other way? Why in
fact was a living organism obtained and not a pile of its components?
With a purely mechanical approach the organism proved to be something
quite incomprehensible, because the principle of a mechanism was
the uniting (consistent synthesis) of ready-made, previously given parts;
the living organism, however, did not originate through the building up of
parts into a whole but, on the contrary through the beginning or origin, the
generation of parts (organs) from an originally undifferentiated whole. Here
the whole preceded its own parts, and functioned in relation to them as
the purpose they all served. Here each part could only be understood
through its role and function in the whole, outside of which it simply did
not exist, or not, in any case, as such.
The problem of understanding organic life was analysed by Kant in
his Critique of the Power of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft) as the problem of
the purposefulness of the structure and function of the living organism.
But the standpoint of transcendental idealism forced him to affirm that,
although we and our reason could not cognise the organism other than
by means of the concept of a goal, nevertheless it was impossible to
attribute any goal to the organism in itself, because a goal presupposed
consciousness (and that meant the whole apparatus of transcendental
apperception) and the animal and vegetable did not possess such.
The problems of life also proved to be the stumbling block that
forced Schelling to stop and critically re-examine certain concepts of the
philosophy of transcendental idealism. Like Kant he categorically objected
to introducing supernatural causes into the framework of the
thinking of the natural science. On those grounds he resolutely rejected
vitalism, the idea that, in inorganic nature (i.e. the world of mechanics,
physics, and chemistry), a certain ‘higher principle’ descended from
somewhere outside and organised the physical, chemical particles in the
living body. There was no such principle outside consciousness, Schelling
affirmed, following Kant. The naturalist must seek in nature itself the
causes of the origin of the organism from inorganic nature. Life must be
fully explained by way of natural science, without implicating any kind of
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 87
extranatural or supernatural force in it. ‘There is an older delusion, which
is that organisation and life are inexplicable by the principles of Nature. –
With it only so much can be said: the first source of organic nature is
physically inscrutable; so this unproved statement serves no purpose
other than to sap the courage of the investigator. ... It would be at least
one step toward that explanation if one could show that the succession of
all organic beings had come about through the gradual evolution of one
and the same organisation’.69
Man and his peculiar organisation stood at the logic apex of the
pyramid of living creatures. And in that case we had every grounds and
right to ascribe to nature itself, if not purpose in the transcendental sense,
at least that objective characteristic which is reproduced in our reason (by
virtue of its specifically transcendental structure) as a purpose, ‘in the
form of a goal’.
What that characteristic was, Schelling did not consider it possible to
say. In any case it was a matter of the capacity involved in nature itself to
engender a succession of more and more complex and highly organised
living creatures, up to and including man, in whom a ‘soul’, consciousness,
was awakened and transcendental mechanisms arose, i.e. a capacity
consciously (freely) to reproduce everything that occurred in nature
unconsciously, without a goal or purpose.
But then it was necessary to think of nature not as naturalists had so
far done (the mathematician plus the physicist, plus the chemist, plus the
anatomist, each of them occupying himself with only his own private
field and not even trying to link the results of his investigations with
those of his neighbour). It must be considered as some kind of primordial
whole in which the subject matter of the special sciences was differentiated.
We must therefore not build up the picture of the whole like a mosaic,
from the special sciences, but must endeavour, on the contrary, to understand
them as consecutive stages in the development of one and the same
whole, initially undivided. The idea of nature as a whole, quite characteristic
of the classical Greeks and of Spinoza, Schelling also advanced as the
main principle by which alone the antinomy between mechanism and
organism could be scientifically resolved (without appeal to supernatural
factors). ‘As soon as our investigation ascends to the idea of Nature as an
entity the opposition between mechanism and organism disappears

69 F W J Schelling, “Von der Weltseele,” Hamburg 1809, pp vi-vii.
88 E. V. ILYENKOV
immediately, an opposition that has long hampered the progress of
natural science and that will long continue to block our enterprise’s
success in the eyes of quite a few. ...’70
Schelling sought the way out by developing the concepts of mechanics
and organic life from one and the same truly universal principle,
which led him to the idea of representing nature as a whole, as a dynamic
process in the course of which each successive stage or phase negated the
preceding one, i.e. included a new characteristic. The purely formal (analytical)
determination of a higher phase of the process could therefore not
be deduced from the determination of a lower one, that was done simply
by making a synthesis, by adding on a new determination. It was not
surprising that, when the higher phase of a dynamic process was put directly
alongside a lower phase of the same process, they were thought to be two
simultaneously co-existing ‘objects’ (which is precisely how they look in
empirical intuition), and proved to be mutually directly contradictory.
The basic task of the philosophy of nature, consequently, consisted
just in tracing and showing how, in the course of a dynamic process,
determinations arose that were directly opposed to the initial one. In other
words, we thought of a dynamic process only as one of the gradual
engendering of oppositions, of determinations of one and the same thing, i.e.
of nature as a whole, that mutually negated one another.
Schelling saw in that the universal law of the natural whole, operating
identically in the field of mechanics, and of chemistry, and of electromagnetism,
and of organic life. Such was the truly universal (i.e. identical
for all the phenomena of nature) law of bifurcation, of the polarisation of
the initial state. The attraction and repulsion of masses in mechanics, the
north and south poles in magnetism, positive and negative electricity,
acids and alkalis in chemical reactions – such were the examples flooding
in on Schelling from all sides, and supplied again and again by the discoveries
of Volta and Faraday, Lavoisier and Kielmeyer. The most diverse
scientific discoveries were seen as fulfilment of Schelling’s predictions,
and his fame grew. His disciples were to be found among doctors, geologists,
physicists, and biologists; and that not by chance. Schelling’s philosophy
proposed a form of thinking, the need for which was already
imminent in the womb of theoretical natural science. Exhilarated by

70 Schelling, Op. cit., pp vii-viii.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 89
success, Schelling continued to work the lode he had discovered for all it
was worth.
But the transition of mutual opposites described appeared most
marked and unsullied precisely on the boundary where natural and transcendental
philosophy met, which was where the Ego arose from the
sphere of the unconscious dynamic process (from the non-Ego), i.e. the
transcendental, spiritual organisation of man, or, on the contrary, where
objective knowledge of the not-I was born from the conscious activity of
the I. This mutual, reciprocal passage of the determination of the Ego
into a determination of the non-Ego demonstrated the action of the
universal law of the dynamic process in its purest and most general form,
i.e. the act of the transformation of A into not-A, of the bifurcation or
splitting into two, of the ‘dualisation’ of the initial, originally undifferentiated
state.
But how was the initial absolute state, identical in itself, to be thought
of, from the polarisation of which there arose the main ‘dualism’ of the
natural whole, i.e. the Ego and the non-Ego, the I and the not-I, the
freely conscious creativity of the subject and the whole vast sphere of the
‘dead’, congealed, fossilised creative activity, the world of objects?
That was where the specifically Schelling philosophising began. It
turned out that it was impossible to think of the initial identity, i.e. to
express it in the form of a rigorously delimited concept. On being expressed
in a concept it immediately came forward as an antinomic bifurcation.
Identity was realised in the concept (in science) precisely through its
absence, through contrasts that had nothing formally in common between
them.
We have reached a very important point. That Schelling called his
system the philosophy of identity was not at all because it represented a
system of determinations or definitions common to the I and the not-I.
Rather the contrary. Schelling denied the possibility of such a system of
concepts in principle. His philosophy was put forward in the form of two
formally unjoined systems of concepts, formally opposed in all their
determinations yet nevertheless mutually presupposing each other. One
was the system of determinations of the Ego as such (transcendental
philosophy); the other was the system of assembled universal determinations
of the object, of the non-Ego (natural philosophy).
The first disclosed and described in the shape of formally noncontradictory
constructions the specifically subjective forms of man’s
90 E. V. ILYENKOV
activity that it was impossible to ascribe to nature existing outside of and
before human consciousness. The second, on the contrary, strove to
disclose pure objectivity, carefully purged of everything introduced into it
by man’s conscious, volitional activity, and to depict the object as it existed
‘before it entered consciousness’.
Within the confines of natural philosophy (theoretical natural science)
the theoretical scientist ‘fears nothing more than interference of the
subjective in this kind of knowledge’. Within the limits of transcendental
philosophy (logic and epistemology), on the contrary, he was ‘most of all
afraid that something objective has been implicated in the purely subjective
principle of knowledge’.71
To sum up: if transcendental philosophy were constructed just as
correctly as natural philosophy, there would be nothing of the other in
the structure of each and there could not be a single concept or theoretical
determination between them; for such a determination would directly
infringe the two supreme principles of logic, the law of identity and the
principle of contradiction. It would simultaneously express both the
objective and the subjective, and would contain directly identified opposites.
The two given sciences could not therefore be formally united into one.
It was impossible to develop two series of scientific (formally correct)
determinations from one and the same concept because it would be formally
incorrect and inadmissible from the standpoint of the rules of logic.
Therefore philosophy on the whole was impossible as one science.
From that Schelling concluded that the whole system of philosophy
would ‘find consummation in two fundamental sciences, which, mutually
opposed in principle and direction, seek each other out and complement
each other’. There was not, and could not be, some ‘third’ science in
which would be discovered whatever there was in common between the
world in consciousness and the world outside consciousness, and which
would be a system of laws and rules obligatory in the same way for the
one world and the other. It was impossible in principle to present such
laws and rules in the form of a science because it would then be built from
the outset on an infringement of the law of identity.
But there were, all the same, laws common to the world and knowledge,
otherwise it would be senseless in general to speak of knowledge, of
agreement of the objective and the subjective, and the very concept of

71 Schelling, “System des transzendentalen Idealismus,” Hamburg 1957, p 11.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 91
truth as the coincidence of knowledge with its object would be nonsense.
General laws consequently did operate, but not as rigidly binding rules, but
rather as reasons not strictly formulated, related to the aspirations of the
poet-artist who directly experienced his blood relationship and unity with
the cognised object and with nature. The artist of genius and nature
operated by the same laws.
The identity of the laws of the subjective and objective worlds could
only be realised in the act of creation. But creativity did not submit to
formal schematising, dying and becoming fossilised in it. Thus it came
about that ‘an absolute Simple, Identical, cannot be comprehended or
communicated through description, and not at all through conception. It
can only be intuited’.72 Here intuition was all powerful, the inspired
intuition of creative insight, intellectual and aesthetic intuition. Thus it
was, therefore, that Schelling’s system culminated in and was completed
by a philosophy of art.
Thus the primary identity was a fact but was not expressible in a concept,
was the initial premise of any concept, but was not determined
through a concept. Identity was, as it were, made up of two always diverging
trends of investigation, namely demonstration of how the objective
was transformed into the subjective (which was the competence of
theoretical natural science, spinning its thread from mechanics through
chemistry to biology and anthropology, i.e. to man), and demonstration
of how the subjective was transformed into the objective (which was the
competence of transcendental philosophy, starting from knowledge and
its forms as from fact, and demonstrating the objectivity, i.e. the universality
and necessity, of knowledge).
The problem consequently began to appear as follows: two diametrically
opposite spheres stood facing one another contrasted in all their
characteristics. Their identity (the fact of their agreement was truth) was
realised precisely through the transition that transformed the one into the
other. But the transition, the moment of the transition itself, was irrational
and could not be expressed by a non-contradictory concept, because it was at
that very moment that the transition from A into not-A took place, i.e.
their coincidence, their identity. To express it in a concept meant to smash
the form of the concept.

72 Schelling, Op. cit., p 294.
92 E. V. ILYENKOV
Here Schelling came directly up against the narrowness of the Kantian
logic, which attributed to the law of identity and the principle of
contradiction the character of the absolute premises of the very possibility
of thinking in concepts. For there was no room within these rules for
the moment of the transition of opposites into one another, and it broke
them. Schelling, while agreeing that there was self-destruction of the form
of thinking here, was forced in fact to conclude that real truth could not
be caught and expressed through a concept. In his eyes therefore art and
not science represented the highest form of mental activity.
If the rules of general logic were absolute, then the passage of consciousness
into nature and vice versa, by which the time-honoured identity
of the subjective and the objective was realised, remained inexpressible
in concepts; and the act of knowing was forced again and again to
make a leap, a jump, an act of irrational intuition, of poetic seizing of the
absolute idea, of truth.
In other words, Schelling, beginning with a quite justified statement
of the fact that logic in its Kantian conception actually put an insurmountable
barrier in the way of attempts to understand, that is to express,
the fact of the transformation of opposites into one another in concepts, i.e. in rigorously
defined determinations, took the step toward rejection of logic in
general. It did not even occur to him to reform logic itself in order to make it
a means of expressing what appeared in intuition (contemplation) as a
self-evident fact. Instead he began to make up for and compensate the
limitedness and insufficiency of the existing logic (mistaken by him as the
inferiority of thought as such), by the force of intellectual and aesthetic
intuition, an absolutely irrational capacity that it was impossible either to
study or to teach. This magic force also had to unite everything that
reason (thought in general) was not in a position to join together but was
only capable of ripping to bits, separating, and choking to death.
In his own constructions, in spite of a mass of bold guesses and
ideas, some even of genius, that influenced the development of nineteenth
century science, and which in essence had a clearly marked dialectical
character, Schelling kept adopting the pose of a God-inspired
prophet and genius, uniting without fear or doubt concepts that seemed
to contemporary scientists to be fundamentally ununitable. And whereas
he himself, in his youth, had had sufficient tact and competence in the
field of the natural sciences, and had often hit the nail on the head by
intuition, his pupils and successors, who adopted the empty schema from
him but did not possess his erudition in science or his talent, reduced his
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 93
method and manner of philosophising to the caricature that Hegel later
jeered at so caustically.
Schelling, however, exposed the rigidity of Kant’s logic. And though
he did not set himself the task of reforming it radically, he prepared the
ground very thoroughly for Hegel.
Logic as such remained only an episode in Schelling’s system of
ideas, an insignificant section of the transcendental philosophy, a scholastic
description of rules of a purely formal order in accordance with which
it was necessary only to formalise, i.e. to classify and schematise, knowledge
obtained in quite another way and by quite other abilities. For
Schelling logic, consequently, was by no means a schema for producing
knowledge, but served as a means of describing it verbally, terminologically
‘for others’, of expressing it through a system of rigorously defined and
non-contradictorily determined terms (Schelling himself called them
‘concepts’). Ultimately its recommendations seemed only external, verbally
explicated forms of knowledge, and nothing more.
The process of producing knowledge was itself, in fact, done by the
power of imagination, which Schelling analysed very closely and circumstantially
in the form of various ‘intuitions’. And here, in the field of
intuition and imagination he also discovered dialectics as the true schema
of the productive, actively subjective capacity of man to understand and
alter the world of the images and concepts of science.
So Schelling confirmed dialectics as the genuine theory of scientific
knowledge, but then broke all its links with logic. His position returned
logic once more to the pitiable condition in which it had been before the
attempts of Kant and Fichte to reform it in accordance with the needs of
the times.
After Schelling the problem consisted in uniting dialectics as the true
schema of developing knowledge and logic as the system of rules of thinking
in general. What was the relation of the rules of logic to the real
schemas (laws) of the development of understanding? Were they different,
mutually unconnected ‘things’? Or was logic simply the conscious
and deliberately applied schema of the real development of science? If it
was, it was all the more inadmissible to leave it in its old, so primitive
form. At this point the torch was taken up by Hegel.
94 E. V. ILYENKOV
5. Hegel – Dialectics as Logic
Hegel’s solution of the problem of the subject matter of logic has
played a special role in the history of this science. In order to understand
the Hegelian logic it is not enough just to clarify the direct sense of its
propositions. It is more important and difficult to consider the real
subject matter through the fanciful turns of Hegel’s style. It is about this
that we shall now speak, which will also give us a chance to understand
Hegel critically, and to restore for ourselves an image of the original from
its distorted presentation. Learning to read Hegel in a materialist way, as
Lenin read him and advised reading him, means learning to compare his
representation of the object critically with the object itself, at every step
tracing the divergence between the copy and the original.
It would be an easy task if the reader had the two objects of this
comparison – the copy and the original – ready-made before him. The
copy exists. But where is the original? We cannot take the existing logical
consciousness of the scientist as the original, for this consciousness itself
must be tested for its logicality, and itself presupposes a critical analysis
of existing logical forms from the standpoint of their correspondence
with the real requirements of the development of science. And for an
understanding of the real forms and laws of theoretical cognition Hegel’s
Science of Logic, despite all its faults associated with idealism, can offer
more than the ‘logic of science’.
The true logic of science is not given to us directly; it still has to be
dug out and understood, and then converted into a consciously applied
instrument for working with concepts, into a logical method of resolving
problems that do not admit of solution by traditional logical methods.
That being so, critical study of the Science of Logic cannot be reduced to a
simple comparison of its propositions with those of the logic by which
scientists are consciously guided, accepting it as irreproachable and
admitting of no doubts.
So comparing the copy (the science of logic) with the original (with
the actual forms and laws of theoretical understanding) proves to be quite
a difficult matter. The difficulty is that Hegel’s presentation of the subject
matter (in this case thought) has to be compared critically not with a
ready-made, previously known prototype of it, but with an object whose
outlines are only beginning to be traced out for the first time in the
course of a critical surmounting of the idealist constructions. This reconstruction
is feasible if the structure of the optics through which Hegel
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 95
examined the object of his investigation is clearly understood. This
distorting lens, while a magnifying one (the system of the fundamental
principles of Hegelian logic) enabled him to see exactly, although in an
idealistically distorted form, the dialectic of thought, which is the logic that
remains invisible to the eye not philosophically equipped, and to simple
common sense.
It is important, first of all, to understand clearly what the real object
was that Hegel investigated and described in his Science of Logic, so as to
find the critical range immediately in regard to his presentation. ‘That the
subject matter of logic is thought, with that everyone agrees’, Hegel
stressed in his Shorter Logic.
73 Later, quite naturally, logic as a science
received the definition of thinking about thought or thought thinking about
itself.
In that definition and the conceptions expressed by it there is still
nothing either of the specifically Hegelian or of the specifically idealist. It
is simply the traditional ideas of the subject matter of logic as a science,
quite clearly and succinctly expressed. In logic the object of scientific
comprehension proves to be thought itself, while any other science is
thinking about something else. In defining logic as thinking about
thought, Hegel quite accurately indicated its sole difference from any
other science.
The next question, however, arises from that and requires a no less
clear answer. But what is thought? It goes without saying, Hegel replied (and
one again has to agree with him), that the sole satisfactory answer can
only be an exposition of the heart of the matter, i.e. a concretely developed
theory, a science of thought, a ‘science of logic’, and not an ordinary
definition. (Compare Engels’ view in Anti-Dühring: ‘Our definition of life
is naturally very inadequate.... All definitions are of little value. In order to
gain an exhaustive knowledge of what life is, we should have to go
through all the forms in which it appears, from the lowest to the highest’.74
And later: ‘To science definitions are worthless because always
inadequate. The only real definition is the development of the thing itself,
but this is no longer a definition’.75

73 G W F Hegel, “System der Philosophie, Erster Teil, Die Logik,” also known
as “Encyclopaedie der philosopischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse.”
74 Engels, “Anti-Dühring,” MECW vol. 25 p 77.
75 Ibid., p 77.
96 E. V. ILYENKOV
In any science, however, and therefore in logic too, one has to mark
everything out in advance and outline its contours, if only the most
general boundaries of the object of investigation, i.e. to indicate the field
of the facts to which the given science must devote its attention. Otherwise
the criterion for their selection will be unclear and its role will be
tyrannous and arbitrary, taking only those facts into consideration that
confirm its generalisations, and ignoring everything else as allegedly
having no relation to the matter or to the competence of the science
concerned. Hegel gave such a preliminary explanation, not concealing from
the reader exactly what he understood by the word ‘thought’.
This is a very important point, and everything else hangs on proper
understanding of it. It is no accident that the main objections to Hegel,
both justified and unjustified, have hitherto been directed precisely at it.
Neopositivists, for example, unanimously reproach Hegel with having
inadmissibly broadened the subject matter of logic by his conception of
thought, including in the sphere of examination a mass of ‘things’ that
one cannot call thought in the usual and strict sense; above all the concepts
traditionally referred to metaphysics, and to ‘ontology’, i.e. to the
science of things themselves, the system of categories (the universal
definitions of reality outside consciousness, outside subjective thinking
understood as the psychic capability of man).
If thinking were to be so understood, the Neopositivist reproach
must really be considered reasonable. Hegel actually understood as
thought something at first glance enigmatic, even mystical, when he
spoke of it as taking place outside man and apart from man, independently
of his head, and of ‘thought as such’, of ‘pure thought’, and when
he considered the object of logic to be precisely that ‘absolute’ superhuman
thought. Logic in his definition must be understood even as having a
content that ‘shows forth God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of
Nature and of a Finite Spirit‘.76
Such definitions are capable of confusing and disorienting at the very
start. But of course there is no such ‘thought’ as some superhuman force
creating nature, and history, and man himself and his consciousness from
itself somewhere in the Universe. But is Hegel’s logic then the presentation
of a non-existent subject? Of an invented, purely fantastic object? In
that case, how are we to rethink his constructions critically? With what,

76 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” tr. A V Miller, p 50.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 97
with what real object, must we compare and contrast his strings of theoretical
determinations in order to distinguish the truth in them from the
fallacy? With the real thinking of man? But Hegel would reply that in his
Science of Logic it is a matter of quite another object, and that if empirically
observed human thought is not like it, that is no argument against his
logic, for criticism of a theory only makes sense when the theory is
compared with the same object as it represents, and not with another
one; and it is impossible to compare logic with the acts of thinking actually
taking place in people’s heads because people think very illogically at
every step, even elementarily illogically, let alone according to a logic of a
much higher order, of the kind that Hegel had in mind.
When you point out to a logician, therefore, that man’s real thinking
does not occur as it is depicted in his theory, he could reasonably reply
that it was so much the worse for this thinking and that the theory did not
need to be adapted to the empirical but that real thought must be made
logical and brought into harmony with logical principles.
For logic as a science, however, a fundamental difficulty arises here.
If it were only permissible to compare logical principles with logical
thought, did that then not wipe out any possibility whatsoever of checking
whether or not they were correct? It is quite understandable that these
principles would always be in agreement with thoughts that had previously
been made to agree with them. After all, it only meant that logical
principles agreed with themselves, with their own embodiment in empirical
acts of thought. In that case, a very ticklish situation was created for
theory. Logic had in mind only logically immaculate thinking, and logically
incorrect thinking was not an argument against its schemas. But it
consented to consider only such thinking as logically immaculate as
exactly confirmed its own ideas about thought, and evaluated any deviation
from its rules as a fact falling outside its subject matter and therefore
to be considered solely as a ‘mistake’ needing to be ‘corrected’.
In any other science such a claim would evoke consternation. What
kind of a theory was it that consented to take into account only such facts
as confirmed it, and did not wish to consider contradictory facts, although
there must be millions and billions such? But surely that was
exactly the traditional position of logic, which was presented by its devotees
as standing to reason, and which made logic absolutely unself-critical
on the one hand and incapable of development on the other.
98 E. V. ILYENKOV
That, incidentally, was where Kant’s illusion originated, the illusion
that logic as a theory had long ago acquired a fully closed, completed
character and not only was not in need of development of its propositions
but could not be by its very nature. Schelling also understood
Kant’s logic as an absolutely precise presentation of the principles and
rules of thinking in concepts.
Hegel had doubts about the claim that it was the rules of logic that
prevented understanding of the process of the passage of the concept
into the object and vice versa, of the subjective into the objective (and in
general of opposites into one another). He saw in it not evidence of the
organic deficiency of thought but only the limitations of Kant’s ideas
about it. Kantian logic was only a limitedly true theory of thought. Real
thought, the real subject matter of logic as a science, as a matter of fact
was something else; therefore it was necessary to bring the theory of
thought into agreement with its real subject matter.
Hegel saw the need for a critical reconsideration of traditional logic
primarily in the extreme, glaring discrepancy between the principles and
rules that Kant considered absolutely universal forms of thought and the
real results that had been achieved by human civilisation in the course of
its development. ‘A comparison of the forms to which Spirit has risen in
the worlds of Practice and Religion, and of Science in every department
of knowledge Positive and Speculative – a comparison of these with the
form which Logic, that is, Spirit’s knowledge of its own pure essence –
has attained, shows such a glaring discrepancy that it cannot fail to strike
the most superficial observer that the latter is inadequate to the lofty
development of the former, and unworthy of it’.77
Thus the existing logical theories did not correspond to the real practice
of thought, and thinking about thought (i.e. logic) consequently lagged
behind thinking about everything else, behind the thinking that was realised as
the science of the external world, as consciousness fixed in the form of
knowledge and things created by the power of knowledge, in the form of
the whole organism of civilisation. In functioning as thinking about the
world, thought had achieved such success that beside it thinking about
thought proved to be something quite incommensurable, wretched, deficient,
and poor. To take it on faith that human thought had really been
and was guided by the rules, laws, and principles that in the aggregate

77 Hegel, Ibid., p 51.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 99
constituted traditional logic was to make all the progress of science and
practice simply inexplicable.
Hence there arose the paradox that the human intellect, which had
created modern culture, had come to a standstill in amazement before its
own creation. Schelling had also expressed this amazement of the ‘spirit’,
and it was just at this point that Hegel began to differ with him.
Hegel considered that the rules by which the ‘spirit’ was actually
guided, contrary to the illusions that it had created on its own account (in
the person of professional logicians) and had set out in the form of
textbooks of logic, could and must be brought out and set forth in the
form of a concept, quite rationally, without shifting everything hitherto not
comprehended onto ‘intuition’, i.e. onto an ability that was from the very
outset something quite different from thought. Hegel’s posing of the
matter played a special role because it, for the first time, subjected all the
main concepts of logical science, above all the concept of thought, to
careful analysis.
At first glance (and people usually proceed from such a ‘first glance’,
adopting it absolutely uncritically from everyday usage), thought represented
one of man’s subjective psychic abilities along with others like
intuition, sensation, memory, will, and so on and so forth. By thinking
was also understood a special kind of activity directed, unlike practice, at
altering ideas, at reorganising the images that were in the individual’s
consciousness, and directly at the verbal shaping of these ideas in speech;
ideas, when expressed in speech (words, terms) were called concepts.
When man altered real things outside his head, and not ideas, that was no
longer considered thinking, but at best only activities in accordance with
thought, according to the laws and rules dictated by it.
Thought was thus identified with reflection, i.e. with psychic activity in
the course of which a person gave himself an account of what he was
doing, and how, and became aware of all the schemas and rules by which
he acted. The sole job of logic then proved, quite understandably, to be
simply the ordering and classifying of the corresponding schemas and
rules. Every individual could discover them for himself in his own consciousness
because, even without any study of logic, he was guided by them
(only not, perhaps, systematically). As Hegel justly put it, ‘such logic had
no other business than could be done through the activity of simple
100 E. V. ILYENKOV
formal thought, and so it certainly produced nothing that one could not
otherwise have done just as well’.78
Everything we have said also applied fully to Kant, which is why
Hegel said that ‘the Kantian philosophy could not have any effect on the
treatment of the sciences. It left the categories and methods of ordinary knowledge
quite undisturbed’.79 It only introduced order into the schemas of existing
consciousness, only built them into a system (in so doing, true, it came up
against the facts of a mutual contradiction between the various schemas).
So the Kantian logic appeared as a kind of honest confession of existing
consciousness, of its systematically expounded self-consciousness, and
nothing more; or rather, of its conceits – an exposition of what existing
thought thought of itself. But just as it was a blunder to judge a person
according to what and how he thought of himself, so it was impossible to
judge thinking by its self-opinion; it was much more useful to examine
what it was really doing, and how, possibly even without giving itself a
proper evaluation of it.
Having thus posed the problem Hegel proved to be the first professional
logician who resolutely and consciously threw aside the old prejudice
that thought was presented to the investigator only in the form of
speech (external or internal, oral or written). The prejudice was not
accidental; thought could only look at itself from the side, as it were, as
an object different from itself, only insofar as it had expressed itself,
embodied itself in some external form. And the completely conscious
thought that all the old logic had in view really assumed language, speech,
the word, as its outward form of expression. In other words thought
achieved awareness of the schemas of its own activity precisely through
and in language. (This circumstance had in fact been recorded in the very
name of logic, which is derived from the Greek logos, word.) Not only
Hegel and the Hegelians, incidentally, spoke of this, but also some of
their opponents in principle, like Trendelenburg, who noted that traditional
(formal) ‘logic becomes conscious of itself in speech and so in
many respects is a grammar absorbed with itself’.80
Let us note in passing that all schools of logic, without exception,
having ignored Hegel’s criticism of the old logic have shared this old

78 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” p 37.
79 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §60.
80 Adolf Trendelenburg, “Logische Untersuchungen,” Berlin 1840, p 16.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 101
prejudice to this day as though nothing had happened. It is most outspokenly
professed by Neopositivists, who directly identify thought with
linguistic activity and logic with the analysis of language. The most striking
thing about this is the self-conceit with which they project this archaic
prejudice as the latest discovery of twentieth century logical thinking, as
the manifestation to the world at long last of the principle of the scientific
development of logic, as an axiom of the ‘logic of science’.
Language (speech) is, nevertheless, not the sole empirically observed
form in which human thought manifests itself. Does man really not
discover himself as a thinking being in his actions, in the course of actually
shaping the world around him, in the making of things? Does he really
only function as a thinking being when talking? The question is surely
purely rhetorical. The thought of which Hegel spoke discloses itself in
human affairs every bit as obviously as in words, in chains of terms, in the
lacework of word combinations. Furthermore, in real affairs man demonstrates
the real modes of his thinking more adequately than in his narrations
of them.
But, that being so, man’s actions, and so too the results of his actions,
the things created by them, not only could, but must, be considered
manifestations of his thought, as acts of the objectifying of his ideas, thoughts,
plans, and conscious intentions. Hegel demanded from the very start that
thought should be investigated in all the forms in which it was realised, and
above all in human affairs, in the creation of things and events. Thought
revealed its force and real power not solely in talking but also in the
whole grandiose process of creating culture and the whole objective body
of civilisation, the whole ‘inorganic body of man’ (Marx), including in
that tools and statues, workshops and temples, factories and chancelleries,
political organisations and systems of legislation.
It was on that basis that Hegel also acquired the right to consider in
logic the objective determinations of things outside consciousness, outside
the psyche of the human individual, in all their independence, moreover, from
that psyche. There was nothing mystical nor idealist in that; it meant the
forms (‘determinations’) of things created by the activity of the thinking
individual. In other words, the forms of his thought embodied in natural
materials, ‘invested’ in it by human activity. Thus a house appeared as the
architect’s conception embodied in stone, a machine as the embodiment
of the engineer’s ideas in metal, and so on; and the whole immense
objective body of civilisation as thought in its ‘otherness’ (das Idee in der
Form des Anderssein), in its sensual objective embodiment. The whole
102 E. V. ILYENKOV
history of humanity was correspondingly also to be considered a process
of the ‘outward revelation’ of the power of thought, as a process of the
realisation of man’s ideas, concepts, notions, plans, intentions, and purposes,
as a process of the embodying of logic, i.e. of the schemas to which men’s
purposive activity was subordinated.
The understanding and careful analysis of thought in this aspect (investigation
of the ‘active side’ as Marx called it in his first thesis on
Feuerbach) was still not idealism. Logic, furthermore, by following such a
path, thus took the decisive step toward genuine (‘intelligent’) materialism,
toward understanding of the fact that all logical forms without
exception were universal forms of the development of reality outside
thought, reflected in human consciousness and tested in the course of
millennia of practice. In considering thought in the course of its materialisation
as well as in its verbal revelation Hegel did not go beyond the
bounds of the analysis of thought at all, beyond the limits of the subject
matter of logic as a special science. He simply brought into the field of
view of logic that real phase of the process of development of thought
without understanding which logic could not and never would be able to
become a real science.
From Hegel’s standpoint the real basis for the forms and laws of
thought proved to be only the aggregate historical process of the intellectual
development of humanity understood in its universal and necessary aspects.
The subject matter of logic was no longer the abstract identical
schemas that could be found in each individual consciousness, and
common to each of them, but the history of science and technique collectively
created by people, a process quite independent of the will and consciousness
of the separate individuals although realised at each of its stages
precisely in the conscious activity of individuals. This process, according
to Hegel, also included, as a phase, the act of realising thought in object
activity, and through activity in the forms of things and events outside
consciousness. In that, in Lenin’s words, he ‘came very close to materialism’.81
In considering thought as a real productive process expressing itself
not only in the movement of words but also in the changing of things,
Hegel was able, for the first time in the history of logic, to pose the
problem of a special analysis of thought-forms, or the analysis of thought

81 Lenin, “Philosophical Notebooks,” LCW vol. 38 p 278.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 103
from the aspect of form. Before him such an aim had not arisen in logic,
and even could not have. ‘It is hardly surprising that economists, wholly
under the influence of material interests, have overlooked the formal side
of the relative expression of value, when professional logicians, before
Hegel, even overlooked the formal aspect of the propositions and conclusions
they used as examples’.82
Logicians before Hegel had recorded only the external schemas in
which logical actions, judgments and inferences functioned in speech, i.e. as
schemas of the joining together of terms signifying general ideas, but the
logical form expressed in these figures, i.e. the category, remained outside
their sphere of investigation, and the conception of it was simply borrowed
from metaphysics and ontology. So it had been even with Kant,
despite the fact that he had nevertheless seen categories precisely as the
principles of judgments (with objective significance, in his sense).
And since logical form, about which Marx spoke in the first edition
of Das Kapital, was understood as a form of activity realised equally well
in the movement of verbal terms and in the movement of the things
involved in the work of the thinking being, there then for the first time
only, arose the possibility of analysing it specially as such, of abstracting it
from the special features of its expression in some partial material or
other (including those which were linked with the specific features of its
realisation in the fabric of language).
In logos, in reason, Sage und Sache,
83 i.e. myth and fact, or rather legend
and true story, were equally expressed in the logical aspect (in contrast to
the psychological-phenomenological). (Incidentally, play on words, for
example, was very characteristic of Hegel, puns however that threw light
on the genetic relationship of the ideas expressed by the words. Sage is
legend, myth, hence ‘saga’, a legend of high deeds (cf. bylina, the form of
Russian epic); Sache is a broad capacious word signifying not so much a
single, sensuously perceived thing, as the essence of the matter, situation,
the point, the actual state of affairs (or things), i.e. everything that is or
was in the matter itself (cf. Russian byl’, meaning a true story, fact, what
really happened). This etymology is used in the Science of Logic to express
very important shades of meaning, which sound as follows in Lenin’s
translation and materialist interpretation: ‘“With this introduction of

82 Marx, “Das Capital,” Volume I, Hamburg 1867 p 21.
83 See Hegel, “Jenaer Realphilosophie,” Berlin 1969, p 183.
104 E. V. ILYENKOV
Content into logical consideration”, the subject becomes not Dinge but die
Sache, der Begriff der Dinge [i.e. not things, but the essence, the concept of
things], not things but the laws of their movement, materialistically.”84
Considered as the activity of the thinking being in its universal form,
thought was also fixed in those of its schemas and moments as remained
invariant in whatever special material the relevant activity was performed
and whatever product it put out at any one instant. In the Hegelian view
it was quite irrelevant how, precisely, the action of thinking took place or
takes place, whether in articulated vibrations of the ambient air and their
identifying signs or in some other natural, physical substance. ‘In all
human contemplation there is thought, just as thought is the general in all
conceptions, recollections, and on the whole any mental activity, in all
wishes, desires, etc. All these are only further specifications of thought.
While we so conceive thought, it itself appears in another aspect than
when we only speak; we have intellectual power over and above any other
abilities, like contemplation, imagination, will and the like’.85
All the universal schemas being depicted in the activity of the thinking
being, including that directed toward immediately intuited or represented
material, must therefore be considered not less as logical parameters
of thought than the schemas of its expression in language, or in the
form of the figures known in the old logic. Thought in the broadest sense
of the word, as activity altering images of the external world in general
expressed in words (and not the words in themselves), the thought that
really ‘affects everything human and makes humanity human’,86 as a
capacity that creates knowledge in any forms, including that of the contemplated
images, and ‘penetrates’ into them, and hence not simply the
subjective, psychic act of using or treating words, was the subject matter
of logic, the science of thought.
Thought, in fact, included the human ‘determination of sensation, intuition,
images, ideas, aims, obligations, etc., and also thoughts and concepts’87
(‘thoughts and concepts’ here have the meaning of the old, purely
formal logic). Thought in general thus ‘appears at first not in the form of

84 Lenin, Op. cit., p 94.
85 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §24(1).
86 Ibid., §2.
87 Ibid., §3.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 105
thought but as feeling, intuition, imagination – forms that are to be distinguished
from thought as form’.88 The thought-form as such appears to us
only in the course of thinking about thought itself, i.e. only in logic.
But before man began to think about thought, he had already to think,
though still not realising the logical schemas and categories within which
this thinking took place, but already embodying them in the form of the
concrete statements and concepts of science, engineering, morals, and so
on. Thought was thus realised at first as activity in all the diversity of its
outward manifestations. The thought-form here was ‘sunk’ into the
material of concrete thoughts, sense images, and ideas, was ‘sublated’ in
them, and was therefore counterposed to conscious thinking as the form
of external reality. In other words, thought and the thought-form did not
appear at first to the thinking being as forms of his own activity at all (of
his ‘self’ – das Selbst), creating a certain product, but as forms of the
product itself, i.e. of concrete knowledge, images and concepts, intuition
and representation, as the forms of tools, machines, states, etc., etc., and
as the forms of realised aims, wishes, desires, and so on.
Thought could not ‘see’ itself otherwise than in the mirror of its own
creations, in the mirror of the external world, which we knew through thoughtactivity.
Thought, as it appeared in logic, was thus the same thought as had
been realised in the form of knowledge of the world, in the form of
science, engineering, art, and morality. But it was far from the same thing
in form, because ‘there is a difference between having sensations and ideas,
determined and penetrated by thought, and having thoughts about them’.89
Neglect of this very important distinction led the old logic into a dual
error. On the one hand it only defined thought as ‘a subjective, psychic
capability of the individual’ and therefore counterposed to thought so
understood the whole sphere of ‘intuition, ideas, and will’ as something
existing outside thought and having nothing in common with it, as the
object of reflection existing outside thought. On the other hand, in not
distinguishing in form between the relative strength of the two revelations
of thought mentioned above, it could also not say how the thought-form as
such (‘in and for itself’) was differentiated from the form of intuition and
representation, in the shape of which it had originally appeared and was

88 Ibid., §2.
89 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §2.
106 E. V. ILYENKOV
hidden, and consequently confused the one with the other, taking the
form of the concept for the form of intuition, and vice versa.
Hence, too, it came about that, under the form of concept, the old
logic considered every kind of idea or notion whatsoever, insofar as it was
expressed in speech or in a term, that is to say, the image of intuition or
contemplation held in consciousness by means of speech, which recorded
it. As a result, too, the old logic embraced the concept itself only from
the aspect from which it was really not distinguished in any way from any
notion or intuitive image expressed in speech, from the aspect of the
abstract and general, which was really just as common to the concept as
to the notion. Thus it came about that it took the form of abstract identity
or abstract universality for the specific form of the concept, and could
therefore only raise the law of identity and the principle of contradiction
in determinations to the rank of absolute, fundamental criteria of the
thought-form in general.
Kant also took that stand, understanding by concept any general notion
insofar as it was fixed by a term. Hence his definition: ‘The concept is... a
general image or representation of that which is common to many objects,
consequently a general idea, provided that it can be included in several
objects’.90
Hegel himself required a more profound solution of the problem of the
concept and of thinking in concepts from logic. For him a concept was primarily
a synonym for real understanding of the essence of the matter and not
simply an expression of something general, of some identity of the objects
of intuition. A concept disclosed the real nature of a thing and not
its similarity with other things; and not only should it express the abstract
generality of its object (that was only one of the moments of a concept,
relating it to notion), but also the special nature or peculiarity of the object.
That was why the form of the concept proved to be a dialectical unity of
universality and particularity, a unity that was also revealed through manifold
forms of judgment and inference, and came out into the open in
judgments. It was not surprising that any judgment destroyed the form of
abstract identity and represented its self-evident negation. Its form was: A
is B (i.e. not-A).
Hegel distinguished clearly between universality, which dialectically
contained the whole richness of the particular and the singular within

90 Kant, “Logik,” Leipzig, p 98.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 107
itself and in its determinations, and the simple abstract generality, identicalness,
of all the single objects of a given kind. The universal concept
expressed itself the actual law of the origin, development, and fading or
disappearance of single things. And that was already quite another angle
on the concept, much truer and deeper, because, as Hegel demonstrated
with a mass of examples, the real law (the immanent nature of the single
thing) did not always appear on the surface of phenomena in the form of
a simple identicalness, of a common sign or attribute, or in the form of
identity. If that were so there would be no need for any theoretical science.
The job of thought was not limited to empirically registering common
attributes. The central concept of Hegel’s logic was therefore the
concrete-universal: he brilliantly illustrated its distinction from the simple,
abstract universality of the sphere of notions in his famous pamphlet Wer
denkt abstrakt? (Who thinks abstractly?). To think abstractly meant to be
enslaved by the force of current catchphrases and clichés, of one-sided,
empty definitions; meant to see in real, sensuously intuited things only an
insignificant part of their real content, only such determinations of them
as were already ‘jelled’ in consciousness and functioned there as readymade
stereotypes. Hence the ‘magic force’ of current catchphrases and
expressions, which fence reality off from the thinking person instead of
serving as the form of its expression.
In this last interpretation logic finally became a real logic of understanding
of unity in variety, and not a scheme for manipulating readymade
ideas and notions; a logic of critical and self-critical thought and not a
means of the uncritical classification and pedantic, schematic presentation
of existing ideas.
From premises of that kind Hegel concluded that real thought in fact
took other forms and was governed by other laws than those that current
logic considered the sole determinations of thinking. Thought had obviously
to be investigated as collective, co-operative activity in the course of
which the individual, with his schemas of conscious thinking, performed
only partial functions. In fulfilling them, however, he was constantly
forced at the same time to perform actions that would not fit in, in any
way, with the schemas of ordinary logic. In really taking part in common
work he was all the time subordinating himself to the laws and forms of
universal thought, though not conscious of them as such. Hence the ‘topsyturvy’
situation arose in which the real forms and laws of thought were
expressed and understood as some kind of external necessity, as an extralogical
determination of the action; and on the sole ground that they were
108 E. V. ILYENKOV
still not revealed and realised by logic, not acknowledged as logical interpretations.

As can easily be seen, Hegel criticised traditional logic, and the thinking
appropriate to it, by the same ‘immanent procedure’ that was one of
his main conquests, namely, he counterposed to the assertions, rules, and
basic propositions of logic not some kind of opposing assertions, rules
and basic propositions but the process of the practical realisation of its
own principles in real thought. He showed it its own image, pointing out
those of its features that it preferred not to notice and not to recognise.
Hegel required only one thing of thinking in accordance with logic,
namely uncompromising consistency in applying the principles adduced.
And he showed that it was the consistent application of these principles
(and not departure from them) that in fact led inevitably, with inexorable
force, to negation of the principles themselves as one-sided, incomplete,
and abstract.
That was the very critique of reason, from the standpoint of reason
itself, that Kant had begun; and this critique (self-criticism) of reason and
its circumscribing logic led to the conclusion that ‘the nature of thought
is itself dialectics, that as understanding it must fall into the negative of
itself, into contradiction. ...’91 Kant had actually reached a similar conclusion;
and whereas before him logic could be unself-critical out of ignorance,
now it could maintain its precarious position only if it quite consciously
rejected facts unacceptable to it, only by becoming consciously unself-critical.
The historically unavoidable defect of Kantian logic was that it pedantically
schematised and described a mode of thought that led to a
bringing out and sharp formulation of the contradictions contained in
any concept but did not show how they could and should be resolved
logically without shifting this difficult task onto ‘practical reason’, onto
‘moral postulates’, and other factors and abilities lying outside logic.
Hegel, however, saw the main job facing logic after the work of Kant,
Fichte, and Schelling, as precisely in finding, bringing out, and indicating
to thought, the means of intelligently and concretely resolving the contradictions
into which it inevitably fell when consciously guided by the
traditional, purely formal logic. That, too, was the real distinction between
Hegel’s conception of thought and logic and all preceding ones.

91 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §11.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 109
The old logic, coming up against the logical contradiction that it itself
brought to light just because it rigorously followed its own principles,
always baulked at it, retreated to analysis of the preceding movement of
thought, and always strove to find an error or mistake in it leading to the
contradiction. For formal logical thinking contradictions thus became an
insurmountable barrier to the forward movement of thought, an obstacle
in the way of concrete analysis of the essence of the matter. It therefore
also came about that ‘thought, despairing of managing by itself to resolve
the contradiction into which it had got itself, turns back to the solutions
and reliefs that were the spirit’s lot in its other modes and forms’.92 It
could not be otherwise, since the contradiction did not develop through a
mistake. No mistake, it ultimately proved, had been made in the preceding
thinking. It was necessary to go even further back, to uncomprehended
contemplation, sense perception, aesthetic intuition, i.e. to the
realm of lower forms of consciousness (lower, that is, in relation to
conceptual thinking), where there was really no contradiction for the
simple reason that it had still not been disclosed and clearly expressed. (It
never hurts, of course, to go back and analyse the preceding course of
argument and check whether there has not been a formal mistake, for
that also happens not infrequently; and here the recommendations of
formal logic have a quite rational sense and value. It may turn out, as a
result of checking, that a given logical contradiction is really nothing but
the result of committing an error or mistake somewhere. Hegel, of
course, never dreamed of denying such a case. He, like Kant, had in mind
only those antinomies that developed in thought as a result of the most
formally ‘correct’ and faultless argumentation.)
Hegel also suggested that a contradiction should be resolved as well
as disclosed, and resolved by the same logical thinking as had brought it
out when a definite concept was being developed.
He treated both the origin and the mode of resolution of logical contradictions
differently. Like Kant he understood that they did not arise at
all through the negligence or carelessness of individual thinking persons
but unlike Kant he understood that they could and must be resolved and
must not always be preserved as antinomies. But so that it could resolve
them thought must fix them sharply and clearly in advance, precisely as

92 Hegel, Ibid., §11.
110 E. V. ILYENKOV
antinomies, as logical contradictions, as real, and not imaginary, contradictions
in determinations.
Dialectics, according to Hegel, was the form (or method or schema)
of thought that included the process both of elucidating contradictions
and of concretely resolving them in the corpus of a higher and more
profound stage of rational understanding of the same object, on the way
toward further investigation of the essence of the matter, i.e. in the
course of developing science, engineering, and ‘morality’, and all the
spheres he called the ‘objective spirit’.
This conception immediately brought about constructive shifts in the
whole system of logic. Whereas Kant’s ‘dialectic’ was only the final, third
part of logic (the doctrine on the forms of understanding and reason),
where it was a matter actually of the statement of the logically unresolvable
antinomies of theoretical cognition, with Hegel it appeared quite
another matter. With him the sphere of the logical was divided into three
main sections or aspects, i.e. three main directions were distinguished in
it, as follows:

  1. the abstract or rational;
  2. the dialectical or negatively reasonable;
  3. the speculative or positively reasonable.
    Hegel specially stressed that ‘these three aspects in no case constitute
    three parts of logic, but are only moments of any logically real nature, that is of
    any concept or of any truth in general’.93
    In the empirical history of thought (as in any given, historically
    achieved state of it) these three aspects appeared either as three consecutive
    ‘formations’ or as three different but closely related systems of logic.
    Hence we got the illusion that they could be depicted as three different
    sections (or ‘parts’) of logic, following one after the other.
    Logic as a whole, however, could not be obtained by a simple uniting
    of these three aspects, each of which was taken in the form in which it
    had been developed in the history of thought. That called for critical
    treatment of all three aspects from the standpoint of higher principles,
    those historically last achieved. Hegel characterised the three ‘moments’
    of logical thought that should constitute Logic as follows.

93 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §79.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 111

  1. ‘Thought as understanding remains stuck in firm determination
    and does not get beyond differentiation of the latter; such a
    limited abstraction applies to it as existing and being for
    itself’.94 The separate (isolated) historical embodiment of this
    ‘moment’ in thought appeared as dogmatism, and its logical,
    theoretical self-awareness as ‘general’, i.e. purely formal logic.
  2. ‘The dialectical moment is the own self-abolition of such
    ultimate determinations and their transition into their
    opposites’.95 Historically this moment appears as scepticism, i.e.
    as the state in which thought, feeling bewildered among
    opposing, equally ‘logical’ and mutually provoking dogmatic
    systems, is powerless to choose and prefer one of them.
    Logical self-awareness, corresponding to the stage of
    scepticism, was distinguished in the Kantian conception of
    dialectics as a state of the insolubility of the antinomies
    between dogmatic systems. Scepticism (Kant’s type of
    ‘negative dialectic’) was higher than dogmatism both
    historically and in content because the dialectic included in
    reason or understanding was already realised, and existed not
    only ‘in itself’ but ‘for itself’.
  3. ‘The speculative or positively reasonable conceives the unity of
    determinations in their opposition, the affirmation that is
    contained in their resolution and their transition’.96 Hegel also
    saw systematic treatment of this last ‘moment’ (and
    correspondingly critical rethinking of the first two from the
    angle of the third) as the historically pressing task in logic, and
    therefore his own mission and the aim of his work.
    When critically rethought in the light of the principles only now elicited,
    the ‘moments’ considered ceased to be independent parts of logic
    and were transformed into three abstract aspects of one and the same
    logical system. Then a logic was created such that, when thinking was
    guided by it, thought became fully self-critical and was in no danger of
    falling into either the dullness of dogmatism or into the sterility of sceptical
    neutrality.

94 Ibid., §80.
95 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §81.
96 Ibid., §82.
112 E. V. ILYENKOV
Hence, too, there followed the external, formal division of logic into
(1) the doctrine of being,(2) the doctrine of essence, and (3) the doctrine
of the notion (concept, idea).
The division of logic into the objective (the first two sections) and
the subjective coincided at first glance with the old division of philosophy
into ontology and logic proper; but Hegel stressed that such a division
would be very inexact and arbitrary because, in logic, the opposition
between the subjective and the objective (in their ordinary meaning)
disappeared.97
His position on this question calls besides for a thorough commentary
since superficial criticism of his conception of logic and its subject
matter has so far been primarily that his position ignored the opposition
(contrast) between the subjective and the objective (between thinking and
being) and therefore casuistically produced specifically logical schemas of
thought for the ontological determination of things outside thought and,
on the contrary, universal definitions of the reality outside thought for
schemas of the logical process, thus committing two sins: (a) hypostatising
logical forms, and (b) logicalising reality.
If the original sin of Hegelianism had really been a simple, naive
blindness in relation to the contrast between thought and reality, between
the concept and its object, then Kant’s dualism would have been the apex
of philosophical wisdom. In fact, however, Hegel’s ‘error’ was not so
simple, and was not in the least characterised by the evaluation cited
above. Hegel saw the difference and, what is more important, the contradiction
(opposition) between the world of things outside consciousness
and the world of thought (the world in thought, in science, in concepts),
and was much more acutely aware of it than his naive critics among the
Kantians; and in any case he ascribed much greater significance for logic
to this opposition than, say, positivists do (who, especially in a logic,
directly identify the concept and the object of the concept).
The point is quite another one; and another understanding of it follows
from the specifically Hegelian conception of thought, and thus also
from Hegel’s solution of the problem of the relation of thought and the
world of things.
That is why, when Hegel formulated a programme for the critical
transformation of logic as a science, he posed the task of bringing it (i.e.

97 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §82.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 113
thought’s awareness of the universal schemas of its own work) into
correspondence with its real object, i.e. with real thought, with its real
universal forms and laws.
The last-named do not exist in thought simply or even so much as
schemas and rules of conscious thinking, but rather as universal schemas of
objective thinking that are realised not so much as a subjective psychic act
as the productive process that created science, technique and morality.
In defending the objectivity of logical forms so understood, Hegel of
course was right in many respects; and his critique of the subjective
idealist interpretation of the logical (Hume, Kant, Fichte) is topical in the
struggle against many of their present-day successors, in particular Neopositivists.
As social formations science and technique (‘the materialised
power of knowledge’ as Marx defined it) exist and develop of course
outside the individual’s consciousness. But, according to Hegel, there was
no other consciousness than that of the individual, never had been, and
never would be; and the logical forms of development of science and
technique really stood in opposition to the consciousness and will of the
individual as quite objective limits to his individually performed actions,
even as limits dictated to him from outside.
‘According to these determinations, thoughts can be called
objective, and they can also be taken to include the forms that
are considered for the present in ordinary logic and are looked
upon only as forms of conscious thought. Logic here coincides
with Metaphysics, with the science of things conceived in
thought...’98
In this conception of the objectivity of thought-forms there was as
yet, of course, no facet of the specifically Hegelian, i.e. objective, idealism.
One cannot reproach Hegel with having allegedly extended the boundaries
of the subject matter of logic impermissibly so that it began to embrace
not only thought but things. Hegel (and Kant, too) did not in
general speak just about things as such; he had in mind exclusively things
comprehended in thoughts. It was in that sense that he asserted that ‘in logic
thoughts are so conceived that they have no other content than that
belonging to the thought itself and produced through it’.99 In other words

98 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §24.
99 Ibid., §6.
114 E. V. ILYENKOV
logic had in mind not things but those of their determinations as were
posited by the action of thought, i.e. scientific determinations.
Thus, what Hegel affirmed within the limits of consideration of pure
thought was much more rigorous and consistent than the logic before
him; and he justly reproached it precisely for not having been able to
confine itself rigorously within the bounds of its own subject matter, and
for having imported into it material not assimilated by thought and not
reproduced by thought-activity.
His requirement of including all the categories (the subject matter of
the old metaphysics and ontology) in logic in no way meant going beyond
the limits of thought. It was equivalent to a demand for a critical analysis
to be made of the thought-activity that had engendered the determinations
of the old metaphysics, and for those thought-forms to be brought out
that both logic and metaphysics had applied quite uncritically and unconsciously,
without clearly realising what they consisted of. Hegel had no
doubt that ‘thought-forms must not be used without having been subjected
to investigation’ and that ‘we must make the thought-forms themselves
the object of cognition’.100 But such an investigation was already
thought, and the activity taking place in those very forms was the act of
applying them. If we looked on logic as investigation (cognition) of
thought-forms, he wrote, this investigation ‘must also unite the activity of
thought-forms and their critique in cognition. The thought-forms must
be taken in and for themselves; they are the object and the activity of the
object itself; they themselves inquire into themselves, must determine
their limits and demonstrate their defects themselves. That will then be
that activity of thought that will soon be given separate consideration as
dialectics. ...’101
The subject matter of logic then proved to be those really universal
forms and patterns within which the collective consciousness of humanity
was realised. The course of its development, empirically realised as the
history of science and technique, was also seen as that ‘whole’ to the
interests of which all the individual’s separate logical acts were subordinated.

And inasmuch as the individual was involved in the common cause,
in the work of universal thought, he was continually forced to perform

100 Hegel, “Shorter Logic,” §41.
101 Ibid.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 115
actions dictated ‘by the interests of the whole’ and not confined to the
schemas of ‘general’ logic. He would naturally not realise his actions in
logical concepts, although these acts were performed by his own thinking.
The schemas (forms and laws) of universal thought would be realised
unconsciously through his psyche. (Not ‘unconsciously’ in general, but
without logical consciousness of them, without their expression in logical
concepts and categories.)
In this connection Hegel introduced one of his most important distinctions
between thought ‘in itself’ (an sich), which also constituted the
subject matter, the object of investigation, in logic, and thought ‘for itself’
(für sich selbst), i.e. thought that had already become aware of the schemas,
principles, forms, and laws of its own work and had already worked quite
consciously in accordance with them, fully and clearly realising what it
was doing, and how it was doing it. Logic was also consciousness, the
expression through concepts and categories of those laws and forms in
accordance with which the process of thinking ‘in itself’ (an sich) took
place. In logic it also became the object for itself .
In logic thought had consequently to become the same ‘for itself’ as
it had earlier been only ‘in itself’.
Hegel therefore also formulated the task of bringing logic into line
with its real subject matter, with real thought, with the really universal forms
and laws of development of science, technique, and morality.
In other words he wanted to make the subjective consciousness of
thought about itself identical with its object, with the real universal and
necessary (objective) forms and laws of universal (and not individual)
thought. That also meant that the principle of the identity of the subjective
and the objective must be introduced into logic as the highest principle, i.e.
the principle that the real forms and laws of thought must be delineated
in logic exactly, adequately, and correctly. The principle of the identity of
subject and object signified nothing more, and did not signify any ‘hypostatisation’
of the forms of subjective thought, because one and the same
thought was both object and subject in logic, and it was a matter of the
agreement, coincidence, and identity of this thought (as consciously
performed activity) with itself as unconsciously performed productive
activity, or as activity hitherto taking place with a false consciousness of
its own actions.
In defending the objectivity of logical forms Hegel of course stood
head and shoulders above (and closer to materialism) than all those who
116 E. V. ILYENKOV
up to the present have reproached him with having ‘hypostatised’ logical
forms in order to defend their version of the identity of thought and
object as a purely conventional principle, as the principle of the identity
of sign and thing designated, of the concept and that which is thought in
it. Hegel was 100 per cent right in his critique of the subjective idealist
version of the logical and of its objectivity (as merely the agreement of all
thinking individuals, as merely the identity – read equality of all the schemas
by which each Ego taken separately operated). His critique not only
hit at Kant, Fichte, and Schelling, but also strikes all today’s Neopositivists.

(Marx, incidentally, also defined the categories of political economy
as ‘objective thought-forms’: ‘They are the socially valid, and therefore
objective thought-forms. ...’102)
Thus the statement that there was no difference for logic between
the subjective and the objective did not mean anything else on Hegel’s
lips than an affirmation that logic must consider, within itself, within its
own theory, and link together in one system, literally all the logical schemas
of thought activity, beginning with the categories and finishing up
with the figures of judgments and conclusions. And within it there must
be room both for those schemas that prior to Kant were considered
simply determinations of things outside consciousness and for those that
were usually considered to be ‘specific’ to consciousness and had allegedly
no relation to things outside the mind.
Hegel did not dream of repudiating the differences between the categorial
schemas given in the determinations of categories and the figures
of formal logic, of course; but he did require them to be explained and
disclosed within logic itself and not to be presumed in advance, uncritically
borrowed from the old metaphysic and its corresponding logic. He
required the one and the other to be included in logic in critically rethought
form.
‘The relation of such forms as concept, judgment, and conclusion to
other forms like causality, etc., can only be discovered within logic itself’.103

102 Marx, “Capital,” Vol. I, MECW vol. 35 p 537.
103 Hegel, Op. cit., §50.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 117
Hegel thus did not include the determinations of things as they existed
outside the mind or in everyday consciousness in logic at all, but
solely those determinations that appeared to the mind in science, and in
theoretical consciousness, that were ‘posited’ or formulated by thought
itself. And since science was the realised force (faculty) of thought, materialised
mental, theoretical labour, he also saw primarily ‘objectified’ determinations
of thought in the determinations of things.
The requirement of including all categories in logic was therefore
equivalent to requiring a critical analysis to be made of those activities of
thought that were materialised or objectified in the concepts of the old
metaphysic, and to requiring disclosure of the logic of thought that was
earlier realised in the form of various schemas of the universe, and so to
requiring a critical understanding of all the categories that the old logic
had taken over quite uncritically from ontological systems.
Hegel thus did not go outside the framework of the subject matter of
logic at all but only beyond the limits of the notions of earlier logicians
about these limits. While remaining within the boundaries of the investigation
of thought, and only of thought, he nevertheless saw more within
those boundaries than previous logicians, and saw those logical (universal)
schemas of developing thought that the old logic had not considered
universal at all and had therefore not included in the theory. Logic thus
proved to be pinned to discovery and investigation of the objective laws
governing the subjective activity of individuals, and those forms in which,
whether or not the individuals so wished it, or whether or not they
realised it, they were forced, insofar in general as they thought, to express
the results of their subjective efforts.
That is in what Hegel saw the true difference between the real laws of
thought and the rules that the old logic had promoted to the rank of laws.
Man can break rules, unlike laws, and does so at every step, thus demonstrating
that they are not laws. Because laws cannot be broken, they
constitute the determinateness of the object, which cannot be omitted
without the object itself, in this case thought, ceasing to exist.
And if man thinks, then his activities are subordinated to law and
cannot overstep its bounds, although he may at the same time break the
rules in the most flagrant way. A law can be ‘broken’ in one way only, by
ceasing to think, i.e. by escaping from the realm that is governed by the
laws of thought and where they operate as inexorably as the law of gravitation
in the world of spatially determined bodies. But for man such a
118 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘way out’ is equivalent to overstepping the bounds of human existence in
general.
Hegel also showed that the real development of determinations, i.e.
the real forward movement of thought, even in the simplest cases, not to
mention the process of development of science, technique, and morality,
took place precisely through breach (or removal) of all the rules that had
been established for thought by the old logic, through their dialectical
negation. But the constant negation of the rules established by conscious
thought for itself got out of control, was not aware of itself, and proved
to be a fact outside thought, although it took place within the latter.
Thought had this fact ‘in itself’ but not ‘for itself ’.
But as soon as this fact was recognised as a universal and necessary
logical thought-form, it was also transformed into a fact of consciousness, a
fact of conscious thought, and the latter became consciously dialectical.
Previously it had only been so ‘in itself’, i.e. despite its own consciousness
of itself. But now it became ‘for itself’ precisely what it had previously
been only ‘in itself’.
The subject matter of logic consequently could not merely be the
forms that had already been realised or apprehended, and had already
been included in existing consciousness (in textbooks of logic and metaphysics).
It was impossible to grasp them ready-made, or to classify them.
They had to be brought out in the very course of reasoning about them,
in the course of actual thinking about thought.
And when Kant considered the forms of thought as some readymade
object, already depicted (realised, comprehended), his logic represented
only an uncritical classification of existing notions about thought.
But if logic was to be a science, it must be a critical, systematic investigation
that did not accept a single determination on faith, and unproved
by thought, i.e. without being reproduced by it quite consciously. In this
investigation criticism of the thought-forms known to cultivated thinking
was only possible and thinkable as self-criticism. The schemas, rules, forms,
principles, and laws of this thought were here subjected to criticism not
by comparing them with some object lying outside them, but solely by
bringing out the dialectic they included in themselves and which was
discovered immediately as soon as we began in general to think, rigorously
and fully realising what we were doing and how we were doing it.
In that way, too, the very identity of the forms of cultivated thought
with the forms of the unconsciously performed actions of the intellect
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 119
must be carried out, actions to which thought had had to submit during
the historical process of its realisation in the form of science, technique,
art and morality. Logic was nothing else (or rather should be nothing
else) than the proper apprehension of those forms and laws within which
the real thinking of people took place. The identity of thought and the
conceivable, as the principle of the logical development and construction
of logic, signified nothing more.
It was merely a matter of this, that the schemas of cultivated thought
(i.e. of the processes taking place in the consciousness of the individual)
should coincide with those of the structure of the science in the movement
of which the individual was involved, i.e. with the ‘logic’ dictated by
its content. If the schema of the activity of a theoretician coincided with
that of the development of his science, and the science was thus developed
through his activity, Hegel would attest the logicality of his activity,
i.e. the identity of his thinking with that impersonal, universal process
which we also call the development of science. Logic recognised the
activities of such a theoretician as logical also when they were even
formally not quite irreproachable from the standpoint of the canons of
the old logic.
Hegel therefore began to consider all the categories (of quality, quantity,
measure, causality, probability, necessity, the general and the particular,
and so on and so forth) in quite a new way. For him they were not at
all the most general determinations of the things given in intuition or
contemplation or in direct experience to each individual, not transcendental
schemas of synthesis directly inherent (i.e. inborn) in each individual
consciousness (as Kant, Fichte, and Schelling had in fact treated
them). It was impossible to discover these thought-forms in the separate
consciousness taken in isolation, within the individual Ego. They were
there at best only ‘in themselves’, only in the form of unrealised tendencies
and so not brought to awareness. Categories were only discovered
and demonstrated their determinations through the historically developing
scientific, technical, and moral ‘perfecting’ of the human race, because
only in it, and not in the experience of the isolated individual, did thought
become ‘for itself’ what it had been ‘in itself’.
Categories themselves, in the individual’s own experience (were revealed
in action, in processing of the data of perception) not in the whole
fullness and dialectical complexity of their composition and connections
but only in abstract, one-sided aspects. It was therefore impossible to
derive them from analysis of the experience of the isolated individual.
120 E. V. ILYENKOV
They were only discovered through the very complex process of the
interaction of a mass of single minds mutually correcting each other in
discussion, debate, and confrontations, i.e. through a frankly dialectical
process that, like a huge centrifuge, ultimately separated the purely objective
schemas of thought from the purely subjective (in the sense of
individual, arbitrary) schemas of activity, and as a result crystallised out
logic, a system of determinations of purely universal, impersonal, and
featureless thought in general.
Categories were therefore also universal forms of the origin of any
object in thought, gradually depicted in the aggregate scientific consciousness
of humanity. They were universal determinations of the object as and
how it appeared in the eyes of science, in the ether of ‘universal thought’.
Hegel consented to call determinations of things only those determinations
that had been developed by science, by active thought. They were,
therefore, none other than thought-forms realised in concrete material,
determinations of thought embodied in the object, i.e. in the scientific
concept of the external thing. Hegel, therefore, and only therefore, also
spoke of the identity of thought and object and defined the object as a
concept realised in sensuous, physical material.
The determinations of categories, naturally, could also function as determinations
of things in the contemplation (experience) of the individual;
not of every individual, however, but only of those who in the course
of their education had mastered the historical experience of humanity,
and ‘reproduced’ in their individual consciousness the path taken by
human thought (of course, only in its main, decisive features and schemas).
Categories were the forms of organisation of this experience (described
by Hegel in his Phenomenology of Mind ).
Categories were thus universal forms of the reconstruction, reproduction,
in the consciousness of the individual of those objects that had been
created before him by the collective efforts of past generations of thinking
beings, by the power of their collective, impersonal thought. In
individually repeating the experience of humanity, which had created the
world of spiritual and material culture surrounding him from the cradle,
this individual also repeated that which had been done before him and
for him by the ‘universal spirit’, and so acted according to the same laws
and in the same forms as the impersonal ‘universal spirit’ of humanity.
That means that categories appeared at once as universal schemas of the
scientific formation of the individual consciousness, rising gradually from
the zero level of its erudition to the highest stages of spiritual culture at
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 121
the given moment, and as schemas of the individual mastery (reproduction)
of the whole world of images created by the thought of preceding
generations and standing opposed to the individual as a quite objective
world of spiritual and material culture, the world of the concepts of
science, technique and morality.
This world was the materialised thought of humanity, realised in the
product, was alienated thought in general; and the individual had to deobjectify,
and arrogate to himself, the modes of activity that were realised
in it, and it was in that the process if his education properly consisted. In
the trained mind categories actually functioned as active forms of a
concept. When the individual had them in his experience, and made them
forms of his own activity, he also possessed them, and knew and realised
them, as thought-forms. Otherwise they remained only general forms of the
things given in contemplation and representation, and counterposed to
thought as a reality existing outside it and independently of it.
With this was linked the naive fetishism that directly accepted the
available concepts and notions of science about things, the norms of
morals and justice, the forms of the state and political system and the
similar products of the thinking of people who had objectified their own
conscious activity in them, for purely objective determinations of things
in themselves. It accepted them as such only because it did not know that
they had not been created without the involvement of thought, and did
not know how, moreover, they were produced by thought. It could not
reproduce or repeat the process of thought that had brought them into
being and therefore, naturally, considered them eternal and unalterable
determinations of things in themselves, and the expression of their
essence. It believed quite uncritically, on trust, everything that it was told
about these things in the name of science, the state and God. It believed
not only that these things appeared so today in the eyes of the thinking
person but also that they were really so.
Hegel’s conception of thought (in the context of logic) thus of necessity
also included the process of the ‘objectification of thought’ (Vergegenständlichung
oder Entäusserung des Denkens), i.e. its sense-object, practical
realisation through action, in sensuous-physical material, in the world of
sensuously contemplated (intuited) things. Practice, the process of activity
on sense objects that altered things in accordance with a concept, in
accordance with plans matured in the womb of subjective thought, began
to be considered here as just as important a level in the development of
122 E. V. ILYENKOV
thought and understanding, as the subjective-mental act of reasoning
(according to the rules) expressed in speech.
Hegel thus directly introduced practice into logic, and made a fundamental
advance in the understanding of thought and in the science of
thought.
Since thought outwardly expressed itself (sich entäussert, sich entfremdet,
i.e. ‘alienates itself’, ‘makes itself something outside itself’) not only in the
form of speech but also in real actions and in people’s deeds, it could be
judged much better ‘by its fruits’ than by the notions that it created about
itself. Thought, therefore, that was realised in people’s actual actions also
proved to be the true criterion of the correctness of those subjectivemental
acts that were outwardly expressed only in words, in speeches,
and in books.
6. Feuerbach – Once More about the Principle of
Constructing a Logic: Idealism or Materialism?
So far we have spoken almost exclusively about Hegel’s positive
gains, which constituted an epoch in logic as a science. Let us now touch
on the historically inevitable ‘costs of production’ connected with the
idealism of Hegel’s conception of thought, and on the defects in his logic
that do not permit us to adopt his conception in toto, and that can only be
surmounted by developing materialist philosophy.
Historically things developed in such a way that Feuerbach was the
first person in Germany to speak about the ‘costs of production’ of
Hegelian idealism.
Like every materialist Feuerbach fought the dualist opposing of
thought to being as the initial principle of philosophy. In the course of
his reasoning, therefore, he naturally reproduced Spinoza’s decisive
arguments against Cartesian dualism. This line of polemic, it is true, has
to be deduced by analysis, since Feuerbach had in mind not only dualism
in the pure form in which it was expressed by Kant, but also the philosophy
of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, i.e. the attempts systematically made
to overcome dualism ‘from the right’, in the form of idealistic monism.
Feuerbach strove, however, to show that the surmounting of dualism in
this case inevitably remained fictitious, formal, and verbal and that idealism
in general did not, and could not, encroach on the fundamental
premises of the Kantian system. In Schelling and Hegel, therefore, he
primarily considered the unsurmounted Kant. ‘The Hegelian philosophy
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 123
is the abolition of the contradiction of thought and being as Kant in
particular expressed it, but, mark you, only its abolition ... within one
element, within thought’.104
As a matter of fact, the so-called philosophy of absolute identity was
a philosophy of the identity of thinking in itself; as before there was an
unfilled gap between thought and being outside thought. The problem
seemed to be resolved only because conceivable being, i.e. being in the
form in which it had already been expressed in thought, had been put
everywhere in the place of real being. Under the grandiose, profoundly
thought-out construction of the Hegelian philosophy, therefore, there
was hidden as a matter of fact an empty tautology; we thought the surrounding
world as and how we thought it.
So the philosophy of Schelling and Hegel had not, in fact, established
any identity of thought and being and not just an ‘absolute’ one, because
‘being as such’ – free independent self-sufficient being existing outside
and independently of thought – had simply not been taken into account
in it, and remained something wholly immaterial and undetermined.
The fundamental principle of Kantian dualism thus remained untouched.
The thinking mind was considered from the very outset as
something absolutely opposed to everything sensuous, corporeal, and
material, as a special immaterial being, organised in itself and formed by
immanent logical laws and schemas as something independent and selfsufficient.
Hegel’s Logic also represented thought as the activity of such a
supernatural and extraphysical subject, which was then forced to enter
into special relations of ‘mediation’ from outside with nature and man so
as to shape them in its own image and likeness.
Such a presentation of the thinking mind of necessity presupposed,
in addition, that nature and man, as the ‘opposites’ of the mind, or spirit,
as the object and material of its moulding activity, were represented as
something passive and amorphous in themselves. Only as a result of the
moulding activity of the thinking spirit did nature and man become what
they were and acquire all their well-known, concrete forms. Moreover,
nothing other was represented in fact, as the product of the activity of the
spirit, than the empirically obvious state of affairs in the real world; and
the whole complicated magic of mediation once more merely served, in

104 Ludwig Feuerbach, “Vorläufige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie,” in
Kleinere Schriften II (1839-1846), Berlin 1970, p 257.
124 E. V. ILYENKOV
the guise of a ‘gift of God’, to return the same determinations to man and
nature that had been previously taken from them by the act of abstraction.
Without this preliminary ‘robbery’ of man and nature the spiritualistic
philosophy could not have attributed a single one of its very impoverished
determinations to the thinking spirit.
In this interpretation of the problem of the relation of thought and
being, Feuerbach above all saw a scholastically refurbished, ‘rationalised’
theology. The absolute thinking spirit of spiritualism, like the Biblical
God, was a fantastic creature, constructed out of determinations alienated
from man by an act of abstraction. The thinking about which Hegelian
logic was concerned was, in fact, human thought, but abstracted from
man and counterposed to him as the activity of a special being existing
outside him.
Proceeding from that quite correct understanding (in general and on
the whole) of the root errors of Hegelian idealism (and thereby of idealism
in general, since the Hegelian system was the most consistent expression
of the idealist point of view), Feuerbach rethought the very posing
of the problem of the relation of thought to being. It was impossible, he
showed, to ask how ‘thought in general’ was related to ‘Being in general’,
since that already presupposed that thought (in its form alienated from
man) was looked upon as something independent contrasted with being
from outside. But being, however, understood not in Hegel’s way, i.e. not
as an abstract, logical category, not as being in thought, but as the real,
sensuously objective world of nature and man, already included thought.
Being included not only stones, trees, and stars, but also the thinking
body of man.
Thus, to represent being as something deprived of thought meant to
represent it incorrectly, to exclude man, capable of thinking, from it in
advance; and that meant to deprive being of one of its most important
‘predicates’, to think of it ‘imperfectly’. The argument given here repeated
the course of Spinoza’s thought, was its developed interpretation, its
translation into the language of a more modern philosophical terminology.

The whole problem thus boiled down to resolving whether thought
could, in general, be distinguished from man as a material, sensuously
objective creature, and to fixing it and considering it from the very beginning
as something independent, in contrast to everything corporeal,
sensuous, and material; or whether thought should be understood as a
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 125
property (‘predicate’) inseparable from man. Feuerbach considered the
decisive argument in favour of materialism to be the arguments of natural
science, medicine, and physiology. Materialism, relying on medicine, was
also ‘Archimedes’ fulcrum in the dispute between materialism and spiritualism,
for it was a matter here, in the final count, not of the divisibility
or non-divisibility of matter, but of the divisibility or non-divisibility of
man, not of the being or not-being of God but of the being or not-being
of man, not of the eternity or temporality of matter but of the eternity or
temporality of man, not of matter scattered and extended outside man in
heaven and earth but of matter concentrated in the human skull. In short,
it is a matter, in this dispute, so long as it is not conducted in mad confusion,
only of the head of man. It alone is both the source and the goal
and end of this dispute’.105
Feuerbach considered that the basic problem of philosophy was thus,
and only thus, put on a firm footing of fact, and so, naturally, resolved in
favour of materialism.
Thought was the real function of the living brain, and was inseparable
from the matter of the brain. If we had brain matter in mind, then it
was quite ridiculous in general to ask how thought was ‘linked’ with it,
how the one was connected with the other and ‘mediated’ it, because
there simply was no ‘one’ and ‘the other’ here, but only one and the same
thing; the real being of the living brain was also thought, and real thought was the
being of the living brain.
That fact, expressed in philosophical categories, revealed ‘the immediate
unity of soul and body, which admits of nothing in the middle between
them, and leaves no room for distinction or even contrast between
material and immaterial being, is consequently the point where matter
thinks and the body is mind, and conversely the mind is body and
thought is matter’.106 The ‘identity’ of thought and being, so understood,
must also (according to Feuerbach) constitute an axiom of true philosophy,
i.e. a fact not requiring scholastic proof and ‘mediation’.
Feuerbach did not reproach Schelling and Hegel at all for having recognised
in general the unity (‘identity’) of thought and being in the thinking
man, but only for having tried to depict it as the final unity of oppo-

105 Feuerbach, “On Spiritualism and Materialism,” Kleinere Schriften IV, Berlin
1972, p 125.
106 Ibid., pp 152-53.
126 E. V. ILYENKOV
sites, as the product of the joining together of an insubstantial thinking
spirit and unthinking flesh. He reproached them with thus having tried to
stick together a picture of the real fact from two equally false abstractions,
of proceeding from illusion to fact and from abstraction to reality.
The materialist, Feuerbach affirmed, must proceed in the opposite
way, taking as his starting point the directly given fact, in order to explain
the origin of those false abstractions that idealists uncritically accepted as
facts.
Schelling and Hegel started from the thesis of the initial opposition
of incorporeal thought and of flesh without thought in order ultimately
to reach the unity of the opposites. That was the false path of spiritualism.
The materialist must proceed from the factual direct unity (indivisibility)
of the human individual in order to understand and show how and
why the illusion of an imaginary opposition of thinking and corporeal
being arose in the head of this individual.
The illusion of the opposition of the thinking spirit and the flesh in
general, was consequently a purely subjective fact, i.e. a fact existing only
in the head of the human individual, a purely psychological fact. It arose
for a quite natural reason, precisely because the thinking brain was the
same sort of material, sensuous organ as all of man’s other organs.
The position was the same as with the eye, the organ of vision. If I
saw stars by means of the eye, then quite understandably I could not at
the same time see the eye itself; and conversely, if I wanted to examine
the eye, even in a mirror, I would have to turn my gaze away from the
stars. Vision would be impossible in general if I were to see all the detail
of the structure of the eye itself at the same time as the object, i.e. all the
inner material conditions by means of which this vision was effected. In
the same way, too, ‘the brain could not think if, in thinking, the organic
foundation and conditions of thought became objects of its consciousness’,107
i.e. the material structures and processes themselves by means of
which thinking took place in the body of the brain. As structures they
became objects only for physiology and anatomy. As the organ of
thought the brain was structurally a functionally adapted exactly so as to
perform activity directed toward external objects, so as to think not about
itself but about the other, about the objective. And it was quite natural that ‘the
organ gets lost, and forgets and disavows itself in the opus fervet (the work

107 Feuerbach¸Ibid., p 123.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 127
heat) of its own activity, the activity in its objects’.108 Hence, too, arose
the illusion of the complete independence of everything corporeal, material,
and sensuous, including the brain, from thought.
But the illusion is understandably no argument in favour of idealism.
Of itself, in spite of the inevitable illusions, thought always remained the
material activity of a material organ, a material process. ‘What for me, or
subjectively, is a purely mental, immaterial, unsensuous act, in itself or objectively
is a material, sensuous act’.109 ‘In the brain-act, as the highest act,
arbitrary, subjective, mental activity, and involuntary, objective material
activity are identical and indistinguishable’.110
Thus the logic of the struggle against dualism and spiritualism directly
forced Feuerbach, in essence, to express a dialectical proposition to
recognise that the living, thinking brain was an ‘object’ in which there
proved to be directly identical oppositions, namely, thought and sensuously
objective being, thinking and what was thought, the ideal and the
real, the spiritual and the material, the subjective and the objective. The
thinking brain was the special ‘object’ that could be properly expressed in
philosophical categories only through directly identifying mutually exclusive
determinations, through a thesis that embraced a direct unity, i.e.
identity, of opposing categories.
Not having mastered dialectics in its general form, Feuerbach, it is
true, often wavered, constantly admitting determinations that he was then
forced to correct, supplement, and make specific; as a result his exposition
was made rather nebulous and ambiguous, but the essence remained
the same.
It was just because thinking was a material process, the material activity
of a material organ directed to material objects, that the products of
that activity (thoughts) could be correlated, compared, and collated with
‘things in themselves’, with things outside thought, which everybody did
at every step without the aid of the mediating activity of God or an
absolute spirit. Concepts and images existed in the same space and in the
same time as real things; and one and the same subject thought about and
sensuously perceived the surrounding world, and that subject was pre-

108 Feuerbach, Op. cit., p 124.
109 Feuerbach, “Wider den Dualismus von Leib und Seele, Fleisch und Geist,”
Kleinere Schriften III, Berlin 1971, p 125.
110 Ibid.
128 E. V. ILYENKOV
cisely the human individual, the same individual who really lived and
existed as a sensuously objective creature. The unity (indivisibility) of the
object, of the surrounding, sensuously objective world, corresponded to
the unity (indivisibility) of this subject. Just as a thinking and sensuously
contemplating person was one and the same person and not two different
beings coordinating their inter-relations with the help of God or the
absolute spirit; so the world thought of, on the one hand, and sensuously
contemplated, on the other hand, were again one and the same world (namely
the real one), and not two different worlds between which one had to
look for a special passage or bridge, or mediation, resorting to the aid of a
divine principle.
That was why determinations of the world in thought (logical determinations)
were directly and spontaneously determinations of the sensuously
contemplated or intuited world. And it was absurd to ask what was
the special relation of the system of logical determinations to the sensuously
given world, to the world in intuition and representation. A logical
system was nothing else than the expression of the determinateness of
the sensuously contemplated or intuited world. The question of the
relation of logical and metaphysics was also an illusory and sham question.
There was no such relation, because logic and metaphysics were
spontaneously and directly one and the same. The universal determinations
of the world in thought (logical determinations, categories) were nothing
else than the expression of the abstract, universal determinateness of
things given in intuition, because both thought and intuition (contemplation)
had to do with one and the same real world.
And if by logic was understood not a collection of rules for the expression
of thought in speech, but the science of the laws of development
of real thinking, then, similarly, by logical forms must be understood
not the abstract forms of sentences and expressions, but the
abstract, universal forms of the real content of thought, i.e. of the real
world sensuously given to man. ‘The so-called logical forms of judgments
and conclusions are therefore not active thought-forms, not causal conditions
of reason. They presuppose the metaphysical concepts of universality,
singularity, and particularity, the whole and the parts, necessity, foundation
and consequence; they are given only through these concepts; they
are consequently arbitrary, derived, not original thought-forms. Only
metaphysical conditions or relations are logical ones – only metaphysics
as the science of categories is the true esoteric logic – that was Hegel’s
profound thought. The so-called logical forms are only abstract, elementary
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 129
speech-forms; but speech is not thought, otherwise the greatest chatter-box
would be the greatest thinker’.111
Thus Feuerbach agreed completely with Hegel on logical forms and
laws being absolutely identical with metaphysical ones, although he
understood the reason and the grounds for that circumstance quite
differently from the idealist Hegel. Here we have a clearly expressed
materialist interpretation of the principle of the identity of the laws and
forms of thought and being. From the materialist point of view it states
that logical forms and patterns are nothing else than realised universal forms
and patterns of being, of the real world sensuously given to man.
That is the reason why Neokantians like Bernstein called consistent
materialism spiritualism inside out. Nevertheless Feuerbach’s interpretation
of the identity of thought and being remains true and indisputable
for any materialist, including the Marxist, but only, of course, in the most
general form, so long as we are concerned with the fundamentals of logic
and the theory of knowledge, and not with the details of the knowledge
built up on that foundation. Since Feuerbach later began a specifically
anthropological concretisation of general materialist truths, arguments
developed in his exposition that were obviously weak not only in comparison
with the Marxist-Leninist solution of the problem, but even in
comparison with Spinoza’s conception; and they subsequently gave
vulgar materialists, positivists, and even Neokantians occasion to consider
him their predecessor and their – though not completely consistent – ally.
A rather more detailed analysis of the features of Feuerbach’s treatment
of the identity of thinking and being is not without interest for two
reasons: (1) because it was materialism; and (2) because it was materialism
without dialectics.
The materialism consisted in this case in an unqualified recognition
of the fact that thought was the mode of the real existence of the material
body, the activity of the thinking body in real space and time. The materialism
appeared, furthermore, in recognition of the identity of the mentally
comprehended and sensuously perceived world, Feuerbach’s materialism,
finally, was expressed in man’s being recognised as the subject of
thought, that same man who lived in the real world, and not a special
being hovering outside the world, contemplating and comprehending it

111 Feuerbach, “Zur Kritik der Hegelischen Philosophie,” Berlin 1955, p 35.
130 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘from outside’. All those are fundamental tenets of materialism in general,
and consequently also of dialectical materialism.
What then were the weaknesses of Feuerbach’s position? In general,
and on the whole, they were the same as those of all pre-Marxian materialism,
and primarily incomprehension of the role of practical activity as
activity altering nature. For even Spinoza had in mind only the movement
of the thinking body along the given contours of natural bodies and lost
sight of this moment, a point that Fichte made against him (and so in
general against the whole form of materialism represented by him),
namely that man (the thinking body) did not move along ready-made
forms and contours presented by nature but actively created new forms,
not inherent in nature, and moved along them, overcoming the ‘resistance’
of the external world.
‘The chief defect of all materialism up to now (including
Feuerbach’s) is that the object, reality, what we apprehend
through our senses, is understood only in the form of the
subject or contemplation;
112 but not as sensuous human activity, as
practice, not subjectively. Hence in opposition to materialism
the active side was developed abstractly by idealism which of
course does not know real sensuous activity as such.
Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinguished from
the objects of thought: but he does not understand human
activity itself as objective activity’.113
Hence it followed that man (the subject of cognition) was considered
the passive side of the object-subject relation, as the determined member
of this inter-relation. Furthermore, man was abstracted here from the
combinations of social relations and transformed into an isolated individual.
The man-environment relations were therefore interpreted as the
relations of the individual to all the rest, to everything that lay outside the
individual brain and existed independently of it. But outside the individual, and
independently of his will and consciousness, there existed not only nature

112 Note by the translator, Roy Pascal (ibid., p 207): ‘Anschauung. I have used
“contemplation,” for this term. This the normal translation is somewhat ambiguous,
and should be understood as “sense-perception” in strong contrast to
its meaning of “meditation”.’
113 Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” translated by Roy Pascal, c.f. MECW vol. 5,
p 7. Pascal notes: ‘Activity through objects’.
HISTORY OF DIALECTICS 131
but also the social historical environment, the world of things created by
man’s labour, and the system of relations between man and man, developed
in the labour process. In other words, not only did nature by itself
(‘in itself’) lie outside the individual but also humanised nature, altered by
labour. For Feuerbach the surrounding world or environment given in
intuition or contemplation was taken as the starting point, and its premises
were not investigated.
When, therefore, he faced the problem of where and how man (the
thinking body) was in immediate union (contact) with the environment,
he answered: in intuition, in the individual’s contemplation, since it was the
individual that he always had in mind. That was the root of all his weaknesses,
because in contemplation there was given the individual the
product of the activity of other individuals interacting among themselves
in the process of producing material life, and those properties and forms
of nature that had already been transformed into the properties and
forms of the activity of man, its object and its product. The ‘nature as
such’ that Feuerbach wished to ‘contemplate’ did not, as a matter of fact,
lie within his field of view, because this ‘nature, the nature that preceded
human activity, is not by any means the nature in which Feuerbach lives,
nor the nature which to-day no longer exists anywhere (except perhaps
on a few Australian coral-islands of recent origin) and which, therefore,
does not exist for Feuerbach’.114
Feuerbach’s attention was also diverted from the real complexities of
the social relations between theory and practice, from the division of
labour that ‘alienated’ thought (in the form of science) from the majority
of individuals and converted it into a force existing independently of
them and outside them. He therefore saw nothing in the thought idolised
by Hegel (i.e. science) than a certain modification of religious illusions.

114 Marx, “The German Ideology,” MECW vol. 5, p 40.
-- Certain Problems of the
Marxist-Leninist Theory of Dialectics --
7. A Contribution to the Problem of a Dialectical
Materialistic Critique of Objective Idealism
In order to overcome the weaknesses, or rather defects, of any philosophical
system, it is necessary to understand them. Marx demonstrated
this sort of ‘understanding’ in relation to Hegel, and thereby went much
further in matters of logic than either Hegel or his materialist antipode
Feuerbach.
Marx, Engels, and Lenin showed both the historical contribution of
Hegel and the historically conditioned limitations of his scientific advances,
the clearly drawn boundary across which the Hegelian dialectic
could not step, and the illusions, whose power it was incapable of overcoming
despite all the strength of its creator’s mind. Hegel’s greatness,
like his limitations, was due on the whole to his having exhausted the
possibilities of developing dialectics on the basis of idealism, within the
limits of the premises that idealism imposed on scientific thinking. Irrespective
of his intentions, Hegel showed, with exceptional clarity, that
idealism led thinking up a blind alley and doomed even dialectically
enlightened thought to hopeless circling within itself, to an endless procedure
of ‘self-expression’ and ‘self-consciousness’. For Hegel, (precisely
because he was a most consistent and unhypocritical idealist, who thereby
disclosed the secret of every other, inconsistent and incomplete idealism)
‘being’, i.e. the world of nature and history existing outside thought and
independently of it, was inevitably transformed into a mere pretext for
demonstrating the logical art, into an inexhaustible reservoir of ‘examples’
confirming over and over again the same schemas and categories of logic.
As the young Marx remarked, ‘the matter of logic’ (die Sache der Logik)
fenced the ‘logic of the matter’ (die Logik der Sache)1 off from Hegel, and
therefore both the Prussian monarch and the louse on the monarch’s
head could equally well serve the idealist dialectician as ‘examples’ illustrating
the category ‘real individuality in and for itself’.

1 “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” MECW vol. 3,
p 91.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 133
With such an approach both a boiling tea-kettle and the Great
French Revolution were only ‘examples’ illustrating the relation of the
categories of quality and quantity; but any empirical reality impinging on
the eye, however fortuitous it might be in itself, was thereby converted
into an external embodiment of absolute reason, into one of the necessary
dialectical stages of its self-differentiation.
The profound flaws in the Hegelian dialectic were directly linked with
idealism, due to which the dialectic was readily transformed into ingenious,
logically subtle apologies for everything that existed. It is therefore
necessary to look into all these circumstances more closely.
Hegel actually counterposed man and his real thought to impersonal,
featureless – ‘absolute’ – thought as some force existing for ages, in
accordance with which the act of ‘divine creation of the world and man’
had occurred. He also understood logic as ‘absolute form’, in relation to
which the real world and real human thought proved to be something
essentially derivative, secondary and created.
In that, too, the idealism of Hegel’s conception of thinking was revealed;
and it was the specifically Hegelian objective idealism that converted
thought into some new god, into some supernatural force existing
outside man and dominating him. This specifically Hegelian illusion,
however, did not at all express an idea simply taken uncritically by Hegel
from religion, or a simple atavism of religious consciousness, as Feuerbach
suggested, but a much more profound and serious circumstance.
The fact is that the Hegelian conception of thought represented an
uncritical description of the real position of things formed on the soil of a
narrowly professional form of the division of social labour, that is to say,
on the division of mental work from physical labour, from immediately
practical, sensuously objective activity.
Under the spontaneously developing division of social labour there
arose of necessity a peculiar inversion of the real relations between
human individuals and their collective forces and collectively developed
faculties, i.e. the universal (social) means of the activity, an inversion
known in philosophy as estrangement or alienation. Here, in social reality,
and not at all simply in the fantasies of religiously minded people and
idealist philosophers, universal (collectively realised) modes of action
were organised as special social institutions, established in the form of
trades and professions, and of a kind of caste with its own special rituals,
134 E. V. ILYENKOV
language, traditions, and other ‘immanent’ structures of a quite impersonal
and featureless character.
As a result, the separate human individual did not prove to be the
bearer, i.e. to be the subject, of this or that universal faculty (active
power), but, on the contrary. this active power, which was becoming
more and more estranged from him, appeared as the subject, dictating the
means and forms of his occupation to each individual from outside. The
individual as such was thus transformed into a kind of slave, into a
‘speaking tool’ of alienated universally human forces and faculties, means
of activity personified as money and capital, and further as the state, law,
religion, and so on.
The same fate also befell thought. It, too, became a special occupation, the
lot for life of professional scholars, of professionals in mental, theoretical
work. Science is thought transformed in certain conditions into a special profession.
Given universal alienation, thought achieved the heights and levels of
development needed for society as a whole only in the sphere of science
(i.e. within the community of scholars), and in that form was really opposed
to the majority of human beings and not simply opposed to them but
also dictating to them what they must do from the standpoint of science,
and how they must do it, and what and how they must think, etc., etc.
The scientist, the professional theoretician, lays down the law to them not
in his own name, personally, but in the name of Science, in the name of
the Concept, in the name of an absolutely universal, collective, impersonal
power, appearing before other people as its trusted representative
and plenipotentiary.
On that soil, too, there arose all the specific illusions of the professionals
of mental, theoretical work, illusions that acquired their most
conscious expression precisely in the philosophy of objective idealism, i.e.
of the self-consciousness of alienated thought.
It will readily be noted that Hegel, in his logic, quite exactly expressed,
in scholastically disguised form, the fundamental features of
human life activity: man’s faculty (as a thinking creature) to look at himself
‘from outside’ as it were, as something ‘other’, as a special object; or
in other words to transform the schemas of his own activity into its own object.
(That is the very special feature of man which the young Marx recognised
as follows, and that in the course of a critique of Hegel: ‘The animal is
immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it.
It is its life activity. Man makes his life-activity itself the object of his will
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 135
and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination
with which he directly merges’)2.
Since Hegel looked upon this feature of human life activity exclusively
through the eyes of logic, he registered it solely to the extent that it
was already transformed into a scheme of thought, into a logical schema,
into a rule in accordance with which man more or less consciously built
this or that specific activity (be it in the material of language or something
else). He therefore registered things, and the position of things (acts)
located outside the individual’s consciousness and beyond his will (Dinge
und Sache), exclusively as moments, as metamorphoses of thought (subjective
activity), realised and realisable in natural, physical material, including
in that also the organic body of man himself. The special feature of
human life activity described above in Marx’s words also appeared in the
Hegelian representation as a scheme of thought realised by man, as a logical
figure.
The real picture of human life activity obtained here is a topsy-turvy,
upside-down representation. In reality man thinks because that is his real
life activity. Hegel said the contrary, that real human life activity was such
because man thought in accordance with a definite schema. All determinations
of human life activity, naturally, and through it the position of
things outside man’s head, were only fixed here insofar as they were
‘posited by thought’, and appeared as the result of thought.
This is only natural because the logician who specially studied
thought was no longer interested in things (or the position of things) as
such, as a reality existing before, outside of, and independently of man
and his activity (the logician did not look on reality at all as the physicist
or biologist, economist or astronomer did), but in things as, and as what,
they appeared as a result of the activity of a thinking being, of the subject,
as the product of thought understood as an activity, the specific product of
which was the concept.
So Hegel was ‘guilty’ of remaining a ‘pure’ logician just there where
the standpoint of logic was inadequate. This peculiar professional blindness
of the logician showed up primarily in the fact that he looked upon
practice, i.e. the real, sensuously objective activity of man, solely as a
criterion of truth, solely as the verifying authority for thought, for the

2 “Estranged Labour,” MECW vol. 3, p 276.
136 E. V. ILYENKOV
mental, theoretical work completed before and independently of practice,
or rather for the results of that work.
Practice there was thus also understood abstractly, was only illuminated
from that aspect, and in those characteristics, which it owed in fact
to thought, because it was the act of realising a certain intention, plan,
idea, concept, or some aim selected in advance, was absolutely not analysed
as such in a determination of its own, not dependent on some
thought. All the results of people’s practical activity – things made by
human labour, and historical events and their consequences – were
correspondingly only taken into account insofar as they embodied or
objectified some idea or another. In a conception of the historical process
as a whole such a point of view was understandably the purest (‘absolute’)
idealism. As regards logic, however, the science of thought, it was not
only justified but was the sole rational position.
In fact, can we reproach the logician for abstracting everything in the
most rigorous fashion that had nothing to do with the subject matter of
his investigation, and for paying attention to any fact only insofar as it
could be understood as the consequence, as the form of disclosure, of his
subject matter, of the subject matter of his science, i.e. of thought? To reproach
the professional logician for the fact that the ‘matter of logic’
concerned him more than the ‘logic of the matter’, (i.e. the logic of any
other concrete sphere of human activity) would be as stupid as to reproach
the chemist for excessive attention to the ‘matter of chemistry’.
But Marx’s words above, directed at Hegel, concealed quite another
meaning.
The fault of the narrow professional was not at all his rigorous limitation
of thought to the framework of the subject matter of his science, but
his incapacity to see clearly the boundaries of the competence of his
science associated with this limitation of his view of things.
The same applied to Hegel, the typical professional logician. As a logician
he was right to look upon a statement or a fact exclusively from
the standpoint of the abstract schemas of thought revealed in it, when the
logic of any matter interested him only insofar as it was revealed in it in
general. The mysticism of Hegel’s logic, and at the same time its insidious
feature, which Marx called his ‘false positivism’,3 began where the special
standpoint of the logician ex professo was adopted and distinguished from

3 “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General,” MECW vol. 3, p 339.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 137
the sole scientific standpoint from the heights of which only the ‘ultimate’,
most profound, most cherished, and most important truth accessible in
general to man and to humanity was allegedly discovered.
As a logician Hegel was quite right in looking on any phenomenon in
the development of human culture as an act disclosing the power of
thought. But it was the work of a moment, by adding a little something to
that view (admissible and natural in logic), namely that the essence of the
phenomena in themselves from which the special, logical abstractions were
drawn was expressed just in those abstractions, for the truth to be transformed
into a lie. The exact results of a chemical investigation of the
composition of the colours used to paint the Sistine Madonna would be
converted into such a lie the moment the chemist looked on them as the
sole scientific explanation of the unique ‘synthesis’ created by Raphael’s
brush.
Abstractions that quite precisely expressed (described) the forms and
schemas of the flow of thought in all forms of its concrete realisation
were immediately and directly passed off as schemas of the process that
had created the whole diversity of human culture, in which they were
discovered. As a result the whole mystique of Hegel’s conception of
thought was concentrated in a single point. In considering all the manifold
forms of human culture as a result of manifestation of the faculty to
think that functions in man, he lost any chance of understanding from
where in general this unique faculty, and its schemas and rules, appeared
in man. By raising thought to the rank of a divine power and force impelling
man to historical creation from within, Hegel simply passed off the
absence of a reply to this reasonable question as the only possible answer
to it.
The sensuously objective activity of the millions of people who by
their labour created the body of culture, the self-consciousness of which
is scientific thought, remained outside Hegel’s field of view, seemed to
him the ‘prehistory’ of thought. The external world therefore appeared as
the initial material for producing the concept, as something that had to be
processed by means of existing concepts in order to concretise them.
Thought was thus transformed into the only active and creative
force, and the external world into its field of application. Naturally, if the
sensuously objective activity (practice) of social man was represented as
the consequence, as the external objectification of ideas, plans, and concepts
created by thought (i.e. by persons occupied in mental work), it became
138 E. V. ILYENKOV
in principle impossible to say either what was the source of thought in
the head of theoreticians or how it arose.
Thought was, Hegel replied; and to ask about its origin from something
else was to ask a futile question. It was, it operated in man, and gradually
arrived at awareness of its own activities, and of their schemas and
laws. Logic was self-consciousness of this creative principle, of this
infinite creative power, of this absolute form, which had never arisen
from anywhere. In man this creative force was only revealed, objectified,
and estranged so as then in logic to cognise itself as such, as the universal
creative force.
That was the whole secret of Hegel’s objective idealism. In logic,
consequently, objective idealism means the absence of any answer whatsoever
to the question from whence thought originates. In the form of
logic, defined as a system of eternal and absolute schemas of every kind
of creative activity, Hegel deified real human thought and its logical
forms and patterns.
That was at once the strength and the weakness of his conception of
thought and logic. Its strength was that he idolised (i.e. defined as given
outside time, as absolute) the nevertheless real logical forms and laws of human
thought discovered by him through study of human spiritual and material
culture. Its weakness was that, for all that, he idolised the logical forms and
laws of human thought, i.e. declared them absolute, without even allowing
the problem of their origin to be posed.
The fact was that idealism, i.e. the view of thought as a universal faculty
that was only ‘aroused ’ to self-consciousness in man and did not arise
in the exact and strict sense from the soil of definite conditions formed
outside him and independently of him, led to a number of absolutely
unresolvable problems in logic itself.
While making an exceptionally important advance in understanding
of the logical forms of thought, Hegel stopped halfway, and even turned
back, as soon as he was faced with the question of the inter-relation of
sensuously perceived forms of the embodiment of the mind’s activity
(thought), in which the mind (or spirit) became the object of consideration
for itself. Thus he refused to recognise the word (speech, language)
as the sole form of the ‘effective being of the spirit’, of the external
disclosure of the creative power of thought. Nevertheless, he continued
to consider it the principal, most adequate form, the form in which
thought was counterposed to itself.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 139
‘In the beginning was the Word’ – in respect of human thought (the
thinking mind of man) Hegel maintained the Biblical position unsullied,
accepting it as something self-evident and making it the basic principle of
all subsequent construction, or rather reconstruction, of the development
of the thinking spirit to self-consciousness.
The thinking mind of man was first aroused (i e. counterposed itself
to everything else) precisely in the word and through the word, as the
faculty of ‘naming’, and therefore took shape primarily as the ‘kingdom
of names’ and titles. The word also functioned as the first ‘objective reality
of thought activity’. both in essence and in time, as the initial and immediate
form of being of the spirit for itself.
This appeared clearly as follows: one ‘finite spirit’ (the thought of the
individual) made itself the subject matter (object) of another, also ‘finite’,
spirit in the word and through the word. Having arisen from the ‘mind’
as a definitely articulated sound, on being heard the word was again
converted into ‘spirit’, into the state of the thinking mind of another
person. The vibrations of the ambient air (the audible word) also proved
to be only the pure mediator between the two states of the spirit, the mode
of the relation of spirit to spirit, or, expressing it in Hegelian language, of
the spirit to itself.
The word (speech) functioned here as the first tool of the external
objectification of thought, which the thinking spirit created ‘from itself’
in order to become the object for itself (in the image of another thinking
spirit). The real tool – the stone axe or cutting tool, scraper or wooden
plough – began to appear as the second and secondary, derived tool of
the same process of objectification as the sensuously objective metamorphosis
of thought.
Thus Hegel saw in the word the form of the actual being of the
thinking spirit in which the latter manifested its own creative force (faculty)
before everything, before and independently of the real moulding of
nature by labour. Labour only realised what the thinking spirit had found
in itself in the course of utterance, in the course of its dialogue with itself.
But in this interpretation the dialogue proved to be only a monologue of the
thinking spirit, only its mode of ‘manifestation’.
In the Phenomenology of Mind all history therefore began with an analysis
of the contradiction that arose between thought (insofar as it expressed
itself in the words ‘here’ and ‘now’) and all its other content not yet expressed in
words. The Science of Logic also suggested this schema, and contained the
140 E. V. ILYENKOV
same, though implicit premise at its very beginning. Thought, it was
suggested there, had realised and was realising itself primarily in and
through the word. So it was no accident that the consummation of all the
‘phenomenological’ and ‘logical’ history of the thinking spirit consisted in
returning to the starting point: the thinking spirit achieved its absolutely
exact and perfect representation, naturally in the printed word – in a
treatise on logic, in the Science of Logic.
Hegel therefore also maintained the following in logic:
“It is in human Language that the Forms of Thought are
manifested and laid down in the first instance. In our day it
cannot be too often recalled, that what distinguishes man
from the beasts is the faculty of Thought. Language has
penetrated into whatever becomes for man something inner –
becomes, that is, an idea, something which he makes his very
own; – and what man transforms to Language contains
concealed, or mixed up with other things, or worked out to
clearness – a Category....”4
That was the deepest root of Hegel’s idealism. By that step thought
as an activity taking place in the head in the form, precisely, of inner
speech, was converted into the starting point for understanding all the
phenomena of culture, both spiritual and material, including all historical
events, social, economic, and political structures, and so on and so forth.
The whole world of the products of human labour and all history, then
began to be interpreted as a process taking place ‘from the power of
thought’. The whole grandiose conception of the history of the estrangement
(objectification) of the creative energy of thought and its
inverse mastering of the fruits of its labour (disobjectification), which
began with the word and completed its cycle in the word, was just the
history outlined in the Science of Logic.
The clue to Hegel’s conception is not so very complicated. The idea
that man thought initially, and then only really acted served as the foundation
of his schema. Hence also the schema ‘word—act—thing made by
the act—again word’ – (this time a verbally expressed report on what had
been done). And further, there was a new cycle according to the same
schema, but on a new basis, owing to which the movement had the form

4 Hegel’s “Science of Logic,” translated by A. V. Miller, Preface, p 31.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 141
not of a circle but of a spiral each turn of which, however, both began
and ended at one and the same point, in a word.
The rational kernel and at the same time the mystifying feature of the
schema described here are most easily considered by analogy (although it
is more than a simple analogy) with the metamorphoses that political
economy brings out when analysing commodity-money circulation. Just
as accumulated labour concentrated in machines, in the instruments and
products of labour, functions in the form of capital, in the form of ‘selfexpanding
value’, for which the individual capitalist functions as ‘executor’,
so too scientific knowledge, i.e. the accumulated mental labour of society
functions in the form of Science, i.e. the same sort of impersonal and
featureless anonymous force. The individual professional theoretician
functions as the representative of the self-developing power of knowledge.
His social function boils down to being the individual embodiment of the
universal spiritual wealth accumulated over centuries and millennia of
mental labour. He functions as the animated tool of a process that is
completed independently of his individual consciousness and his individual
will, the process of the increase of knowledge. He does not think here
as such – Knowledge, which has taken root in his head during his education,
‘thinks’. He does not control the concept; rather the Concept controls
him, determining both the direction of his research and the modes
and forms of his activity.
There is the same turning upside down as in the sphere of material production
based on exchange value, the same real mystification of the
relations between the universal and the particular in which the abstract
universal is not an aspect or property of the sensuously concrete (in this
case living man) but rather the contrary, the sensuous concrete, individual
man proves to be only an abstract, one-sided ‘embodiment’ of the universal
(in this case Knowledge, Concept, Science). This is not simply an
analogy with what happens in the world of relations founded on value,
but the same social process, only in the sphere of mental rather than
material production.
“This inversion, by which the sensibly concrete is regarded as
a form of manifestation of the abstract and general, instead of
the abstract and general being regarded on the contrary as a
property of the concrete, is characteristic of the expression of
value. At the same time, it makes the expression of value
difficult to understand. If I say: Roman law and German law
are both law, that is self-evident. If, on the other hand, I say:
142 E. V. ILYENKOV
the law, which is an abstraction, is realised as such in Roman law
and in German law which are concrete laws, the connection
between the abstract and the concrete becomes mystical.”5
So Hegel’s idealism was not in the least the fruit of religious fantasy
or of a religiously oriented imagination. It was only an uncritical description
of the real state of things, on the soil of which the professional
theoretician, the narrow specialist of mental labour, operated (thought).
The forms of his philosophy were the practically inevitable illusions (even
practically useful) that he inevitably created in his own work, illusions that
were fed by the objective position of that work in society, and reflected
its position. It was the knowledge acquired by him as concepts immediately
in the course of his education, i.e. in the form of verbal-sign expressions,
which was for him the beginning (starting point) of his specific
activity, and the end, its specific goal, its real ‘entelechy’.
But the analogy we have used enables us also to understand another
circumstance, i.e. the mechanism itself of the ‘inversion’ or ‘turning
upside down’ described above. The pattern of commodity-money circulation
is, as we know, expressed by the formula C—M—C. The commodity
(C) appears in it as both the beginning and the end of the cycle, and
money (M) as its mediating link, as the ‘metamorphosis of the commodity’.
But at a certain point in the self-closing cyclical movement C—M—C—
M—C—M... and so on, money ceases to be a simple ‘intermediary’, the
means of circulation of the mass of commodities and suddenly discloses
an enigmatic faculty for ‘self-expansion’. Schematically this phenomenon
is expressed in the formula as follows: M—C—M´. The Commodity, the
real starting point of the process as a whole, acquires the former role of
money, the role of intermediary and means of the transient metamorphosis of
money, in which the latter is embodied in order to complete the act of
‘self-expansion’. Money, having acquired so mysterious a property, is also
capital, and in the form of the latter acquires ‘the occult quality of being
able to add value to itself’6 and ‘suddenly presents itself as substance
endowed with an independent motion of its own, a substance of which
commodities and money are themselves merely forms’.7 In the formula

5 “The Value Form,” Appendix to Capital, published in Capital and Class, No. 4
1978.
6 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35, p 164.
7 ibid, p 159.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 143
M—C—M´ value appears as an ‘automatically operating subject’, as the
‘substance-subject’ of the whole cyclic movement, constantly returning to
its starting point; ‘value is here the active factor in a process in which,
while continually assuming by turns the form of money and the form of
commodities, it at the same time changes in magnitude, gives birth to
surplus value, so that the original value spontaneously expands’8 and this
happens ‘in itself’.
In his Science of Logic, Hegel recorded the same situation, only not in
regard to value but to knowledge (understanding, truth). In fact he dealt
with the process of accumulation of knowledge, because the concept is
also accumulated knowledge, the ‘constant capital’, so to say, of thought,
which always appears in science in the form of the word. Hence, too, the
idea of knowledge, analogous to the idea of value, as a self-expanding
substance, as a subject-substance.
Thus we are dealing not with the abstract fantasies of an idealist but
with the same uncritical description of the real process of the production
and accumulation of knowledge as the theory of political economy, which
takes as the starting point of its explanation an exactly recorded but not
understood fact. The fact is that money, appearing as the form of movement
of capital, as the starting point and goal of the whole cyclical process
of coming back ‘to itself’, discloses a mysterious, occult faculty for
self-expansion and self-development. This fact, left unexplained, becomes
mysterious and occult; and a property is ascribed to it that in fact belongs
to quite another process that is expressed (‘reflected’) in its form.
In disclosing the secret of the self-expansion of value, i.e. the secret
of the production and accumulation of surplus value, in Capital Marx
employed (and not by chance, but deliberately and consciously) the whole
terminology of Hegelian logic given above, and of Hegel’s conception of
thought. The fact is that the idealist illusion created by Hegel the logician
had the same nature as the practically necessary (‘practically true’) illusions
that entrap the mind of man caught up in the process of the creation
and accumulation of surplus value, which is not understood by him
and takes place independently of his consciousness and will. The logical
and socio-historical patterns of the origin of these illusions were objectively
and subjectively the same.

8 ibid, p 164.
144 E. V. ILYENKOV
For the capitalist a certain sum of money (a certain value indispensably
expressed in money form) is the starting point of all his further activity as a
capitalist, and therefore the formal goal of his special activity. From where
this sum of money arose, originally, with its occult properties, and how,
may have no special interest for him.
Something analogous also happens with the professional theoretician,
with the person who represents ‘personified’ knowledge, science, the
concept. For him, the knowledge accumulated by humanity, and recorded
moreover in verbal, sign form, also appears simultaneously as the starting
point and as the goal of his special work.
From his point of view, naturally, the concept makes itself out to be a
‘self-developing substance’, ‘an automatically operating subject’, ‘the
subject substance of all its changes’, and of all its metamorphoses.
Hence, from the real form of the life activity of the professional
theoretician there also grow all the practically necessary illusions about
thought and concept that were systematically expressed in Hegel’s Science
of Logic. The Hegelian logic described the system of the objective forms
of thought within the limits of which revolved the process of extended
reproduction of the concept, which never began, in its developed forms, ‘from
the very beginning’, but took place as the perfecting of already existing concepts,
as the transformation of already accumulated theoretical knowledge, as its
‘increment’. The concept was always already presupposed here in the form
of a jumping-off point for new conquests, since it was a matter of extending
the sphere of the cognised, and in that the initial concepts played a
most active role.
If the separate forms of the manifestation that expanding, growing
knowledge drew by turns into its living circulation were recorded, the
following definitions would be obtained: science (accumulated knowledge)
is words (the ‘language of science’); science is the things created on
the basis of knowledge, i.e. the objectified, materialised force of knowledge.
Knowledge becomes the subject of a certain process in which, here,
while constantly changing its verbal form into an objective material one it
alters its magnitude and its scale, throws off as surplus (added) knowledge
from itself as the initial knowledge, and ‘self-develops’. For the movement in
which knowledge unites new knowledge to itself is its own movement,
and its expansion is consequently self-expansion, self-intensification, selfdevelopment.
It has acquired the occult faculty of creating knowledge by
virtue of the fact that it is itself knowledge.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 145
By analogy with the production and accumulation of surplus value,
logical forms (the real forms of the production of knowledge) began therefore
to appear here as forms of the ‘self-development’ of knowledge, and so
were mystified. The mystification consisted in the pattern or scheme that
expressed the features of the activity of the professional theoretician,
being accepted and passed off as the pattern of development of knowledge
in general.
So, we see, it was the same mystification as in political economy, in
analysing which Marx stressed that his investigation did not begin with an
analysis of value, but with analysis of a commodity.
From the logical standpoint that is most important in principle, because
it was the analysis of a commodity that bared the secret of the birth
and origin of value, and then also the secret of its manifestation in
money, in money form. In the contrary case, the secret of the birth of
value was unresolvable in principle.
The same thing took place with the concept of thought in the Hegelian
scheme. Hegel recorded those features that were actually realised in
the process of thought in its developed form, in the form of science, as a
special (isolated) sphere of the division of social labour, and the formula
that there quite accurately reflected the surface of the process appeared as
follows: word—act—word (W—A—W), in which by ‘word’, is understood
verbally recorded knowledge, knowledge in its universal form, in
the form of the ‘language of science’, in the form of formulae, diagrams,
symbols, models of all kinds, blueprints, etc., etc.
A really critical mastering of Hegel’s logic, carefully preserving all its
positive features and purging it of mystic worship of ‘pure thought’ and
the ‘divine concept’, proved only to be within the power of Marx and
Engels. No other philosophical system since Hegel has been able to
handle it as a ‘tool of criticism’, since not one of them has adopted the
standpoint of a revolutionary, critical attitude to the objective conditions
that feed the illusions of idealism, i.e. to the situation of the estrangement
(alienation) of the real, active faculties of man from the majority of
individuals, the situation in which all the universal (social) forces, i.e. the
active faculties of social man, appear as forces independent of the majority
of individuals and dominating them as external necessity, as forces
monopolised by more or less narrow groups, strata, and classes of society.

146 E. V. ILYENKOV
The sole path to a real, critical mastering of Hegel’s conception of
thought lay through a revolutionary, critical attitude to the world of
alienation, i.e. to the world of commodity-capitalist relations. Only along
that path could the objective-idealist illusions of Hegel’s conception be
really explained, and not simply attacked by such biting epithets (that
equally explained nothing) as ‘mystical nonsense’, ‘theological atavism’,
and others of that kind.
8. The Materialist Conception of Thought as the
Subject Matter of Logic
After what Hegel had done it was only possible to advance in a single
direction, along the road to materialism, to a clear understanding of the
fact that all dialectical schemas and categories revealed in thought by
Hegel were universal forms and laws, reflected in the collective consciousness
of man, of the development of the external real world existing
outside of and independently of thought. Marx and Engels had already
begun a materialist rethinking of the Hegelian dialectic at the beginning
of the 1840s, and the materialistically rethought dialectic fulfilled the role,
for them, of the logic of the development of the materialist world outlook.

This movement was seen as a direct continuation of Feuerbach’s argumentation;
and when it was expressed in the terms of his philosophy it
appeared approximately as follows. The Ego did not think, nor Reason,
nor even the brain. Man thought by means of his brain and, moreover in
unity and contact with nature. Abstracted from that unity he no longer
thought. That was where Feuerbach left it.
But, continued Marx, man, too, did not think in immediate unity with
nature. Man only thought when he was in unity with society, with the
social and historical collective that produced his material and spiritual life.
Abstracted from the nexus of the social relations within and through
which he effected his human contact with nature (i.e. found himself in
human unity with it), he thought as little as a brain isolated from the
human body.
Thus it was along the path of development of logic that the problem
of the nature of human thought, the problem of the ideal, reached its full
stature.
The ideal is the subjective image of objective reality, i.e. reflection of
the external world in the forms of man’s activity, in the forms of his
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 147
consciousness and will. The ideal is not an individual, psychological fact,
much less a physiological fact, but a socio-historical one, the product and
form of mental production. It exists in a variety of forms of man’s social
consciousness and will as the subject of the social production of material
and spiritual life. In Marx’s description, ‘the ideal is nothing other than
the material when it has been transposed and translated inside the human
head’.9
All the diverse forms of resolving the problem of the ideal in the history
of philosophy are attracted to two poles – the materialist and the
idealist. Pre-Marxian materialism, while justly rejecting spiritualist and
dualist ideas of the ideal as a special substance counterposed to the
material world, considered the ideal as an image, as the reflection of a
material body in another material body, i.e. as an attribute, a function, of
specially organised matter. This general materialist conception of the
nature of the ideal, which constituted the essence of the line of Democritus-Spinoza-Diderot-Feuerbach,
irrespective of variants of its concretisation
by individual materialists, also served as the starting point for the
Marxist-Leninist solution of the problem.
The weak sides of the pre-Marxian materialism, which appeared as a
trend among French materialists (especially in Cabanis and La Mettrie)
and later in Feuerbach, and acquired independent form in the middle of
the nineteenth century as so-called vulgar materialism (Büchner, Vogt,
Moleschott, and others), were linked with an unhistorical, anthropological,
naturalistic conception of the nature of man and led to a rapprochement
and ultimately to direct identification of the ideal with the material, neurophysiological
structures of the brain and their functions. The old materialism set
out from a conception of man as part of nature but, not bringing materialism
as far as history, it could not understand man in all his peculiarities
as a product of labour transforming both the external world and man
himself. By virtue of that the ideal could not be understood as the result
and active function of labour, of the sensuously objective activity of
social man, as the image of the external world arising in the thinking body
not in the form of the result of passive contemplation but as the product
and form of active transformation of nature by the labour of generations
succeeding one another in the course of historical development. The
main transformation that Marx and Engels effected in the materialist

9 “Capital,” Afterword, MECW vol. 35, p 19.
148 E. V. ILYENKOV
conception of the nature of the ideal therefore related primarily to the
active aspect of the relation of thinking man to nature, i.e. the aspect that
had been mainly developed, as Lenin put it, by ‘clever’ idealism, by the
line of Plato-Fichte-Hegel, and was emphasised by them in an abstract,
one-sided, idealist way.
The main fact on which the classic systems of objective idealism had
grown up was the independence of the aggregate social culture and its
forms of organisation from the individual, and more broadly the conversion
in general of the universal products of social production (both
material and spiritual) into a special social force opposed to individuals
and dominating their wills and minds. It was for that reason that ‘the
social power, i.e. the multiplied productive force, which arises through
the co-operation of different individuals as it is determined within the
division of labour, appears to these individuals, since their co-operation is
not voluntary but natural, not as their own united power but as an alien
force existing outside them, of the origin and end of which they are
ignorant, which they thus cannot control, which on the contrary passes
through a peculiar series of phases and stages independent of the will and
the action of man, nay even being the prime governor of these’.10 The
power of the social whole over individuals was directly disclosed and
functioned in the form of the state and the political system of society, in
the form of a system of moral, ethical, and legal limitations and norms of
social behaviour, and further, of aesthetic, logical and other standards and
criteria. The individual was forced from childhood to reckon much more
seriously with the requirements and limitations expressed and socially
sanctioned in them than with the immediately perceived external appearance
of single things and situations, or the organically inherent desires,
inclinations, and needs of his own body. The social whole was also
mystified in the ‘fundamental’ principles of objective idealism.
Exposing the earthly basis of idealist illusions, Marx and Engels
wrote:
‘This sum of productive forces, forms of capital and social
forms of intercourse, which every individual and generation
finds in existence as something given, is the real basis of what

10 “German Ideology,” MECW vol. 5, p 47.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 149
the philosophers have conceived as “substance” and “essence
of man”, and what they have identified and attacked... ‘.11
All general images, however, without exception, neither sprang from
universal schemas of the work of thought nor arose from an act of
passive contemplation of nature unsullied by man, but took shape in the
course of its practical, objective transformation by man, by society. They
arose and functioned as forms of the social-man determination of the purposive
will of the individual, i.e. as forms of real activity. General images, moreover,
were crystallised in the body of spiritual culture quite unintentionally, and
independently of the will and consciousness of individuals, although
through their activities. In intuition they appeared precisely as the forms
of things created by human activity, or as ‘stamps’ (‘imprints’) laid on
natural, physical material by man’s activities, as forms of purposive will
alienated in external substance.
People were only concerned with nature as such to the extent that it
was involved in one way or another in the process of social labour, was
transformed into material, into a means, a condition of active human
practice. Even the starry heavens, in which human labour still could not
really alter anything, became the object of man’s attention and contemplation
when they were transformed by society into a means of orientation
in time and space, into a ‘tool’ of the life activity of the organism of
social man, into an ‘organ’ of his body, into his natural clock, compass,
and calendar. The universal forms and patterns of natural material really
showed through and were realised just to the extent to which this material
had already been transformed into building material of the ‘inorganic
body of man’, of the objective body of civilisation and so the universal
forms of ‘things in themselves’ appeared to man immediately as active
forms of the functioning of his ‘inorganic body’.
The ideal existed immediately only as the form (mode, image) of the
activity of social man (i.e. of a quite objective, material being), directed to
the external world. When, therefore, we spoke of the material system, of
which the ideal was the function and mode of existence, that system was
only social man in unity with the objective world through which he
exercised his specifically human life activity. The ideal thus did not boil
down to the state of matter found in the cranium of the individual, i.e.

11 ibid, p 54.
150 E. V. ILYENKOV
the brain. It was the special function of man as the subject of social labour activity,
accomplished in forms created by preceding development.
Between contemplating and thinking man and nature in itself there
existed a very important mediating link through which nature was transformed
into thought, and thought into the body of nature. That was
practice, labour, production. It was production (in the broadest sense of
the word) that transformed the object of nature into the object of contemplation
and thought. ‘Even the objects of the simplest “sensuous
certainty” are only given to him [i.e. to man – EVI] through social development,
industry and commercial intercourse’.12
Therefore, Marx said, Feuerbach also stopped at the standpoint of
contemplation (intuition) of nature and ‘never manages to conceive the
sensuous world as the total living sensuous activity of the individuals
composing it’,13 did not see that the object of his contemplation was the
product of joint human labour. And in order to single out the image of
nature in itself it was necessary to expend rather more labour and effort
than the simple efforts of ‘disinterested’, aesthetically developed contemplation.

In immediate contemplation (intuition) the objective features of ‘nature
in itself’ were bound up with the features and forms that had been
stamped on it by the transforming activity of man, and all the purely
objective characteristics of natural material, moreover, were given to
contemplation through the image that the natural material had acquired
in the course of, and as a result of, the subjective activities of social man.
Contemplation was immediately concerned not with the object but with
objective activity (i.e. activity on objects), transforming it, and with the
results of this subjective (practical) activity.
A purely objective picture of nature was therefore disclosed to man
not in contemplation but only through activity and in the activity of man
socially producing his own life, of society. Thought, setting itself the aim
of depicting the image of nature in itself, had to take that circumstance
fully into account, because only the same activity as transformed (altered
and occasionally distorted) the ‘true image’ of nature, could indicate what
it was like before and without ‘subjective distortions’.

12 “German Ideology,” MECW vol. 5, p 39.
13 ibid., p 40-41.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 151
Only practice, consequently, was capable of resolving which features
of the object given in contemplation belonged to the object of nature
itself, and which had been introduced into it by man’s transforming
activity, i.e. by the subject.
Therefore ‘the question whether objective truth is an attribute of
human thought – is not a theoretical but a practical question. Man must
prove the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the “this-sidedness” of his
thinking in practice’, Marx wrote in his second thesis on Feuerbach. ‘The
dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from
practice is a purely scholastic question’.14
That, too, constitutes the solution of many of the difficulties that
have faced and still face philosophers.
In analysing the relation of production to consumption, i.e. a problem
of political economy, and hence not a psychological one, Marx
formulated the question as follows: ‘If it is clear that production offers
consumption its external object, it is therefore equally clear that consumption
ideally posits the object of production as an internal image, as a
need, as a drive and as purpose’.15 But consumption, as Marx showed, is
only an inner moment of production, or production itself, since it creates
not only the external object but also the subject capable of producing and
reproducing this object, and then of consuming it in the appropriate
manner. In other words, production creates the form itself of man’s
active practice, or the faculty of creating an object of certain form and
using it for its purpose, i.e. in its role and function in the social organism.
In the form of an active, real faculty of man as the agent of social production,
the object exists ideally as a product of production, i.e. as an inner
image, requirement, and an urge and goal of human activity.
The ideal is therefore nothing else than the form of things, but existing
outside things, namely in man, in the form of his active practice, i.e. it
is the socially determined form of the human being’s activity. In nature itself,
including the nature of man as a biological creature, the ideal does not
exist. As regards the natural, material organisation of the human body it
has the same external character as it does in regard to the material in
which it is realised and objectified in the form of a sensuously perceived
thing. Thus the form of a jar growing under the hands of a potter does

14 “Theses on Feuerbach, §2” op. cit., p 6.
15 “Grundrisse,” MECW vol. 28, p 30.
152 E. V. ILYENKOV
not form part either of the piece of clay or of the inborn, anatomical,
physiological organisation of the body of the individual functioning as
potter. Only insofar as man trains and exercises the organs of his body on
objects created by man for man does he become the bearer of the active
forms of social man’s activity that create the corresponding objects.
It is clear that the ideal, i.e. the active form of social man’s activity, is
immediately embodied, or as it is now fashionable to say, is ‘coded’, in
the form of the neuro-cerebral structures of the cortex of the brain, i.e.
quite materially. But the material being of the ideal is not itself ideal but
only the form of its expression in the organic body of the individual. In itself the
ideal is the socially determined form of man’s life activity corresponding
to the form of its object and product. To try and explain the ideal from
the anatomical and physiological properties of the body of the brain is
the same unfruitful whim as to try and explain the money form of the
product of labour by the physico-chemical features of gold. Materialism
in this case does not consist at all in identifying the ideal with the material
processes taking place in the head. Materialism is expressed here in
understanding that the ideal, as a socially determined form of the activity
of man creating an object in one form or another, is engendered and
exists not in the head but with the help of the head in the real objective
activity (activity on things) of man as the active agent of social production.

Scientific determinations of the ideal are therefore obtained by way
of a materialist analysis of the ‘anatomy and physiology’ of the social
production of the material and spiritual life of society, and in no case of
the anatomy and physiology of the brain as an organ of the individual’s
body. It is the world of the products of human labour in the constantly
renewed act of its reproduction that is, as Marx said, ‘the perceptibly
existing human psychology’; and any psychology to which this ‘open
book’ of human psychology remains unknown, cannot be a real science.
When Marx defined the ideal as the material ‘transposed and translated
inside the human head’, he did not understand this ‘head’ naturalistically,
in terms of natural science. He had in mind the socially developed head
of man, all of whose forms of activity, beginning with the forms of
language and its word stock and syntactical system and ending with
logical categories, are products and forms of social development. Only
when expressed in these forms is the external, the material, transformed
into social fact, into the property of social man, i.e. into the ideal.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 153
At first hand, transformation of the material into the ideal consists in
the external fact being expressed in language, which ‘is the immediate
actuality of thought’ (Marx). But language of itself is as little ideal as the
neuro-physiological structure of the brain. It is only the form of expression
of the ideal, its material-objective being. Neopositivists, who identify
thought (i.e. the ideal) with language, with a system of terms and expressions,
therefore make the same naturalistic mistake as scientists who
identify the ideal with the structures and functions of brain tissue. Here,
too, the form only of its material expression is taken for the ideal. The
material is really ‘transplanted’ into the human head, and not simply into the
brain as an organ of the individual’s body, (1) only when it is expressed in
immediately, generally significant forms of language (understood in the
broadest sense of the word, including the language of drawings, diagrams,
models, etc.), and (2) when it is transformed into an active form of man’s
activity with a real object (and not simply into a ‘term’ or ‘utterance’ as
the material body of language). In other words the object proves to be
idealised only when the faculty of actively recreating it has been created,
relying on the language of words or drawings; when the faculty of converting
words into deeds, and through deeds into things, has been created.

Spinoza understood this beautifully. With good reason he linked adequate
ideas, expressed in the words of a language, precisely with ability to
reproduce given verbal forms in real space. It was just there that he drew
the distinction between a determination expressing the essence of the
matter, i.e. the ideal image of the object, and nominal, formal definitions
that fixed a more or less accidentally chosen property of the object, its
outward sign. A circle, for example, could be defined as a figure in which
lines drawn from the centre to the circumference were equal. But such a
definition did not quite express the essence of a circle, but only a certain
property of it, which property was derivative and secondary. It was
another matter when the definition included the proximate cause of the
thing. Then a circle should be defined as a figure described by any line
one end of which was fixed and the other moved. This definition provided
the mode of constructing the thing in real space. Here the nominal definition
arose together with the real action of the thinking body along the spatial contour
of the object of the idea. In that case man also possessed an adequate idea, i.e.
an ideal image, of the thing, and not just signs expressed in words. That is
also a materialist conception of the nature of the ideal. The ideal exists
there where there is a capacity to recreate the object in space, relying on
154 E. V. ILYENKOV
the word, on language, in combination with a need for the object, plus
material provision of the act of creation.
Determination of the ideal is thus especially dialectical. It is that
which is not, together with that which is, that which does not exist in the
form of an external, sensuously perceived thing but at the same time does
exist as an active faculty of man. It is being, which is, however, not-being, or
the effective being of the external thing in the phase of its becoming in
the activity of the subject, in the form of its inner image, need, urge, and
aim; and therefore the ideal being of the thing is distinguished from its real
being, and also from the bodily, material structures of the brain and language
by which it exists ‘within’ the subject. The ideal image of the object
is distinguished from the structure of the brain and language in principle
by the fact that it is the form of the external object. It is also distinguished
from the external object itself by the fact that it is objectified immediately
not in the external matter of nature but in the organic body of man and
in the body of language as a subjective image. The ideal is consequently
the subjective being of the object, or its ‘otherness’, i.e. the being of one
object in and through another, as Hegel expressed this situation.
The ideal, as the form of social man’s activity, exists where the process
of the transformation of the body of nature into the object of man’s
activity, into the object of labour, and then into the product of labour,
takes place. The same thing can be expressed in another way, as follows:
the form of the external. thing involved in the labour process is ‘sublated’
in the subjective form of objective activity (action on objects); the latter is
objectively registered in the subject in the form of the mechanisms of
higher nervous activity; and then there is the reverse sequence of these
metamorphoses, namely the verbally expressed idea is transformed into a
deed, and through the deed into the form of an external, sensuously
perceived thing, into a thing. These two contrary series of metamorphoses
form a closed cycle: thing—deed—word—deed—thing. Only in
this cyclic movement, constantly renewed, does the ideal, the ideal image
of the thing exist.
The ideal is immediately realised in a symbol and through a symbol,
i.e. through the external, sensuously perceived, visual or audible body of a
word. But this body, while remaining itself, proves at the same time to be
the being of another body and as such is its ‘ideal being’, its meaning,
which is quite distinct from its bodily form immediately perceived by the
ears or eyes. As a sign, as a name, a word has nothing in common with
what it is the sign of. What is ‘common’ is only discovered in the act of
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 155
transforming the word into a deed, and through the deed into a thing
(and then again in the reverse process), in practice and the mastering of
its results.
Man exists as man, as the subject of activity directed to the world
around and to himself, from such time, and so long, as he actively produces
his real life in forms created by himself and by his own labour. And
labour, the real transformation of the world around and of himself, which
is performed in socially developed and socially sanctioned forms, is just
the process – beginning and continuing completely independent of
thought – within which the ideal is engendered and functions as its
metamorphosis, idealisation of reality, nature, and social relations is
completed, and the language of symbols is born as the external body of
the ideal image of the external world. In that is the secret of the ideal and
in that too is its solution.
In order to make both the essence of the secret, and the means by
which Marx resolved it, clearer, let us analyse the most typical case of the
idealisation of actuality, or the act of the birth of the ideal, namely the
phenomenon of price in political economy. ‘The price, or the money
form, of commodities is, like their form of value generally, distinct from
their palpable and real bodily form. It is, that is to say, only an ideal or
imaginary form’.16 In the first place let us note that price is an objective
category and not a psycho-physiological phenomenon. Yet it is ‘only an
ideal form’. It is that which constitutes the materialism of the Marxian
conception of price. Idealism on the contrary consists in affirming that
price, since it is only an ideal form, exists solely as a subjective, psychic
phenomenon, the interpretation that was given by none other than
Bishop Berkeley, who wrote not only as a philosopher but also as an
economist.
In making his critique of the idealist conception of money, Marx
showed that price was the value of the product of man’s labour expressed
in money, for example, in a certain quantity of gold. But gold of itself, by
its nature, was not money. It proved to be money because it performed a
peculiar social function, the measure of value of all commodities, and as
such functioned in the system of social relations between people in the
process of the production and exchange of products; hence, too, the
ideality of the form of price. Gold, while remaining itself in the process

16 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35, p 105.
156 E. V. ILYENKOV
of circulation, nevertheless proved to be immediately the form of existence
and movement of a certain ‘other’, represented and replaced that
‘other’ in the process of commodity-money circulation, and was its
metamorphosis. ‘As price, the commodity relates to money on one side as
something existing outside itself, and secondly it is ideally posited as
money itself, since money has a reality different from it. ... Alongside real
money, there now exists the commodity as ideally posited money’.17
‘After money is posited as a commodity in reality, the commodity is
posited as money in the mind’.18
The ideal positing, or positing of the real product as the ideal image of
another product, is accomplished during the circulation of the mass of
commodities. It arises as a means of resolving the contradictions maturing
in the course of the circulation process, and within it (and not inside
the head, though not without the help of the head), as a means of satisfying
a need that has become immanent in commodity circulation. This
need, which appears in the form of an unresolved contradiction of the
commodity form, is satisfied and resolved by one commodity ‘being
expelled’ from their equal family and being converted into the immediately
social standard of the socially necessary expenditure of labour. ‘The
problem and the means of solution’, as Marx said, ‘arise simultaneously’.19
In real exchange, before the appearance of money (before the conversion
of gold into money), the following position had already taken
shape: ‘Intercourse in virtue of which the owners of commodities exchange
their own articles for various other articles, and compare their
own articles with various other articles, never takes place without leading
the various owners of the various kinds of articles to exchange these for
one special article in which the values of all the others are equated. Such a
third commodity, inasmuch as it comes to function as equivalent for
various other commodities, acquires, though within narrow limits, a
generalised or social equivalent form’.20 Thus the possibility and the
necessity also arise of expressing the reciprocal exchange relation of two
commodities through the exchange value of a third commodity, still
without the latter entering directly into the real exchange but serving

17 “Grundrisse,” MECW vol. 28, p 125.
18 ibid, p 126.
19 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35, p 99.
20 ibid, p 99.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 157
merely as the general measure of the value of the commodities really
exchanged. And the ‘third commodity’, although it does not enter bodily
into the exchange, is all the same involved in the act of exchange, since it
is also present only ideally, i.e. in the idea, in the mind of the commodityowners,
in speech, on paper, and so on. But it is thus transformed into a
symbol and precisely into a symbol of the social relations between people.

All theories of money and value that reduce value and its forms to
pure symbolics, to the naming of relations, to a conventionally or legally
instituted sign, are associated with that circumstance. By the logic of their
origin and structure they are organically related to those philosophers and
logicians who, not being able to conceive the act of birth of the ideal
from the process of social man’s objective-practical activity proclaim the
forms of expression of the ideal in speech, in terms and statements, to be
conventional phenomena, behind which, however, there stands something
mystically elusive – be it the ‘experience’ of Neopositivists, the
‘existence’ of Existentialists, or the intuitively grasped, incorporeal,
mystical ‘eidetic being’ of Edmund Husserl. Marx disclosed once and for
all the whole triviality of such theories of the ideal, and of its reduction to
a symbol or sign of immaterial relations (or connections as such, connections
without a material substratum). ‘The fact that commodities are only
nominally converted in the form of prices into gold and hence gold is
only nominally transformed into money led to the doctrine of the nominal
standard of money. Because only imaginary gold or silver, i.e. gold and silver
merely as money of account, is used in the determination of prices, it was
asserted that the terms pound, shilling, pence, taler, franc, etc., denote
ideal particles of value but not weights of gold or silver or any form of
materialised labour’.21 Furthermore, it was already easy to pass to the
notion that the prices of commodities were merely terms for relations or
propositions, pure signs.
Thus objective economic phenomena were transformed into simple
symbols behind which there was hidden the will as their substance,
representation as the ‘inner experience’ of the individual Ego, interpreted
in the spirit of Hume and Berkeley. By exactly the same scheme modern
idealists in logic convert terms and statements (the verbal envelope of the
ideal image of the object) into simple names of relations in which the

21 “Contribution to Critique of Political Economy,” MECW vol. 29, p 314.
158 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘experiences’ of the solitary individual are posited by the symbolising
activity of language. Logical relations are transformed simply into the
names of connections (but of what with what is not known).
It must be specially stressed that the ideal transformation of a commodity
into gold, and thus of gold into a symbol of social relations, took
place both in time and in essence before the real conversion of the commodity
into money, ‘i.e. into hard cash. Gold became the measure of the
value of commodities before it became the medium of circulation, and so
functioned initially as money purely ideally. ‘Money only circulates commodities
which have already been ideally transformed into money, not
only in the head of the individual but in the conception held by society
(directly, the conception held by the participants in the process of buying
and selling)’.22
That is a fundamentally important point of the Marxian conception
not only of the phenomenon of price but also of the problem of the
ideal, the problem of the idealisation of reality in general. The fact is that
the act of exchange always posits an already formed system of relations
between people mediated by things; it is expressed in one of the sensuously
perceived things being transformed, without ceasing to function in
the system as a separate, sensuously perceived body, into the representative
of any other body, into the sensuously perceived body of an ideal image. In
other words, it is the external embodiment of another thing, not its sensuously
perceived image but rather its essence, i.e. the law of its existence within the
system that in general creates the situation being analysed. The given
thing is thus transformed into a symbol the meaning of which remains all
the time outside its immediately perceived image, in other sensuously
perceived things, and is disclosed only through the whole system of
relations of other things to it or, conversely, of it to all the others. But
when this thing is really removed from the system it loses its role, i.e. its
significance as a symbol, and is transformed once more into an ordinary,
sensuously perceived thing along with other such things.
Its existence and functioning as a symbol consequently does not belong
to it as such but only to the ‘ system within which it has acquired its
properties. The properties attaching to it from nature therefore have no
relation to its existence as a symbol. The corporeal, sensuously perceived
envelope or ‘body’ of the symbol (the body of the thing that has been

22 “Grundrisse,” MECW vol. 28, p 123.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 159
transformed into a symbol) is quite unessential, transient, and temporary
for its existence as a symbol; the ‘functional existence’ of such a thing
completely ‘absorbs ... its material existence’, as Marx put it.23 Furthermore,
the material body of the thing is brought into conformity with its
function. As a result the symbol is converted into a token, i.e. into an
object that already means nothing in itself but only represents or expresses
another object with which it itself has nothing in common (like the name
of the thing with the thing itself). The dialectic of the transformation of a
thing into a symbol, and of a symbol into a token, is also traced in Capital
on the example of the origin and evolution of the money form of value.
The functional existence of a symbol consists precisely in its not representing
itself but another, and in being a means, an instrument expressing
the essence of other sensuously perceived things, i.e. their universal, sociallyhuman
significance, their role and function within the social organism. In
other words, the function of a symbol consists in its being just the body
of the ideal image of the external thing, or rather the law of its existence,
the law of the universal. A symbol removed from the real process of
exchange of matter between social man and nature also ceases in general
to be a symbol, the corporeal envelope of the ideal image. Its ‘soul’
vanishes from its body because its ‘soul’ is in fact the objective activity of
social man effecting an exchange of matter between humanised and
virgin nature.
Without an ideal image man cannot, in general exchange matter with
nature, and the individual cannot operate with things involved in the
process of social production. But the ideal image requires real material,
including language, for its realisation. Therefore labour engenders a need
for language, and then language itself.
When man operates with symbols or with tokens and not with objects,
relying on symbols and tokens, he does not act on the ideal plane
but only on the verbal plane. And it very often happens that, instead of
discovering the real essence of things by means of terms, the individual
sees only the terms themselves with their traditional meanings, sees only
the symbol and its sensuously perceived body. In that case the linguistic
symbol is transformed from an instrument of real activity into a fetish,
blocking off with its body the reality that it represents. Then, instead of
understanding and consciously changing the external world in accordance

23 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35, p 110.
160 E. V. ILYENKOV
with its general laws expressed in the form of the ideal image, man begins
to see and change only the verbal, terminological expression and thinks
that, in so doing he is changing the world itself.
This fetishisation of the verbal existence of the ideal was very characteristic
of the Left Hegelian philosophy of the period of its decline, to
which Marx and Engels drew attention at the time. This fetishisation of
language, and with it fetishisation of the system of social relations that it
represents, proves to be the absolutely inevitable end of any philosophy
that does not understand that the ideal is engendered and reproduced
only through social man’s objective-practical activity, and that it also only
exists in that process. In the opposite case some form or other of fetishisation
both of the external world and of symbolics develops.
It is very curious that no variety of fetishisation of the verbalsymbolic
existence of the ideal embraces the ideal as such. Fetishisation
registers the results of human activity but not man’s activity itself, so that
it embraces not the ideal itself but only its estrangement in external
objects or in language, i.e. congealed products. That is not surprising; the
ideal as a form of human activity exists only in that activity, and not in its results,
because the activity is a constant, continuing negation of the existing,
sensuously perceived forms of things, is their change and sublation into
new forms, taking place in accordance with general patterns expressed in
ideal forms. When an object has been created society’s need for it is
satisfied; the activity has petered out in its product, and the ideal itself has
died.
An ideal image, say of bread, may arise in the imagination of a hungry
man or of a baker. In the head of a satiated man occupied in building a
house, ideal bread does not arise. But if we take society as a whole ideal
bread, and ideal houses, are always in existence, and any ideal object with
which man is concerned in the process of production and reproduction
of his material life. In consequence of that all nature is idealised in man
and not just that part which he immediately produces or reproduces or
consumes in a practical way. Without a constant re-idealising of the real
objects of human life activity, without their transformation into the ideal,
and so without symbolisation, man cannot in general be the active subject
of social production.
The ideal also appears as the product and form of human labour, of
the purposive transformation of natural material and social relations
effected by social man. The ideal is present only where there is an indi-
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 161
vidual performing his activity in forms given to him by the preceding
development of humanity. Man is distinguished from beasts by the
existence of an ideal plane of activity. ‘But what ... distinguishes the most
incompetent architect and the best of bees, is that the architect has built a
cell in his head before he constructs it is wax. The labour process ends in
the creation of something which, when the process began, already existed
in the worker’s imagination, already existed in an ideal form’.24
We must once more note that if the head is understood naturalistically,
i.e. as a material organ of the separate individual’s body, then there
is no difference in principle, it transpires, between the architect and the
bee. The wax cell that the bee builds also exists beforehand in the form
of the pattern of the insect’s activity programmed in its nerve centres. In
that sense the product of the bee’s activity is also given ‘ideally’ before its
real performance. But the insect’s forms of activity are innate in it, inherited
together with the structural, anatomical organisation of its body. The
form of activity that we can denote as the ideal existence of the product is
never differentiated from the body of the animal in any other way than as
some real product. The fundamental distinction between man’s activity
and the activity of an animal is this, that no one form of this activity, no
one faculty, is inherited together with the anatomical organisation of the
body. All forms of activity (active faculties) are passed on only in the
form of objects created by man for man. The individual mastery of a
humanly determined form of activity, i.e. the ideal image of its object and
product, are therefore transformed in a special process that does not
coincide with the objective moulding of nature (shaping of nature in
objects). The form itself of man’s activity is therefore transformed into a
special object, into the object of special activity.
When the ideal was defined above as the form of man’s activity, that
definition was, strictly speaking, incomplete. It characterised the ideal
only according to its objectively conditioned content; but the ideal is only
there where the form itself of the activity corresponding to the form of
the external object is transformed for man into a special object with
which he can operate specially without touching and without changing
the real object up to a certain point. Man, and only man, ceases to be
‘merged’ with the form of his life activity; he separates it from himself
and, giving it his attention transforms it into an idea. Since man is given

24 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35, p 187-88.
162 E. V. ILYENKOV
the external thing in general only insofar as it is involved in the process of
his activity, in the final product – in the idea – the image of the thing is
always merged with the image of the activity in which this thing functions.

That constitutes the epistemological basis of the identification of the
thing with the idea, of the real with the ideal, i.e. the epistemological root
of any kind or shade of idealism. True, the objectification of the form of
activity as a result of which it becomes possible to take it as the form of
the thing, and conversely the form of the thing as the product and form
of subjective activity, as the ideal is still not, as a matter of fact, idealism.
This real fact is only transformed into one variety or another of idealism
or fetishism given certain social conditions, or more concretely given the
spontaneous division of labour, in which the form of activity is forcibly
imposed on the individual by social processes that are independent of
him and not understood by him. The objectification (materialisation) of
social forms of human activity characteristic of commodity production
(commodity fetishism) is quite analogous to the religious alienation of
active human faculties in ideas about gods. This analogy is realised quite
clearly already within the limits of the objective-idealist view of the nature
of the ideal. Thus the young Marx, still a Left Hegelian, noted that all the
ancient gods possessed the same ‘real existence’ as money did. ‘Did not
the ancient Moloch reign? Was not the Delphic Apollo a real power in
the life of the Greeks? Kant’s critique means nothing in this respect. If
somebody imagines that he has a hundred talers, if this concept is not for
him an arbitrary, subjective one, if he believes in it, then these hundred
imagined talers have for him the same value as a hundred real ones....
Real talers have the same existence that the imagined gods have. Has a
real taler any existence except in the imagination, if only in the general or
rather common imagination of man?25
The real nature of this analogy, however, was only disclosed by him
later, on the basis of the materialist conception of nature and money and
religious images. The ‘similarity’ of commodity fetishism and religious
estrangement is rooted in the real connection of people’s social ideas and
their real activity, and the forms of practice, in the active role of the ideal
image (notion). Up to a certain point man is able to change the form of
his activity (or the ideal image of the external thing) without touching the

25 “Doctoral Dissertation,” MECW vol. 1, p 104.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 163
thing itself, but only because he can separate the ideal image from himself,
objectify it, and operate with it as with an object existing outside
him. Let us recall once more the example of the architect, cited by Marx.
The architect builds a house. not simply in his head but by means of his
head, on the plane of ideas on Whatman paper, on the plane of the
drawing board. He thus alters his internal state, externalising it, and
operating with it as with an object distinct from himself. In changing it he
potentially alters the real house, i.e. changes it ideally, potentially, which
means that he alters one sensuously perceived object instead of another.
In other words activity on the plane of representation, altering the
ideal image of an object, is also sensuous objective activity transforming
the sensuously perceived image of the thing to which it is directed. Only
the thing altered here is special; it is only the objectified idea or form of the
person’s activity taken as a thing. That circumstance also makes it possible to
slur over the fundamental, philosophical, epistemological difference
between material activity and the activity of the theoretician and ideologist
who directly alters only the verbal, token objectification of the ideal
image.
A person cannot pass the ideal as such to another person, as the pure
form of activity. One can observe the activity of a painter or an engineer
as long as one likes, striving to catch their mode of action, the form of
their activity, but one can thus only copy the external techniques and
methods of their work but never the ideal image itself, the active faculty
itself. The ideal, as the form of subjective activity, is only masterable
through active operation with the object and product of this activity, i.e.
through the form of its product, through the objective form of the thing,
through its active disobjectification. The ideal image of objective reality
therefore also only exists as the form (mode, image) of living activity,
coordinated with the form of its object, but not as a thing, not as a
materially fixed state or structure.
The ideal is nothing else than a concatenation of the general forms of
human activity realised by individuals, which determine the will and
aptitude of individuals to act as an aim and law. It is quite understandable
that the individual realisation of the ideal image is always linked with
some deviation or other, or rather with concretisation of the image, with
its correcting in accordance with the specific conditions, new social
needs, the peculiarities of the material, and so on. And so, it posits the
capacity to correlate the ideal image consciously with real, not yet idealised
actuality. In that case the ideal functions as a special object for the
164 E. V. ILYENKOV
individual, and object that he can alter purposively in accordance with the
needs (requirements) of his activity. When, on the contrary, the individual
only masters the ideal image formally, as a rigid pattern and sequence of
operations, without understanding its origin and links with real (not
idealised) actuality, he proves incapable of taking a critical attitude to this
image, i.e. as a special object differentiated from him. Then he merges
with it, as it were, and cannot treat it as an object correlated with reality
and alter it accordingly. In that case, strictly speaking, it is not the individual
who operates with the ideal image but the dogmatised image that
acts in and through the individual. Here it is not the ideal image that is a
real function of the individual but, on the contrary, the individual who is
a function of the image, which dominates his mind and will as an externally
given formal scheme, as an estranged image, as a fetish, as a system
of unarguable rules coming inevitably from somewhere out of the blue.
The idealist conception of the nature of the ideal corresponds to just
such a consciousness.
The materialist conception, on the contrary, will prove to be natural
to the man of communist society in which culture will not be counterposed
to the individual as something given to him from outside, something
independent and alien, but will be the form of his own real activity.
In communist society, as Marx showed, it will become immediately
obvious that all forms of culture are only forms of the activity of man himself, which
is only brought to light in the conditions of bourgeois society by a theoretical
analysis dispelling the illusions inevitable under them. ‘Everything
that has a fixed form, such as the product, etc., appears as merely a
moment, a vanishing moment, in this movement. ... The conditions and
objectifications of the process are themselves equally moments of it, and
its only subjects. are the individuals, but individuals in mutual relationships,
which they equally reproduce and produce anew. The constant
process of their own movement, in which they renew themselves even as
they renew the world of wealth they create’.26
A consistently materialist conception of thought, of course, alters the
approach to the key problems of logic in a cardinal way, in particular to
interpretation of the nature of logical categories, Marx and Engels established
above all that the external world was not given to the individual as
it was in itself simply and directly in his contemplation, but only in the

26 “Grundrisse,” MECW vol. 29, p 98.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 165
course of its being altered by man: and that both the contemplating man
himself and the world contemplated were products of history.
The forms of thought, too, the categories, were accordingly understood
not as simple abstractions from unhistorically understood sensuousness,
but primarily as universal forms of social man’s sensuously
objective activity reflected in consciousness. The real objective equivalent
of logical forms was seen not simply in the abstract, general contours of
the object contemplated by the individual but in the forms of man’s real
activity transforming nature in accordance with his own ends: ‘It is
precisely the alteration of nature by men, not solely nature as such, which is
the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is the
measure that man has earned to change nature that his intelligence has
increased.27 The subject of thought here already proved to be the individual
in the nexus of social relations, the socially determined individual, all
the forms of whose life activity were given not by nature, but by history,
by the process of the moulding of human culture.
The forms of human activity (and the thought-forms reflecting them)
are consequently laid down in the course of history independently of the
will and consciousness of individuals, to whom they are counterposed as
the forms of a historically developed system of culture, a system that does
not develop at all according to the laws of psychology, since the development
of social consciousness is not a simple arithmetic sum of psychic
process but a special process governed in general and on the whole by
the laws of development of society’s material life. These laws not only do
not depend on the will and consciousness of individuals but, on the
contrary, also actively determine that will and consciousness. The separate
individual does not develop the universal forms of human activity by
himself, and cannot do so, whatever the powers of abstraction he possesses,
but assimilates them ready-made in the course of his own acquiring
of culture, together with language and the knowledge expressed in it.
Psychological analysis of the act of reflection of the external world in
the individual head therefore cannot be the means of developing logic.
The individual thinks only insofar as he has already mastered the general
(logical) determinations historically moulded before him and completely
independently of him. And psychology as a science does not investigate

27 Engels, “Dialectics of Nature,” MECW vol. 25, p 511.
166 E. V. ILYENKOV
the development of human culture or civilisation, rightly considering it a
premise independent of the individual.
While Hegel’s recording of these facts led him to idealism, Marx and
Engels, having considered the real (objective) prototype of logical definitions
and laws in the concrete, universal forms and laws of social man’s
objective activity, cut off any possibility of subjectivist interpretation of
the activity itself. Man does not act on nature from outside, but ‘confronts
nature as one of her own forces’28 and his objective activity is
therefore linked at every stage with, and mediated by, objective natural
laws. Man ‘makes use of the mechanical, physical, and chemical properties
of things as means of exerting power over other things, and in order
to make these other things subservient to his aims .... Thus nature becomes
an instrument of his activities, an instrument with which he supplements
his own bodily organs, adding a cubit and more to his stature,
scripture notwithstanding’.29 It is just in that that the secret of the universality
of human activity lies, which idealism passes off as the consequence
of reason operating in man: ‘The universality of man appears in practice
precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body –
both inasmuch a nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material,
the object, and the instrument of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic
body – nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself the human body’.30
The laws of human activity are therefore also, above all, laws of the
natural material from which ‘man’s inorganic body’, the objective (material)
body of civilisation, is built, i.e. laws of the movement and change of
the objects of nature, transformed into the organs of man, into moments
of the process of production of society’s material life.
In labour (production) man makes one object of nature act on another
object of the same nature in accordance with their own properties
and laws of existence . Marx and Engels showed that the logical forms of
man’s action were the consequences (reflection) of real laws of human
actions on objects, i.e. of practice in all its scope and development, laws
that are independent of any thinking. Practice understood materialistically,
appeared as a process in whose movement each object involved in

28 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35, p 187.
29 ibid., p 189.
30 “Estranged Labour,” MECW vol. 3, p 275-76.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 167
it functioned (behaved) in accordance with its own laws, bringing its own
form and measure to light in the changes taking place in it.
Thus mankind’s practice is a fully concrete (particular) process, and
at the same time a universal one. It includes all other forms and types of
the movement of matter as its abstract moments, and takes place in
conformity with their laws. The general laws governing man’s changing
of nature therefore transpire to be also general laws of the change of
nature itself, revealed by man’s activity, and not by orders foreign to it,
dictated from outside. The universal laws of man’s changing of nature are
also universal laws of nature only in accordance with which can man
successfully alter it. Once realised they also appear as laws of reason, as
logical laws. Their ‘specificity’ consists precisely in their in their universality,
i.e. in the fact that they are not only laws of subjectivity (as laws of the
physiology of higher nervous activity or of language), and not only of
objective reality (as laws of physics or chemistry), but also laws governing
the movement both of objective reality and of subjective human life
activity. (That does not mean at all, of course, that thought does not in
general possess any ‘specific features’ worthy of study. As a special process
possessing features specifically distinguishing it from the movement
of objective reality, i.e. as a psycho-physiological faculty of the human
individual, thought has, of course, to be subjected to very detailed study
in psychology and the physiology of the higher nervous system, but not
in logic). In subjective consciousness these laws appear as ‘plenipotentiaries’
of the rights of the object, as its universal, ideal image: ‘The laws of
logic are the reflections of the objective in the subjective consciousness
of man’.31
9. On the Coincidence of Logic with Dialectics and
the Theory of Knowledge of Materialism
Like any other science logic is concerned with explaining and systematising
objective forms and patterns not dependent on men’s will and
consciousness, within which human activity, both material-objective and
mental-theoretical, takes place. Its subject matter is the objective laws of
subjective activity.
Such a conception is quite unacceptable to traditional logic since,
from the standpoint of the latter, it unites the unjoinable, i.e. an affirma-

31 Lenin’s “Philosophical Notebooks, LCW vol. 38, p 183.
168 E. V. ILYENKOV
tion and its negation, A and not-A, opposing predicates. For the subjective
is not objective, and vice versa. But the state of affairs in the real
world and in the science comprehending it also proves unacceptable to
traditional logic, because in it the transition, formation, and transformation
of things and processes (including into their own opposite) prove to
be the essence of the matter at every step. Traditional logic is consequently
inadequate to the real practice of scientific and therefore has to be
brought into correspondence with the latter.
Marx and Engels showed that science and practice, quite independently
of consciously acquired logical notions, developed in accordance
with the universal laws that had been described by the dialectical tradition
in philosophy. It can (and in fact does) happen, even in situations when
each separate representative of science involved in its general progress is
consciously guided by undialectical ideas about thought. Science as a
whole, through the clash of undialectical opinions mutually provoking
and correcting one another, develops for all that in accordance with a
logic of a higher type and order.
The theoretician who has succeeded finally in finding the concrete
solution to some contentious problem or other has been objectively
forced to think dialectically. Genuine logical necessity drives a road for
itself in this case despite the theoretician’s consciousness, instead of being
realised purposively and freely. It therefore transpires that the greatest
theoreticians and natural scientists, whose work has determined the main
lines of development of science, have been guided as a rule by the dialectical
traditions in logic. Thus Albert Einstein owed much to Spinoza, and
Heisenberg to Plato, and so on.
Taking this conception as their starting point, Marx, Engels, and
Lenin established that it was dialectics, and only dialectics, that was the
real logic in accordance with which modern thought made progress. It
was it, too, that operated at the ‘growing points’ of modern science,
although the representatives of science were not wholly conscious of the
fact. That was why logic as a science coincided (merged) not only with
dialectics but also with the theory of knowledge of materialism. ‘In Capital
Marx applied to a single science logic, dialectics, and the theory of knowledge
of materialism (three words are not needed; it is one and the same
thing)’, is how Lenin categorically formulated it.32

32 Lenin’s “Philosophical Notebooks, LCW vol. 38, p 319.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 169
The problem of the relation of logic, the theory of knowledge, and
dialectics occupied a special place in Lenin’s work. One can say, without
danger of exaggeration, that it forms the core of all his special philosophical
reflections, to which he returned again and again, each time formulating
his conception and solution more succinctly and categorically.
In Lenin’s reflections, especially those arising in the course of critical
rethinking of Hegelian structures, two themes are clearly distinguished:
(1) the inter-relation between logic and epistemology; and (2) the conception
of dialectics as a science that includes its own scientific, theoretical
solution of problems that are traditionally isolated from it in the form of
logic and the theory of knowledge. Reconstruction of the considerations
that enabled Lenin to formulate the position of modern materialism (i.e.
Marxism) so categorically is very important for the simple reason that no
unanimous interpretation of his propositions has yet been reached in
Soviet philosophy.
Although the direct object of the critical analysis documented in the
Philosophical Notebooks was first and foremost Hegel’s conception, it would
of course be a mistake to see in that book only a critical commentary on
Hegel’s works. Lenin was concerned, it goes without saying, not with
Hegel as such but with the real content of problems that still preserve
their urgent significance to this day. In other words Lenin undertook, in
the form of a critical analysis of the Hegelian conception, a survey of the
state of affairs in philosophy in his own day, comparing and evaluating
the means of posing and resolving its cardinal problems. Quite naturally,
the problem of scientific knowledge came to the fore, around which –
and more clearly as time went on – all world philosophical thought
revolved at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the
twentieth. Here is how Lenin depicted the aim of his investigations: “The
theme of logic. To be compared with present-day “epistemology”‘.33
The inverted commas enclosing the word ‘epistemology’ are not
there quite by chance. The fact is that the isolation of a number of old
philosophical problems in a special philosophical science (it is all the
same whether we recognise it then as the sole form of scientific philosophy
or as only of the many divisions of philosophy) is a fact of recent
origin. The term itself came into currency only in the latter half of the
nineteenth century as the designation of a special science, of a special

33 ibid., p 103.
170 E. V. ILYENKOV
field of investigation that had not been sharply distinguished in any way
in the classical philosophical systems, and had not constituted either a
special science or even a special division, although it would be an error,
of course, to affirm that knowledge in general and scientific knowledge in
particular had only become the subject of specially close attention with
the development of ‘epistemology’.
The setting up of epistemology as a special science was associated
historically and essentially with the broad spread of Neokantianism,
which became, during the last third of the nineteenth century, the most
influential trend in the bourgeois philosophical thought of Europe, and
was converted into the officially recognised school of professorial, university
philosophy, first in Germany, and then in all those areas of the
world from which people came to the German universities hoping to
study serious professional philosophy there. Neokantianism owed its
spread not least to the traditional fame of Germany as the home of Kant,
Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.
Its special feature was not at all, of course, the discovery of knowledge
as the central philosophical problem, but the specific form in which
it was posed, which boiled down (despite all the disagreements among
the various branches of this school) to the following: ‘It is accepted to
call the doctrine of knowledge, inquiring into the conditions by which
indisputably existing knowledge becomes possible, and limits are established
in accordance with these conditions up to which any knowledge
whatsoever can be extended but beyond which there opens up the sphere
of equally undemonstrable opinions, the “theory of knowledge” or
“epistemology”. ... The theory of knowledge, of course, together with the
tasks mentioned above, rightly poses itself yet other, and supplementary,
tasks. But if it wants to be a science making sense it must, above all,
concern itself with explaining the problem of the existence or nonexistence
of boundaries to knowledge ...’34
The Russian Kantian A. I. Vvedensky, author of the definition just
quoted, very accurately and clearly indicated the special feature of the
science that ‘it is accepted to call’ epistemology in the literature of the
Neokantian trend, and in all the schools that have arisen under its predominant
influence. Dozens of similar formulations could be cited from

34 A. I. Vvedensy, Logika kak chast’ teorii poznaniya (Logic as Part of the Theory
of Knowledge), Moscow 1923, p 29.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 171
the classical authors of Neokantianism (Rickert, Wundt, Cassirer, Windelband)
and the work of such representatives of ‘daughter’ branches as
Schuppe and Vaihinger.
The job of the theory of knowledge, consequently, was considered to
be the establishment of ‘limits of knowledge’, boundaries that knowledge
could not cross in any circumstances, or however high the development
of the cognitive capacities of a person or of humanity, or of the technique
of scientific experiment and research. These ‘limits’ differentiated
the sphere of what was knowable, in principle from that of what was in
principle unknowable, extralimital, ‘transcendent’. They were not determined
at all by the limitation of human experience in space and time (in
that case extension of the ‘sphere of experience’ would constantly widen
them, and the problem would boil down simply to differentiation between
what was already known and what was not yet known but was, in
principle, knowable), but by the eternal and immutable nature of man’s
psycho-physiological peculiarities through which all external influences
were refracted (as through a prism). These ‘specific mechanisms’, by
which alone the external world was given to man, were those that generated
the ‘limit’ beyond which lay what was in principle unknowable. What
was unknowable in principle proved to be nothing more nor less than the
real world lying outside man’s consciousness, as it was ‘before its appearance
in consciousness’. In other words ‘epistemology’ was distinguished
as a special science in this tradition only on the grounds of a priori acceptance
of the thesis that, human knowledge was not knowledge of the
external world (i.e. existing outside consciousness) but was only a process
of the ordering, organisation, and systematisation of facts of ‘inner experience’,
i.e. ultimately of the psycho-physiological states of the human
organism, absolutely dissimilar to the states and events of the external
world.
That meant that any science, be it physics or political economy,
mathematics or history, did not tell us anything (and could not) about just
how matters stood in the external world, because in fact it described only
facts arising within ourselves, the psycho-physiological phenomena
illusorily perceived as a sum of external facts.
For the sake of special proof of this thesis a special science ‘epistemology’
was created that concerned itself exclusively with the ‘inner
conditions’ of knowledge and purged them carefully of any dependence
whatsoever on the effect of ‘external conditions’, above all of a ‘condi-
172 E. V. ILYENKOV
tion’ such as the existence of an external world with its own objective
laws.
‘Epistemology’ was thus distinguished as a special science counterposed
to ‘ontology’ (or ‘metaphysics’), and not at all as a discipline investigating
the real course of human knowledge of the surrounding world;
quite the contrary, it was born as a doctrine postulating that every form
of knowledge without exception was not a form of knowledge of the
surrounding world but only a specific schema of the organisation of the
‘subject of knowledge’.
From the standpoint of this ‘theory of knowledge’ any attempt to interpret
existing knowledge as knowledge (understanding) of the surrounding
world was impermissible ‘metaphysics’, ‘ontologisation’ of
purely subjective forms of activity, an illusory attributing of determinations
of the subject to ‘things in themselves’, to the world outside consciousness.

By ‘metaphysics’ and’ ontology’ then was meant not so much a special
science of ‘the world as a whole’, a universal scheme of the world, as
the whole aggregate of real, so-called ‘positive’ sciences (physics, chemistry,
biology, political economy, history, and so on). So that the main
fervour of Neokantian ‘epistemologism’ proved to be directed precisely
against the idea of a scientific world outlook, of a scientific understanding
of the world realised in the real sciences themselves. A ‘scientific world
outlook’, according to this view, was an absurdity, nonsense, since ‘science’
(read: the whole aggregate of natural and social sciences) in general
knew nothing about the world outside consciousness and did not speak
of it. Under the scornful term ‘metaphysics’ Neokantians therefore in fact
refuse the laws and patterns discovered and formulated by physics,
chemistry, biology, political economy, history, etc., any philosophical
significance as a world outlook. From their point of view metaphysics
could not be a ‘science’, and science (read again: the aggregate of all
sciences) could not and had no right to play the role of ‘metaphysics’, i.e.
to lay claim to an objective meaning (in the materialist sense of the term)
for its statements. A world outlook therefore also could not be scientific,
because it was the connected aggregate of views of the world within
which man lived, acted, and thought, and science was not in a position to
unite its achievements in a world outlook without thereby falling into
difficulties that were unresolvable for it, into contradictions.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 173
This had already, allegedly, been demonstrated once and for all by
Kant. It was impossible to build a world outlook from the data of science.
But why not, precisely?
Because the very principles of knowledge, which were the conditions
for the possibility of any scientific synthesis of notions into concepts,
judgments, and inferences, i.e. into categories, at the same time also
proved to be the conditions of the impossibility of achieving a full synthesis
of all scientific ideas into the body of a connected, united, and noncontradictory
picture of the world. And that, in the language of Kantians,
meant that a world outlook built on scientific principles (or simply a
scientific world outlook) was impossible in principle. In a scientific world
outlook (and not by chance, not from lack of information, but of the
necessity inherent in the very nature of thought expressed in categorial
schemas) there were always flaws of contradictions cracking it to bits that
were unconnectable with one another without flagrant breach of the
supreme principle of all analytical judgments, the principle of contradiction
in scientific determinations.
Man could unite and connect the isolated fragments of the scientific
picture of the world into a higher unity in one way only, by breaking his
own supreme principles; or, what was the same thing, by turning unscientific
schemas of the coupling of ideas in a united whole into the principles
of synthesis, since the latter had no relation with the principle of contradiction,
but were the principles of faith and opinion, dogmas that were
equally undemonstrable and uncontrovertible scientifically, and were
acceptable solely according to irrational whims, sympathy, conscience,
etc., etc. Only faith was capable of synthesising the fragments of knowledge
into a united picture at those points where all attempts to do so by
means of science were doomed to failure. Hence the slogan specific to all
Kantians of the uniting of science and faith, of the logical principles of
the construction of a scientific picture of the world and of irrational
precepts (logically undemonstrable and incontrovertible), compensating
the powerlessness organically built into the intellect to accomplish the
highest synthesis of knowledge.
Only within the limits described above could the meaning of the
Kantian posing of the problem of the relation of logic to the theory of
knowledge be understood. Logic as such was interpreted by all Kantians
as part of the theory of knowledge. Occasionally this ‘part’ was given the main
significance and it almost swallowed the whole (for example, in the
variants of Cohen and Natorp, Cassirer and Rickert, Vvedensky and
174 E. V. ILYENKOV
Chelpanov), and occasionally it was relegated to a more modest place,
subordinated to the other ‘parts’ of the theory of knowledge; but logic
was always ‘part’. The theory of knowledge was broader, because its job
was wider, since reason (understanding) was not the sole, though the
most important, means of processing the data of sensations, perceptions,
and ideas into the form of knowledge, into concepts and a system of
concepts, into science. Logic, therefore, in the Kantian interpretation,
never covered the whole field of the problems of the theory of knowledge;
beyond it lay an analysis of processes effected by other aptitudes,
that is to say, perception, and intuition, and memory, and imagination,
and many others. Logic, as the theory of discursive thought, which
moved in rigorous determinations and in strict accord with rules clearly
realisable and formulatable, only partly did the job of the theory of
knowledge, only through analysis of its own object, singled out from the
whole complex of cognitive faculties. The main job of the theory of
knowledge, however, thus also remained logic’s chief task, i.e. to establish
the limits of knowledge and clarify the inner limitedness of the possibilities
of thought in the course of constructing a world outlook.
Logic therefore had neither the least connection nor least relation
with understanding of the real world of ‘things in themselves’. It was
applicable solely to things already realised (with or without its involvement),
i.e. to the psychic phenomena of human culture. Its special task
was rigorous analysis of the already available images of consciousness
(transcendental objects), i.e. their resolution into simple components,
expressed in strictly defined terms, and the reverse operation, the synthesis
or linking together of the components into complex systems of determinations
(concepts, systems of concepts, theories) again by the same
rigorously established rules.
Logic must also demonstrate that real discursive thought was incapable
of leading knowledge beyond the limits of existing consciousness, or
of crossing the boundaries dividing the ‘phenomenal’ world from the
world of ‘things in themselves’. Thought, if it were logical, could not
concern itself with ‘things in themselves’, and had no right to. So that,
even within the boundaries of knowledge, thought was assigned in turn a
limited field of legitimate application, within which the rules of logic were
binding and obligatory.
The laws and rules of logic were inapplicable to the images of perception
as such, to sensations, to ideas, to the phantoms of mythologised
consciousness, including in that the idea of God, of the immortality of
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 175
the soul, and so on. But they did, and had to, serve as filters, as it were,
retaining these images at the boundaries of scientific knowledge. And
only that. To judge whether these images were true in themselves,
whether they played a positive or a negative role in the body of spiritual
culture, thought oriented on logic had neither the possibilities nor the
right. In fact there was not and could not be a rationally substantiated,
scientifically verified position in relation to any image of consciousness if
it arose before and independently of the special logical activity of the
mind, before and outside science. In science, inside its specific limits
defined by logic, the existence of such images was inadmissible. Beyond
its limits their existence was sovereign, outside the jurisdiction of reason
and comprehension and therefore morally and epistemologically inviolable.

Considering the special features of the Kantian interpretation of the
relation of logic and epistemology, one can understand the close attention
that Lenin paid to Hegel’s solution of this problem. In Hegel’s understanding
of the matter logic as a whole and in full, without irrational
vestiges, embraced the whole field of the problems of knowledge and left
no images of contemplation or fantasy outside its boundaries. It included
their examination as external products (realised in the sensuously perceived
material) of the real force of thought, because they were thought
itself, only embodied not in words, judgments, and conclusions, deductions
and inferences, but in things (actions, events, etc.) sensibly opposed
to the individual consciousness. Logic merged here with the theory of
knowledge because all other cognitive faculties were considered as forms of
thought, as thinking that had not yet attained an adequate form of expression,
had not yet matured to it.
Here we come up against the extreme expression, as it were, of
Hegel’s absolute idealism, according to which the whole world, and not
only the cognitive faculties, was interpreted as alienated or estranged
(embodied) thought that has not yet arrived at itself. With that, of course,
Lenin as a consistent materialist could not agree. It is very indicative,
however, that Lenin formulated his attitude to the Hegelian solution very
cautiously: ‘In this conception [i.e. Hegel’s – EVI], logic coincides with
the theory of knowledge. This is in general a very important question’.35

35 Lenin’s “Philosophical Notebooks,” LCW vol. 38, p 175.
176 E. V. ILYENKOV
We have succeeded, it seems, in demonstrating just why, in the
course of Lenin’s reading of Hegel’s logic, this problem appeared more
and more clearly to him to be ‘very important’, and perhaps the most
important of all; why Lenin’s thought returned to it again and again, in
circles as it were, each time becoming more and more definite and categorical.
The fact is that the Kantian conception of logic, generally accepted
at the time, as part of the theory of knowledge, by no means
remained an abstract, philosophical, theoretical construction. The Kantian
theory of knowledge defined the limits of the competence of science
in general, leaving the most acute problems as regards world outlook
beyond its limits, and declaring them ‘transcendental’ for logical thought,
i.e. for theoretical knowledge and solution. But in this case the union of
scientific investigation and faith in the corpus of a world outlook would
be not only permissible but necessary. And it was in fact under the banner
of Kantianism that the revisionist stream (the principles of which had
been laid down by Eduard Bernstein and Conrad Schmidt) surged forward
in the socialist movement. The Kantian theory of knowledge was
directly oriented here on ‘uniting’ ‘rigorous scientific thought’ (the thinking
of Marx and Engels, according to Bernstein, was not strictly scientific
because it was marred by foggy Hegelian dialectics) with ‘ethical values’
and undemonstrable and irrefutable faith in the transcendental postulates
of the ‘good’, of ‘conscience’ of ‘love of one’s neighbour’ and of the
whole ‘human race’ without exception, and so on and so forth.
The harm done to the working class movement by the propagation
of ‘higher values’ was not, of course, the talk about conscience being
good and lack of conscience bad, or about love of the human race being
preferable to hatred of it. The harm of the Kantian idea of uniting science
with a system of ‘higher’ ethical values consisted in principle in its orienting
theoretical thought itself along lines other than those along which the
teaching of Marx and Engels had been developed. It plotted its own,
Kantian strategy of scientific research for social-democratic theoreticians
and confused ideas on the main line of development of theoretical
thought and on the lines along which theoretical solution of the real
problems of modern times could and should be sought. The Kantian
theory of knowledge turned theoretical thinking not to analysis of the
material, economic relations between people that form the foundation of
the whole pyramid of social relations, but to elaborating of far-fetched
‘ethical’ constructions, morally interpretable policies, and social psychol-
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 177
ogy of the Berdyaev kind, and to other things, which were interesting but
absolutely useless (if not harmful) to the working class movement.
The orientation of theoretical thought not on the logic of Capital but
on moral-fictional harping on the secondary, derivative defects of the
capitalist system in its secondary, superstructural storeys, led to the
decisive, dominant trends of the new, imperialist stage of the development
of capitalism escaping the notice of the theoreticians of the Second
International; not because they lacked talent, but rather because of a
petty-bourgeois class orientation and a false epistemological position.
In this respect the fate of Rudolf Hilferding and H. W. C. Cunow
was very characteristic. Insofar as they tried to develop Marx’s political
economy by means of the ‘latest’ logical devices, rather than of dialectics,
it inevitably degenerated into a superficial classificatory description of
contemporary economic phenomena, i.e. into a quite uncritical acceptance
of them, into an apologia. This path led directly to Karl Renner and
his Theory of the Capitalist Economy, the Bible of right-wing socialism, which
was already linked, as regards its method of thinking and logic of investigation,
with vulgar positivist epistemology. Renner’s philosophical credo
was as follows: ‘... Marx’s Capital, written in an age far removed from us,
with a quite different way of thinking, and a manner of exposition not
worked out to the end, with every new decade increases the reader’s
difficulties. ... The style of writing of the German philosophers has
become foreign to us. Marx came from a very philosophical age. Science
today no longer proceeds deductively (not only in research but also in
presentation), but rather inductively; it starts ‘from experimentally established
facts, systematises them and so by degrees arrives at the level of
abstract concepts. For an age that is so accustomed to think and to read,
the first section of Marx’s principal work presents sheer insuperable
difficulty’.36
The orientation on ‘modern science’ and the modern way of thinking’,
already begun with Bernstein, turned into an orientation on the
idealistic and agnostic vogue interpretations of ‘modern science’, on
Humean-Berkeleian and Kantian epistemology. Lenin saw that quite
clearly. From the middle of the nineteenth century bourgeois philosophy
frankly moved ‘back to Kant’, and further back to Hume and Berkeley;

36 Karl Renner, Die Wirtschaft als Gesamtprozess und die Sozialisierung, Berlin 1924, p
5.
178 E. V. ILYENKOV
and Hegel’s logic, despite all its absolute idealism, was more and more
clearly depicted as the pinnacle of the development of all pre-Marxian
philosophy in the field of logic understood as the theory of the development
of scientific knowledge, as the theory of knowledge.
Lenin repeatedly stressed that it was only possible to move forward
from Hegel along one line and one line only, that of a materialist reworking
of his achievements, because Hegel’s absolute idealism had really
exhausted all the possibilities of idealism as a principle for understanding
thought, knowledge, and scientific consciousness. But, because of certain
circumstances lying outside science, only Marx and Engels had been able
to take that line. It was closed to bourgeois philosophy; and the slogan
‘Back to Kant’ was imperiously dictated by the fear aroused in the bourgeoisie’s
ideologists by the social perspectives opened up from the
heights of the dialectical view of thought. From the moment the materialist
view of history appeared, Hegel was seen by bourgeois consciousness
as none other than the ‘spiritual father’ of Marxism. That had a considerable
grain of truth, too, for Marx and Engels had disclosed the genuine
sense of Hegel’s main achievement, dialectics, and demonstrated not only
the constructive, creative power of its principles, understood as the
principles of man’s rational attitude to the world, but also their revolutionary,
destructive force.
Why then did Lenin, while fighting Hegel’s absolute idealism, begin
to join sides with him more and more just at that point where the idealism
seemed in fact to become absolute? For surely the conception of logic
as a science embracing in its principles not only human thought but also
the real world outside consciousness was linked with panlogism, with the
interpretation of the forms and laws of the real world as alienated forms
of thought, and thought itself as the absolute force and power organising
the world?
The fact is that Hegel was and remains the sole thinker before Marx
who consciously introduced practice into logic with full rights as the
criterion both of truth and of the correctness of the operations that man
performs in the sphere of the verbal, symbolic explication of his psychic
states. In Hegel logic became identified with the theory of knowledge
precisely because man’s practice (i.e. realisation of the aims of the ‘spirit’
in sense objects, in natural, physical material was brought into the logical
process as a phase, was looked upon as thought in its external revelation,
in the course of checking its results through direct contact with ‘things in
themselves’.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 179
Lenin traced the development of Hegel’s corresponding ideas with
special scrupulousness. ‘... The practice of man and of mankind is the
test, the criterion of the objectivity of cognition. Is that Hegel’s idea? It is
necessary to return to this’, he wrote.37 And returning to it, he wrote
confidently, and quite categorically: ‘... Undoubtedly, in Hegel practice
serves as a link in the analysis of the process of cognition, and indeed as
the transition to objective (“absolute”, according to Hegel) truth. Marx,
consequently, clearly sides with Hegel in introducing the criterion of
practice into the theory of knowledge: see the Theses on Feuerbach’.38
In appearing as a practical act thought included things outside consciousness
in its movement, and then it turned out that the ‘things in themselves’
were subordinated to the dictates of thinking man and obediently moved
and changed according to laws and schemas dictated by his thought.
Thus not only did the ‘spirit’ move according to logical schemas, but also
the world of ‘things in themselves’. Logic consequently proved to be
precisely a theory of knowledge of things also, and not solely a theory of
the self-knowledge of the spirit.
Formulating the ‘rational kernel’ of Hegel’s conception of the subject
matter of logic, Lenin wrote: ‘Logic is the science not of external forms
of thought, but of the laws of development “of all material, natural and
spiritual things”, i.e., of the development of the entire concrete content
of the world and of its cognition, i.e., the sum-total, the conclusion of the
History of knowledge of the world’.39
There is no such a formulation, and furthermore no such a conception
of the subject matter of logic in Hegel himself. In this passage Lenin did
not simply translate Hegel’s thought ‘into his own words’, but reworked it
materialistically. Hegel’s own text, in which Lenin discovered the ‘rational
kernel’ of his conception of logic, does not sound at all like that. Here it
is: ‘The indispensable basis, the Concept, the Universal, which is Thought
itself – in so far, that is, as in using the word Thought one can abstract
from the idea – this cannot be regarded as a merely indifferent form which
is attached to some content. But these thoughts of all natural and spiritual
things [Only these words are found in Lenin’s formulation – EVI] even
the substantial content, are yet such as to possess manifold determina-

37 Lenin’s “Philosophical Notebooks,” LCW vol. 38, p 211.
38 ibid., p 212.
39 ibid., p 92-93.
180 E. V. ILYENKOV
tions and to contain the distinction between Soul and Body, between a
concept and its respective reality; the deeper basis is the soul in itself, the
pure concept, which is the very core of objects, their very life-pulse, as it
is the core and pulse of subjective thinking itself. To bring into clear
consciousness this logical character which gives soul to mind and stirs and
works in it, this is our problem’.40
The difference between Hegel’s formulation and Lenin’s is one of
principle, because there is nothing in Hegel about the development of
natural things, and could not even be. It would therefore be a gross error
to think that the definition of logic as the science of the laws of development
of all material and spiritual things is only Hegel’s idea transmitted
by Lenin, or even simply cited by him. It is nothing of the sort; it is
Lenin’s own idea, formulated, by him in the course of a critical reading of
Hegel’s words.
Hegel’s logic is also his theory of knowledge for the reason that the science
of thought was inferred by him from an investigation of the history of
the spirit’s self-knowledge, and thus of the world of natural things, since
the latter were considered moments of the logical process, schemas of
thought, concepts, alienated in natural material.
Logic is also the theory of knowledge of Marxism, but for quite another
reason, because the forms themselves of the activity of the ‘spirit’ –
the categories and schemas of logic – are inferred from investigation of
the history of humanity’s knowledge and practice, i.e. from the process in
the course of which thinking man (or rather humanity) cognises and
transforms the material world. From that standpoint logic also cannot be
anything else than a theory explaining the universal schemas of the
development of knowledge and of the material world by social man. As
such it is also a theory of knowledge; any other definition of the tasks of a
theory of knowledge inevitably leads to one version or another of the
Kantian conception.
In no case, according to Lenin, logic and the theory of knowledge
were two different sciences. Even less could logic be defined as part of
the theory of knowledge. The logical determinations of thought therefore
included exclusively universal categories and laws (schemas) of the development
of the objective world in general cognised in the course of the
millennia of the development of scientific culture and tested for objectiv-

40 Hegel’s “Science of Logic,” transl. A. V. Miller, p 37.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 181
ity in the crucible of social man’s practice, schemas common to both
natural and socio-historical development. Being reflected in social consciousness,
in mankind’s spiritual culture, they functioned as active logical
forms of the work of thought, and logic was a systematic, theoretical
depiction of the universal schemas, forms, and laws of development of
nature and of society, and of thought itself.
In this conception, however, logic (i.e. the materialist theory of
knowledge) was fully merged without residue in dialectics. And once more
there were not two sciences, however ‘closely linked’ with one another,
but one and the same science, one in subject matter and its stock of
concepts. And this, Lenin stressed, was not ‘an aspect of the matter’, but
‘the essence of the matter’. In other words, unless logic was understood
simultaneously as the theory of knowledge, it could not be truly understood.
So logic (the theory of knowledge) and dialectics, according to Lenin,
were in a relationship of full identity, full coincidence of subject matter
and stock of categories. Dialectics had no subject matter distinct from
that of the theory of knowledge (logic), just as logic (the theory of knowledge)
had no object of a study that would differ in any way from the
subject matter of dialectics. In the one and in the other it was a matter of
universal forms and laws of development in general that were reflected in
consciousness precisely in the shape of logical forms and laws of thought
through the determination of categories. And because categories as
schemas of the synthesis of experimental data in concepts had a quite
objective significance, the same significance also attached to the ‘experience’
processed with their aid, i.e. to science, the scientific picture of the
world, the scientific outlook.
‘Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism’, Lenin
wrote in is notes ‘On the Question of Dialectics’, in which he summed up the
vast job he had done in several years of hard work on critically reworking
the Hegelian conception of logic in a materialist way. ‘This is the “aspect”
of the matter (it is not “an aspect” but the essence of the matter) to which
Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention’.41 That
categorical conclusion, hardly admitting of any other interpretation than a
literal one, must not be considered as a phrase dropped by chance, but as
a real resume of all Lenin’s understanding of the problem of the relation-

41 Lenin’s “Philosophical Notebooks,” LCW vol. 38, p 362.
182 E. V. ILYENKOV
ship of dialectics, logic, and the theory of knowledge of modern materialism.

In the light of the foregoing, attempts to interpret their relation in the
body of Marxism in such a way that dialectics is transformed into a
special category treating ‘pure forms of being’, and logic and the theory
of knowledge into special sciences connected with dialectics but not,
however, merged with it, and devoted exclusively to the ‘specific’ forms
of the reflection of this ontology in men’s consciousness – the one
(epistemology) being devoted to the ‘specific’ forms of knowledge and
the other (logic) to the ‘specific’ forms of discursive thought – proved to
be bankrupt (and in no way linked with Lenin’s conception).
The idea whereby logic is distinguished from dialectics as the particular
from the general and therefore studies just that ‘specific feature’ of
thought from which dialectics digresses, is based on a simple misunderstanding,
on neglect of the fact that the ‘specific nature’ of the forms and
laws of thought consists precisely in their universality.
Logic as a science is not at all interested in the ‘specific features’ of
the thinking of the physicist or chemist, economist or linguist, but only in
those universal (invariant) forms and laws within which the thinking of
any person flows, and of any theoretician, including the logician by
profession, who specially thinks about thought. From the angle of materialism,
therefore, logic also investigates forms and laws that equally
govern both thinking about the external world and thinking about
thought itself, and is thus the science of the universal forms and patterns
of thought and reality; so that the statement that logic must study the
‘specific forms’ of the movement of thought as well as the universal ones
(common to thought and being), in fact ignores the historically formed
division of labour between logic and psychology, depriving psychology of
its subject matter, and throwing onto logic a task that is too much for it.
To understand logic as a science distinguished from dialectics
(though closely connected with it) means to understand both logic and
dialectics incorrectly, and not in a materialist way; because logic, artificially
separated from dialectics, is inevitably converted into a description
of purely subjective methods and operations, i.e. of forms of activities
depending on the will and consciousness of people, and on the peculiarities
of the material, and therefore ceases to be an objective science. While
dialectics, counterposed to the process of the development of knowledge
(thought), in the form of a doctrine about ‘the world as a whole’, in the
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 183
form of ‘world schematics’ is just as inevitably converted into extremely
general statements about everything on earth and not about anything in
particular (something of the sort of that ‘everything in nature and society
is interconnected’, or that ‘everything develops’ and even ‘through contradictions’,
and so on).
Dialectics, understood so, is tacked on to the real process of cognition
in a purely formal way, through examples ‘confirming’ one and the
same general proposition over and over again. But it is clear that such a
formal superimposition of the general onto the particular does not
deepen our understanding of either the general or the particular by a
single jot, while dialectics is transformed into a dead scheme. Lenin
therefore quite justly considered the transformation of dialectics into a
sum of examples as the inevitable consequence of not understanding it as
the logic and theory of knowledge of materialism.
Being the science of the universal forms and patterns within which
any process, either objective or subjective, takes place, logic is a rigorously
defined system of special concepts (logical categories) reflecting the
stages (‘steps’) consecutively passed through in the formation of any
concrete whole (or correspondingly of the process of its mentaltheoretical
reproduction). The sequence of the development of the
categories in the body of a theory has an objective character, i.e. does not
depend on the will and consciousness of people. It is dictated primarily
by the objective sequence of the development of empirically based theoretical
knowledge,42 in the form of which, the objective sequence of the
real historical process, purged of its disruptive fortuities and of the historical
form, is reflected in people’s consciousness.
Logical categories are thus directly stages in distinguishing the world,
i.e. of cognising it, and nodal points helping to cognise and master it.43
In explaining this view Lenin remarked on the general sequence of
the development of logical categories: ‘First of all impressions flash by,
then Something emerges—afterwards the concepts of quality (the determination
of the thing or the phenomenon) and quantity are developed. After
that study and reflection direct thought to the cognition of identity—
difference—Ground—Essence versus phenomenon—causality, etc. All
these moments (steps, stages, processes) of cognition move ... from

42 Engels, “Dialectics of Nature,” MECW vol. 25, p 505.
43 Lenin’s “Philosophical Notebooks,” LCW vol 38, p 93.
184 E. V. ILYENKOV
subject to object, being tested in practice and arriving through this test at
truth’.44 ‘Such is actually the general course of all human cognition (of all
science) in general. Such is the course also of natural science and political
economy (and history)’.45 The movement of scientific cognition, Lenin said,
was the nub.46
Logical categories are stages (steps) in cognition developing the object
in its necessity, in the natural sequence of the phases of its own
formation, and not at all man’s technical devices imposed on the subject
like a child’s bucket on sand-pies. Not only do the determinations of each
of the logical categories therefore have an objective character, i.e. determine
the object and not simply the form of subjective activity, but the
sequence in which the categories appear in the theory of thought also has
the same necessary character. It is impossible to determine necessity or
purpose strictly scientifically, on an objective basis, before and independently
of the scientific determination of identity and difference, quality and
measure, etc., just as it is impossible to understand capital and profit
scientifically unless their ‘simple components’ – commodity and money
have previously been analysed, and just as it is impossible to understand
the complex compounds of organic chemistry while their constituent
chemical elements are unknown (not identified by analysis).
In outlining a plan for systematic treatment of the categories of logic,
Lenin noted: ‘If Marx did not leave behind him a Logic (with a capital
‘L’), he did leave the logic of Capital, and this ought to be utilised to the full
in this question’.47 Moreover, one can only distinguish the logical categories
underlying the theory of political economy from the movement of
the theory by basing oneself on the best (dialectical) traditions in the
development of logic as a science. ‘It is impossible completely to understand
Marx’s Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having
thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic’.48 ‘In his
Capital’, Lenin wrote further, ‘Marx first analyses the simplest, most
ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois
(commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz.

44 ibid., p 319.
45 ibid., p 318.
46 ibid., p 87.
47 ibid., p 319.
48 ibid., p 180.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 185
the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this
“cell” of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the
germs of all the contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent
exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of
these contradictions and of this society in the Σ of its individual parts,
from its beginning to its end.
‘Such must also be the method of exposition (or study) of dialectics
in general (for with Marx the dialectics of bourgeois society is only a
particular case of dialectics)’.49
10. Contradiction as a Category of Dialectical Logic
Contradiction as the concrete unity of mutually exclusive opposites is
the real nucleus of dialectics, its central category. On that score there
cannot be two views among Marxists; but no small difficulty immediately
arises as soon as matters touch on ‘subjective dialectics’, on dialectics as
the logic of thinking. If any object is a living contradiction, what must the
thought (statement about the object) be that expresses it? Can and should
an objective contradiction find reflection in thought? And if so, in what
form?
Contradiction in the theoretical determinations of an object is above
all a fact that is constantly being reproduced by the movement of science,
and is not denied by dialectics or by materialists or idealists. The point
that they dispute is something else, namely: what is the relationship of the
contradiction in thought to the object? In other words, can there be a
contradiction in true, correct thought?
The metaphysical logician tries to demonstrate the inapplicability of
the dialectical law of the coincidence or concurrence of opposites, which
amounts to their identity, to the very process of thought. Such logicians
are occasionally prepared even to recognise that the object can, in agreement
with dialectics, be by itself inwardly contradictory. The contradiction
is in the object but must not be in the ideas about it. The metaphysician,
however, still cannot permit himself in any way to recognise the
truth of the law that constitutes the nucleus of dialectics, in relation to the
logical process. The principle of contradiction is transformed into an
absolute, formal criterion of truth, into an indisputable a priori canon, into
the supreme principle of logic.

49 ibid., p 360-61.
186 E. V. ILYENKOV
Some logicians strive to substantiate this position, which it is difficult
to call other than eclectic, by citing the practice of science. Any science,
when it comes up against a contradiction in determinations of an object,
always strives to resolve it. In that case does it not act in accordance with
the recipes of metaphysics, which holds that any contradiction in thought
is inadmissible, and something that must be got rid of somehow or other?
The metaphysician in logic interprets similar moments in the development
of science in such a way. Science, he says, always strives to avoid
contradictions, but in dialectics there is an opposite tendency.
The view under consideration is based on a misunderstanding, or
rather simply on ignorance of the important historical fact that dialectics
was born just where metaphysical thought (i.e. thinking without knowing
or desiring to know any other logic than formal logic) finally became
caught up in the logical contradictions it had brought to light just because
it persistently and consistently observed the ban on any kind of contradiction
whatsoever in determinations. Dialectics as logic is the means of
resolving these contradictions, so that it is stupid to accuse it of an itch to
pile up contradictions. It is irrational to see the cause of the illness in the
coming of the doctor. The question can only be whether dialectics is
successful in curing the contradictions into which thought falls, in fact, as
a result of a most rigorous metaphysical diet that unconditionally forbids
any contradiction. And if it is successful, just why is it?
Let us turn to the analysis of a striking example, a typical case of how
mountains of logical contradictions have been piled up just by means of
absolutised formal logic, and rationally resolved only by means of dialectical
logic. We have in mind the history of political economy, the history
of the disintegration of the Ricardian school and the rise of Marx’s
economic theory. The way out of the blind alley of the theoretical paradoxes
and antinomies into which the Ricardian school had got was
found, as we know, only by Karl Marx, and was found precisely by means
of dialectics as logic.
That Ricardo’s theory contained a mass of logical contradictions was
not discovered by Marx at all. It was plainly seen by Malthus, and Sismondi,
and McCulloch, and Proudhon. But only Marx was able to understand
the real character of the contradictions of the labour theory of
value. Let us, following Marx, consider one of them, the most typical and
acute, the antinomy of the law of value and the law of the average rate of
profit.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 187
David Ricardo’s law of value established that living human labour
was the sole source and substance of value, an affirmation that was an
enormous advance on the road to objective truth. But profit was also
value. In trying to express it theoretically, i.e. through the law of value, a
clear logical contradiction was obtained. The point was that profit was
new, newly created value, or rather part of it. That was an indisputably
true analytical determination. But only new labour produced new value.
How, however, did that tie up with the quite obvious empirical fact that
the quantity of profit was not determined at all by the quantity of living
labour expended on its production? It depended exclusively on the
quantity of capital as a whole, and in no case on the size of that part that
went on wages. And it was even more paradoxical that the higher the
profit the less living labour was consumed during its production.
In Ricardo’s theory the law of the average rate of profit, which established
the dependence of the scale of profit on the quantity of capital as a
whole, and the law of value, which established that only living labour
produced new value, stood in a relation of direct, mutually exclusive
contradiction. Nevertheless, both laws determined one and the same
object (profit). This antinomy was noted with spiteful delight in his day
by Malthus.
Here then was a problem that it was impossible to resolve on the
principles of formal logic. And if thought had arrived here at an antinomy,
and had landed in a logical contradiction, it was difficult to blame
dialectics for it. Neither Ricardo nor Malthus had any idea of dialectics.
Both knew only the Lockian theory of understanding and the logic (and
that formal) corresponding to it. Its canons were indisputable for them,
and the only ones. This logic justified a general law (in this case the law of
value) only when it was demonstrated as an immediately general empirical
rule under which all facts whatsoever were subsumed without contradiction.

It was found that there was in fact no such relationship between the
law of value and the forms of its manifestation. As soon as one tried to
treat profit theoretically (i.e. to understand it through the law of value), it
suddenly proved to be an absurd contradiction. If the law of value was
universal, profit was impossible in principle. By its existence it refuted the
abstract universality of the law of value, the law of its own particular
existence.
188 E. V. ILYENKOV
Ricardo, the creator of the labour theory of value, was primarily concerned
with the accord of the theoretical statements with the object. He
soberly, and even cynically, expressed the real state of affairs; and the
latter, riddled with unresolvable antagonisms, was naturally presented in
thought as a system of conflicts, antagonisms, and logical contradictions.
This circumstance, which bourgeois theoreticians regarded as evidence of
the weakness and incompleteness of his theory, was evidence rather of
the contrary, of its strength and objectivity.
When Ricardo’s disciples and successors no longer made correspondence
of theory to the object their chief concern, but rather agreement of
the developed theoretical determinations with the requirements of formal
logical consistence, with the canons of the formal unity of theory, the
labour theory of value began to disintegrate. Marx wrote of James Mill:
‘What he tries to achieve is formal, logical consistence. The disintegration
of the Ricardian school “therefore” begins with him’.50
In fact, as Marx showed, the general law of value stood in a relation
of mutually exclusive contradiction with the empirical form of its own
manifestation, with the law of the average rate of profit. That was a real
contradiction of a real object. And it was not surprising that, in trying to
subsume the one law directly and immediately under the other, a logical
contradiction was obtained. But when, nevertheless, they continued
trying to make value and profit agree directly and without contradiction, they
then obtained a problem that was, in Marx’s words, ‘much more difficult
to solve than that of squaring the circle.... It is simply an attempt to
present that which does not exist as in fact existing’.51
The metaphysically thinking theoretician, coming up against such a
paradox, inevitably interprets it as the result of mistakes committed
earlier in thought, in the working out and formulation of the universal
law. And he naturally seeks a solution of the paradox by way of a purely
formal analysis of the theory, by making the concepts more precise, by
correcting expressions, and so on. A propos of this approach to solving
the problem Marx wrote: “Here the contradiction between the general
law and further developments in the concrete circumstances is to be
resolved not by the discovery of the connecting links but by directly
subordinating and immediately adapting the concrete to the abstract. This

50 “Theories of Surplus Value, Part III,” MECW vol. 32 p 258.
51 “Theories of Surplus Value, Part III” MECW vol. 32 p 277.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 189
moreover is to be brought about by a verbal fiction, by changing vera rerum
vocabula. (These are indeed “verbal disputes”, they are “verbal”, however,
because real contradictions, which are not resolved in a real way, are to be
solved by phrases.)’52
When the general law contradicts the empirically common position
of things the empiricist immediately sees the way out in altering the
formulation of the general law in such a fashion that the empirically
general will be directly subsumed under it. At first glance that is how it
ought to be; if thought contradicts the facts, then the thought should be
altered so as to bring it into line with the general phenomena immediately
given on the surface. In fact, this is theoretically false, and by taking it the
Ricardian school arrived at complete rejection of the labour theory of
value. The general law revealed by Ricardo was sacrificed to crude empeiria
(experience), but the crude empiricism was inevitably converted into a
‘false metaphysics, scholasticism, which toils painfully to deduce undeniable
empirical phenomena by simple formal abstraction directly from the
general law, or to show by cunning argument that they are in accordance
with that law’.53
Formal logic, and the metaphysics that made it an absolute, knew
only two ways of resolving contradictions in thought. The first was to
adjust the general law to the directly general, empirically obvious, state of
affairs. That, as we have seen, brought about loss of the concept of value.
The second way was to represent the internal contradiction, express
thinking as a logical contradiction, as an external contradiction of two
things, each of which was, in itself, non-contradictory, a procedure
known as reducing the internal contradiction to a contradiction ‘in different
relations or at a different time’. It was done as follows. Profit could
not be explained from value without contradiction? Well, what of it!
There was no need to persist in a one-sided approach; one must admit
that profit originated in reality not only from labour but also from many
other factors. It was necessary role of land, and of machines, and of
demand, and of many, many other account. The point, they said, lay not
in the contradictions but in the fullness. So the triune formula of vulgar
economics ‘Capital—interest; land—rent; labour—wages’. There was no

52 Ibid., MECW vol. 32 p 277-8.
53 “Theories of Surplus Value, Part I” MECW vol. 30 p 395.
190 E. V. ILYENKOV
logical contradiction there, it is true; it had disappeared, but with it, too,
had disappeared the theoretical approach to things in general.
The conclusion was obvious; not every means of resolving the contradictions
led to development of the theory. The two ways outlined above
signified a solution such as was identical with converting the theory into
empirical eclecticism. Because theory in general existed only where there
was a conscious and principled striving to understand all the separate
phenomena as necessary and the same general, concrete substance, in this
instance the substance of value, of living human labour.
The only theoretician who succeeded in resolving the logical contradictions
of the Ricardian theory so as to bring about not disintegration
but real development of the labour theory of value was, of course, Karl
Marx. What did his dialectical materialist method of resolving the antinomy
consist in? First of all, we must state that the real contradictions
discovered by Ricardo did not disappear in Marx’s system. Furthermore,
they were presented in it as necessary contradictions of the object itself,
and not at all as the result of mistakenness of the idea, or of inexactitudes
in determinations. In the first volume of Capital, for example, it is demonstrated
that surplus value is exclusively the product of that part of
capital which is expended on wages and converted into living labour, i.e.
variable capital. The proposition in the third volume, however, reads:
‘However that may be, the outcome is that surplus-value springs simultaneously
from all portions of the invested capital’.54
Between the first and the second propositions a whole system was
developed, a whole chain of connecting links; between them, nevertheless,
there was preserved a relationship of mutually exclusive contradiction
banned by formal logic. That is why vulgar economists triumphantly
declared, after the appearance of the third volume of Capital, that Marx
had not fulfilled his pledge, that the antinomy of the labour theory of
value remained unresolved by him and that the whole of Capital was
consequently nothing more than speculative, dialectical hocus-pocus.
The general is thus also contradicted in Capital by its own particular
manifestation, and the contradiction between them does not disappear
just because a whole chain of mediating links has been developed between
them. On the contrary, this actually demonstrates that the antinomies
of the labour theory of value are not logical ones at all but real

54 “Capital, Volume III” MECW vol 37, p 40.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 191
contradictions in the object, correctly expressed by Ricardo, though not
understood by him. In Capital these antinomies are not done away with at
all as something subjective, but prove to be understood, i.e. have been
sublated in the body of a deeper and more concrete theoretical conception.
In other words, they are preserved but have lost the character of logical
contradictions, having been converted into abstract moments of the
concrete conception of economic reality. And there is nothing surprising
in that; any concrete, developing system includes contradictions as the
principle of its self-movement and as the form in which the development
is cast.
So let us compare how the metaphysician Ricardo and the dialectician
Marx understood value. Ricardo, of course, did not analyse value by
its form. His abstraction of value, on the one hand, was incomplete, and
on the other was formal, and for that reason was untrue. In what, then,
did Marx see the fullness and pithiness of the analysis of value that was
missing in Ricardo? First, in value being a living concrete contradiction.
Ricardo showed value only from the aspect of its substance, i.e. took
labour as the substance of value. As for Marx, he (to use an expression
from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind) understood value not only as substance
but also as subject. Value was represented as the substance-subject of all
the developed forms and categories of political economy; and with that
conscious dialectics in this science began. Because the ‘subject’ in Marx’s
conception (in this case he employed the terminology of the Phenomenology
of Mind) is reality developing through its own internal contradictions.
But let us look a little closer at Marx’s analysis of value. First of all it
investigates the direct, moneyless exchange or barter of commodity for
commodity. In exchange, in the course of which one commodity is
replaced by another, value is only manifested, is only expressed; and in no
case is it created. It is manifested as follows: one commodity plays the
role of relative value, and the other, counterposed to it, the role of
equivalent. ‘In one expression of value, one commodity cannot simultaneously
appear in both forms. These forms are polar opposites, are
mutually exclusive’.55
The metaphysician will no doubt be delighted to read that two mutually
exclusive economic forms cannot simultaneously be combined in one
commodity! But can one say that Marx was refuting the possibility of the

55 “Capital, Volume I” MECW vol. 35 p 59.
192 E. V. ILYENKOV
coincidence of mutually exclusive determinations in the object and in its
conception? Rather the contrary. The fact is that we are not yet concerned
with the concept of value, with value as such. The passage cited
crowns the analysis of the form of the revelation of value. Value itself still
remains a mysterious and theoretically unexpressed essence of each of the
commodities. On the surface of phenomena it really appears as if two
abstract, one-sided forms of its revelation are visible. But value itself does
not coincide with either of these forms, or with their simple, mechanical
unity. It is a third something, something lying deeper. In relation to its
owner, for example, linen as a commodity appears only in the relative
form of value; and in that same relation it cannot be simultaneously an
equivalent.
But matters appear so only from an abstract, one-sided angle. For the
owner of linen is absolutely equal to the owner of a coat, and from the
position of the latter the relation under consideration proves directly the
opposite, so that we do not have two different relations, but one concrete
objective relation, a mutual relation of two commodity owners. From the
concrete standpoint each of the two commodities – linen and coat – mutually
measures the other’s value and – also mutually serves as the material in
which it is measured. In other words each mutually presupposes that the
equivalent form of value is realised in the other commodity, the very
form in which the latter can no longer be because it is in the relative
form.
In other words the exchange really being completed presupposes that
each of the two commodities mutually related in it simultaneously takes on
both economic forms of the revelation of value in itself, both measuring
its own value and serving as the material for expressing the value of the
other commodity. And if, from the abstract, one-sided point of view,
each of them is only in one form, and functions as relative value in one
relation and as equivalent in the other, from the concrete aspect, i.e. in
fact, each of the commodities is simultaneously and, moreover, within one
and the same relation in both mutually exclusive forms of the expression of
value. If the two commodities do not mutually recognise each other as
equivalents, exchange simply cannot take place. If, however, exchange
does take place, that means that the two polarly excluded forms of value
are combined in each of the two commodities.
What you get, then, says the metaphysician, is that Marx contradicts
himself. How can he say that two polar forms of the expression of value
cannot be combined in one commodity, and then state that in real ex-
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 193
change they are all the same so combined? The answer is that concrete
examination of things refutes the result obtained by the abstract, onesided
approach to them, and shows it to be untrue. The truth of commodity
exchange is just that a relation is realised in it that is absolutely
impossible from the angle of an abstract, one-sided view.
Something else is discovered in the form of the contradiction under
consideration, as analysis shows, and that is the absolute content of each
of the commodities, its value, the inner contradiction of value and usevalue.
‘Thus the contrast between use-value and value hidden away within
the commodity’, Marx wrote, ‘has an outward and visible counterpart,
namely the relation between two commodities, the relation in which the
commodity whose value is to be expressed counts only as use-value,
whereas the commodity in terms of which value is to be expressed counts
only as exchange-value. The simple value form of a commodity is, therefore,
the simple phenomenal form of the inherent contrast (within the
commodity) between use-value and value’.56
From the aspect of logic this point is extraordinarily instructive. The
metaphysician, coming up against the fact of the coincidence of contradictory
determinations in a concept, in the statement of a thing, sees in it
a false theoretical expression and strives to turn the internal contradiction
into an external contradiction of two things, each of which, in his view, is
internally non-contradictory, into a contradiction ‘in various relations or
at a different time’. Marx acted quite the contrary. He showed hat the
inner contradiction hidden in each of the interrelated things in a contradiction
of an external order.
As a result value was presented as an inner relation of a commodity to
itself, outwardly revealed through the relation to another commodity. The
other commodity played only the role of a mirror in which the inwardly
contradictory nature of the commodity that expressed its value was
reflected. In philosophical terms, the external contradiction was presented
only as a phenomenon and the relation to the other commodity
(as mediated through this relation) as the relation of the commodity to
itself. The inner relation, the relation to itself, was also value as the absolute
economic content of each of the mutually related commodities.
The metaphysician always strives to reduce the internal relation to an
external one. For him a contradiction in ‘one relation’ is an index of the

56 “Capital, Volume I” MECW vol. 35, p 66.
194 E. V. ILYENKOV
abstractness of knowledge, an index of the confusion of different planes
of abstraction, and so on, and an external contradiction is a synonym of
the ‘concreteness’ of knowledge. For Marx, on the contrary, it was an
index of the one-sidedness and superficiality of knowledge when an
object was presented in thought simply as an external contradiction,
signifying that only the outward form of the manifestation of an internal
contradiction had been caught, instead of the contradiction itself. Dialectics
obliges one always to see, behind a thing’s relation to another thing,
its own relation to itself, its own inner relation.
The difference between dialectics and metaphysics does not consist
at all in the former’s recognising only inner contradictions and the latter’s
recognising only external ones. Metaphysics really always tries to reduce
the inner contradiction to a contradiction ‘in different relations’, denying
it objective significance. Dialectics by no means reduces the one to the
other. It recognises the objectivity of both. The point, however, does not
lie in reducing an external contradiction to an inner one, but in deriving the
former from the latter and thus comprehending the one and the other in
their objective necessity. Dialectics moreover does not deny the fact that
an inner contradiction always appears in phenomena as an external one.
The immediate coincidence of mutually exclusive economic determinations
(value and use-value) in each of the two commodities meeting in
exchange is also the true theoretical expression of the essence of simple
commodity exchange. And this essence is value. From the logical aspect
the concept of value (in contrast to the outward form of its manifestation
in the act of exchange) is characterised by its being presented as an
immediate contradiction, as the direct coincidence of two forms of
economic existence that are polar opposites.
Thus, what was effected in the real act of exchange was impossible
from the angle of abstract (formal, logical) reason, namely, the direct or
immediate identification of opposites. This was the theoretical expression
of the real fact that direct commodity exchange could not be completed
smoothly, without collisions, without conflicts, without contradictions
and crises. The point was that direct commodity exchange was not in a
position to express the socially necessary measure of the expenditure of
labour in the various branches of social production, i.e. value. And value
therefore remained, within the limits of the simple commodity form, an
unresolved and unresolvable antinomy. In it the commodity had to be, yet
could not be, in the two polar forms of expression of value, and consequently
real exchange by value was impossible. But it did happen some-
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 195
how, and consequently both polar forms of value were somehow combined
in each commodity. There was no way out of the antinomy. Marx’s
contribution was precisely that he understood that, and expressed it
theoretically.
Insofar as exchange through the market remained the sole and universal
form of the social exchange of things, the antinomy of value found
its solution in the movement of the commodity market itself. The market
created the means for resolving its own contradictions. So money was
born. Exchange became not direct and unmediated, but mediated –
through money; and the coincidence of mutually exclusive economic
forms in a commodity came to an end, as it were, since it was split into
two ‘different relations’, into an act of sale (which transformed use-value
into value) and an act of purchase (which converted value into use-value).
The two antinomic acts, mutually exclusive in their economic content,
already did not coincide immediately but were completed at a different
time and in different parts of the market.
‘The antinomy seemed at first glance to be resolved by all the rules of
formal logic; but the semblance was purely external. In fact the antinomy
had not disappeared at all, but had only acquired a new form of expression.
Money did not become absolutely pure value, and the commodity
thus pure use-value. Both commodity and money were fraught, as before,
with an inner contradiction that was expressed, as before, in thought in
the form of a contradiction in determinations; once again, moreover, the
contradiction was unresolved and unresolvable, and revealed itself in the
clearest way, though only from time to time, precisely in crises, and then
making itself felt the more strongly.
‘The only commodity is money’, says the commodity owner at times
when this contradiction does not show on the surface. ‘The only money
is commodities’, he asserts in a directly opposite way during a crisis,
refuting his own abstract statement. Marx’s theoretical, but concrete,
thinking showed that the inner opposition of the economic determinations
of money existed at every fleeting second, even when they were not
manifested in an obvious, visible way but were hidden in commodities
and in money, when everything was apparently going swimmingly and the
contradiction seemed resolved once and for all.
In theoretical determinations of money the antinomy of value
brought out earlier was preserved; in them it formed the ‘simple essence’
both of commodities and of money, although on the surface of phenom-
196 E. V. ILYENKOV
ena it proved to be annulled, broken down into two ‘different relations’.
But these relations, like the direct exchange of commodity for commodity,
formed on inner unity that was preserved in all its acuteness and
tension in both commodities and money, and consequently also in theoretical
determinations of the one and of the other. As before, value
remained an internally contradictory relation of a commodity to itself,
which was no longer revealed, though, on the surface through a direct
relation to another commodity of the same sort, but through its relation
to money. Money now functioned as the means by which the mutual,
reciprocal transformation of the two originally exposed poles of the
expression of value (value and use-value) was effected.
From that angle the whole logical structure of Capital was traced out
from a new and very important aspect. Any concrete category was presented
as a metamorphosis through which value and use-value passed
during their reciprocal transformations into one another. The forming of
the capitalist, commodity system appears in Marx’s theoretical analysis as
a complicating of the chain of connecting links through which the poles
of value, mutually attracting and at the same time excluding each other,
have to pass. The path of the reciprocal transformation of value and usevalue
becomes longer and longer, and more and more complicated, and
the tension between the poles increases.
The relative and temporary resolution of the tension takes place
through crises, and its final resolution is through socialist revolution.
That approach to things immediately gave thought an orientation in
the analysis of any form of economic relation. In fact, just as the commodity
market found a relative resolution of its objective contradictions
in the birth of money, so the theoretical determinations of money in
Capital served as a means of relatively resolving the theoretical contradiction
revealed in the analysis of the simple value form. Within the limits of
the simple form the antimony of value remained unresolved and fixed in
thought as a contradiction in the concept. Its sole true logical resolution
consisted in tracing how it was resolved objectively in practice in the
course of the movement itself of the commodity market. And the movement
of the investigating thought consisted in revealing this new reality
that developed by virtue of the impossibility of resolving the objective
contradiction originally disclosed.
Thus the very course of theoretical thought became not a confused
wandering but a rigorous purposive process, in which thinking used
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 197
empirical facts to find the conditions and data that were lacking for
solution of a clearly formulated task, of a problem. Theory therefore
appeared as a process of the constant resolution of problems pushed to
the fore by the investigation of the empirical facts itself.
Investigation of the commodity-money circulation led to an antinomy.
As Marx wrote: ‘Turn and twist as we may, the sum total remains
the same. If equivalents are exchanged, then no surplus value is created;
and if non-equivalents are exchanged, still no surplus value is created.
Circulation, the exchange of commodities, does not create value’.57 So, he
concluded, capital could not arise from circulation, just as it could not
arise outside it. It ‘must simultaneously take place in the sphere of circulation
and outside the sphere of circulation. Such are the conditions of the
problem. That is the nut we have to crack!’58
Marx’s way of posing the problem was not at all fortuitous and was
not simply a rhetorical device. It was linked with the very essence of the
dialectical method of developing theory, following the development of
the actual object. The solution of the question corresponds to the posing
of it. The problem arising in thought in the form of a contradiction in the
determination could only be resolved if the theoretician (and the real
owner of money) was ‘lucky enough to find somewhere within the sphere
of circulation, to find in the market, a commodity whose use-value has,
the peculiar quality of being a source of value; a commodity whose actual
consumption is a process whereby labour is embodied, and whereby
therefore value is created’.59
Objective reality always develops through the origin within it of a
concrete contradiction that finds its resolution in the generation of a new,
higher, and more complex form of development, the contradiction is
unresolvable. When expressed in thought it naturally appears as a contradiction
in the determinations of the concept that reflects the initial stage
of development. And that is not only correct, but is the sole correct form
of movement of the investigating mind, although there is a contradiction
in it. A contradiction of that type in determinations is not resolved by

57 “Capital, Volume I” MECW vol. 35 p 174.
58 “Capital, Volume I,” MECW vol. 35, p 177. Marx actually used the Latin tag
Hic Rhodus, hic salta!, [‘Here is Rhodes, now jump!’] which the Pauls render here
as ‘That is the nut we have to crack!’ – Tr.
59 Ibid., p 177.
198 E. V. ILYENKOV
way of refining the concept that reflects the given form of development,
but by further investigating reality, by discovering another, new, higher
form of development in which the initial contradiction finds its real,
actual, empirically established resolution.
It was not fortuitous that the old logic passed this very important
logical form over as a ‘question’. For the real questions, the real problems
that arise in the movement of the investigating mind, always rise before
thought in the form of contradictions in the determination, in the theoretical
expression of the facts. The concrete contradiction that arises in
thought also leads toward a further and, moreover, purposive examining
of the facts, toward the finding and analysing of just those facts that are
lacking for solving the problem and resolving the given theoretical contradiction.

If a contradiction arises of necessity in the theoretical expression of
reality from the very course of the investigation, it is not what is called a
logical contradiction, though it has the formal signs of such but is a
logically correct expression of reality. On the contrary, the logical contradiction,
which there must not be in a theoretical investigation, has to be
recognised as a contradiction of terminological, semantic origin and
properties. Formal analysis is also obliged to discover such contradictions
in determinations; and the principle of contradiction of formal logic
applies fully to them. Strictly speaking it relates to the use of terms and
not to the process of the movement of a concept. The latter is the field
of dialectical logic. But there another law is dominant, the law of the
unity or coincidence of opposites, a coincidence, moreover, that goes as
far as their identity. It is that which constitutes the real core of dialectics
as the logic of thought that follows the development of reality.
11. The Problem of the General in Dialectics
The category of the general or universal occupies an extremely important
place in the body of dialectical logic. What is the general or
universal? Literally, in the meaning of the word, it is relating to all, i.e. to
all individuals in the form of the limitless multitude of which the world
within which we live and about which we speak presents itself to us at
first glance. That is, very likely, all that can be said about the general that
is unquestionable, equally acceptable to everyone.
Without going into the philosophical disagreements about the general
or universal, one can note that the term ‘common’ (or rather ‘general’ or
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 199
universal’) is used very ambiguously in the living language, indeterminately,
and relates not only to different objects or meanings that do not
coincide with one another, but also to directly opposite ones that are
mutually exclusive. Any large dictionary (e.g. the Shorter Oxford Dictionary)
contains a dozen such meanings. At the extremes of the spectrum, moreover,
there are meanings such as can scarcely be considered consistent or
compatible. ‘Common’ is used even for two objects, let alone all, both for
what appertains to each of them (like the biped nature or mortality of
both Socrates and Caius, or like the velocity or speed of an electron and
of a train) and cannot exist separately from the relevant individua in the
form of a separate ‘thing’, and for what exists precisely outside the individua
in the form of a special individuum, namely a common ancestor, a
common field (i.e. one for two (or all)), a common motor vehicle or
entry, a common (mutual) friend or acquaintance, and so on and so forth.
One and the same word, or one and the same sign, obviously does
not serve just for one and the same thing. Whether one sees in that the
imperfection of natural language or on the contrary considers it the
superiority of the flexibility of a living language over the rigidity of the
definitions of an artificial language, the fact itself remains a fact and one,
moreover, that is often encountered and therefore calls for explanation.
But then the quite reasonable question arises, whether or not it is
possible to find something common between two extreme, mutually
exclusive meanings of the world ‘common’ (or ‘general’) in the living
language, equally sanctioned by usage, to find the basis of the fact of the
divergence of meanings. In the interpretation that is sanctioned as the
‘sole correct one’ by the tradition of formal logic, it is impossible to
discover such a common attribute as would form part of the definition of
two polar meanings of ‘common’ (‘general’). Nevertheless, it is clear that
here, as in many other cases, we are dealing with related words which, like
human relatives, although they have nothing in common between them,
all with equal right bear one and the same surname.
This relationship between the terms of natural language was once
brought out by Ludwig Wittgenstein as quite typical in the following
example: Churchill-A has a family likeness to Churchill-B in attributes a,
b, c; Churchill-B shares attributes b, c, d with Churchill-C; Churchill-D
has only a single attribute in common with Churchill-A, while ChurchillE
and Churchill-A have not a single one in common, nothing except the
name.
200 E. V. ILYENKOV
The image of a common ancestor, however, of a progenitor, cannot
be reconstructed by abstracting those attributes, and only those, that are
genetically preserved by all his (or her) descendants. There simply are no
such attributes. But there is a community of name, recording a common
origin.
It is the same with ‘common’ (‘general’) as a term. The original meaning
of the word also cannot be established by a purely formal union of
attributes, uniting all the offspring-terms into one family, into one class,
because (to continue the analogy) Churchill-Alpha would have to be
represented as an individuum who was simultaneously both brunette and
blonde (not-brunette), both gangling and dwarfish, both snub-nosed and
hook-nosed, and so on.
But there, of course, the analogy ends, because the position with related
terms is rather different. The ancestor, as a rule, does not die but
continues to live alongside all its offspring as an individuum among other
individua, and the problem consists in discovering among the existing
separate individua the one that was born before the others and therefore
could have given birth to all the rest.
Among the attributes of a common ancestor who continues to live
among his descendants, one has to presuppose a capacity to give birth to
something which is opposite to itself, i.e. a capacity to give birth both to
the gangling (in relation to itself) and the dwarfish (again in relation to
itself). The common ancestor, consequently, can be representable as an
individuum of medium height with a straight nose, and ash-grey locks, i.e.
to ‘combine’ opposing determinations (if only potentially) in himself, to
combine both the one and the other, directly opposite determinations in
himself, like a solution or mixture. Thus the colour grey can be fully represented
as mixture of black and white, i.e. as simultaneously white and
black. There is nothing incompatible in that with the ‘common sense’
that Neopositivists like to enlist as an ally against dialectical logic.
But it is just here that the two incompatible positions in logic, and in
understanding of the general (universal), take shape – that of dialectics
and the completely formal conception. The latter has no desire to admit
into logic the idea of development organically linked (both in essence and in
origin) with the concept of substance, i.e. the principle of the genetic community
of phenomena that are at first glance quite heterogeneous (insofar as
no abstract, common attributes can be discovered among them).
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 201
It was thus that Hegel saw the point of departure of the paths of dialectical
thought (in his terminology ‘speculative’) and purely formal
thought; and in that connection he highly values Aristotle’s relevant
statement: ‘As to what concerns more nearly the relation of the three souls,
as they may be termed (though they are incorrectly thus distinguished),
Aristotle says of them, with perfect truth, that we need look for no one
soul in which all these are found, and which in a definite and simple form
is conformable with any of them. This is a profound observation, by
means of which truly speculative thought marks itself out from the thought which is
merely logical and formal [my italics – EVI]. Similarly among figures only the
triangle and the other definite figures, like the square, the parallelogram,
etc., are truly anything; for what is common to them, the universal figure
[or rather the ‘figure in general’ – EVI], is an empty thing of thought, a
mere abstraction. On the other hand, the triangle is the first, the truly
universal figure, which appears also in the square, etc., as the figure which
can be led back to the simplest determination. Therefore, on the one
hand, the triangle stands alongside of the square, pentagon, etc., as a
particular figure, but – and this is Aristotle’s main contention – it is the
truly universal figure [or rather the ‘figure in general’ – EVI]. ... Aristotle’s
meaning is therefore this: an empty universal is that which does
not itself exist, or is not itself species. All that is universal is in fact real, in
that by itself, without further change, it constitutes its first species, and
when further developed it belongs, not to this, but to a higher stage’.60
If we look at the problem of the determination of the general as a
universal (logical) category from this angle, or at the problem of the
theoretical reconstruction of the common ancestor of a family of related
meanings seemingly having nothing in common, there is some hope of
resolving it.
The stand of formal logic, oriented on finding the abstract, common
element in every single representative of one class (all having one and the
same name) yields nothing in this instance. The general in this sense
cannot be found here, and cannot for the reason that there actually is no
such thing, not in the form of attribute or determination actually common
to all the individual in the form of a resemblance proper to each of
them taken separately.

60 Hegel’s “Lectures on the History of Philosophy,” vol. II, Aristotle pp 185-86.
202 E. V. ILYENKOV
It is quite clear that the concrete (empirically obvious) essence of the
link uniting the various individua in some ‘one’, in a common multitude
or plurality, is by no means posited and expressed in an abstract attribute
common to them, or in a determination that is equally proper to the one
and the other. Rather such unity (or community) is created by the attribute
that one individuum possesses and another does not. And the absence
of a certain attribute binds one individuum to another much more
strongly than its equal existence in both.
Two absolutely equal individuals, each of which has the very same set
of knowledge, habits, inclinations, etc., would be absolutely uninteresting
to one another, and the one would not need the other. They would
simply bore each other to death. It is nothing but a simple doubling of
solitariness. The general is anything but continuously repeated similarity
in every single object taken separately and represented by a common
attribute and fixed by a sign. The universal is above all the regular connection
of two (or more) particular individuals that converts them into
moments of one and the same concrete, real unity. And it is much more
reasonable to represent this unity as the aggregate of different, separate
moments than as an indefinite plurality of units indifferent to one another.
Here the general functions as the law or principle of the connection
of these details in the make-up of some whole, or totality as Marx
preferred to call it, following Hegel. Here analysis rather than abstraction
is called for.
If we return to the question of the genetic community of the different
(and opposing) meanings that the term ‘common’ or ‘general’ (‘universal’)
has acquired in the evolution of the living language, the problem
seemingly boils down to recognising that among them which can confidently
be considered as the progenitor-meaning, and then to tracing why
and how the initial meaning, first in time and immediately simple in
essence, was broadened so as to embrace something opposite, something
that was not originally intended at all. Since it is difficult to suspect our
remote ancestors of an inclination to invent ‘abstract objects’ and ‘constructions’,
it is more logical (it would seem) to consider the original
meaning the one that the term ‘common’ still preserves in such expressions
as ‘common ancestor’ and ‘common field’. Philological research
provides evidence, incidentally, in favour of that view. ‘What would old
Hegel say in the next world’, Marx wrote with satisfaction to Engels, ‘if
he heard that the general (Allgemeine) in German and Norse means nothing
but the common land (Gemeinland), and the particular, Sundre, Besondere,
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 203
nothing but the separate property divided off from the common land?
Here are the logical categories coming damn well out of “our intercourse”
after all’.61
It is quite understandable that if we have in mind here the originally
simple, ‘truly general’ meaning of the word, as Hegel would have said,
then it is impossible to discover in the idea according to which the general
(universal) precedes the individual, the separate, the particular, the
isolated, or exclusive, both in essence and in time, even a hint of the
refined mysticism that permeates the corresponding views of Neoplatonists
and medieval Christian scholasticism, whereby the universal is
made a synonym of the idea, being considered from the very beginning as
the word, as logos, as something incorporeal, spiritualised, purely mental.
On the contrary, the universal in its original meaning appears distinctly in
the mind, and therefore in the language expressing it, as a synonym of a
quite corporeal substance, in the form of water, fire, tiny uniform particles
(‘indivisibles’), and so on. Such a notion may be considered naive
(though in fact it is far from being so naive), crudely sensual, ‘too materialistic’,
but there is not the slightest tendency to, or trace of, mysticism in
it.
It is therefore quite absurd to press the accusation that is constantly
advanced against materialism by its opponents, the accusation of a disguised
Platonism that is immanently linked, as it were, with the thesis of
the objective reality of the universal. If, of course, one takes the view from
the very beginning (but why – we do not know) that the universal is the
idea, and only the idea, then not only do Marx and Spinoza turn out to be
‘cryptoplatonists’ but also Thales and Democritus.
One is forced to evaluate the identification of the universal with the
idea (as the initial thesis of any system of philosophical idealism) as an
axiom accepted quite without proof, as the purest prejudice inherited
from the Middle Ages. Its vitality is not fortuitous but is linked with the
really immense role that the word and the verbal ‘explication’ of the idea
have played and play in the moulding of intellectual culture. From that,
too, arises the illusion that the universal allegedly has its actual existence
(its reality) only and exclusively in the form of logos, in the form of the
meaning of a word, term, or linguistic sign. Since philosophical consciousness
specially reflecting on the universal is concerned from the very

61 Marx to Engels 25 March 1868, MECW vol. 42, pp 557.
204 E. V. ILYENKOV
beginning with its verbal expression, the dogma of the identity of the
universal and the sense (meaning) of a word also begins to seem a natural
premise, and the soil on which it grows, and the air that it breathes, to be
something self-evident.
We would note in passing that the prejudice described here, read as
absolute truth by modern Neopositivists, also seemed such to Hegel, who
is not a favourite with them. Hegel, too, candidly suggested that materialism
was impossible as a philosophical system on the grounds that philosophy
was the science of the universal, and the universal was the idea,
just the idea, and only the idea, and could not be anything else. He had
the immense advantage over the latest devotees of this prejudice that he
understood thought itself much more profoundly. Thus it was Hegel
himself who thoroughly undermined the prestige of the prejudice that
consisted in identifying thought and speech; but he returned a prisoner to
it by a roundabout route since, though he did not consider the word the
sole form of the being there of an idea, it retained the significance of the
first form of its being for him, both in time and in essence. Hegel, and this
was typical of him in general, first smashed the old prejudice, and then
restored it to all its rights by means of a cunningly clever dialectical
apparatus.
The radical, materialist rethinking of the achievements of his logic
(dialectics) carried through by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, was linked with
affirmation of the objective reality of the universal, not at all in the spirit of
Plato or Hegel, but rather in the sense of a law-governed connection of
material phenomena, in the sense of the law of their being joined together
in the composition of some whole, in the context of a selfdeveloping
totality or aggregate, all the components of which were related
as a matter of fact not by virtue of their possessing one and the same
identical attribute, but by virtue of a unity of genesis, by virtue of their
having one and the same common ancestor, or to put it more exactly, by
virtue of their arising as diverse modifications of one and the same
substance of a quite material character (i.e. independent of thought and
word).
Uniform phenomena therefore do not necessarily possess anything
like a ‘family resemblance’ as the sole grounds for being counted as one
class. The universal in them may be outwardly expressed much better in
the form of differences, even opposites, that make the separate phenomena
complement one another, components of a whole, of some quite
real, organic aggregate, and not an amorphous plurality of units taken
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 205
together on the basis of a more or less chance attribute. On the other
hand, the universal, which manifests itself precisely in the particularities,
in the individual characteristics of all the components of the whole
without exception, also exists in itself as alongside other isolated individua
derived from it. In that there is nothing even remotely mystical; a
father often lives a very long time side by side with his sons. And if he is
not present, he was once, of course, i.e. must be definitely thought of in
the category of ‘being there’. The genetically understood universal does
not simply exist, naturally, in the ether of the abstract, in the elements of
the word and idea; and its existence in no way abolishes or belittles the
reality of its modifications and of the separate individua derived from it
and dependent on it.
In Marx’s analysis of capital the concept of the universal that we have
briefly described plays most important methodological role. ‘To the
extent that we are considering it here, as a relation distinct from that of
value and money, capital is capital in general, i.e. the incarnation of the
qualities which distinguish value as capital from value as pure value or as
money. Value, money, circulation, etc., prices, etc., are presupposed, as is
labour, etc. But we are still concerned with neither with a particular form
of capital, nor with an individual capital as distinct from other individual
capitals, etc. We are present at the process of its becoming. This dialectical
process of its becoming is only the ideal expression of the real movement
through which capital comes into being. The later relations are to
be regarded as its developments coming out of this germ. But it is necessary
to establish the specific form in which it is posited at a certain point.
Otherwise confusion arises’.62
Here there is very clearly brought out that relation between value and
capital which Hegel in the passage cited above, discovered between a
triangle and a square, pentagon, etc., and, moreover, in a dual sense. (1)
The concept of value in general is in no case defined here through the
aggregate of the abstract, general attributes that one may want to discover
in the composition of all its special forms (i.e. commodities, labour
power, capital, rent, interest, etc., etc.) but is achieved by way of the most
rigorous analysis of one single, quite specific, and actually existing relation
between people, the relation of the direct exchange of one commodity,
for another. In the analysis of this value reality, reduced to its simplest

62 “Grundrisse,” MECW vol. 28, p 236.
206 E. V. ILYENKOV
form, the universal determinations of value are brought out that are later
met (reproduced) at higher levels of development and analysis as abstract,
general determinations of money and labour power, and capital.
(2) If we are concerned with defining capital in general, then, as Marx
specially remarked, we must take the following point of principle into
account, which has ‘more of a logical than an economic character’.63 ‘...
Capital in general, as distinct from the particular real capitals, is itself a real
existence. This is recognised by ordinary economics, even if it is not
understood, and forms a very important moment of its doctrine of
equilibrations, etc. for example, capital in this general form, although belonging
to individual capitalists, in its elemental form as capital, forms the
capital which accumulates in the banks or is distributed through them,
and, as Ricardo says, so admirably distributes itself in accordance with the
needs of production.64 Likewise, through loans, etc., it forms a level
between the different countries. If it is therefore e.g. a law of capital in
general that, in order to realise itself, it must posit itself doubly, and must
realise itself in this double form, then e.g. the capital of a particular nation
which represents capital par excellence in antithesis to another will have to
lend itself out to a third nation in order to be able to realise itself. This
double positing, this relating to self as to an alien, becomes damn real in
this case. While the general is therefore on the one hand only a mental
(gedachte) mark of distinction (differentia specifica), it is at the same time a
particular real form alongside the form of the particular and individual’.65
It is ‘the same also in algebra’, Marx continued. ‘For example, a, b, c, are
numbers as such; in general; but then again they are whole numbers as
opposed to a/b, b/c, c/b, c/a, b/a, etc., which latter, however, presuppose
the former as their general elements’.66
The situation of the dialectical relation between the general (universal)
and the particular, the individual, by virtue of which the general
cannot in principle be revealed in the make-up of the particular individuals
by formal abstraction (by way of identifying the similar or identical in

63 Ibid., p.377-78.
64 D. Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, London 1821, p 139 (Marx’s
footnote).
65 Marx, “Grundrisse,” p 378. There is a footnote in the Grundrisse at this
point, cf. Hegel, Science of Logic, p 600. Tr. A V Miller, London 1969.
66 “Grundrisse,” MECW vol. 28, p 379.
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 207
them) can be most vividly demonstrated by the example of the theoretical
difficulties connected with the concept ‘man’, with the definition of the
essence of man, the solution of which was found by Marx, basing himself
precisely on a dialectical understanding of the problem of the general.67
‘... The essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each separate individual.
In its reality it is the ensemble (aggregate) of social relations’.68 as
Marx aphoristically formulated his conception in the famous theses on
Feuerbach.
Here one clearly sees not only the sociological principle of Marx’s
thinking, but also its logical principle. Translated into the language of
logic, his aphorism means that it is useless to seek the general determinations
expressing the essence of a class, be it the human race or some
other genus, in a series of the abstract, general attributes possessed by
each member of the given class taken separately. The essence of human
nature in general can only be brought out through a scientific, critical
analysis of the ‘whole ensemble’, of man’s social and historical relations
to man, through concrete investigation and understanding of the patterns
with which the process of the birth and evolution both of human society
as a whole and of the separate individual has taken place and is taking
place.
The separate individual is only human in the exact and strict sense of
the word, insofar as he actualises – and just by his individuality – some
ensemble or other of historically developed faculties (specifically human
forms of life activity), of a culture formed before and independently of
him, and mastered by him during upbringing (the moulding of the person).
From that angle the human personality can rightly be considered as
an individual embodiment of culture, i.e. of the universal in man.
Universality so understood is by no means a silent, generic ‘sameness’
of individuals but reality repeatedly and diversely broken up within itself
into particular (separate) spheres mutually complementing each other and
in essence mutually dependent on each other and therefore linked together
by bonds of community of origin no less firm and no less flexible
than the organs of the body of a biological specimen developed from one
and the same egg cell. In other words, theoretical, logical determination

67 See Ilyenkov’s “Dialectics of the Abstract and Concrete in Marx’s Capital,”
1960.
68 Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” MECW vol. 5., p 4.
208 E. V. ILYENKOV
of the concrete universality of human life can consist solely in disclosing
the necessity with which the diverse forms of specifically human life
activity develop one from the other and in interaction of the one on the
other, the faculties of social man and his corresponding needs.
The materialist conception of the essence of man sees (in full agreement
with the data of anthropology, ethnography, and archaeology) the
universal form of human life in labour, in the direct transformation of
nature (both external and his own) that social man brings about with the
help of tools made by himself. That is why Marx felt such sympathy to
Benjamin Franklin’s famous definition (quoted in Boswell’s Life of Johnson)
of man as a tool-making animal: a tool-making animal and only therefore
also a thinking animal, talking, composing music, obeying moral norms,
and so on.
The definition of man in general as a tool-making animal is a typical
example in which the Marxian conception of the universal as the concretely
universal is seen most clearly of all, and also the Marxian conception
of its relation to the particular and the individual. From the standpoint
of the canons of formal logic this definition is much too concrete
to be universal, for under it such undoubted members of the human race
as Mozart or Leo Tolstoy, Raphael or Kant cannot be subsumed.
Formally such a definition applies only to a narrow circle of individuals,
to the workers in engineering works, say, or workshops. Even workers
who do not make machines (or tools) but only use them, formally do
not come within the scope of this definition. The old logic therefore
rightly regarded it not as a universal but exclusively as a particular definition,
not as a definition of man in general but of a particular profession.
The general (concretely universal) stands opposed to the sensuously
given variety of separate individuals primarily not as a mental abstraction
but as their own substance, as a concrete form of their interaction. As such
it also embodies or includes the whole wealth of the particular and individual
in its concrete determinateness and that not simply as the possibility
of development but as its necessity. The conception of the general and of
its paths of scientific realisation described here is by no means the monopoly
of philosophical dialectics. Science, in its real historical development,
unlike its depiction in the epistemological and logical constructions
of Neopositivists, always begins, more or less consistently, from such a
concept of the universal, and that often in spite of the conscious logical
precepts and maxims that its representatives profess. This circumstance is
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 209
clearly traceable in the history of the concept ‘value’, a universal category
of political economy.
The abstraction of value in general and the word that records it are as
old as market relations. The Greek axia, the German Werth, and so on
were not created by Sir William Petty, or Adam Smith, or Ricardo. Every
merchant and peasant of all ages used ‘value’ or ‘worth’ for everything
that could be bought or sold, everything that cost something, or was
worth something.
And if the theoretical political economists had tried to work out a concept
of value in general, guided by the recipes that purely formal, nominalistically
oriented logic still suggests to science, they would never, of
course, have done so. Here it has not been a matter at all, from the very
beginning, of the bringing out of the abstractly general, of the similar that
each of the objects possesses, which general word usage long ago united
in the term ‘value’ (in that case it would simply introduce order into the
notions that any shopkeeper uses, and the matter would be limited to
simple ‘explication’ of the shopkeeper’s notions about value, to a simple,
pedantic enumeration of the attributes of those phenomena to which the
word ‘value’ is opposite, and no more; and the whole exercise would
amount simply to clarification of the scope of the term’s applicability).
The whole point, however, is that the classical political economists posed
the question quite differently, so that the answer to it proved to be a
concept, i.e. an awareness of the real generality. Marx pointed out clearly
the essence of their posing of the question.
The first English economist Sir William Petty arrived at the concept
of value by the following reasoning: ‘If a man can bring to London an
ounce of Silver out of the Earth in Peru in the same time that he can produce
a Bushel of Corn, then one is the natural price of the other. ...’69
Let us note in passing that in the reasoning adduced here the term
‘value’ is absent in general, ‘natural price’ being spoken of. But we are
present here right at the birth of the fundamental concept of all subsequent
science of the production, distribution, and accumulation of wealth. Here
the concept also expresses (reflects) (like Hegel’s example of the triangle)
such a real phenomenon given in experience as (being quite particular

69 Sir Wm. Petty. A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions. 1867: cited by Marx in
Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, p 356.
210 E. V. ILYENKOV
among other particulars) at the same time proves to be universal and
represents value in general.
The classical political economists spontaneously groped out the way
of determining value in its general form; but in retrospect, having already
formed the relevant concept, they tried to ‘verify’ it in accordance with
the canons of logic, relying on Locke’s notions about thought and the
universal, which led them into a number of paradoxes and antinomies.
The general, when they tried to ‘justify’ it by analysis of its own particular
variants, like profit and capital, was not only not confirmed, but was
directly refuted by them, contradicted by them.
Only Marx succeeded in establishing the reason for the origin of the
various paradoxes, and so the way out; and he did so just because he was
guided by dialectical notions of the nature of the general and its interrelations
with the particular and the individual. The reality of the universal
in nature is a law, but a law in its reality (as is shown, in particular, by
modern natural science, e.g. the physics of the microworld) is not realised
as some abstract rule by which the movement of each single particle
taken separately would be governed, but only as a tendency manifesting
itself in the behaviour of a more or less complex ensemble of individual
phenomena, through the breach and negation of the universal in each of
its separate (individual) manifestations. And thought is forced willy-nilly
to take that circumstance into account.
The general determinations of value (of the law of value) are worked
out in Capital in the course of an analysis of one example of the concreteness
of value, historically the first and therefore logically the simplest,
i.e., the direct exchange or barter of one commodity for another,
with the most rigorous abstraction of all other individual forms (developed
on its basis), namely money, profit, land rent, and so on. Marx saw
the shortcoming of Ricardo’s analysis of value precisely in his not being
able, when examining the problem of value in its general form, to forget
profit. That is why Ricardo’s abstraction proved incomplete and so formal.
Marx himself obtained a solution of the problem in general form because
all the subsequent formations – not only profit but also even
money – were taken as not existent at the start of the analysis. Only direct
exchange or barter without money was analysed; and it was immediately
clear that such a raising of its individual to the general differed in principle
from the act of simple, formal abstraction. Here the peculiarities of the
simple commodity form, specifically distinguishing it from profit, land
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 211
rent, interest, and other individual forms of value, were not thrown away
as something inessential; quite the contrary, their theoretical expression
coincided with the determination of value in its general form.
The incompleteness of Ricardo’s abstraction, and the formality linked
with it, consisted precisely in its being formed on the one hand through
his inability to abstract it from the existence of other developed forms of
value, and on the other hand through his abstracting of the peculiarities of
direct commodity exchange. The general was thus taken in the end as
completely isolated from the particular and separate, and ceased to be its
theoretical expression. That is what distinguishes the dialectical conception
of the general from the purely formal conception.
The distinction between Marx’s dialectical materialist conception,
however, and the interpretation given the general in Hegel’s idealistic
dialectics is no less important. And it is important to bring this out clearly
for the reason that their conceptions are too often equated in Western
literature. Yet it is quite obvious that the orthodox Hegelian interpretation
of the general, despite all its dialectical value, comes close, on a
decisive point of principle and not just in details, to that very metaphysical
view that Hegel himself had so strongly undermined the authority and
influence of. This comes out particularly clearly in the concrete applications
of the principles of Hegelian logic to the analysis of real, earthly
problems.
The point is as follows. When Hegel explains his ‘speculative’ conception
of the general in opposition to the ‘purely formal’ on the example
of geometrical figures (treating the triangle as ‘the figure in general’) it
may seem at first glance that here was the logical schema in ready-made
form that enabled Marx to cope with the problem of the general determination
of value. Actually, it would seem that Hegel saw the difference
between genuine universality and purely formal abstraction in the truly
general’s itself existing in the form of the particular, i.e. its an empirically
given reality existing in time and space (outside men’s heads) and perceived
in contemplation.
According to Hegel, the general as such, in its strict and exact sense,
exists exclusively in the ether of ‘pure thought’ and in no case in the
space and time of external reality. In that sphere we are dealing only with
a number of particular alienations, embodiments, hypostasies of the
‘genuinely general’.
212 E. V. ILYENKOV
That was why the definition of man as a tool-making animal would
have been quite unacceptable to Hegelian logic, and logically incorrect.
For the orthodox Hegelian, as for any representative of the formal logic
criticised by him (a very notable unanimity!), Franklin’s definition (and
Marx’s) was much too concrete to be general or universal. In the production
of tools Hegel saw not the basis of everything human in man, but
only one, though important, manifestation of his thinking nature. In other
words the idealism of the Hegelian interpretation of the general leads to
the very same result as the metaphysical interpretation he so disliked.
When Hegelian logic is taken in its pristine form as the means of
evaluating the movement of thought in the first chapters of Capital, the
whole movement seems ‘illegitimate’ and ‘illogical’. The Hegelian logician
would be right, from his angle, if he were to say of Marx’s analysis of
value that there was no general determination of this category in it, that
Marx only ‘described’ but did not theoretically ‘deduce’ the determination
of one special, particular form of the realisation of value in general, because
that, like any truly general category of human life activity, was a form
immanent in the ‘rational will’ and not in man’s external being, in which it
was only manifested and materialised.
So Hegelian logic, despite all its superiority over formal logic, could
not and cannot be taken into the armoury of materialistically oriented
science without any essential amendments, and without a radical purging
of all traces of idealism. For idealism did not remain something ‘external’
for logic at all, but orientated the very logical sequence of thought. When
Hegel spoke, for example, of the transitions of opposing categories (including
the general and the particular), the schema of the examination
then and there received a one-way character. In the Hegelian schema
there could be no place, say, for the transition that Marx discovered in
the determinations of value, the transformation of the singular or individual
into the general. With Hegel only the general had the privilege of
alienating itself in forms of the particular and the singular, while the
singular always proved to be a product, a particular ‘modus’ of universality
(and therefore poor in content).
The actual history of economic (market) relations testified, however,
in Marx’s favour, demonstrating that the form of value in general was by
no means always the general form of the organisation of production. It
became the general, but up to a certain point (and for very long) it remained
a particular relation happening from time to time between people
and things in production. Only capitalism made value (the commodity
PROBLEMS OF DIALECTICS 213
form of the product) the general form of the interrelations of the components
of production.
This transition of the individual and chance into the general was not
at all rare in history, but was even rather the rule. It has always happened
in history that phenomena that subsequently became general arose first
precisely as individual exceptions to the rule, as anomalies, as something
particular and partial. Hardly anything really new can arise in any other
way.
It is in the light of that, that the rethinking to which the Hegelian dialectical
conception of the general was subjected by Marx and Lenin must
be understood. While preserving all the dialectical moments noted by
Hegel, materialism deepened and broadened its conception, transforming
the category of the general or universal into the most important category
of the logic of concrete investigation of concrete, historically developing
phenomena.
In the context of the materialist conception of the dialectics of history
and the dialectics of thought, the Hegelian formulae sound differently
from on the lips of their creator, having lost all mystical colouring.
The general includes and embodies in itself the whole wealth of details,
not as the ‘idea’ but as a quite real, particular phenomenon with a tendency
to become general, and developing ‘from itself’ (by virtue of its
inner contradictions) other just as real phenomena, other particular forms
of actual movement’. And there is not a trace of any of the PlatonicHegelian
mystique in that.
Conclusion
Quite understandably we have not undertaken the task here of giving
a systematic exposition of Marxist-Leninist logic. That is beyond the
power of a single person, and can scarcely be done within the space of
one book. We have simply tried to throw some light on a number of the
conditions and premises for further work in that direction, which we
consider should be a collective effort.
We think, however, that only by taking the conditions formulated
above into account can such a work be successful, i.e. lead to the creation
of a capital work which could rightly bear one of three titles: Logic, Dialectics,
or The Theory of Knowledge (of the modern, materialist world outlook);
and which could take as its epigraph Lenin’s words: “Three words are not
needed: it is one and the same thing”.
214 E. V. ILYENKOV
The creation of a Logic understood as a system of categories, of
course, constitutes only one stage. The next step would have to be the
realisation, actualisation of the logical system in a concrete scientific
investigation, because the end product of all work in the field of philosophical
dialectics is the resolution of the concrete problems of concrete
sciences. Philosophy alone cannot achieve this ‘end product’; that calls
for an alliance of dialectics and concrete scientific research, understood
and realised as the business-like collaboration of philosophers and natural
scientists, of philosophy and social and historical fields of knowledge. But
in order for dialectics to be an equal collaborator in concrete scientific
knowledge, it must first develop the system of its own specific philosophical
concepts, from the angle of which it could display the strength of
critical distinction in relation to actually given thought and consciously
practised methods.
It seems to us that this conclusion stems directly from the analysis we
have presented here, and that this conception corresponds directly to
Lenin’s ideas both on the plane of the inter-relations of the latter and the
other branches of scientific knowledge. It appears to us that, in the
conceptions set out above, logic does become an equal collaborator with
the other sciences, and not their servant, and not their supreme overseer,
not a ‘science of sciences’ crowning their system as just another variety of
‘absolute truth’. Understood as logic, philosophical dialectics becomes a
necessary component of the scientific, materialist world outlook, and no
longer claims a monopoly in relation to the ‘world as a whole’. The
scientific world outlook can only be described by the whole system of
modern sciences. That system also includes philosophical dialectics, and
without it cannot claim either fullness or scientism.
The scientific world outlook that does not include philosophy, logic,
and the theory of knowledge, is as much nonsense as the ‘pure’ philosophy
that assumes that it alone is the world outlook, taking on its shoulders
a job that can only be done by a whole complex of sciences. Philosophy
is also the logic of the development of the world outlook, or, as
Lenin put it, its ‘living soul’.
Activity and Knowledge *
In pedagogy, there is a troubling and (when you think about it)
strange problem that is usually described as the problem of ‘the practical
application of knowledge to life’. And it is in fact true that the graduate
from school (whether high school or college) finds himself in the quandary
of not knowing how to ‘apply’ knowledge to any problem that arises
outside the walls of school.
This seems to imply that human abilities should include the special
ability of somehow ‘correlating’ knowledge with its object, i.e. with reality
as given in contemplation. This means that there should be a special kind
of activity of correlating knowledge and its object, where ‘knowledge’ and
‘object’ are thought of as two different ‘things’ distinct from the person
himself. One of these things is knowledge as contained in general formulae,
instructions, and propositions, and the other thing is the unstructured
chaos of phenomena as given in perception. If this were so, then we
could clearly try to formulate rules for making this correlation, and
enumerate and classify typical errors so that we could warn ahead of time
how to avoid them. In instructional theory, one often tries to solve the
problem of knowing ‘how to apply knowledge to life’ by creating just this
kind of system of rules and warnings. But the result is that the system of
rules and warnings becomes so cumbersome that it starts to impede
rather than help things, becoming an additional source of errors and
failures.
Thus, there is every reason to believe that the very problem we are
trying to solve arises only because the ‘knowledge’ has been given to the
person in an inadequate form; or, to put it more crudely, it is not real
knowledge, but only some substitute.
In fact, knowledge in the precise sense of the word is always knowledge
of an object. Of a particular object, for it is impossible to know ‘in
general’, without knowing a particular system of phenomena, whether
these are chemical, psychological, or some other phenomena.

  • First published: Ilyenkov E. V., “Deyatel’nost’ i Znanie” (1974), in: E. V.
    Ilyenkov, Filosofiya i Kul’tura [Philosophy and Culture], Moscow: Politizdat
    (1991), © Novokhat’ko A. G. 1991; Translated by Peter Moxhay 2002.
    216 E. V. ILYENKOV
    But, after all, in this case the very phrase about the difficulties of ‘applying’
    knowledge to an object sounds rather absurd. To know an object,
    and to ‘apply’ this knowledge – knowledge of the object – to the object?
    At best, this must be only an imprecise, confusing way of expressing
    some other, hidden situation.
    But this situation is rather typical.
    And this situation is possible only under particular circumstances,
    when the person has mastered not knowledge of an object but knowledge
    of something else instead. And this ‘other thing’ can only be a system of
    phrases about an object, learned either irrespective of the latter or in only
    an imaginary, tenuous, and easily broken connection to it. A system of
    words, terms, symbols, signs, and their stable combinations, as formed
    and legitimised in everyday life – ‘statements’ and ‘systems of statements’.
    Language, in particular, the ‘language of science’ with its supply of words
    and its syntactic organisation and ‘structure’. In other words, the object,
    as represented in available language, as an already verbalised object.
    Yes, if ‘knowledge’ is always identified with verbally organised consciousness,
    then the problem will in fact be as described above – as the
    special problem of ‘correlating’ knowledge and object. But when the
    question is posed like this, the very problem of the ‘application’ of
    knowledge to the real world is easily replaced by the problem of the
    ‘correct’ verbalisation of unverbalised material. The verbal ‘object’ then
    turns into a synonym for the chaos of totally unorganised ‘sense data’ –
    into a synonym only for what I do not know about the object.
    In general, we obtain the well-known program of Neopositivism with
    its utopian hopes of erecting a system of ‘rules’ that provide procedures
    for going from language to facts that lie outside of language, and vice
    versa, where there must be no ‘contradictions’ within language. This leads
    to the main principle of the Neopositivist solution – if you have verbalised
    certain known facts but have nevertheless obtained a contradiction
    within language, then it means that you have verbalised the facts ‘incorrectly’
    – not according to the rules. It means that you have ‘broken’ some
    ‘rule of verbalisation’.
    You have crossed the boundary dividing the world of the verbalised
    from the world of the unverbalised, into some place that is forbidden (‘by
    the rules’).
    The Neopositivist program, with its accompanying ‘logic’, is therefore
    regressive in its very essence. It replaces the real problem of knowl-
    ACTIVITY AND KNOWLEDGE 217
    edge – as knowledge (cognition) of an object that exists not only outside
    of language but also independent of any self-organised language – by the
    problem of the verbal formation of verbally unformed material. Here the
    latter is thought of as the totally unformed chaos of ‘sense data’, as the
    passive material of ‘knowledge’, which can be formed verbally in one of
    two ways – either ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly’. But here ‘correctly’ means
    according to the rules of available language, i.e. such that it is forced to fit
    without contradiction into available language, into the available semanticsyntactic
    ‘framework’, into available ‘knowledge’.
    The real problem of the cognition of the object has therefore been
    twisted around into a purely linguistic problem – the problem of first
    assimilating available language (‘the language of science’) and then of
    assimilating ‘facts’ in the forms of this (available) language. Naturally, this
    problem is solved by refining one’s linguistic ingenuity, allowing any
    ‘data’ to be expressed in such a way that they work without a hitch,
    without contradiction, within the available ‘language framework’, within
    available ‘knowledge’.
    This is precisely what Imre Lakatos had in mind when he rightly
    noted that the Neopositivist program, if realised, would mean the death
    of science – available knowledge would forever be ‘frozen’ in the form of
    the available language of science. And the object would forever be
    doomed to the pathetic role of an object of linguistic manipulations and
    would not be present in the content of knowledge in any other form. It
    would not be allowed in – it would be held back at the entrance to
    ‘knowledge’ by the filters of Neopositivistic ‘logic’.
    And therefore, according to this logic, it is also not permitted to
    know the object (as something outside of and independent of language).
    We can know only ‘the language of a particular object region’. And the
    question of which ‘facts’ are included in it (i.e. do not contradict it), and
    which are excluded from it (i.e. contradict it), depends on which ‘language’
    is assumed.
    Therefore, the very expression ‘to know an object’, according to
    Neopositivist logic, is illegitimate, for to a verbally formed consciousness
    it has the faint odour of ‘metaphysical’ or ‘transcendental’ language, i.e. of
    a somewhat ‘other worldly’ language. Here, ‘to know’ means to know
    language, for nothing else is given to humans to know. To the extent that
    ‘knowledge’ and ‘object’ have turned out to be merely two terms that
    mean essentially the same thing – namely, language – the problem of
    218 E. V. ILYENKOV
    ‘applying’ one of these to the other has turned into the problem of correlating
    (coordinating) various aspects of language – semantics with syntax,
    syntax with pragmatics, pragmatics with semantics, and so on and so
    forth. Here, the object is always the verbally formed object. In the Neopositivist
    conception of things, the object simply does not exist in any
    form before it ‘came into being’ as a verbal sign, before it was embodied
    in language.
    It seems as if the real solution to the problem of ‘correlating’ knowledge
    with the object can only consist in foreseeing and avoiding, from the
    very beginning, the very possibility that the problem might arise, for once
    it has arisen it is notoriously insoluble.
    This means organising the process of assimilating knowledge as
    knowledge of the object, in the most precise and direct sense of this
    word. In the very sense that Neopositivist philosophy strives to disallow
    using such insults as ‘crude’ and ‘metaphysical’ – as an object that stubbornly
    exists outside of and completely independently of consciousness
    (and of language). Not as a separate ‘thing’ that we can always specially
    consider and represent while ignoring its surroundings, but precisely as a
    system of things possessing its own, language – independent, ‘extralanguage’
    organisation and connections – as a concrete whole.
    This is the only way to overcome verbalism – that chronic disease of
    school education that results in the notorious problem of ‘applying’
    knowledge to life, of ‘correlating’ knowledge and object, but where the
    knowledge is in fact just a verbal shell, and where in reality we know
    nothing or next to nothing about the ‘object’ beyond what has already
    been said about it – beyond what has already been expressed by a word
    or a statement.
    It is not easy to overcome this well-known disease – to do so is much
    harder than to describe it. It is even more important, however, to analyse
    it as precisely and as profoundly as possible, so that we can evaluate the
    effectiveness of the medicine. Otherwise – as often happens – the disease
    only gets driven inside, instead of being cured at the root.
    Only the traditional philosophical naivete of the authors of books on
    teaching can possibly explain why they pin their hopes on the so-called
    ‘principle of visual learning’. This principle, which has been used in
    schools for almost a century now, is in fact not at all as radical as it
    seems. When it is applied ineptly it leads to the opposite result from the
    intended one, since it creates only the illusion of a cure. It uses its multi-
    ACTIVITY AND KNOWLEDGE 219
    coloured cosmetics to paint over the external attributes of verbalism – its
    most glaring and obvious symptoms. Apparent health is thus obtained,
    but the disease then strikes deeper – and more important – ‘organs of
    cognition’. And, most importantly, it strikes the capacity for imagination
    in its most important function, which Kant called the ‘capacity for judgment’
    – the ability to determine whether a given particular case comes
    under a given rule or not.
    School often doesn’t just fail to cultivate this capacity once it has
    arisen, but rather actively deadens it. And it does so precisely using the
    notorious ‘principle of visual learning’. It is not difficult to understand
    how this happens.
    The fact is that, since this principle is taken as a panacea, as a ‘bridge’
    between verbally acquired knowledge and the object, it focuses the
    pedagogue not on facilitating a real encounter between the person (the
    student) and the object, but just the opposite – towards the painstaking
    prevention of any such encounter, towards the removal of the object
    from the process of instruction.
    The fact is that, instead of the object – in the serious, materialistic
    understanding of the word – the person is never presented with the
    object that he ought to compare and contrast with the formulae that have
    been given to him verbally. He is given something completely different
    that is only externally similar to it. What exactly? Artificially and previously
    chosen ‘visual examples’ that illustrate (i.e. confirm) the correctness
    of the assertions – the verbally formed statements that have been presented
    to him. In other words, instead of the real object, the student is
    presented with an artificially selected fragment of objective reality that
    just precisely agrees with its verbal description, i.e. a graphical equivalent
    of the given abstraction.
    As a result, the student develops a particular mentality whose insidiousness
    is only observed later on. From the very beginning, his attention
    is focused on actively searching for just those sensibly perceived phenomena
    that precisely agree with their own description – on singling out
    those ‘properties’ of the object that have already been uniquely expressed
    by verbal formulae, by a ‘noncontradictory system of statements’. The
    student thus develops a mentality for which the word (language) becomes
    not a means for mastering the surrounding world, but just the opposite,
    the surrounding world becomes an external means for learning and
    220 E. V. ILYENKOV
    practicing verbal formulae. Here, only the latter turn out to be the object
    of learning that is genuinely mastered.
    And this is achieved precisely by means of the ‘principle of visuality’,
    by systematically presenting the student with only such sensibly perceived
    things, cases and situations that precisely agree with their verbal description,
    i.e. that are nothing but a materialised abstract conception – i.e.
    ‘objects’ specially prepared in order to agree with a verbally given instruction,
    formula, or ‘rule’.
    Any ‘visual aid’ (or any real thing from the surrounding world used as
    a ‘visual aid’) creates only an illusion of the concreteness of knowledge, of
    the concreteness of understanding, and at best it makes it easier for the
    person to learn formulae, to understand formulae, i.e. abstract schemas,
    for here the ‘visual aid’ is just a particular case of ‘truth’ enclosed in a
    formula or word. This is precisely how one derives the notion of the selfsufficiency
    of abstract ‘schemas’, unavoidably accompanied by the idea
    that an individual sensibly perceived ‘object’ (or case, or situation) is
    nothing but a more-or-less random ‘example’, i.e. a more-or-less random
    ‘embodiment’ of an abstractly general rule.
    It is natural that there cannot and should not arise any polemical relationship
    between a ‘general rule’ assimilated in verbal form and a specially
    selected (or made) ‘example’ that supports it. Any disagreement, any lack
    of correspondence between one and the other can have only one cause –
    an incorrectness in the verbal expression, an incorrectness in the use of
    words. If the words have been used correctly, then the ‘general rule’ and
    the ‘particular case’ will fit each other precisely. There is no difference
    between them in content – these are one and the same formula, except
    that in one case it is presented ‘visually’ and in the other case ‘nonvisually’,
    i.e. as the meaning of certain word-signs.
    Of course, when we have such an artificial relationship between the
    general formula and the ‘particular case’, the problem of correlating them
    does not require (and therefore does not develop) the capacity for imagination
    – the ability to construct an image from the mass of ‘impressions’
    or unorganised sensations. Here, this ability is simply not needed, for the
    image of the thing is presented ready-made, and the whole problem has
    been reduced to merely expressing it in words. After all, a ‘visual aid’ is
    not the thing but a ready-made image of the thing – it has been created
    independent of the activity of the student – by the artist who prepared it
    by strictly following verbal instructions, or else by the pedagogue who
    ACTIVITY AND KNOWLEDGE 221
    gave him this image in verbal form. In either case, as an ‘object’, as a
    reality existing outside of, prior to, and completely independent of the
    activity of cognition, the student is presented with an image that has been
    previously organised by words, and the student has to do only one thing
    – to make the inverse translation of this image into verbal form. The
    student thinks that he is describing an ‘object’, but in fact he is only
    reproducing an ‘alienated’ – a visually embodied – verbal formula, which
    has been used (but not by him) to create the image that was presented to
    him. The student thus learns only how to reproduce ready-made images –
    images that have already received their citizenship in the world of language.
    He does not produce the image, for he never encounters any
    object – any ‘raw material’ for the image – that has not already been
    processed by words. This has already been done for him by the pedagogue
    or the artist.
    Thus, the student goes from a ready-made image to its verbal expression
    – this kind of learning is operating by the skin of its teeth. However,
    the decisive part of the path of cognition – to go from the object to an
    image (and then back from this image to the object) – remains outside
    the range of the student’s activity. In school, he is never confronted with
    the problem of correlating the image with the object – instead of the
    object, he is always given a ready-made image as a substitute. The corresponding
    ability of course never develops, since no activity with the
    object has taken place. What the student really acts with is an image – one
    that was created outside of his own mind. That is, he acts with a materialised
    conception.
    After all, this is what geometric figures drawn on the blackboard are,
    or counting sticks (it doesn’t matter whether they are sticks of wood or of
    plastic-what’s important is that they are an image of ‘quantity’, or, more
    precisely, of number), and coloured pictures, and all the other ‘realobject’
    stage props of the schoolchild.
    The object all by itself – not yet transformed into an image by someone
    else’s activity (or into a ‘schematism’, if we use the language of Kant)
    – remains outside the classroom door, beyond the boundaries of the
    ‘academic subject’. The student encounters the object itself only outside
    of school and talks about it not in the ‘language of science’, but in ‘ordinary’,
    everyday language, using it to assemble his own, spontaneously
    formed conceptions, his ‘personal’ experience.
    222 E. V. ILYENKOV
    It is clear that this is where the crack appears between the world of
    scientific knowledge and the world of the conceptions found in everyday
    experience – a crack which then widens into a divide between knowledge
    and beliefs.
    This divide is not a result of hypocrisy, dishonesty, or some other
    moral defect; the student simply does not know how to relate these two
    ‘different’ spheres of knowledge to each other. After all, a belief is also
    knowledge, but it is acquired independently, as an end result of personal
    experience, whereas ‘knowledge’ assimilated during class is instilled in
    him as a ready-made, abstract ‘rule’, to which he must, is required to, is
    obligated to subordinate his actions in order to solve the kind of strictlydefined
    problems he encounters in school-problems which are often of
    no interest to him whatsoever. These are problems that he never meets
    with outside of school (although he is promised that he will do so later
    on, when he becomes an astronaut or a taxi driver, but often this doesn’t
    help).
    So, during class the schoolchild ends up dealing with ready-made images
    (schemas) of reality and the verbal formulae that express them, but
    he encounters the object only outside of lessons, outside of school. As a
    result, he never finds a bridge between these two very dissimilar worlds –
    these two spheres of his life activity – he is lost when he finally encounters
    any reality that has not been scientifically prepared for him. He ends
    up being able to ‘apply formulae’ successfully only in a situation that is
    precisely as described in the textbook, i.e. only when life has already been
    organised ‘according to science’. That is, when the object has already
    been systematised by someone else’s activity, where it has already been
    made according to the ‘rules’, where science has already been applied.
    Where, in other words, we are talking only about the so-called ‘visualisation’
    of verbally given formulae or rules. Here, it is precisely the
    formula that organises the ‘image’, that directs the activity of constructing
    the image or ‘visual representation’ that replaces a ready-made verbal
    instruction – an image that is supposed to be the ‘essence’ of the matter,
    but that we can nonetheless safely ‘do without’.
    The person whose psyche has been developed in this way ends up a
    slave to ready-made ‘formulae’ even in the very act of contemplation, in
    the process of everyday perception – even in the object, he has become
    used to see precisely that which has been given to him in verbal form –
    that which precisely corresponds to words.
    ACTIVITY AND KNOWLEDGE 223
    Of course, all this should not be understood as a ‘rejection of the
    principle of visual learning’. In its place, this principle is good and useful
    – and precisely as a principle that makes it easier to assimilate abstract
    formulae. But that is all. When we begin to dream that it can be used to
    solve a different problem – the problem of developing the ability to
    correlate abstract (verbally given) formulae with the object – then just the
    opposite result is obtained.
    The person then develops a type of mentality where, when he looks
    at an object, he sees (‘visually represents’) only what he already knows
    about it through someone else’s words – through the words of the textbook
    author or the teacher. And not an iota more – he thus constructs
    not an image of the object, but only its ‘schema’ as given by words. If
    anything is then ‘correlated’, it is only a verbal instruction (a word) being
    correlated with itself – with its own semiotic expression – and not with
    anything else. The object – in the serious, materialistic meaning of this
    word – remains completely ‘transcendental’.
    The principle of ‘visual learning’ is therefore helpless in the battle
    with verbalism. It only disguises it, and thereby subsumes it.
    But, after all, serious, materialistic philosophy has for a long time
    suggested that teaching adopt another, more radical guiding principle.
    This is the organisation of a special form of activity that really requires –
    and therefore develops – the special abilities that are more fundamental
    for the human psyche than speech (language) or the mechanisms of
    speech that connect the word with the image.
    Traditional ‘learning’ activity is clearly not of this kind – it reduces to
    the process of assimilating ready-made knowledge, ready-made information,
    and ready-made conceptions, i.e. it is realised as the activity of the
    embodying of ready-made images in language and – inversely – of the
    ‘visualisation’ of verbally formed conceptions.
    Here, what is needed is activity of a different order – activity oriented
    directly at the object. Activity that changes the object, rather than an
    image of it. For only in the course of this activity does the image first
    arise, i.e. as a visual representation of the object, rather than as a ‘schema’
    given a priori by a verbal instruction or ‘rule’.
    The difference here is a fundamental one, and was clearly pointed out
    as long ago as Kant in his distinction between an ‘image’ and a ‘schema’,
    or ‘schematism’, as psychic formations that are fundamentally different in
    origin, with no ‘common root’. Because of this, the problem remained
    224 E. V. ILYENKOV
    insoluble for Kant. The really fundamental (universal) form of human
    activity remained outside the bounds of his psychology: direct-object
    activity, outside of consciousness and independent of consciousness,
    accomplishing the work of the hands and dealing not with an ‘image’, but
    with the thing in its most direct, ‘crude’, meaning, in a ‘crudely material’
    sense-activity that directly masters the object. Activity to which school
    teaching has devoted so little time and attention, although it is precisely in
    the course of this (and only this) activity that one develops the ‘schemas’
    or ‘schematisms’ on which Kant conferred the scary names ‘transcendental’
    and ‘a priori’.
    Real thinking is formed precisely when – and only when – the work
    of language is indissolubly joined to the work of the hands – the organs
    of direct-object activity. Not hands drawing letters, words, and ‘statements’
    on paper, but hands making things, i.e. changing obstinate, intractable,
    and capricious matter. Only thus can we observe its objective
    nature – independent of words or ready-made ‘images’ – its objective
    character or ‘stubbornness’. Only thus does the object reveal itself as the
    thing in itself, compelling us to reckon with it more than with words or
    with ‘schemas’ that ‘visualise’ those words. It is clear that this is the only
    way one can hope to overcome verbalism and avoid the problem of ‘the
    application of knowledge to life’ – a problem that school teaching itself
    has created.
    The Universal *
    What is the ‘universal’?
    What should one understand by this word if vagueness and misunderstanding
    are to be avoided at least while reading two adjacent paragraphs?
    In the literal sense of the word ‘vseobshchee’ (universal) means
    ‘obshchee vsem’ (common to all). ‘Vsem’ (all) stands for the individuals
    whose infinite multitude makes up the first-glance impression of the
    world we live in or speak about. But this is perhaps all that is indisputable
    and similarly understood by one and all about the ‘universal’. Leaving
    aside for now the properly philosophical controversies about the ‘universal’,
    it will be noted that the very term ‘obshchee’ (universal) is applied
    rather haphazardly in living language because it has among its ‘denotations’
    not only different or non-coincident, but directly opposite and
    mutually exclusive, objects and designations. The Dictionary of the Modern
    Russian Language recounts twelve such meanings, with two hardly compatible
    ones found at the extremes of the spectrum. ‘Common’, even
    though to some two, not to mention ‘all’, is that which belongs to the
    composition of either, as does the quality of being bipedal and mortal to
    Socrates and Caius or velocity to electron and train, and cannot exist
    separately from these two individuals. Also understood as ‘common’ is
    that which exists apart from these two individuals, precisely as a thing or
    yet another individual, like common ancestor, common – one for two
    (for all), field, common motor-car or kitchen, common friend or acquaintance,
    and so on, and so forth.
    Apparently, the same word, the same ‘sign’ does not serve in these
    cases to designate at all the same thing. Whether this should be regarded
    as one of the ‘imperfections’ of the natural language or, contrariwise, the
    advantage of flexibility that the natural language has over the rigid definitions
    of artificial languages, this remains a fact and a fairly typical one,
    and, therefore, calls for an explanation.
    In the case of the absolute non-ambiguity of a term, the definition
    (and application) is assumed for the ideal of the ‘language of science’. The
    science which seeks an accurate definition of universal logical categories

  • First Published in Philosophical Investigations in the USSR, edited by Frederick J.
    Adelmann, 1975, pp. 26-51.
    226 E. V. ILYENKOV
    is duty-bound to come to terms with this ‘ambiguity’ of the term ‘common’
    in the living language, – at least, in order not to be misunderstood
    whenever the ‘common’ and ‘general’ come under discussion.
    Of course, the fact of ambiguity can be merely brushed off by assuming
    one of the opposite meanings for the initial one and declaring the
    other as illegitimate and, subsequently, discarding it on account of the
    ‘non-scientific character’ of the natural language. But then one would
    have to coin another term, another ‘sign’ to designate this ‘illegitimate’
    meaning and thereupon try to clarify the relationship of the newlydevised
    sign to the term ‘common’, i.e., to revive, even though in a
    different verbal form, the former problem.
    Let us make an assumption and grant that one can use ‘common’ as
    connoting solely the abstract oneness, the identical, or the invariant
    which can be revealed in the composition of two (or more) sensuously
    perceived individual ‘facts’ (‘extra-lingual facts’). Let us further assume
    that it has been agreed upon not to use (nor to imply) the meaning that
    the word has in the word combinations ‘common field’, ‘common ancestor’,
    ‘common friend (foe)’, and so on. Then, the word is quite plainly
    used to define a solitary object (individual) which exists and is conceived
    apart from, and independently of, the individuals to which it presents
    itself as something ‘common’.
    Assuming further that we have also ruled out of ‘scientific language’
    expressions such as ‘Zhuchka is a dog’, ‘logic is a science’, where the
    common (in the sense we made legitimate) appears also as the direct
    definition of an individual (particular) thing or object presented in contemplation
    (in ‘sensation’, in imagination, in fact, anywhere but in the
    language) and we will go on to use the cumbersome verbal constructions
    invented for this purpose by ‘relational logic’. Then it would seem as if
    the difficulties concerned with the relationship of the ‘common’ to the
    individual would vanish from our language, and would no longer be
    expressed in it. And just that. For they all will remain and reappear under
    a somewhat different cloak, as difficulties concerning the relationship of
    ‘language in general’ to ‘extra-linguistic facts’. And this admission
    wouldn’t make them any easier to handle or solve. Once again they would
    arise in ‘language’ striving to express ‘extra-linguistic facts’.
    We shall not analyse in more detail those innumerable and fruitless
    attempts to settle the logical problem (of defining the ‘common’) through
    its replacement by another one concerned with the techniques of expres-
    THE UNIVERSAL 227
    sion in a ‘language’ of ‘extra-linguistic facts’: the techniques capable,
    allegedly, of sparing the intellect the difficulties concerned with the interrelationship
    of the ‘common’ and the ‘individual’, and from the ‘ambiguities’
    and ‘uncertainties’ of the natural language. The entire lengthy and
    rather ill-famed case-history of neo-positivism comes down to a kind of
    reciprocal refutation and back-biting. This belated attempt to refurbish
    nominalism with all its metaphysics (and the interpretation of the object
    of thinking as an unbound sea of ‘atomised facts’,) rejecting (on grounds
    totally unknown) the objective reality of the common and the universal,
    has proven with sufficient clarity that the solution sought-for cannot be
    found along these lines.
    The ‘natural language’, in any case, does not exclude the reality of the
    ‘common’ outside the language; as a result, Plato’s or Hegel’s metaphysics
    is expressible in this language in no less correct terms than the metaphysics
    of neo-positivism. Natural language at least allows us to express in
    words the problem which the ‘language of science’ is vainly attempting to
    rule out by declaring it ‘inexpressible’. Yet the ‘language of science’ comes
    back to it continually in roundabout ways by formulating it inadequately
    or transporting it to the plane of pure psycho-physiology or linguistics, –
    as a problem of the relationship of the verbal sign to its ‘meaning’. For
    example, the proponents of the language of science try to express the
    sum-total of the individual, the once-given and unique ‘experiences’, i.e.,
    the fleeting ‘states’ of the psychophysiology of the human individual.
    If so formulated, the issue of the essence of the ‘common’ (universal)
    becomes irrelevant, but this would be merely to surrender to the problem,
    not to resolve it. In real life (not least of all the life of a theorist) and,
    therefore, in the living language called upon to express this life, the
    problem of the universal and its relationship to the individual by no
    means disappears.
    But then it is pertinent to ask: is it possible to find out anything about
    the two extreme – and mutually exclusive – meanings of the word ‘common’,
    equally valid by virtue of their presence in the living language, and
    to discover what they have in common, i.e., to find out the source of this
    difference of meanings?
    The way that the word’s interpretation has been proclaimed as ‘singularly
    correct’ in the tradition of formal logic makes this impossible; in
    other words, no such ‘common feature’ in the definition of either meaning
    of the term ‘common’ can be discovered. It is clear nevertheless, and
    228 E. V. ILYENKOV
    even to neo-positivists, the staunchest supporters of the above tradition,
    that in the latter case, just as in so many others, we are dealing with
    relative words, much like human relatives, which may have nothing in
    common, and still bear – with equal right – the same family name.
    Such a relationship between the terms of the ‘natural language’ was
    recorded by L. Wittgenstein as fairly typical: Churchill-A has with Churchill-B
    the family likenesses a, b, c; Churchill-B shares with Churchill-C
    the features b, c, d; Churchill-D has as few as one single feature in ‘common’
    with Churchill-A while Churchill-E and Churchill-A have not even
    one feature, nothing whatever in common, except their name, and their
    common ancestor, we should add.
    In this case it is crystal-clear that the character of the common ancestor
    and the founder of the Churchill family will be hard to reconstruct by
    abstracting those – and only those – ‘common features’ which were
    genetically conserved by all his descendants. These common features are
    simply non-existent. Meanwhile the common name, the proof of the
    common origin, is there.
    Much the same is true of the very term ‘common’. The original
    meaning of the word cannot be reconstructed through a purely formal
    juncture of ‘features’ into one family, or bringing into one ‘kin’ all descendant
    terms, for, by way of expanding the analogy, Churchill-Alpha
    would have to be portrayed as an individual both fair and dark-haired (=
    not fair-haired); big and little; snub- and hook-nosed and so on.
    But this is where the analogy ends up in all likelihood, for at the
    sources of the kin-family there are always two genetic lines, so that Churchill-Alpha
    is not to blame for more than 50 per cent of the family likenesses
    in his direct descendants. Which ones in particular? That is the
    question which purely formal means will perhaps fail to answer.
    The situation with relative terms is somewhat different. For the ancestor,
    as a rule, hardly ever dies but continues his life side-by-side with
    his descendants, as does an individual with other individuals; the question
    here boils down to finding out, among the available particular individuals,
    the one who preceded in birth all the others and was able, therefore, to
    give birth to the rest. This comes about without any contribution on the
    part of the second, extraneous genetical line and one which could be held
    responsible for the emergence of ‘common features’ incompatible in any
    one person; and so their relation to one another will be that of a purely
    logical negation.
    THE UNIVERSAL 229
    Among the ‘features’ of the common ancestor who continues alive
    amidst his posteriors, one is bound to suggest an ability to generate
    something contrary to himself – the ability to generate both, a big man
    (relative to himself) and, on the contrary, a little man (again relative to
    himself). Logically, this leads one to infer that the ‘common ancestor’
    may well be visualised as an individual of medium height, with a straight
    nose and light grey hair, i.e., one who ‘combines’, even though potentially,
    contrasting definitions; or who contains inside himself as though in
    a state of solution or mixture – this trait and that, its direct opposite.
    Thus, grey colour can be easily thought of as a mixture of black and
    white, i.e., as black and white simultaneously, in the same person, and at
    the same time to boot. There is virtually nothing here incompatible with
    the ‘good sense’ which positivists like to recruit as their ally in their
    attacks against dialectical logic.
    Nevertheless, this is the one point about which there appears to be
    two distinctly incompatible viewpoints in logic, especially in trying to
    understand the ‘common’ (universal). One is that of dialectics, and, the
    other that which stipulates the ultimately formal conception of the problem
    of the ‘common’ and is unwilling to admit into logic the idea of
    evolution as being organically linked to the concept of substance both in
    essence and in origin. I stress an evolution linked to the concept of
    substance, i.e., the principle of the genetic similarity of phenomena which
    at first glance one puts down as basically heterogeneous, because of the
    failure to find any abstract common ‘features’ between them. This fact
    accounts for the inimical, not to say spitefully annoyed, attitude of the
    neo-positivist leaders to this respectable category. Precisely this proposition
    was seen by Hegel, for one, as the point of divergence, the parting of
    the ways between dialectical (or ‘speculative’ in his terms of reference)
    and purely formal thinking. It was this kind of understanding that he
    identified as the profound and ample advantage of Aristotle’s mind over
    the minds of those of his followers in the field of Logic who have presumed
    and are presuming themselves to be the singularly legitimate heirs
    of Aristotle in the field of Logic while declaring invalid the line of development
    of Spinoza, Hegel and Marx:
    ‘As to what concerns more nearly the relation of the three souls
    [nutrient soul, sensitive soul and intelligent soul, i.e. plant life,
    animal life and human life], as they way be termed (though
    they are incorrectly thus distinguished), Aristotle says of them,
    with perfect truth, that we need look for no one soul in which
    230 E. V. ILYENKOV
    all these are found, and which in a definite and simple form is
    conformable with any one of them. This is a profound
    observation, by means of which truly speculative thought
    marks itself out from the thought which is merely logical and
    formal. Similarly among figures only the triangle and the other
    definite figures, like the square, the parallelogram, &c., are
    truly anything; for what is common to them, the universal
    figure, is an empty thing of thought, a mere abstraction. On
    the other hand, the triangle is the first, the truly universal
    figure, which appears also in the square, &c., as the figure
    which can be led back to the simplest determination.
    Therefore, on the one hand, the triangle stands alongside of
    the square, pentagon, &c., as a particular figure, but – and this
    is Aristotle’s main contention – it is the truly universal figure
    [more precisely, the figure in general – E.J.]. In the same way
    the soul must not be sought for as an abstraction, for in the
    animate being the nutritive and the sensitive soul are included
    in the intelligent, but only as its object or its potentiality;
    similarly, the nutritive soul, which constitutes the nature of
    plants, is also present in the sensitive soul, but likewise only as
    being implicit in it, or as the universal. Or the lower soul
    inheres only in the higher, as a predicate in a subject: and this
    mere ideal is not to be ranked very high, as is indeed the case
    in formal thought; that which is for itself is, on the contrary,
    the never-ceasing return into itself, to which actuality belongs.
    We can determine these expressions even more particularly.
    For if we speak of soul and body, we term the corporeal the
    objective and the soul the subjective; and the misfortune of
    nature is just this, that it is objective, that is, it is the Notion
    only implicitly, and not explicitly. In the natural there is, no
    doubt, a certain activity, but again this whole sphere is only
    the objective, the implicit element in one higher. As,
    moreover, the implicit in its sphere appears as a reality for the
    development of the Idea, it has two sides; the universal is
    already itself an actual, as, for example, the vegetative soul.
    Aristotle’s meaning is therefore this: an empty universal is that
    which does not itself exist, or is not itself species. All that is
    universal is in fact real, as particular, individual, existing for
    another. But that universal is real, in that by itself, without
    THE UNIVERSAL 231
    further change, it constitutes its first species, and when further
    developed it belongs, not to this, but to a higher stage. These
    are the general determinations which are of the greatest
    importance, and which, if developed, would lead to all true
    views of the organic, &c., since they give a correct general
    representation of the principle of realisation’.1
    If we view from this standpoint the problem of defining ‘the common
    in general’ as a universal (logical) category which seems to have
    nothing to do with the problem of theoretical reconstruction of the
    ‘common ancestor’ of a family of related meanings, then we can only
    dimly hope to solve it.
    The formal-logical guideline which directs one to search for the abstract,
    i.e., something common to all individual specimens of the same
    ‘kin’, (and having the same name) does not work in this case. The ‘universal’
    is not to be found in this way, for the sole reason that it is really
    missing here. It is not to be found either as the ‘feature’ or definition
    actually common to all individuals, nor as a likeness or identity typical of
    each of these, if they are taken independently of one another.
    Needless to say, a certain linguistic dexterity may help to find the
    ‘identity’ everywhere but then it would hardly have any significance
    except a nominal one.
    What does the reader have in ‘common’ with a book? That both belong
    to the three-dimensional Euclidean space? Or that both of them
    comprise carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc.?
    What is ‘common’ between the employer and employee? Or consumption
    and production?
    Clearly, the concrete-empirical, apparent essence of the relation that
    binds together various phenomena (individuals) into some ‘one’, into a
    common ‘set’, is by no means delineated and expressed by their abstractcommon
    feature, nor in the definition equally characteristic of both. The
    unity (‘or commonness’) is provided much sooner by the ‘feature’ which
    one individual possesses and another does not. The very absence of the
    known feature ties one individual to another much stronger than its equal
    presence in both.

1 Hegel’s “Lectures on The History of Philosophy,” translated by J. B. S.
Haldane, Aristotle. Ilyenkov gives the original German.
232 E. V. ILYENKOV
Two absolutely identical individuals each of whom possesses the
same set of knowledge, habits, proclivities, etc., would find themselves
absolutely uninteresting to, and needless of, each other. It would be
simply solitude multiplied by two. One wit, as he explained to his young
friend the ABC of dialectical logic, advised him to ask himself the question:
what is it in his bride that attracts the young man; wherein lie the
ties of their ‘commonness’?
The discussion here is not so much about individualities, but in general
about particular (and, therefore, typical in their specialty) objects
coming essentially, rather than nominally, under the same genus, for
example, in reference to production and consumption.
This is the idea behind the most common, most abstract (and for this
reason still poorly defined) conception of the universal in dialectics. It is
not the ‘likeness’ numerically recurrent in each separately taken individual
object which is represented in the form of the ‘common feature’ and
perpetuated with a ‘sign’. It is, above all else, that objective relation of
two (or more) particular individuals which transforms them into the
moments of the same, concrete, real – and not merely nominal – unity
which it would be a great deal more reasonable to represent in the form
of some totality of various special moments, than by an uncertain ‘set’ of
‘units’ (‘atomised facts’, etc.), completely indifferent to one another. The
‘universal’ acts here as the law or principle governing the interrelations of
these details within some whole, a ‘totality’ as Marx chose to put it following
Hegel. What is required here is not an abstraction but analysis.
This is a problem which one cannot, of course, hope to resolve by
searching for the ‘likenesses’, i.e., the abstract characteristics – the common
to ‘all’ details. An attempt toward this goal would be perhaps just as
hopeless as an attempt to learn the general arrangement and principles of
operation of a radio-receiver by attempting to find out that ‘common’
element which a transformer has with a resistor, a condenser with a
loudspeaker diffuser, and all these together with a wave-range switch.
If we come back to the issue of the genetic similarity of the various
(and opposite) meanings which the term ‘universal’ has acquired through
the evolution of the living language and the mind that expresses itself in
language, then the problem is reduced to the task of identifying amongst
them the one meaning which can be reliably considered as the originatormeaning.
Then one must try to discover why and how this meaning, the
first in time, and directly simple in essence, has expanded so much as to
THE UNIVERSAL 233
include even its opposite, or something which had not been presupposed
at the very outset.
Since our distant ancestors can hardly be suspected of having had an
inclination to invent ‘abstract objects’ and ‘constructs’, it would seem
more logical to assume as original the meaning that the term ‘common’
has retained in word combinations, such as ‘common ancestor’ or ‘common
field’. This is also supported by the extant philological evidence.
Marx stated positively: ‘But what would Old Hegel say, were he to learn
in the hereafter that the general [das Allgemeine] in German and Nordic
means only the communal land, and that the particular, the special [das
Sundre, Besondere] means only private property divided off from the communal
land?’2
Now it is self-evident then that given this originally simple or, as
Hegel would have put it, genuinely general sense of the words, that the
notion which establishes the ‘common’ (the ‘universal’), both in time and
in essence, prior to the ‘individual’, the separate, the particular or the
specific, will not even give a hint as to the refined mysticism which
colours the concept of the universal as it appears in neo-Platonists and
Medieval Christian scholastics. These made the ‘universal’ synonymous
with ‘thought’, viewed from the very outset as the word, the ‘logos’, as
something incorporeal, spiritualised, and exclusively immaterial. By
contrast, the ‘universal’ in its original-universal sense stands out clearly in
the mind and, therefore, in the language expressing it, as a synonym for a
totally corporeal substance, whether water, or fire or miniscule homogeneous
particles (‘indivisibles’), and so forth. Such a notion may look naive
(though it is far from that in fact), crudely sensuous, and ‘excessively
materialistic’, but there is no mysticism here, not even the slightest tendency
toward it.
In this context it looks quite incongruous to accuse materialism, as
some of its opponents do continually, of ‘well-camouflaged Platonism’
which, allegedly, is necessarily connected with the thesis about the objective
reality of the universal. Naturally, if one should accept from the very
beginning (no one knows why) the view that the universal is a thought
and nothing but a thought, then not only Marx and Spinoza, but even
Thales and Democritus would pass for ‘crypto-platonists’. Identification
of the ‘universal’ with the ‘thought’ is the point of departure for any

2 Karl Marx To Engels, 25 March 1868, MECW Vol 42.
234 E. V. ILYENKOV
system of philosophical idealism, whether it belongs to the latter’s ‘empirical’
or patently rationalistic wing, and is to be regarded as an axiom
accepted without any evidence whatsoever, or a sheer prejudice inherited
from the Middle Ages. Its continuing force is far from accidental. It
stems from that really great role that has been attributed to the ‘Word’
and to the verbal ‘externalisation’ of the ‘thought’ in the development of
spiritual culture. In fact, this role is what creates the delusion that the
‘universal’ possesses its existent being (its reality) only and exclusively in
the form of ‘logos’, in the form of the meaning of a word, term or linguistic
sign. Since the philosophical thinking reflecting on the ‘universal’
has been dealing, since its inception, with the ‘universal’ in its verbal
expression and verbal being, this tradition begins very soon to regard the
dogma about the identity of the ‘universal’ and the ‘sense (meaning) of
the word’, not surprisingly, as the natural premise and the ground it rests
on, the air it breathes, in a word, as something ‘self-evident’.
However, the mere fact that a particular philosophical reflection,
since the very outset, has dealt with the ‘universal’ in the latter’s verbal
being, is not enough to put an equality sign here.
We would like to note in passing that the prejudice which modern
neo-positivists assume as the absolute truth was never regarded this way
by Hegel, none-too-dear to the neo-positivists. Hegel, too, believed
sincerely that materialism is impossible in principle as a philosophical
system, on the theory that philosophy is the science about the universal,
while the universal is the thought, – only the thought, and precisely the
thought, and can’t be anything but the thought. Nevertheless, Hegel’s
profound insights in comparison to the more recent proponents of this
prejudice consisted in this, that he understood full-well one simple truth,
to the point of banality, namely, that the ‘thought’ (thinking) is expressed
(accomplished, objectivised, explicated) not only in the word or chains of
‘utterances’ but also in man’s actions and deeds and, therefore, in the
results of these deeds, not the least of which is found in the products of
man’s labor, his purposeful – i.e., rational – activity. Hence, the ‘forms of
thinking’ can be, according to Hegel, discovered and investigated within
man’s rational endeavors in whatever way executed, in whatever form
‘explicated’. Hence, the ‘logos’, too, is understood by Hegel as the form,
scheme and sense of ‘speech’ and ‘essence’ (Sage und Sache) – both ‘act’
and ‘actuality’ – and not only as a pattern of speech or the constructed
pattern of chains of words, utterances and the latter’s formal transformations
– as the neo-positivists have asserted to this day.
THE UNIVERSAL 235
Having undermined dramatically the prestige of the prejudice
whereby thinking (= the universal) was identified with speech (internal or
external), Hegel, nevertheless, returns in a round-about way under its
captivity, for although he holds the ‘word’ to be perhaps not the only
form of ‘Dasein of the thought’, yet he reserves for it the significance of
the first form of its ‘Dasein’ – both in time and essence. The thinking
mind awakens, under the Hegelian concept, first as the ‘naming’ force,
and only after the mind has realised itself in the ‘word’ and through the
‘word’ does it pass to the ‘self-embodiment’ of it in working tools, political
affairs, in the erection of churches and factories, in the making of
Constitutions and other ‘external’ actions.
Here, too, the ‘word’ appears, eventually, as the first embodiment of
the ‘universal’ and as its last self-presentation, consummating all the
cycles of its ‘embodiment’. Absolute Mind finally apprehends itself in the
treatise on Logic.
For the practical and gegenständliche life of mankind, it constitutes the
‘middle’ term of the scheme, Medius Terminus, a mediating link of the cycle
that has the ‘word’ for its commencement and its end. Here, too, there
occurs an identification of the ‘universal’ with the ‘word’, though in a way
not as direct and unrefined as in the Apostle John or Carnap. Hegel, in
his characteristic manner, begins by shattering the old prejudice and then
restores it with all its former rights, using as he does, a sophisticated
dialectical mechanism.
The radically materialistic re-conception of the achievements of Hegelian
logic (dialectics), as worked out by Marx, Engels and Lenin, was
connected with the affirmation of the objective reality of the ‘universal’,
in its most direct and accurate sense; – but not at all in the sense of Plato
and Hegel who identified this ‘universal’ with the ‘thought’ which, they
asserted, existed before, beyond and altogether independently of man and
mankind and acquired independent being only in the ‘Word’. The Marxist
idea developed, it can be said, in the sense of the regularity of material
phenomena, in the sense of the law governing the cohesion within some
– always well-defined – whole, and within some self-developing ‘totality’,
all the components of which, are essentially ‘related’ with one another.
Thus their idea developed not because ‘all’ of the data possess a common
‘feature’, but because of the unity of genesis, and a descent from the same
‘common ancestor’, or, more precisely, because of their emergence as
broadly variable modifications of the same ‘substance’ having a positively
material (i.e., independent of thought or word) character.
236 E. V. ILYENKOV
Hence, the phenomena of the ‘same kin’, – homogenous phenomena
– may not necessarily be possessed in the ‘family likeness’ as the only
ground for attributing them to the ‘same kin’. The ‘universal’ in them may
outwardly express itself equally well through differences, even opposites,
which make these phenomena the mutually complementary component
parts of the ‘whole’. Thus we attain some genuinely real ensemble, or
some ‘organic totality’, rather than an amorphous set of units which are
ascribed to that ‘set’ on the strength of some ‘similarity’ or ‘feature’ more
or less accidental to each of them, or on the basis of a formal ‘identity’
totally irrelevant to its specific nature, its particularity or individuality.
On the other hand, that ‘universal’ which reveals itself precisely in
the particular or individual characteristics of all component parts of the
‘whole’ without exception – in each one of many homogeneous phenomena
– is itself as ‘real as the particular’, as existing along with other ‘particular’
individuals, its derivatives. There is no element of mystery about
this, for the father very often lives a long time side-by-side with his sons.
And if not present among the living any more, he surely must have
existed at one time, i.e., must be conceived necessarily in the category of
‘existent being’. Thus, the genetically understood ‘universal’ exists, self
evidently, not at all in the ether of abstraction, or only in the element of
word and thought. Neither does its existence, by any means, nullify or
diminish the reality of its modifications, its derivatives or the universallydependent,
particular individuals.
In the Marxist analysis of Capital the concept of the ‘universal’ briefly
outlined above is of prime importance methodologically:
‘To the extent that we are considering it here, as a relation
distinct from that of value and money, capital is capital in
general, i.e. the incarnation of the qualities which distinguish
value as capital from value as pure value or as money. Value,
money, circulation etc., prices etc. are presupposed, as is
labour etc. But we are still concerned neither with a particular
form of capital, nor with an individual capital as distinct from
other individual capitals etc. We are present at the process of
its becoming. This dialectical process of its becoming is only
the ideal expression of the real movement through which
capital comes into being. The later relations are to be regarded
as developments coming out of this germ. But it is necessary
THE UNIVERSAL 237
to establish the specific form in which it is posited at a certain
point. Otherwise confusion arises’.3
This is a clear-cut declaration of the same ‘value’ versus ‘capital’ interrelationship
as is revealed by Hegel in the above quotation between the
triangle and square, pentagon, etc., and in a dual sense to boot.
Firstly, the concept of ‘value in general’ is by no means defined here
in terms of the sum-total of those abstract-universal ‘features’ which can
be identified at will within ‘all’ special types of value (e.g. commodity,
manpower, capital, rent, interest, and so on), but is arrived at through an
accurate analysis of one single clearly ‘specific’ relation which may exist
(and so it did and does) between people – the relation of direct exchange
of one commodity for another, the equation, ‘1 frock-coat = 10 meters of
cloth’.
The analysis of this value-type of reality – reduced to the simplest
form – reveals those definitions of ‘value in general’ which are met with
(reproduced) at higher stages of development and the latter’s analysis as
the universal definitions of money, and labour force, and capital. It is
impossible, however, to cull these definitions through a direct abstraction
from all these ‘special forms’ of the relationship of value (as ‘common’ to
all of them).
Secondly, when the point at issue is the ‘specific definition of capital
in general’, here, too, as Marx very specially points out, allowance has to
be made for the following principal consideration ‘un caractère plus
logique qu’économiste’.4
‘... however, capital in general, as distinct from the particular
real capitals, is itself a real existence. This is recognised by
ordinary economics, even if it is not understood, and forms a
very important moment of its doctrine of equilibrations etc.
For example, capital in this general form, although belonging to
individual capitalists, in its elemental form as capital, forms the
capital which accumulates in the banks or is distributed
through them, and, as Ricardo says, so admirably distributes
itself in accordance with the needs of production. Likewise,

3 “Grundrisse,” MECW vol. 28 p 236.
4 ibid. p 378-9.
238 E. V. ILYENKOV
through loans etc., it forms a level between the different
countries. If it is therefore e.g. a law of capital in general that,
in order to realise itself, it must posit itself doubly, and must
realise itself in this double form, then e.g. the capital of a
particular nation which represents capital par excellence in
antithesis to another will have to lend itself out to a third
nation in order to be able to realise itself. This double
positing, this relating to self as to an alien, becomes damn real
in this case. While the general is therefore on the one hand
only a mental [gedachte] mark of distinction [differentia specifica],
it is at the same time a particular real form alongside the form
of the particular and individual’.5
‘The same also in algebra. For example, a, b, c are numbers as
such; in general; but then again they are whole numbers as
opposed to a/b, b/c, c/b, c/a, b/a etc., which latter, however,
presuppose the former as their general elements’.6
Of course, the analogy – just as any analogy – is no proof of the ‘universality’
of the logical interrelationship. In this case it is simply illustrative
of the idea discussed above. But here, too, it can be used to remind
us about an important aspect of the dialectical conception of ‘universality’.
In this case, the ‘universal’ appears again as a positively determinate,
although in a general form, number a, b, c. This is exactly ‘number in
general’, like a number in its elementary form, or as any number ‘converted
to its simplest determinateness’, but without the ultimate loss of
determinateness, or ‘speciality’. By contrast, the formal concept of ‘number
in general’, deprived of ‘inherence’ in the special type of numbers, is
merely a name; not a concept, where the ‘universal’ is expressed in terms
of its ‘particular nature’.
Indeed, in mathematics, because of the highly specific nature of its
abstractions, the ‘abstract-universal’ coincides with the ‘concrete-general’.
Yet ‘number in general’, (i.e., a, b, c etc.), is obtained also when the
formal operation of the abstraction (extraction) of the ‘same’ has been
performed among all types of numbers; ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, etc., i.e., precisely as
‘bricks’, as ‘atoms’ of sorts, which remain essentially the same regardless

5 ibid. p 378.
6 Ibid., p 379.
THE UNIVERSAL 239
of the sign formation of which they become but component parts. The
simplicity is gone, however, once we step outside of algebra where the
‘universal’ may not be necessarily present in its modifications (in its own
well-developed forms), in the same form as in the simplest elementary
case. Incidentally, this happens even in mathematics itself, as when a
triangle as a ‘figure in general’, is never retained as such in a square or
pentagon, nor is it given in inherence or contemplation, although it can
be identified analytically within their composition. It should be by an
analysis, indeed, not by an abstraction which merely sets apart the available
‘common feature’.
Let us take this situation – the one of the dialectical inter-relationship
between the universal and particular and the individual. Here the ‘universal’
cannot be identified in principle within the composition of particular
individuals by means of a formal abstraction by revealing the common,
the identical in them. This can be shown most demonstrably in the case
of the theoretical difficulties associated with the concept of ‘man’, the
definition of ‘man’s essence’ and the search for his ‘specific generic
definition’.
Such difficulties were described with a superb wit in the well-known
satirical novel Les animaux de natures, by Vercors. In the thickets of a
tropical forest a community of strange creatures was discovered. On the
basis of some criteria current in modern physical anthropology, they are
apes or other primeval people. Apparently, this is a peculiar, hitherto
unobserved, transient form that has developed from the animal, or purely
biological world to the social, human world. The question is, whether or
not the Tropi (the name the author gives his invented herd-tribe) have
passed the hardly discernible, but all-important border-line between man
and animal.
At first glance, the question is of purely academic significance and
may be of concern, it seems, only to a particular biologist or anthropologist.
However, before long it transpires that it is inter-twined with the
fundamental problems of our age in legal, ethical and political aspects, as
well as with philosophical problems. The novel’s hero deliberately, with a
premeditated intention, murders one of the creatures. This act labels him
a murderer, provided the Tropi are human beings. If they are animals the
corpus delicti is non-existent. The old priest torments himself with the same
question. If the Tropi are human beings he is bound to save their souls
and subject them to the rite of baptism. If the Tropi are animals, he runs
the risk of repeating the sinful deed of St. Mael who made the mistake of
240 E. V. ILYENKOV
baptising penguins and caused a lot of trouble to the heavens. Yet another
factor enters in due to a selfish manufacturing interest which at
once identifies the Tropi as ideal labour power. Indeed, an animal easy to
tame, and unable to grow into the awareness of either trade-unions, or
the class struggle, or any requirements except physiological ones – is not
this a businessman’s dream?
The argument about the nature of the Tropi involves hundreds of
people, dozens of doctrines and theories; it broadens, becomes confused
and grows into a debate about entirely different things and values. The
characters have to ponder over the criterion whereby a categorical and
unambiguous answer could be given. This turns out to be far from
simple.
With an emphasis on some ‘human feature’, Tropi come under the
category of humans; on another they do not. An appeal to the sum-total
of such features is of little help, for then the question arises about their
number. By extending the number of the ‘features’ which have defined
‘human being’ thus far and introducing among their number the one
feature that sets aside the Tropi from the hitherto known people, the
Tropi are left automatically outside the bounds of the human race. By
shrinking their number, by confining them to those which are possessed
by the previously known Tropi and humans, one arrives at the definition
whereby the Tropi are to be included into the human family with all their
ensuing rights. The thought is caught within a vicious circle: indeed, to
define the nature of the Tropi, it is required that we first clearly define the
nature of man. This, however, cannot be done unless it has been decided
beforehand whether or not the Tropi are to be approached as a variety of
homo sapiens.
Moreover, a new argument flares up at once over every one of those
‘common features’ which have thus far described man. What is meant by
‘thought’? What is meant by ‘language’ and ‘speech?’ In one sense animals
also possess thought and speech, while in another man alone has it. Thus,
each human characteristic becomes debated in the same way as the
definition of ‘man’. There is no end to these debates, while the differences
of opinion and back-biting reach the plane of the most general and
all-important philosophical, ethical and gnoseological concepts, only to
be re-kindled there with renewed vigor and violence.
Indeed, things are far from simple with the lawfully established people,
as well. Do all people live and act ‘human-like?’ Or often do they not
THE UNIVERSAL 241
act more horridly than animals? The argument, therefore, evolves into a
discussion as to the kind of living that is or is not to be regarded as
‘genuinely human’.
All attempts to find this ‘common and essential feature’ whereby one
could unmistakably tell a man from an animal, from a ‘non-human’,
stumble over and over again into the age-old logical problem. The ‘common
feature’ could be abstracted from ‘all’ the individuals of the given
race when and if the set that constitutes the genus has been well-defined.
But this is impossible unless there is a general criterion available beforehand
for identifying such a ‘set’, i.e., the very ‘common feature’ soughtfor.
Indeed, hot water is easy to tell from cold. But what about warm
water? One stone does not make a heap, and neither do two. How many
stones will be then required for a ‘heap?’ Where is the frontier beyond
which a balding man becomes bald? And is there any clear-cut frontier at
all? Or, on the contrary, is any frontier, any certitude merely an imaginary
line to be drawn solely for the purpose of an artificial classification?
Where then is it to be drawn? ‘It will run where the powers-to-be would
choose to draw it’, note the novel’s characters ruefully. Indeed, the subjectively
idealistic theories of thought delegate this kind of decisionmaking
to the powers-to-be. So, the voice of ‘the powers’ becomes the
criterion of truth, and their will the ‘universal will’ behind which title one
can clearly discern unmasked arbitrariness and even individual selfseeking
interest.
As we now are conscious from experience that the ‘common and essential
feature’, the determinate and specific distinction of the human
race, namely, the concrete-universal definition of ‘man’ and the ‘human’
in people, is not as easy to find as they thought it would be from the
outset, the characters in Vercors’ novel turn for the solution to philosophical
and sociological concepts. But where is the latter’s criterion of
truth? Each criterion claimed for itself universal importance, a monopolistic
possession of the universal concept, so that there is really nothing
‘common’, no agreement between them.
The novel ends with a large question mark, while its hero finds himself
in the none-too-enviable position of Buridan’s ass, i.e., with the
Marxist concept of the ‘universal’ on the left, and the Christian one on
the right; two mutually exclusive concepts of the ‘universal’. Unprepared
to accept either, Vercors’ hero, together with the author, would opt
readily for a third alternative, such as would reconcile both teachings, the
242 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘common’ between them, i.e., the ‘genuine’ understanding of the ‘universal’.

‘Each man is, first of all, a human being, and only after that a follower
of Plato, Christ or Marx’, Vercors argues in the post-script to the
Russian edition of the novel. ‘I’d think it rather more important at the
present moment to show how, on the basis of that criterion, we can find
common points between Marxism and Christianity, than to stress their
differences’.7 Well, from the purely political viewpoint this may be true
but does it answer the theoretical problem? It can’t be more true that
‘human nature’, the universal in man, lies not at all in his adherence to a
particular doctrine, whether it be that of the author of ‘Capital’, or the
Sermon on the Mount. But then where does it lie, – in the proposition
that a human being is first of all a human being? That’s the only answer
Vercors could give to oppose the ‘lop-sided view’ of Marxists who proceed
from the ‘real human relationships in the process of material production’.
But any answer, like Vercors’, would push us back to the novel’s
beginning, to the starting point of all debates over the essence of man, to
the simple naming of the object of contention. To budge from such a
standstill, such a tautology, we would have to start all over again.
However, there is one other important conclusion to be made from
the Tropi story, which Vercors refuses to make for various reasons,
namely, that nothing but tautology can result from the logic with which
the novel’s characters seek to resolve the issue, i.e., to find the universal
definition of ‘man’ by way of abstraction from the ‘common’, a feature
possessed by every individual representative of the human race, every
individual as such. Obviously, a logic based on this conception of the
‘universal’ would fail to lead thought out of its impasse, so as a result the
notion of ‘man in general’ remains somewhat elusive. The history of
philosophical and sociological thinking proves the point with no less
clarity than do the mishaps of Vercors’ characters, described above.
Clearly, any attempt to discover the abstract-common feature equally
descriptive of Christ and Nero and Mozart and Goebbels and the CroMagnon
hunter and Socrates and Xantippe and Aristotle, and so on and
so forth, hides the cognitively valuable inside itself, and leads nowhere
except to an extremely weak abstraction by no means expressive of the
heart of the matter. The only way out of this deadlock, as far as we know,

7 Verkor, Liudi ili zhivognye?, Moscow, 1957, p 223.
THE UNIVERSAL 243
is to turn to Marx with his reliance on a more sound logic, on a more
earnest and specific conception of the problem of the ‘universal’:
‘... the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single
individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social
relations.’.8
Distinctly pertinent here is not only the sociological, but also the
logical principle underlying Marx’s line of reasoning. If translated into
logical language, it would mean the following: universal definitions expressing
the essence of a genus, whether human or any other, cannot be
effectively searched for amidst abstract, common ‘features’, such as every
particular specimen of the genus possesses.
The ‘essence’ of human nature in general – and of the human nature
of each particular human being – cannot be revealed, except through a
science-based, critical analysis of the ‘entire totality’, the ‘entire ensemble’
of the socio-historic relationships of man to man, through a case-study
approach and apprehension of the regularities which have and are actually
governing the process of origination and evolution of human society
as a whole, and of a particular individual.
The particular individual represents ‘man’ in the strict and accurate
sense of the word insomuch as he realises – precisely through his individuality
– a certain sum-total of historically-developed capabilities (especially
human ways of vital activity), a particular fragment of culture which
has developed prior to, and independently of himself and which he
absorbs through the process of education (self-accomplishment of man).
In this sense, the human person can be rightly regarded as the individual
embodiment of culture, i.e., the ‘universal’ in man. Hence, the universal
‘essence of man’ is only real as a culture, as an historically established and
evolutionising aggregate of all specially human forms of vital activity, as
the whole of their ensemble. The ‘universality’ so understood represents,
indeed, not the mute generic ‘similarity’ of the individuals but a reality
dismembered within itself many times over and in various ways into
‘special’ (‘particular’) spheres complementary to, and essentially dependent
on, one another and which are, therefore, held together with the ties
of common origin as tightly and flexibly as are the bodily organs of a
biological species developed from the same ovule.

8 “Theses on Feuerbach,” §6, MECW, vol. 5 p 3.
244 E. V. ILYENKOV
In other words, the theoretical-logical definition of ‘the universal in
man’, – a concrete generality of human existence, – may and does consist,
in view of the above, solely in revealing the extent to which it is necessary
for the many and varied forms of specifically human activity, for the
social human capabilities and their associated needs to evolve from, and
interact with, one another.
Hence in seeking the ‘most common’ definition of the human element
in man, the task still cannot be to abstract the formal sameness, or
the ‘abstract’ characteristic of each particular individual, but to establish
that real and, therefore, special form of human vital activity which is
historically and essentially the universal foundation and condition of the
emergence of all the rest.
Fully consistent with the data of cultural and physical anthropology
and archaeology, the materialistic conception of ‘the essence of man’
envisions this ‘universal’ form of human existence in labor, in the direct
remaking of nature (both external and one’s own) as accomplished by
social man with the tools of his own creation.
Small wonder then, that Marx regarded with warm sympathy Franklin’s
well-known definition of man as a being producing labour tools.
Producing labour tools – and for this one reason a being who thinks,
speaks, composes music, follows moral norms, etc. No better example
illustrative of the Marxist conception of the universal as the concreteuniversal,
as well as the latter’s attitude to the ‘particular’ and the ‘individual’
can be given than the definition of ‘man in general’ as the ‘being
producing labour tools’.
From the standpoint of the canons of the old and traditional formal
logic the above definition is too ‘concrete’ to be ‘universal’. It cannot be
stretched to cover directly, by means of a simple formal abstraction, such
unchallenged representatives of the human race as Mozart or Leo Tolstoy
or Raphael or Kant. Formally, the definition bears on a constricted circle
of individuals, e.g., employees at manufacturing plants or workshops.
Even the workers who are not the producers but the users of these
machines will not formally qualify for it. As a result, old logic with its
conception of the ‘universal’ will be right in its judgment of the definition
as strictly particular rather than ‘universal’, as a definition of a particular
human occupation rather than of ‘man in general’.
Nevertheless, Franklin proves to be essentially right in his conflict
with this logic since he is led by intuition and the bulk of facts and con-
THE UNIVERSAL 245
tentions bearing on the problem of the ‘human in man’ to assume the
viewpoint of a logic a great deal more earnest and profound; the very
Logic which has been ripening for centuries on end in the lap of philosophy
and in particular, in the logical discourses of Descartes and Spinoza,
Leibnitz and Kant, Fichte and Hegel. In fact it has found its concrete
scientific application in ‘Capital’ and Marx’s theory of surplus value and
the materialistic conception of history and modern times.
This conception of the ‘universal’ is by no means synonymous with
the ‘concept’ or ‘thought’ as it appears more or less explicitly in Plato,
Hegel, Thomas Aquinas and Carnap who were preoccupied with the
‘universal’ insofar as the latter had already found its way into the mind,
more precisely, into the ‘word’ called upon to express the mind.
The universal (‘concrete-universal’) is opposed to the sensuous variety
of particular individuals, in the first place as the latter’s own substance
and the concrete form of their interaction, rather than to intellectual
abstraction. Per se, the universal embodies in itself, in its concrete certitude
‘the total treasure of the particular and the individual’, and not only
as a possibility, but as the necessity for expansion, that is to say, as the
‘real explication’ of a simple form into the diversely dismembered reality.
Precisely for this reason ‘the universal’ is not and cannot be understood
here as an abstract identity (similarity) of a broad variety of phenomena
which provides the base for the operation of bringing them
under the same name or proper name or term. The necessity for the ‘selfextension’
of the universal, the dynamo of its self-movement is comprised
in it in the form of ‘the tension of contradiction’, i.e., the intrinsic
contradiction of form; hence, one is led to understand the universal as
something distinguishable also within itself into its own particular moments.
The relation among them being that of the identity of contraries,
i.e., their living concrete unity, or of their transition into one another.
But this is another subject passing far beyond the limits of the definition
of ‘the universal as such’ in its dialectico-materialistic conception.
Nevertheless keeping within the limits of this paper, it should be added
that this conception of the ‘universal’ and the ways in which it is scientifically
apprehended, do not constitute a monopolistic possession of philosophical
dialectics. Science – indeed, real science rather than its representation
in the epistemological and ‘logical’ constructions of neopositivists
– has always proceeded more or less consistently from a
similar conception of the ‘universal’. Not infrequently, it did so contrary
246 E. V. ILYENKOV
to the deliberate logical propositions professed by its spokesmen. The
trend can be easily traced throughout the entire case-history of the concept
of ‘value’, a general category of political economy.
The abstraction of ‘value as such’, just as the word used to describe
this abstraction, goes as far back into antiquity as market relations themselves.
The Greek ‘axia’, German ‘Weyt’ and so on, have not been coined
by Petty, Smith or Ricardo. A merchant or farmer would at all times
apply the name ‘value’ or ‘cost’ to all that could be bought and sold, all
that ‘cost’ something. If the theorists of political economy had attempted
to develop the concept of ‘value as such’ from the guidelines of a purely
nominalistic formal logic offered science to this day, surely they would
never have developed the concept. As a matter of fact, the term ‘value’
has never from the very beginning been the result of applying an abstract,
common element which hackneyed word usage has led some to think
belongs to each of the subjects called ‘valuable’. If such were the case, it
would come to tidying up the ideas that any shopkeeper already has
regarding the meaning of ‘value’: i.e., a simple matter-of-fact enumeration
of the ‘features’ of those phenomena to which the word ‘value’ is applicable,
and that would be the end of the matter. The entire venture would
have been, then, to merely clarify the applicability of the term. The crux
of the matter, however, is that the classics of political economy treated
the question under an entirely different aspect, and in such a way that the
answer to it was found in the concept, i.e., an apprehension of real universality.
Marx revealed the essence of their formulation of this problem.
William Petty, the first English economist, arrived at the concept of
value in the following way:
‘If a man can bring to London an ounce of Silver out of the
Earth in Peru, in the same time that he can produce a bushel
of Corn, then the one is the natural price of the other’.9
We would note in passing the absence of the term ‘value’ in this
proposition, although mention is made of ‘natural price’. But we are
witnessing here precisely the birth of the concept of value fundamental to
the entire subsequent science of the production, distribution and accumulation
of ‘wealth’.
The concept, insofar as it is a real concept rather than a general idea
embodied in the term, expresses (reflects) here, just as in Hegel’s example

9 “Capital” Chapter 2, note, MECW vol. 35 p 102.
THE UNIVERSAL 247
of the triangle, a real phenomenon given ‘in experience’ which, though it
is a ‘particular’ among other ‘particulars’ turns out, at the same time, to be
universal, thus representing ‘value in general’.
The classics of bourgeois political economy chanced upon this way
of defining value in its universal form. However, in an attempt to use it
after the concept had been formed, they tried to ‘verify’ it consistently
with the logical canons based upon John Locke’s ideas about thinking
and the ‘universal’, and found themselves immediately facing some
paradoxes and antinomies. The ‘universal’, whenever an attempt is made
to justify the term through an analysis of its own particular modifications,
such as profit or capital, is not at all corroborated, but rather is disproved
by contradicting them.
Marx was the one who identified the reason generating the paradoxes
and suggested a way out precisely because he was guided by the more
profound, dialectical conceptions of the nature of the ‘universal’ and its
interrelationships with the ‘particular’ and ‘individual’. ‘The reality of the
universal in nature is a law’, (Engels), but for all that, a law in reality (a
proof of this is modern natural science, particularly micro-cosmic physics).
And it is never carried out absolutely as a rule which the movement
of each particular particle is expected to follow but only as a tendency
manifesting itself in the behavior of some more or less complex ensemble
of individual phenomena through a ‘violation’ or ‘negation’ of the ‘universal’
in each one of its particular (individual) manifestations. As a result,
the human mind has, in any case, to take this into account.
The universal definitions of value (the law of value) in Marx’s Capital
are worked out in the course of analysis by the direct exchange of one
commodity for another, i.e., by taking only one and precisely the earliest,
historically, and therefore logically the simplest concretion of value. Marx
did this by prescinding from all other particular forms, (evolved on the
basis of value) like money, profit, rent, etc. The drawback in Ricardo’s
analysis of value, as pointed out by Marx, lies precisely in that he ‘cannot
forget about profit’ in approaching the problem of value in its universal
form. This makes Ricardo’s abstraction incomplete and thereby formal.
For Marx, he seeks to solve the problem in the universal form because
all subsequent formations, not only profit but even money, are
assumed to be non-existent at this stage of the analysis. What is analysed
is only direct, non-money exchange. It transpires at once that this elevation
of the individual to the universal differs on principle from an act of
248 E. V. ILYENKOV
simple formal abstraction. Here the distinctions of the simple commodity
form which set it apart specifically from profit, rent, interest and other
special ‘types’ of value, are not thrown overboard as being non-essential.
On the contrary, the theoretical description of these distinctions is exactly
the one coincident with the definition of value in its general form. The
incompleteness and the related ‘formality’ of Ricardo’s abstraction lies
precisely in the latter’s inability, while constructing it, to abstract from the
existence of all other advanced types of ‘value’, (particularly and especially
profit), on the one hand, and on the other, in its being formed through an
abstraction from all distinctions, including those of direct commodity
interchange. Ricardo’s analysis results in another difficulty, namely, that
the ‘common’ appears eventually to be isolated altogether from the
‘particular’ for which it is no longer a theoretical description. Such is the
difference between the dialectical and purely formal conceptions of the
‘universal’.
But no less important is Marx’s distinction of the dialecticomaterialist
conception from the interpretation it receives in Hegel’s
idealistic dialectics. What makes it so important to stress this difference is
that in Western literature on philosophy an equality sign is too often
placed between Hegel’s conception of the universal and that of Marx and
Lenin. It is apparent, nevertheless, that the orthodox Hegelian notion of
this category, whatever its dialectical merits, coincides at a decisive point
with that very ‘metaphysical’ view which Hegel himself so often rejects.
This is revealed with special clarity whenever the principles of Hegelian
logic are applied to the analysis of real mundane problems.
Actually, when Hegel comments on his ‘speculative’ concept versus
the purely formal notion of the universal, as he does with the use of
geometrical figures, for example with his consideration of a triangle as
‘the figure in general’, then the resulting impression is that this conception
already includes within itself, in ready-made form, the entire logical
scheme which enabled Marx to cope with the problem of the general
definition of ‘value’ or ‘value as such’. But, it is not as if Hegel’s ‘genuine
universality’ as distinct from a meaningless, purely formal abstraction,
consisted in his directly-objective meaning or in the fact that the ‘genuinely-universal’
itself existed in the form of the ‘particular’, i.e., in the
form of ‘being for other’, or as an empirically existing reality given in time
and space (i.e., outside of man’s head), and perceived in contemplation.
Although it seems so at first glance, yet Hegel himself insists that the
inter-relation between the universal and particular is not by any means to
THE UNIVERSAL 249
be likened to that between mathematical (including geometry) images, for
such a resemblance would be meaningful only as a figural analogy and is
liable to distort and obfuscate the true picture.
According to Hegel, the geometrical image called upon to clarify the
logical concept (universal) is bad enough, since it is excessively ‘burdened
with the sensuous substance’ and, therefore, like biblical myths represents
only a well known allegory of the Concept at most. As for the ‘genuine
universal’, which he approaches exclusively as a purely logical category,
i.e., as the capitalised Concept, it should be conceived as having been
totally cleared of all residues of the ‘sensuous substance’ or ‘sensuous
matter’, and occurring in a refined incorporeal sphere of activity of the
‘spirit’. With this as his starting point, Hegel reproached materialists
precisely for their approach to the universal, which, he alleged, in effect
abolished it ‘as such’ by transforming it into a ‘particular among other
particulars’, into something limited in time and space; into something
‘finite’, whereas the universal ought to be specifically distinct in its form
of ‘internal completeness’ and of ‘infinite’ character.
This is the reason why the ‘universal as such’, in its strict and accurate
sense, exists, according to Hegel, exclusively in the ether of ‘pure thinking’
and not at all in either the time or space of ‘external reality’. In the
latter sphere one may encounter only the series of ‘particular estrangements’,
‘embodiments’, and ‘hypostases’, of this ‘genuine-universal’.
This would make it altogether unacceptable, ‘logically incorrect’, for
Hegelian logic to define the essence of man as a being producing work
tools. For the orthodox Hegelian, just as for any proponent of the purely
formal logic criticised by Hegel, (indeed, a very significant unanimity!) the
definition by Franklin or Marx is too ‘concrete’ to be a ‘universal’. The
production of work tools is seen by Hegel not as the basis of all that is
human in man, but as one, even though all-important, manifestation of
the latter’s thinking self.
In other words, the idealism of the Hegelian interpretation of the
universal and of the form of universality leads in practice to the same
result as the ‘metaphysical’ interpretation of this category which he
detests so much.
Furthermore, if Hegelian logic in its original form were used to assess
the validity of the logical line of reasoning in the early chapters of Capital,
this entire Marxian development would appear as ‘invalid’ and ‘illogical’.
The Hegelian logician would be right from his own viewpoint in criticis-
250 E. V. ILYENKOV
ing the Marxist analysis of value in the sense that it lacks any definition of
this category of the universal. Further, he would say that Marx only
‘described’ the definition but failed to theoretically ‘deduce’ any particular
form of ‘value in general’, for ‘value in general’ like any ‘genuinely universal’
category of man’s vital activity, is a form immanent to man rather
than to any ‘external being’ in which it is merely manifested, or merely
objectivised.
This is only to suggest, however, that Hegelian logic, whatever its advantages
over formal logic, was and is unacceptable as a weapon for
materialistically oriented science unless some major changes have been
introduced and all traces of idealism radically eliminated, above all, in
understanding nature and the status of the ‘universal’. Hegel’s idealism
constitutes by no means something ‘external’ with regard to logic, for it
only gives direction to a logical sequence of thinking. When commenting
on the transitions of opposite categories (including the universal, on the
one hand, and the particular, on another), Hegel also assigns a unidirectional
character to the scheme of approach. Under the Hegelian
scheme, for example, there is no room for the Marxian transition in the
definition of value, namely, the transition (transformation) of the individual
into the universal. In Hegel, the universal is the only one privileged to
‘estrange’ itself from the ‘particular’ and individual, while the individual
appears invariably as merely a product, a ‘mode’ of universality, exclusively
particular and, therefore, poor in its composition.
The real case-history of economic (market) relations testifies, however,
in favor of Marx who shows that the ‘form of value in general’ has
not at all times been the universal form of the organisation of production.
Historically, and for a rather long time, it remained a particular relation of
people and things in production although occurring haphazardly. It was
not until capitalism and the ‘free enterprise society’ came into being that
value (i.e., the market form of the product) became the general form of
inter-relationships among the component parts of production.
Similar transitions, of the ‘individual and accidental’ into the universal
is not a rarity, but rather a rule in history. In history – yet not exclusively
the history of humanity with its culture – it always so happens that a
phenomenon which later becomes universal, is at first emergent precisely
as a solitary exception ‘from the rule’, as an anomaly, as something particular
and partial. Otherwise, hardly anything could ever be expected to
turn up. History would have a rather mystical appearance, if all that is
THE UNIVERSAL 251
new in it emerged at once, as something ‘common’ to all without exception,
as an abruptly embodied ‘idea’.
It is in this light that one should approach the reconsideration by
Marx and Lenin of the Hegelian dialectical conception of the universal.
While highly esteeming the dialectical tendencies in Hegel’s thought,
Marxism furthers his conception in depth and in breadth, and thus, turns
the category of the ‘universal’ into the foremost category of the logic
governing the investigation of concrete and historically evolving phenomena.

In the context of the materialistic conception of the dialectics of history
and of thinking, the Hegelian formulae have different significance
than in the language of their originator, being shorn of the slightest sign
of mystical coloring. The ‘universal’ comprises and embodies in itself ‘the
entire treasure of particulars’ not as an ‘Idea’, but as a totally real, special
phenomenon which tends to become universal and which develops ‘out
of itself’, by force of its intrinsic contradictions new but no less real,
phenomena, other ‘particular’ forms of actual progress. Hence, the
‘genuine universal’ is not any particular form found in each and every
member of a class but the particular which is driven on to emerge by its
very ‘particularity’, and precisely by this ‘particularity’ to become the
‘genuine universal’.
And here there is no trace of the mysticism of the Platonian-Hegelian
breed.

The Concept of the Ideal *
Before discussing the concept itself we must first consider the terms
‘ideal’ and ‘ideality’, that is to say, we must first define the range of phenomena
to which these terms may be applied, without analysing the
essence of these phenomena at this point.
Even this is not an easy task because usage in general, and scientific
usage in particular, is always something derivative of that very ‘understanding
of the essence of the question’ whose exposition our definition
is intended to serve. The difficulty is by no means peculiar to the given
case. It arises whenever we discuss fairly complex matters regarding
which there is no generally accepted interpretation and, consequently, no
clear definition of the limits of the object under discussion. In such cases
discussion on the point at issue turns into an argument about the ‘meaning
of the term’, the limits of a particular designation and, hence, about
the formal attributes of phenomena that have to be taken into consideration
in a theoretical examination of the essence of the question.
Returning to the subject of the ‘ideal’, it must be acknowledged that
the word ‘ideal’ is used today mainly as a synonym for ‘conceivable’, as
the name for phenomena that are ‘immanent in the consciousness’,
phenomena that are represented, imagined or thought. If we accept this
fairly stable connotation, it follows that there is no point in talking about
any ‘ideality’ of phenomena existing outside human consciousness. Given
this definition, everything that exists ‘outside the consciousness’ and is
perceived as existing outside it is a material and only a material object.
At first sight this use of the term seems to be the only reasonable
one. But this is only at first sight.
Of course, it would be absurd and quite inadmissible from the standpoint
of any type of materialism to talk about anything ‘ideal’ where no
thinking individual (‘thinking’ in the sense of ‘mental’ or ‘brain’ activity) is
involved. ‘Ideality’ is a category inseparably linked with the notion that
human culture, human life activity is purposeful and, therefore, includes
the activity of the human brain, consciousness and will. This is axiomatic
and Marx, when contrasting his position regarding the ‘ideal’ to Hegel’s

  • First Published in Problems of Dialectical Materialism, Progress Publishers, 1977.
    254 E. V. ILYENKOV
    view, writes that the ideal is ‘nothing else than the material world reflected
    by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought’.1
    It does not follow from this, however, that in the language of modern
    materialism the term ‘ideal’ equals ‘existing in the consciousness’, that
    it is the name reserved for phenomena located in the head, in the brain
    tissue, where, according to the ideas of modern science, ‘consciousness’ is
    realised.
    In Capital Marx defines the form of value in general as ‘purely ideal’ not
    on the grounds that it exists only ‘in the consciousness’, only in the head
    of the commodity-owner, but on quite opposite grounds. The price or
    the money form of value, like any form of value in general, is ideal because
    it is totally distinct from the palpable, corporeal form of commodity
    in which it is presented, we read in the chapter on ‘Money’.2
    In other words, the form of value is ideal , although it exists outside
    human consciousness and independently of it.
    This use of the term may perplex the reader who is accustomed to
    the terminology of popular essays on materialism and the relationship of
    the material to the ‘ideal’. The ideal that exists outside people’s heads and
    consciousness, as something completely objective, a reality of a special
    kind that is independent of their consciousness and will, invisible, impalpable
    and sensuously imperceptible, may seem to them something that is
    only ‘imagined’, something ‘suprasensuous’.
    The more sophisticated reader may, perhaps, suspect Marx of an unnecessary
    flirtation with Hegelian terminology, with the ‘semantic tradition’
    associated with the names of Plato, Schelling and Hegel, typical
    representatives of ‘objective idealism’, i.e., of a conception according to
    which the ‘ideal’ exists as a special world of incorporeal entities (‘ideas’)
    that is outside and independent of man. He will be inclined to reproach
    Marx for an unjustified or ‘incorrect’ use of the term ‘ideal’, of Hegelian
    ‘hypostatisation’ of the phenomena of the consciousness and other
    mortal sins, quite unforgivable in a materialist.
    But the question is not so simple as that. It is not a matter of terminology
    at all. But since terminology plays a most important role in science,
    Marx uses the term ‘ideal’ in a sense that is close to the ‘Hegelian’

1 “Capital,” Afterword, MECW vol. 35 p 19.
2 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35 p 105.]
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 255
interpretation just because it contains far more meaning than does the
popular pseudo-materialistic understanding of the ideal as a phenomenon
of consciousness, as a purely mental function. The point is that intelligent
(dialectical) idealism – the idealism of Plato and Hegel – is far nearer the
truth than popular materialism of the superficial and vulgar type (what
Lenin called silly materialism). In the Hegelian system, even though in
inverted form, the fact of the dialectical transformation of the ideal into
the material and vice versa was theoretically expressed, a fact that was
never suspected by ‘silly’ materialism, which had got stuck on the crude –
undialectical – opposition of ‘things outside the consciousness’ to ‘things
inside the consciousness’, of the ‘material’ to the ‘ideal’.
The ‘popular’ understanding of the ideal cannot imagine what insidious
traps the dialectics of these categories has laid for it in the given case.
Marx, on the other hand, who had been through the testing school of
Hegelian dialectics, discerned this flaw of the ‘popular’ materialists. His
materialism had been enriched by all the achievements of philosophical
thought from Kant to Hegel. This explains the fact that in the Hegelian
notion of the ideal structure of the universe existing outside the human
head and outside consciousness, he was able to see not simply ‘idealistic
nonsense’, not simply a philosophical version of the religious fairy-tales
about God (and this is all that vulgar materialism sees in the Hegelian
conception), but an idealistically inverted description of the actual relationship
of the ‘mind to Nature’, of the ‘ideal to the material’, of ‘thought
to being’. This also found its expression in terminology.
We must, therefore, briefly consider the history of the term ‘ideal’ in
the development of German classical philosophy from Kant to Hegel,
and the moral that the ‘intelligent’ (i.e., dialectical) materialist Marx was
able to draw from this history.
It all began when the founder of German classical philosophy, Immanuel
Kant, took as his point of departure the ‘popular’ interpretation
of the concepts of the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’ without suspecting what
pitfalls he had thus prepared for himself.
It is notable that in his Critique of Pure Reason Kant does not formulate
his understanding of ‘ideality’, but uses this term as a ready-made predicate
requiring no special explanation when he is defining space and time
and speaking of their ‘transcendental ideality’. This means that ‘things’
possess space-time determinacy only in the consciousness and thanks to
the consciousness, but not in themselves, outside and before their ap-
256 E. V. ILYENKOV
pearance in the consciousness. Here ‘ideality’ is clearly understood as a
synonym for the ‘pure’ and the a priori nature of consciousness as such, with
no external connections. Kant attaches no other meaning to the term
‘ideality’.
On the other hand, the ‘material’ element of cognition is achieved by
sensations, which assure us of the existence (and only that!) of things outside
consciousness. Thus, all we know about ‘things in themselves’ is that they
‘exist’. The ideal is what exists exclusively in the consciousness and
thanks to the activity of the consciousness. And conversely, that which
exists only in consciousness is characterised as the ‘ideal’. All clear and
simple. A perfectly popular distinction. And what it amounts to is that
none of the facts we know and are aware of in things – their colour,
geometrical form, taste, causal interdependence – may be attributed to
the things themselves. All these are merely attributes provided by our
own organisation, and not those of the things. In other words, the ‘ideal’
is everything that we know about the world except the bare fact of its
‘existence’, its ‘being outside consciousness’. The latter is non-ideal and,
therefore, inaccessible to consciousness and knowledge, transcendental,
alien, and awareness of the fact that things, apart from anything else, also
‘exist’ (outside the consciousness) adds nothing whatever to our knowledge
of them. And it is this interpretation that Kant illustrates with his famous
example of the talers. It is one thing, he writes, to have a hundred talers
in one’s pocket, and quite another thing to have them only in one’s
consciousness, only in imagination, only in dreams (i.e., from the standpoint
of popular usage, only ‘ideal’ talers).
In Kant’s philosophy this example plays an extremely important role
as one of the arguments against the so-called ‘ontological proof of the
existence of God’. His argument runs as follows. It cannot be inferred
from the existence of an object in the consciousness that the object exists
outside the consciousness. God exists in people’s consciousness but it does
not follow from this that God exists ‘in fact’, outside consciousness.
After all, there are all kinds of things in people’s consciousness! Centaurs,
witches, ghosts, dragons with seven heads ...
With this example, however, Kant gets himself into a very difficult
position. In fact, in a neighboring country where the currency was not
talers but rubles or francs it would have been simply explained to him
that he had in his pocket not ‘real talers’ but only pieces of paper with
symbols carrying an obligation only for Prussian subjects. ... However, if
one acknowledges as ‘real’ only what is authorised by the decrees of the
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 257
Prussian king and affirmed by his signature and seal, Kant’s example
proves what Kant wanted it to prove. If, on the other hand, one has a
somewhat wider notion of the ‘real’ and the ‘ideal’, his example proves
just the opposite. Far from refuting, it actually affirms that very ‘ontological
proof’ which Kant declared to be a typical example of the erroneous
inferring of the existence of a prototype outside the consciousness from
the existence of the type in the consciousness.
‘The contrary is true. Kant’s example might have enforced the ontological
proof’, wrote Marx, who held a far more radical atheistic position
than Kant in relation to ‘God’. And he went on: ‘Real talers have the
same existence that the imagined gods have. Has a real taler any existence
except in the imagination, if only in the general or rather common imagination
of man? Bring paper money into a country where this use of paper
is unknown, and everyone will laugh at your subjective imagination’.
The reproach aimed at Kant does not, of course, derive from a desire
to change the meaning of the terms ‘ideal’ and ‘real’ after the Hegelian
fashion. Marx bases his argument on realisation of the fact that a philosophical
system which denotes as ‘real’ everything that man perceives as
a thing existing outside his own consciousness, and ‘ideal’ everything that
is not perceived in the form of such a thing, cannot draw critical distinctions
between the most fundamental illusions and errors of the human
race.
It is quite true that the ‘real talers’ are in no way different from the
gods of the primitive religions, from the crude fetishes of the savage who
worships (precisely as his ‘god’!) an absolutely real and actual piece of
stone, a bronze idol or any other similar ‘external object’. The savage
does not by any means regard the object of his worship as a symbol of
‘God’; for him this object in all its crude sensuously perceptible corporeality
is God, God himself, and no mere ‘representation’ of him.
The very essence of fetishism is that it attributes to the object in its
immediately perceptible form properties that in fact do not belong to it
and have nothing in common with its sensuously perceptible external
appearance.
When such an object (stone or bronze idol, etc.) ceases to be regarded
as ‘God himself’ and acquires the meaning of an ‘external symbol’
of this God, when it is perceived not as the immediate subject of the action
ascribed to it, but merely as a ‘symbol’ of something else outwardly in no
258 E. V. ILYENKOV
way resembling the symbol, then man’s consciousness takes a step forward
on the path to understanding the essence of things.
For this reason Kant himself and Hegel, who is completely in agreement
with him on this point, consider the Protestant version of Christianity
to be a higher stage in the development of the religious consciousness
than the archaic Catholicism, which had, indeed, not progressed very
far from the primitive fetishism of the idol-worshippers. The very thing
that distinguishes the Catholic from the Protestant is that the Catholic
tends to take everything depicted in religious paintings and Bible stories
literally, as an exact representation of events that occurred in ‘the external
world’ (God as a benevolent old man with a beard and a shining halo
round his head, the birth of Eve as the actual conversion of Adam’s rib
into a human being, etc., etc.). The Protestant, on the other hand, seeing
‘idolatry’ in this interpretation, regards such events as allegories that have
an ‘internal’, purely ideal, moral meaning.
The Hegelians did, in fact, reproach Kant for playing into the hands
of Catholic idolatry with his example of the talers, for arguing against his
own Protestant sympathies and attitudes because the ‘external talers’ (the
talers in his pocket) were only symbols in the ‘general or rather common
imagination of man’, were only representatives (forms of external expression,
embodiment) of the ‘spirit’, just as religious paintings, despite their
sensuously perceptible reality, were only images produced by human
social self-consciousness, by the human spirit. In their essence they were
entirely ideal, although in their existence they were substantial, material
and were located, of course, outside the human head, outside the consciousness
of the individual, outside individual mental activity with its
transcendental mechanisms.
‘Gods’ and ‘talers’ are phenomena of the same order, Hegel and the
Hegelians declared, and by this comparison the problem of the ‘ideal’ and
its relationship to the ‘real’, to the materially substantial world was posited
in a way quite different from that of Kant. It was associated with the
problem of ‘alienation’, with the question of ‘reification’ and ‘dereification’,
of man’s ‘re-assimilation’ of objects created by himself,
objects that through the action of some mysterious processes had been
transformed into a world not only of ‘external’ objective formations but
formations that were also hostile to man.
Hence comes the following interpretation of Kant’s problem: ‘The
proofs of the existence of God are either mere hollow tautologies. Take for
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 259
instance the ontological proof. This only means: “that which I conceive
for myself in a real way (realiter) is a real concept for me”, something that
works on me. In this sense all gods, the pagan as well as the Christian
ones, have possessed a real existence. Did not the ancient Moloch reign?
Was not the Delphic Apollo a real power in the life of the Greeks? Kant’s
critique means nothing in this respect. If somebody imagines that he has
a hundred talers, if this concept is not for him an arbitrary, subjective
one, if he believes in it, then these hundred imagined talers have for him
the same value as a hundred real ones. For instance, he will incur debts
on the strength of his imagination, his imagination will work, in the same
way as all humanity has incurred debts on its gods’.
When the question was posited in this way the category of the ‘ideal’
acquired quite a different meaning from that given to it by Kant, and this
was by no means due to some terminological whim of Hegel and the
Hegelians. It expressed the obvious fact that social consciousness is not
simply the many times repeated individual consciousness (just as the
social organism in general is not the many times repeated individual
human organism), but is, in fact, a historically formed and historically
developing system of ‘objective notions’, forms and patterns of the
‘objective spirit’, of the ‘collective reason’ of mankind (or more directly,
‘the people’ with its inimitable spiritual culture), all this being quite independent
of individual caprices of consciousness or will. This system
comprises all the general moral norms regulating people’s daily lives, the
legal precepts, the forms of state-political organisation of life, the ritually
legitimised patterns of activity in all spheres, the ‘rules’ of life that must
be obeyed by all, the strict regulations of the guilds, and so on and so
forth, up to and including the grammatical and syntactical structures of
speech and language and the logical norms of reasoning.
All these structural forms and patterns of social consciousness unambiguously
oppose the individual consciousness and will as a special,
internally organised ‘reality’, as the completely ‘external’ forms determining
that consciousness and will. It is a fact that every individual must
from childhood reckon far more carefully with demands and restrictions
than with the immediately perceptible appearance of external ‘things’ and
situations or the organic attractions, desires and needs of his individual
body.
It is equally obvious that all these externally imposed patterns and
forms cannot be identified in the individual consciousness as ‘innate’
patterns. They are all assimilated in the course of upbringing and education
260 E. V. ILYENKOV
– that is, in the course of the individual’s assimilation of the intellectual
culture that is available and that took shape before him, without him and
independently of him – as the patterns and forms of that culture. These
are no ‘immanent’ forms of individual mental activity. They are the forms
of the ‘other’, external ‘subject’ that it assimilates.
This is why Hegel sees the main advantage of Plato’s teaching in the
fact that the question of the relationship of ‘spirit’ to ‘nature’ is for the
first time posited not on the narrow basis of the relations of the ‘individual
soul’ to ‘everything else’, but on the basis of an investigation of the
universal (social-collective) ‘world of ideas’ as opposed to the ‘world of
things’. In Plato’s doctrine ‘...the reality of the spirit, insofar as it is opposed
to nature, is presented in its highest truth, presented as the organisation
of a state’.
Here it must be observed that by the term ‘state’ Plato understood
not only the political and legal superstructure, but also the sum-total of
social rules regulating the life of individuals within an organised society,
the ‘polis’, or any similar formation, everything that is now implied by the
broader term ‘culture’.
It is from Plato, therefore, that the tradition arises of examining the
world of ideas (he, in fact, gives us the concept of the ‘ideal world’) as a
stable and internally organised world of laws, rules and patterns controlling
the individual’s mental activity, the ‘individual soul’, as a special,
supernatural ‘objective reality’ standing in opposition to every individual
and imperatively dictating to the individual how he should act in any
given situation. The immediate ‘external’ force determining the conduct
of the individual is the ‘state’, which protects the whole system of spiritual
culture, the whole system of rights and obligations of every citizen.
Here, in a semi-mystical, semi-mythological form was clearly established
a perfectly real fact, the fact of the dependence of the mental (and
not only mental) activity of the individual on the system of culture established
before him and completely independently of him, a system in
which the ‘spiritual life’ of every individual begins and runs its course.
The question of the relationship of the ‘ideal’ to the ‘substantially material’
was here presented as a question of the relationship of these stable
forms (patterns, stereotypes) of culture to the world of ‘individual things’,
which included not only ‘external things’, but also the physical body of
man himself.
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 261
As a matter of fact, it was only here that the necessity arose for a
clear definition of the category of ‘ideality’ as opposed to the undifferentiated,
vague notion of the ‘psyche’ in general, which might equally well
be interpreted as a wholly corporeal function of the physically interpreted
‘soul’, no matter to what organ this function was actually ascribed – heart,
liver or brain. Otherwise, ‘ideality’ remains a superfluous and completely
unnecessary verbal label for the ‘psychic’. This is what it was before
Plato, the term ‘idea’ being used, even by Democritus, to designate a
completely substantial form, the geometrical outlines of a ‘thing’, a body,
which was quite physically impressed on man, in the physical body of his
eyes. This usage which was characteristic of the early, naive form of
materialism cannot, of course, be used by the materialism of today, which
takes into consideration all the complexity of the relationships between
individual mental activity and the ‘world of things’.
For this reason in the vocabulary of modern materialistic psychology
(and not only philosophy) the category of ‘ideality’ or the ‘ideal’ defines
not mental activity in general, but only a certain phenomenon connected,
of course, with mental activity, but by no means merging with it.
‘Ideality mainly characterises the idea or image insofar as they, becoming
objectivised in words’ [entering into the system of socially evolved
knowledge which for the individual is something that is given for him. –
E.V.I.], ‘in objective reality, thus acquire a relative independence, separating
themselves, as it were, from the mental activity of the individual’,
writes the Soviet psychologist S. L. Rubinstein.
Only in this interpretation does the category of ‘ideality’ become a
specifically meaningful definition of a certain category of phenomena,
establishing the form of the process of reflection of objective reality in
mental activity, which is social and human in its origin and essence, in the
social-human consciousness, and ceases to be an unnecessary synonym
for mental activity in general.
With reference to the quotation from S. L. Rubinstein’s book it need
only be observed that the image is objectivised not only in words, and
may enter into the system of socially evolved knowledge not only in its
verbal expression. The image is objectivised just as well (and even more
directly) in sculptural, graphic and plastic forms and in the form of the
routine-ritual ways of dealing with things and people, so that it is expressed
not only in words, in speech and language, but also in drawings,
models and such symbolic objects as coats of arms, banners, dress,
262 E. V. ILYENKOV
utensils, or as money, including gold coins and paper money, IOUs,
bonds or credit notes.
‘Ideality’ in general is, in the historically formed language of philosophy,
a characteristic of the materially established (objectivised, materialised,
reified) images of human social culture, that is, the historically formed modes
of human social life, which confront the individual possessing consciousness
and will as a special ‘supernatural’ objective reality, as a special object
comparable with material reality and situated on one and the same spatial
plane (and hence often identified with it).
For this reason, purely for the sake of terminological accuracy, it is
pointless to apply this definition to purely individual mental states at any
given moment. The latter, with all their individually unique whims and
variations, are determined in effect by the numerous interconnections of
the most diverse factors up to and including transient states of the organism
and the peculiar features of its biochemical reactions (such as allergy
or colour-blindness, for instance), and, therefore, may be considered on
the plane of social-human culture as purely accidental.
This is why we find Kant talking about the ‘ideality of space and
time’, but not about the ‘ideality’ of the conscious sensations of weight,
for instance, in the muscles of the arm when one is carrying something;
about the ‘ideality’ of the chain of cause and effect, but not about the
ideality of the fact that a rock with the sun shining on it becomes warmer
(although this fact is also consciously perceived). In Kant ‘ideality’ becomes
a synonym for the ‘transcendental character’ of universal forms of
sensuousness and reason, that is, patterns of cognitive activity that are
inherent in every ‘self’ and thus have a completely impersonal character
and display, moreover, a compulsive force in relation to each separate
(‘empirical’) ‘self’. This is why space and time, causal dependence and
‘beauty’ are for Kant ‘ideal’, while they are not mental states connected
with the unique and transitory physical states of the individual’s body.
Admittedly, as we have seen in the example of the ‘talers’, Kant does not
always adhere strictly to his terminology, although the reason for this is
certainly not carelessness (it would be difficult to reproach Kant for that),
but rather the dialectical trickiness of the problems that he raises. But
despite the instability of the terminological definition of the categories,
their objective dialectical content begins to show through – the very
content that the Hegelian school provides with a far more adequate
definition. The point is that Kant could not fully overcome the notion of
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 263
‘social consciousness’ (‘universal spirit’) as the many times repeated
individual consciousness.
In Hegelian philosophy, however, the problem was stated in a fundamentally
different way. The social organism (the ‘culture’ of the given
people) is by no means an abstraction expressing the ‘sameness’ that may
be discovered in the mentality of every individual, an ‘abstract’ inherent
in each individual, the ‘transcendentally psychological’ pattern of individual
life activity. The historically built up and developing forms of the
‘universal spirit’ (‘the spirit of the people’, the ‘objective spirit’), although
still understood by Hegel as certain stable patterns within whose framework
the mental activity of every individual proceeds, are none the less
regarded by him not as formal abstractions, not as abstractly universal
‘attributes’ inherent in every individual, taken separately. Hegel (following
Rousseau with his distinction between the ‘general will’ and the ‘universal
will’) fully takes into account the obvious fact that in the diverse collisions
of differently orientated ‘individual wills’ certain results are born
and crystallised which were never contained in any of them separately,
and that because of this social consciousness as an ‘entity’ is certainly not
built up, as of bricks, from the ‘sameness’ to be found in each of its
‘parts’ (individual selves, individual consciousnesses). And this is where
we are shown the path to an understanding of the fact that all the patterns
which Kant defined as ‘transcendentally inborn’ forms of operation
of the individual mentality, as a priori ‘internal mechanisms’ inherent in
every mentality, are actually forms of the self-consciousness of social man
assimilated from without by the individual (originally they opposed him as
‘external’ patterns of the movement of culture independent of his will
and consciousness), social man being understood as the historically
developing ‘aggregate of all social relations’.
It is these forms of the organisation of social (collectively realised)
human life activity that exist before, outside and completely independently of the
individual mentality, in one way or another materially established in
language, in ritually legitimised customs and rights and, further, as ‘the
organisation of a state’ with all its material attributes and organs for the
protection of the traditional forms of life that stand in opposition to the
individual (the physical body of the individual with his brain, liver, heart,
hands and other organs) as an entity organised ‘in itself and for itself’, as
something ideal within which all individual things acquire a different
meaning and play a different role from that which they had played ‘as
themselves’, that is, outside this entity. For this reason the ‘ideal’ defini-
264 E. V. ILYENKOV
tion of any thing, or the definition of any thing as a ‘disappearing’ moment
in the movement of the ‘ideal world’, coincides in Hegel with the
role and meaning of this thing in social human culture, in the context of
socially organised human life activity, and not in the individual consciousness,
which is here regarded as something derived from the ‘universal
spirit’.
It will readily be appreciated how much broader and more profound
such a positing of the question is in comparison with any conception that
designates as ‘ideal’ everything that is ‘in the consciousness of the individual’,
and ‘material’ or ‘real’, everything that is outside the consciousness
of the individual, everything that the given individual is not conscious
of, although this ‘everything’ does exist in reality, and thus draws between
the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’ a fundamental dividing line which turns them into
‘different worlds’ that have ‘nothing in common’ with each other. It is
clear that, given such a metaphysical division and delimitation, the ‘ideal’
and the ‘material’ cannot and must not be regarded as opposites. Here they
are ‘different’, and that is all.
Hegel proceeds from the quite obvious fact that for the consciousness
of the individual the ‘real’ and even the ‘crudely material’ – certainly
not the ‘ideal’ – is at first the whole grandiose materially established spiritual
culture of the human race, within which and by the assimilation of which this
individual awakens to ‘self-consciousness’. It is this that confronts the
individual as the thought of preceding generations realised (‘reified’,
‘objectified’, ‘alienated’) in sensuously perceptible ‘matter’ – in language
and visually perceptible images, in books and statues, in wood and
bronze, in the form of places of worship and instruments of labour, in
the designs of machines and state buildings, in the patterns of scientific
and moral systems, and so on. All these objects are in their existence, in
their ‘present being’ substantial, ‘material’, but in their essence, in their
origin they are ‘ideal’, because they ‘embody’ the collective thinking of
people, the ‘universal spirit’ of mankind.
In other words, Hegel includes in the concept of the ‘ideal’ everything
that another representative of idealism in philosophy (admittedly he
never acknowledged himself to be an ‘idealist’) – A. A. Bogdanov – a
century later designated as ‘socially organised experience’ with its stable,
historically crystallised patterns, standards, stereotypes, and ‘algorithms’.
The feature which both Hegel and Bogdanov have in common (as ‘idealists’)
is the notion that this world of ‘socially organised experience’ is for
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 265
the individual the sole ‘object’ which he ‘assimilates’ and ‘cognises’, the
sole object with which he has any dealings.
But the world existing before, outside and independently of the consciousness
and will in general (i.e., not only of the consciousness and will
of the individual but also of the social consciousness and the socially
organised ‘will’), the world as such, is taken into account by this conception
only insofar as it finds expression in universal forms of consciousness
and will, insofar as it is already ‘idealised’, already assimilated in
‘experience’, already presented in the patterns and forms of this ‘experience’,
already included therein.
By this twist of thought, which characterises idealism in general
(whether it is Platonic, Berkeleian, Hegelian or that of Popper), the real
material world, existing before, outside and quite independently of ‘experience’
and before being expressed in the forms of this ‘experience’
(including language), is totally removed from the field of vision, and what
begins to figure under the designation of the ‘real world’ is an already
‘idealised’ world, a world already assimilated by people, a world already
shaped by their activity, the world as people know it, as it is presented in the
existing forms of their culture. A world already expressed (presented) in
the forms of the existing human experience. And this world is declared to
be the only world about which anything at all can be said.
This secret of idealism shows up transparently in Hegel’s discussion
of the ‘ideality’ of natural phenomena, in his presentation of nature as an
‘ideal’ being in itself. Underlying what he has to say about certain natural
phenomena is their description in the concepts and terms of the physics
of his day: ‘... because masses push and crush each other and there is no
vacuum between them, it is only in this contact that the ideality of matter
in general begins, and it is interesting to see how this intrinsic character
of matter emerges, for in general it is always interesting to see the realisation
of a concept’. Here Hegel is really speaking not at all about nature as
it is, but about nature as it is presented (described) in the system of a
definite physical theory, in the system of its definitions established by its
historically formed ‘language’.
It is this fact, incidentally, that explains the persistent survival of such
‘semantic substitutions’; indeed, when we are talking about nature, we are
obliged to make use of the available language of natural science, the
‘language of science’ with its established and generally understood ‘meanings’.
It is this, specifically, which forms the basis of the arguments of
266 E. V. ILYENKOV
logical positivism, which quite consciously identifies ‘nature’ with the
‘language’ in which people talk and write about nature.
It will be appreciated that the main difficulty and, therefore, the main
problem of philosophy is not to distinguish and counterpose everything
that is ‘in the consciousness of the individual’ to everything that is outside
this individual consciousness (this is hardly ever difficult to do), but to
delimit the world of collectively acknowledged notions, that is, the whole
socially organised world of intellectual culture with all its stable and
materially established universal patterns, and the real world as it exists
outside and apart from its expression in these socially legitimised forms
of ‘experience’.
It is here and only here that the distinction between the ‘ideal’ and
the ‘real’ (‘material’) acquires a serious scientific meaning because in
practice the two are usually confused. Pointing out the fact that the thing
and the form of the thing exist outside the individual consciousness and
do not depend on individual will still does not solve the problem of their
objectivity in its fully materialistic sense. And conversely, by no means all
that people do not know, are unaware of, do not perceive as the forms of
external things, is invention, the play of the imagination, a notion that
exists merely in man’s head. It is because of this that the ‘sensible person’,
to whose way of thinking Kant appeals with his example of the talers, is
more often than other people deluded into taking the collectively acknowledged
notions for objective reality, and the objective reality revealed
by scientific research for subjective invention existing only in the
heads of the ‘theoreticians’. It is the ‘sensible person’, daily observing the
sun rising in the East and setting in the West, who protests that the
system of Copernicus is an invention that contradicts the ‘obvious facts’.
And in exactly the same way the ordinary person, drawn into the orbit of
commodity-money relationships, regards money as a perfectly material
thing, and value, which in fact finds its external expression in money, as a
mere abstraction existing only in the heads of the theoreticians, only
‘ideally’.
For this reason consistent materialism, faced with this kind of situation,
could not define the ‘ideal’ as that which exists in the consciousness
of the individual, and the ‘material’ as that which exists outside this
consciousness, as the sensuously perceived form of the external thing, as
a real corporeal form. The boundary between the two, between the
‘material’ and the ‘ideal’, between the ‘thing in itself’ and its representation
in social consciousness could not pass along this line because, if it
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 267
did, materialism would be completely helpless when confronted with the
dialectics that Hegel had discovered in the relations between the ‘material’
and the ‘ideal’ (particularly, in the phenomena of fetishism of all kinds,
from that of religion to that of commodity, and further, the fetishism of
words, of language, symbols and signs).
It is a fact that like the icon or the gold coin, any word (term or combination
of terms) is primarily a ‘thing’ that exists outside the consciousness
of the individual, possesses perfectly real bodily properties and is
sensuously perceived. According to the old classification accepted by
everyone, including Kant, words clearly come under the category of the
‘material’ with just as much justification as stones or flowers, bread or a
bottle of wine, the guillotine or the printing press. Surely then, in contrast
to these things, what we call the ‘ideal’ is their subjective image in the
head of the individual, in the individual consciousness.
But here we are immediately confronted with the trickiness of this
distinction, which is fully provided for by the Hegelian school and its
conception of the ‘materialisation’, the ‘alienation’, the ‘reification’ of
universal notions. As a result of this process which takes place ‘behind
the back of the individual consciousness’, the individual is confronted in
the form of an ‘external thing’ with people’s general (i.e., collectively
acknowledged) representation, which has absolutely nothing in common
with the sensuously perceived bodily form in which it is ‘represented’.
For example, the name ‘Peter’ is in its sensuously perceived bodily
form absolutely unlike the real Peter, the person it designates, or the
sensuously represented image of Peter which other people have of him.
The relationship is the same between the gold coin and the goods that
can be bought with it, goods (commodities), whose universal representative
is the coin or (later) the banknote. The coin represents not itself but ‘another’
in the very sense in which a diplomat represents not his own
person but his country, which has authorised him to do so. The same
may be said of the word, the verbal symbol or sign, or any combination
of such signs and the syntactical pattern of this combination.
This relationship of representation is a relationship in which one sensuously
perceived thing performs the role or function of representative of
quite another thing, and, to be even more precise, the universal nature of
that other thing, that is, something ‘other’ which in sensuous, bodily
terms is quite unlike it, and it was this relationship that in the Hegelian
terminological tradition acquired the title of ‘ideality’.
268 E. V. ILYENKOV
In Capital Marx quite consciously uses the term ‘ideal’ in this formal
meaning that it was given by Hegel, and not in the sense in which it was
used by the whole pre-Hegelian tradition, including Kant, although the
philosophical-theoretical interpretation of the range of phenomena which
in both cases is similarly designated ‘ideal’ is diametrically opposed to its
Hegelian interpretation. The meaning of the term ‘ideal’ in Marx and
Hegel is the same, but the concepts, i.e., the ways of understanding this
‘same’ meaning are profoundly different. After all, the word ‘concept’ in
dialectically interpreted logic is a synonym for understanding of the essence of
the matter, the essence of phenomena which are only outlined by a given
term; it is by no means a synonym for ‘the meaning of the term’, which
may be formally interpreted as the sum-total of ‘attributes’ of the phenomena
to which the term is applied.
It was for this reason that Marx, like any genuine theoretician, preferred
not to change the historically formed ‘meanings of terms’, the
established nomenclature of phenomena, but, while making strict and
rigorous use of it, proposed a quite different understanding of these phenomena
that was actually the opposite of the traditional understanding.
In Capital, when analysing money – that familiar and yet mysterious
category of social phenomena – Marx describes as ‘ideal’ nothing more or
less than the value-form of the products of labour in general (die Wertform
überhaupt).
So the reader for whom the term ‘ideal’ is a synonym for the ‘immanent
in the consciousness’, ‘existing only in the consciousness’, ‘only in
people’s ideas’, only in their ‘imagination’ will misunderstand the idea
expressed by Marx because in this case it turns out that even capital –
which is nothing else but a value-form of the organisation of the productive
forces, a form of the functioning of the means of production – also exists
only in the consciousness, only in people’s subjective imagination, and
‘not in reality’.
Obviously only a follower of Berkeley could take the point in this
way, and certainly not a materialist.
According to Marx, the ideality of the form of value consists not, of
course, in the fact that this form represents a mental phenomenon existing
only in the brain of the commodity-owner or theoretician, but in the
fact that the corporeal palpable form of the thing (for example, a coat) is
only a form of expression of quite a different ‘thing’ (linen, as a value)
with which it has nothing in common. The value of the linen is represented,
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 269
expressed, ‘embodied’ in the form of a coat, and the form of the coat is
the ‘ideal or represented form’ of the value of the linen.
‘As a use-value, the linen is something palpably different from the
coat; as value, it is the same as the coat, and now has the appearance of a
coat. Thus the linen acquires a value-form different from its physical
form. The fact that it is value, is made manifest by its equality with the
coat, just as the sheep’s nature of a Christian is shown in his resemblance
to the Lamb of God’.3
This is a completely objective relationship, within which the ‘bodily
form of commodity B becomes the value-form of commodity A, or the
body of commodity B acts as a mirror to the value of commodity A’,4 the
authorised representative of its ‘value’ nature, of the ‘substance’ which is
‘embodied’ both here and there.
This is why the form of value or value-form is ideal, that is to say, it is
something quite different from the palpable form of the thing in which it
is represented, expressed, ‘embodied’, ‘alienated’.
What is this ‘other’, this difference, which is expressed or represented
here? People’s consciousness? Their will? By no means. On the contrary,
both will and consciousness are determined by this objective ideal form,
and the thing that it expresses, ‘represents’ is a definite social relationship
between people which in their eyes assumes the fantastic form of a
relationship between things.
In other words, what is ‘represented’ here as a thing is the form of
people’s activity, the form of life activity which they perform together,
which has taken shape ‘behind the back of consciousness’ and is materially
established in the form of the relationship between things described
above.
This and only this creates the ideality of such a ‘thing’, its sensuoussupersensuous
character.
Here ideal form actually does stand in opposition to individual consciousness
and individual will as the form of the external thing (remember
Kant’s talers) and is necessarily perceived precisely as the form of the
external thing, not its palpable form, but as the form of another equally
palpable thing that it represents, expresses, embodies, differing, however,

3 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35 p 62.
4 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35 p 62-3.
270 E. V. ILYENKOV
from the palpable corporeality of both things and having nothing in
common with their sensuously perceptible physical nature. What is
embodied and ‘represented’ here is a definite form of labour, a definite
form of human objective activity, that is to say, the transformation of
nature by social man.
It is here that we find the answer to the riddle of ‘ideality’. Ideality,
according to Marx, is nothing else but the form of social human activity
represented in the thing. Or, conversely, the form of human activity
represented as a thing, as an object.
‘Ideality’ is a kind of stamp impressed on the substance of nature by
social human life activity, a form of the functioning of the physical thing
in the process of this activity. So all the things involved in the social
process acquire a new ‘form of existence’ that is not included in their
physical nature and differs from it completely – their ideal form.
So, there can be no talk of ‘ideality’ where there are no people socially
producing and reproducing their material life, that is to say, individuals
working collectively and, therefore, necessarily possessing consciousness
and will. But this does not mean that the ‘ideality of things’ is
a product of their conscious will, that it is ‘immanent in the consciousness’
and exists only in the consciousness. Quite the reverse, the individual’s
consciousness and will are functions of the ideality of things, their comprehended,
conscious ideality.
Ideality, thus, has a purely social nature and origin. It is the form of a
thing, but it is outside this thing, and in the activity of man, as a form of this
activity. Or conversely, it is the form of a person’s activity but outside this
person, as a form of the thing. Here, then, is the key to the whole mystery
that has provided a real basis for all kinds of idealistic constructions and
conceptions both of man and of a world beyond man, from Plato to
Carnap and Popper. ‘Ideality’ constantly escapes, slips away from the
metaphysically single-valued theoretical fixation. As soon as it is fixed as
the ‘form of the thing’ it begins to tease the theoretician with its ‘immateriality’,
its ‘functional’ character and appears only as a form of ‘pure
activity’. On the other hand, as soon as one attempts to fix it ‘as such’, as
purified of all the traces of palpable corporeality, it turns out that this
attempt is fundamentally doomed to failure, that after such a purification
there will be nothing but phantasmal emptiness, an indefinable vacuum.
And indeed, as Hegel understood so well, it is absurd to speak of ‘activity’
that is not realised in anything definite, is not ‘embodied’ in some-
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 271
thing corporeal, if only in words, speech, language. If such ‘activity’
exists, it cannot be in reality but only in possibility, only potentially, and,
therefore, not as activity but as its opposite, as inactivity, as the absence of
activity.
So, according to Hegel, the ‘spirit’, as something ideal, as something
opposed to the world of corporeally established forms, cannot ‘reflect’ at
all (i.e., become aware of the forms of its own structure) unless it preliminarily
opposes ‘itself to itself’, as an ‘object’, a thing that differs from
itself.
When speaking of value-form as the ideal form of a thing, Marx by
no means accidentally uses the comparison of the mirror: ‘In a sort of
way, it is with man as with commodities. Since he comes into the world
neither with a looking glass in his hand, nor as a Fichtean philosopher, to
whom ‘I am I’ is sufficient, man first sees and recognises himself in other
men. Peter only establishes his own identity as a man by first comparing
himself with Paul as being of like kind. And thereby Paul, just as he
stands in his Pauline personality, becomes to Peter the type of the genus
homo’.5
Here Marx plainly indicates the parallel between his theory of the
‘ideality’ of the value-form and Hegel’s understanding of ‘ideality’, which
takes into account the dialectics of the emergence of the collective selfawareness
of the human race. Yes, Hegel understood the situation far
more broadly and profoundly than the ‘Fichtean philosopher’; he established
the fact that ‘spirit’, before it could examine itself, must shed its
unblemished purity and phantasmal nature, and must itself turn into an
object and in the form of this object oppose itself to itself. At first in the
form of the Word, in the form of verbal ‘embodiment’, and then in the
form of instruments of labour, statues, machines, guns, churches, factories,
constitutions and states, in the form of the grandiose ‘inorganic body
of man’, in the form of the sensuously perceptible body of civilisation
which for him serves only as a glass in which he can examine himself, his
‘other being’, and know through this examination his own ‘pure ideality’,
understanding himself as ‘pure activity’. Hegel realised full well that
ideality as ‘pure activity’ is not directly given and cannot be given ‘as
such’, immediately in all its purity and undisturbed perfection; it can be
known only through analysis of its ‘embodiments’, through its reflection

5 “Capital,” MECW vol. 35, p 63 note.
272 E. V. ILYENKOV
in the glass of palpable reality, in the glass of the system of things (their
forms and relationships) created by the activity of ‘pure spirit’. By their
fruits ye shall know them – and not otherwise.
The ideal forms of the world are, according to Hegel, forms of activity
realised in some material. If they are not realised in some palpable
material, they remain invisible and unknown for the active spirit itself, the
spirit cannot become aware of them. In order to examine them they must
be ‘reified’, that is, turned into the forms and relations of things. Only in
this case does ideality exist, does it possess present being; only as a reified
and reifiable form of activity, a form of activity that has become and is
becoming the form of an object, a palpable thing outside consciousness,
and in no case as a transcendental-psychological pattern of consciousness,
not as the internal pattern of the ‘self’, distinguishing itself from
itself within itself, as it turned out with the ‘Fichtean philosopher’.
As the internal pattern of the activity of consciousness, as a pattern ‘immanent
in the consciousness’, ideality can have only an illusory, only a
phantasmal existence. It becomes real only in the course of its reification,
objectification (and deobjectification), alienation and the sublation of
alienation. How much more reasonable and realistic this interpretation
was, compared with that of Kant and Fichte, is self-evident. It embraced
the actual dialectics of people’s developing ‘self-consciousness’, it embraced
the actual phases and metamorphoses in whose succession alone
the ‘ideality’ of the world exists.
It is for this reason that Marx joins Hegel in respect of terminology,
and not Kant or Fichte, who tried to solve the problem of ‘ideality’ (i.e.,
activity) while remaining ‘inside consciousness’, without venturing into
the external sensuously perceptible corporeal world, the world of the
palpable forms and relations of things.
This Hegelian definition of the term ‘ideality’ took in the whole range
of phenomena within which the ‘ideal’, understood as the corporeally
embodied form of the activity of social man, really exists.
Without an understanding of this circumstance it would be totally
impossible to fathom the miracles performed before man’s eyes by the
commodity, the commodity form of the product, particularly in its money
form, in the form of the notorious ‘real talers’, ‘real rubles’, or ‘real
dollars’, things which, as soon as we have the slightest theoretical understanding
of them, immediately turn out to be not ‘real’ at all, but ‘ideal’
through and through, things whose category quite unambiguously in-
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 273
cludes words, the units of language, and many other ‘things’. Things which,
while being wholly ‘material’, palpable formations, acquire all their ‘meaning’
(function and role) from ‘spirit’ and even owe to it their specific
bodily existence ... Outside spirit and without it there cannot even be
words, there is merely a vibration of the air.
The mysteriousness of this category of ‘things’, the secret of their
‘ideality’, their sensuous-supersensuous character was first revealed by
Marx in the course of his analysis of the commodity (value) form of the
product.
Marx characterises the commodity form as an ideal form, i.e., as a
form that has absolutely nothing in common with the real palpable form
of the body in which it is represented (i.e., expressed, materialised, reified,
alienated, realised), and by means of which it ‘exists’, possesses ‘present
being’.
It is ‘ideal’ because it does not include a single atom of the substance
of the body in which it is represented, because it is the form of quite
another body. And this other body is present here not bodily, materially
(‘bodily’ it is at quite a different point in space), but only once again
‘ideally’, and here there is not a single atom of its substance. Chemical
analysis of a gold coin will not reveal a single molecule of boot-polish,
and vice versa. Nevertheless, a gold coin represents (expresses) the value
of a hundred tins of boot-polish precisely by its weight and gleam. And,
of course, this act of representation is performed not in the consciousness
of the seller of boot-polish, but outside his consciousness in any
‘sense’ of this word, outside his head, in the space of the market, and
without his having even the slightest suspicion of the mysterious nature
of the money form and the essence of the price of boot-polish. ... Everyone
can spend money without knowing what money is.
For this very reason the person who confidently uses his native language
to express the most subtle and complex circumstances of life finds
himself in a very difficult position if he takes it into his head to acquire
consciousness of the relationship between the ‘sign’ and the ‘meaning’. The
consciousness which he may derive from linguistic studies in the present
state of the science of linguistics is more likely to place him in the position
of the centipede who was unwise enough to ask himself which foot
he steps off on. And the whole difficulty which has caused so much
bother to philosophy as well lies in the fact that ‘ideal forms’, like the
value-form, the form of thought or syntactical form, have always arisen,
274 E. V. ILYENKOV
taken shape and developed, turned into something objective, completely
independent of anyone’s consciousness, in the course of processes that
occur not at all in the ‘head’, but most definitely outside it – although not
without its participation.
If things were different, the ‘idealism’ of Plato and Hegel would, indeed,
be a most strange aberration, quite unworthy of minds of such
calibre and such influence. The objectivity of the ‘ideal form’ is no fantasy
of Plato’s or Hegel’s, but an indisputable and stubborn fact. A fact that
such impressive thinkers as Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel
and Einstein, not to mention thousands of lesser spirits, racked their
brains over throughout the centuries.
‘Idealism’ is not a consequence of some elementary mistake committed
by a naive schoolboy who saw a terrible ghost that was not there.
Idealism is a completely sober statement of the objectivity of ideal form,
that is, the fact of its existence in the space of human culture independently
of the will and consciousness of individuals – a statement that was,
however, left without an adequate scientific explanation.
This statement of the fact without its scientific materialist explanation
is what idealism is. In the given case materialism consists precisely in
the scientific explanation of this fact and not in ignoring it. Formally this
fact looks just as it was described by the thinkers of the ‘Platonic line’ – a
form of movement of physically palpable bodies which is objective
despite its obvious incorporeality. An incorporeal form controlling the
fate of entirely corporeal forms, determining whether they are to be, or
not to be, a form, like some fleshless, and yet all-powerful ‘soul’ of things.
A form that preserves itself in the most diverse corporeal embodiments
and does not coincide with a single one of them. A form of which it
cannot be said where exactly it ‘exists’.
A completely rational, non-mystical understanding of the ‘ideal’ (as
the ‘ideal form’ of the real, substantially material world) was evolved in
general form by Marx in the course of his constructive critical mastering
of the Hegelian conception of ideality, and particularised (as the solution
to the question of the form of value) through his criticism of political
economy, that is to say, of the classical labour theory of value. The
ideality of value-form is a typical and characteristic case of ideality in
general, and Marx’s conception of it serves as a concrete illustration of all
the advantages of the dialectical materialist view of ideality, of the ‘ideal’.
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 275
Value-form is understood in Capital precisely as the reified form (represented
as, or ‘representing’, the thing, the relationship of things) of
social human life activity. Directly it does present itself to us as the
‘physically palpable’ embodiment of something ‘other’, but this ‘other’
cannot be some physically palpable matter.
The only alternative, it appears, is to assume some kind of bodiless substance,
some kind of ‘insubstantial substance’. And classical philosophy
here proposed a logical enough solution: such a strange ‘substance’ can
be only activity – ‘pure activity’, ‘pure form-creating activity’. But in the
sphere of economic activity this substance was, naturally, decoded as
labour, as man’s physical labour transforming the physical body of nature,
while ‘value’ became realised labour, the ‘embodied’ act of labour.
So it was precisely in political economy that scientific thought made
its first decisive step towards discovering the essence of ‘ideality’. Already
Smith and Ricardo, men fairly far removed from philosophy, clearly
perceived the ‘substance’ of the mysterious value definitions in labour.
Value, however, though understood from the standpoint of its ‘substance’,
remained a mystery with regard to its ‘form’. The classical theory
of value could not explain why this substance expressed itself as it did,
and not in some other way. Incidentally, the classical bourgeois tradition
was not particularly interested in this question. And Marx clearly demonstrated
the reason for its indifference to the subject. At all events, deduction
of the form of value from its ‘substance’ remained an insuperable
task for bourgeois science. The ideality of this form continued to be as
mysterious and mystical as ever.
However, since the theoreticians found themselves in direct confrontation
with the mysterious – physically impalpable – properties of this
form, they had recourse again and again to the well-known ways of
interpreting ‘ideality’. Hence, the idea of the existence of ‘ideal atoms of
value’, which were highly reminiscent of Leibniz’s monads, the immaterial
and unextended quanta of ‘spiritual substance’.
Marx, as an economist, was helped by the fact that he knew a lot
more about philosophy than Smith and Ricardo.
It was when he saw in the Fichtean-Hegelian conception of ideality as
‘pure activity’ an abstractly mystifying description of the real, physically
palpable labour of social man, the process of the physical transformation
of physical nature performed by man’s physical body, that he gained the
theoretical key to the riddle of the ideality of value-form.
276 E. V. ILYENKOV
The value of a thing presented itself as the reified labour of man and,
therefore, the form of value turned out to be nothing else but the reified
form of this labour, a form of human life activity.
And the fact that this is by no means the form of the thing as it is (i.e. the
thing in its natural determinateness) but a form of social human labour or of
the form-creating activity of social man embodied in the substance of
nature – it was this fact that provided the solution to the riddle of ideality.
The ideal form of a thing is not the form of the thing ‘in itself’, but a
form of social human life activity regarded as the form of a thing.
And since in its developed stages human life activity always has a
purposeful, i.e., consciously willed character, ‘ideality’ presents itself as a
form of consciousness and will, as the law guiding man’s consciousness and
will, as the objectively compulsory pattern of consciously willed activity.
This is why it turns out to be so easy to portray the ‘ideal’ exclusively as a
form of consciousness and self-consciousness, exclusively as the ‘transcendental’
pattern of the psyche and the will that realises this pattern.
And if this is so, the Platonic-Hegelian conception of ‘ideality’ begins
to appear as merely an impermissible projection of the forms of consciousness
and will (forms of thought) on to the ‘external world’. And the
‘criticism’ of Hegel amounts merely to reproaches for his having ‘ontologised’,
‘hypostatised’ the purely subjective forms of human mental activity.
This leads to the quite logical conclusion that all categories of thought
(‘quantity’, ‘measure’, ‘necessity’, ‘essence’, and so on and so forth) are
only ‘ideal’, that is, only transcendental-psychological patterns of the
subject’s activity and nothing else.
Marx, of course, had quite a different conception. According to him
all the logical categories without exception are only the idealised (i.e.
converted into forms of human life activity, activity that is primarily
external and sensuously objective, and then also ‘spiritual’), universal
forms of existence of objective reality, of the external world. And, certainly,
not projections of the forms of the mental world on to the ‘physical
world’. A conception, as can easily be seen, which is just the reverse in
the sequence of its ‘theoretical deduction’.
This interpretation of ‘ideality’ is in Marx based, above all, on the materialist
understanding of the specific nature of the social human relationship
to the world (and the fundamental difference between this and the
animals’ relationship to the world, the purely biological relationship): ‘The
animal is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 277
itself from it. It is its life activity. Man makes his life activity itself the object
of his will and of his consciousness’.6
This means that the animal’s activity is directed only towards external
objects. The activity of man, on the other hand, is directed not only on
them, but also on his own forms of life activity. It is activity directed upon
itself, what German classical philosophy presented as the specific feature
of the ‘spirit’, as ‘reflection’, as ‘self-consciousness’.
In the above passage quoted from Marx’s early works he does not
emphasise sufficiently the fundamentally important detail that distinguishes
his position from the Fichtean-Hegelian interpretation of ‘reflection’
(the relationship to oneself as to ‘another’). In view of this the
passage may be understood to mean that man acquires a new, second
plane of life activity precisely because he possesses consciousness and will,
which the animal does not possess.
But this is just the opposite of the case. Consciousness and will appear
in man only because he already possesses a special plane of life
activity that is absent in the animal world – activity directed towards the
mastering of forms of life activity that are specifically social, purely social
in origin and essence, and, therefore, not biologically encoded in him.
The animal that has just been born is confronted with the external
world. The forms of its life activity are inborn along with the morphology
of its body and it does not have to perform any special activity in order to
‘master’ them. It needs only to exercise the forms of behaviour encoded in
it. Development consists only in the development of instincts, congenital
reactions to things and situations. The environment merely corrects this
development.
Man is quite a different matter. The child that has just been born is
confronted – outside itself – not only by the external world, but also by a
very complex system of culture, which requires of him ‘modes of behaviour’
for which there is genetically (morphologically) ‘no code’ in his
body. Here it is not a matter of adjusting ready-made patterns of behaviour, but
of assimilating modes of life activity that do not bear any relationship at all to
the biologically necessary forms of the reactions of his organism to things
and situations.

6 “Estranged Labour,” MECW vol. 3, p 276.
278 E. V. ILYENKOV
This applies even to the ‘behavioural acts’ directly connected with the
satisfaction of biologically inborn needs: the need for food is biologically
encoded in man, but the need to eat it with the help of a plate, knife, fork
and spoon, sitting on a chair, at a table, etc., etc., is no more congenital in
him than the syntactical forms of the language in which he learns to
speak. In relation to the morphology of the human body these are as
purely and externally conventional as the rules of chess.
These are pure forms of the external (existing outside the individual
body) world, forms of the organisation of this world, which he has yet to
convert into the forms of his individual life activity, into the patterns and
modes of his activity, in order to become a man.
And it is this world of the forms of social human life activity that
confronts the newborn child (to be more exact, the biological organism
of the species Homo Sapiens) as the objectivity to which he is compelled
to adapt all his ‘behaviour’, all the functions of his organic body, as the
object towards assimilation of which his elders guide all his activity.
The existence of this specifically human object – the world of things
created by man for man, and, therefore, things whose forms are reified
forms of human activity (labour), and certainly not the forms naturally inherent
in them – is the condition for the existence of consciousness and will. And
certainly not the reverse, it is not consciousness and will that are the
condition and prerequisite for the existence of this unique object, let
alone its ‘cause’.
The consciousness and will that arise in the mind of the human individual
are the direct consequence of the fact that what he is confronted
by as the object of his life activity is not nature as such, but nature that
has been transformed by the labour of previous generations, shaped by
human labour, nature in the forms of human life activity.
Consciousness and will become necessary forms of mental activity
only where the individual is compelled to control his own organic body in
answer not to the organic (natural) demands of this body but to demands
presented from outside, by the ‘rules’ accepted in the society in which he
was born. It is only in these conditions that the individual is compelled to
distinguish himself from his own organic body. These rules are not passed on to
him by birth, through his ‘genes’, but are imposed upon him from outside,
dictated by culture, and not by nature.
It is only here that there appears the relationship to oneself as to a single
representative of ‘another’, a relationship unknown to the animals. The human
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 279
individual is obliged to subordinate his own actions to certain ‘rules’ and
‘patterns’ which he has to assimilate as a special object in order to make
them rules and patterns of the life activity of his own body.
At first they confront him as an external object, as the forms and relationships
of things created and recreated by human labour. It is by mastering
the objects of nature in the forms created and recreated by human
labour that the individual becomes for the first time a man, becomes a
representative of the ‘human race’, whereas before this he was merely a
representative of a biological species.
The existence of this purely social legacy of forms of life activity, that
is to say, a legacy of forms that are in no way transmitted through the
genes, through the morphology of the organic body, but only through
education, only through assimilation of the available culture, only through
a process in the course of which the individual’s organic body changes
into a representative of the race (i.e., the whole specific aggregate of
people connected by the ties of social relationships) – it is only the existence
of this specific relationship that brings about consciousness and will
as specifically human forms of mental activity.
Consciousness only arises where the individual is compelled to look at
himself as if from the side – as if with the eyes of another person, the eyes of all
other people – only where he is compelled to correlate his individual actions
with the actions of another man, that is to say, only within the framework
of collectively performed life activity. Strictly speaking, it is only here that
there is any need for will, in the sense of the ability to forcibly subordinate
one’s own inclinations and urges to a certain law, a certain demand
dictated not by the individual organics of one’s own body, but by the
organisation of the ‘collective body’, the collective, that has formed
around a certain common task.
It is here and only here that there arises the ideal plane of life activity
unknown to the animal. Consciousness and will are not the ‘cause’ of the
manifestation of this new plane of relationships between the individual
and the external world, but only the mental forms of its expression, in other
words, its effect. And, moreover, not an accidental but a necessary form of
its manifestation, its expression, its realisation.
We shall go no further in examining consciousness and will (and their
relationship to ‘ideality’) because here we begin to enter the special field
of psychology. But the problem of ‘ideality’ in its general form is equally
significant for psychology, linguistics, and any socio-historical discipline,
280 E. V. ILYENKOV
and naturally goes beyond the bounds of psychology as such and must be
regarded independently of purely psychological (or purely politicoeconomic)
details.
Psychology must necessarily proceed from the fact that between the
individual consciousness and objective reality there exists the ‘mediating
link’ of the historically formed culture, which acts as the prerequisite and
condition of individual mental activity. This comprises the economic and
legal forms of human relationships, the forms of everyday life and forms
of language, and so on. For the individual’s mental activity (consciousness
and will of the individual) this culture appears immediately as a ‘system of
meanings’, which have been ‘reified’ and confront him quite objectively
as ‘non-psychological’, extra-psychological reality.7
Hence interpretation of the problem of ‘ideality’ in its purely psychological
aspect does not bring us much nearer to a correct understanding
of it because the secret of ideality is then sought not where it actually
arises: not in space, where the history of the real relationships between
social man and nature is enacted, but in the human head, in the material
relationships between nerve endings. And this is just as absurd an undertaking
as the idea of discovering the form of value by chemical analysis of
the gold or banknotes in which this form presents itself to the eye and
sense of touch.
The riddle and solution to the problem of ‘idealism’ is to be found in
the peculiar features of mental activity of the subject, who cannot distinguish
between two fundamentally different and even opposed categories of phenomena
of which he is sensuously aware as existing outside his brain: the natural
properties of things, on the one hand, and those of their properties which
they owe not to nature but to the social human labour embodied in these
things, on the other.
This is the point where such opposites as crudely naive materialism
and no less crudely naive idealism directly merge. That is to say, where
the material is directly identified with the ideal and vice versa, where all
that exists outside the head, outside mental activity, is regarded as ‘material’
and everything that is ‘in the head’, ‘in the consciousness’; is described
as ‘ideal’.

7 This question is examined in greater detail in A. N. Leontyev’s article ‘Activity
and Consciousness’. — EVI.
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 281
Real, scientific materialism lies not in declaring everything that is outside
the brain of the individual to be ‘primary’, in describing this ‘primary’
as ‘material’, and declaring all that is ‘in the head’ to be ‘secondary’ and
‘ideal’. Scientific materialism lies in the ability to distinguish the fundamental
borderline in the composition of palpable, sensuously perceptible
‘things’ and ‘phenomena’, to see the difference and opposition between
the ‘material’ and the ‘ideal’ there and not somewhere else.
The ‘ideal’ plane of reality comprises only that which is created by labour
both in man himself and in the part of nature in which he lives and
acts, that which daily and hourly, ever since man has existed, is produced
and reproduced by his own social human – and, therefore, purposeful –
transforming activity.
So one cannot speak of the existence of an ‘ideal plane’ in the animal
(or in an uncivilised, purely biologically developed ‘man’) without departing
from the strictly established philosophical meaning of the term.
Man acquires the ‘ideal’ plane of life activity only through mastering
the historically developed forms of social activity, only together with the
social plane of existence, only together with culture. ‘Ideality’ is nothing but
an aspect of culture, one of its dimensions, determining factors, properties.
In relation to mental activity it is just as much an objective component
as mountains and trees, the moon and the firmament, as the processes of
metabolism in the individual’s organic body. This is why people often
confuse the ‘ideal’ with the ‘material’, taking the one for the other. This is
why idealism is not the fruit of some misapprehension, but the legitimate
and natural fruit of a world where things acquire human properties while
people are reduced to the level of a material force, where things are
endowed with ‘spirit’, while human beings are utterly deprived of it. The
objective reality of ‘ideal forms’ is no mere invention of the idealists, as it
seems to the pseudo-materialists who recognise, on one side, the ‘external
world’ and on the other, only the ‘conscious brain’ (or ‘consciousness as a
property and function of the brain’). This pseudo-materialism, despite all
its good intentions, has both feet firmly planted in the same mystical
swamp of fetishism as its opponent – principled idealism. This is also
fetishism, only not that of the bronze idol or the ‘Logos’, but a fetishism
of a nervous tissue, a fetishism of neurons, axons and DNAs, which in
fact possess as little of the ‘ideal’ as any pebble lying on the road. Just as
little as the ‘value’ of the diamond that has not yet been discovered, no
matter how huge and heavy it might be.
282 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘Ideality’ is, indeed, necessarily connected with consciousness and
will, but not at all in the way that the old, pre-Marxist materialism describes
this connection. It is not ideality that is an ‘aspect’, or ‘form of
manifestation’ of the conscious-will sphere but, on the contrary, the
conscious-will character of the human mentality is a form of manifestation,
an ‘aspect’ or mental manifestation of the ideal (i.e., socio-historically
generated) plane of relationships between man and nature.
Ideality is a characteristic of things, not as they are determined by nature
but as they are determined by labour, the transforming and formcreating
activity of social man, his purposeful, sensuously objective activity.
The ideal form is the form of a thing created by social human labour.
Or, conversely, the form of labour realised in the substance of nature,
‘embodied’ in it, ‘alienated’ in it, ‘realised’ in it and, therefore, presenting
itself to man the creator as the form of a thing or a relationship between
things in which man, his labour, has placed them.
In the process of labour man, while remaining a natural being, transforms
both external things and (in doing so) his own ‘natural’ body,
shapes natural matter (including the matter of his own nervous system
and the brain, which is its centre), converting it into a ‘means’ and ‘organ’
of his purposeful life activity. This is why he looks upon ‘nature’ (matter)
from the very first as material in which his aims are ‘embodied’, and as
the ‘means’ of their realisation. This is why he sees in nature primarily
what is suitable for this role, what plays or may play the part of a means
towards his ends, in other words, what he has already drawn into the
process of his purposeful activity.
Thus at first he directs his gaze at the stars exclusively as a natural
clock, calendar and compass, as instruments of his life activity. He observes
their ‘natural’ properties and regularities only insofar as they are properties
and regularities of the material in which his activity is being performed, and
with these ‘natural’ features he must, therefore, reckon as a completely
objective component of his activity which is in no way dependent on his will
and consciousness.
But it is for this very reason that he takes the results of his transforming
activity (the forms and relations of things given by himself) as the
forms and relations of things as they are. This gives rise to fetishism of
every kind and shade, one of the varieties of which was and still is philosophical
idealism, the doctrine which regards the ideal forms of things (i.e.,
the forms of human activity embodied in things) as the eternal, primor-
THE CONCEPT OF THE IDEAL 283
dial and ‘absolute’ forms of the universe, and takes into account all the
rest only insofar as this ‘all the rest’, that is to say, all the actual diversity
of the world has already been drawn into the process of labour, already
been made the means, instrument and material of realisation of purposeful
activity, already been refracted through the grandiose prism of ‘ideal
forms’ (forms of human activity), is already presented (represented ) in these
forms, already shaped by them.
For this reason the ‘ideal’ exists only in man. Outside man and beyond
him there can be nothing ‘ideal’. Man, however, is to be understood not
as one individual with a brain, but as a real aggregate of real people
collectively realising their specifically human life activity, as the ‘aggregate
of all social relations’ arising between people around one common task,
around the process of the social production of their life. It is ‘inside’ man
thus understood that the ideal exists, because ‘inside’ man thus understood are
all the things that ‘mediate’ the individuals that are socially producing their
life: words, books, statues, churches, community centres, television towers, and (above
all!) the instruments of labour, from the stone axe and the bone needle to the
modern automated factory and the computer. It is in these ‘things’ that
the ideal exists as the ‘subjective’, purposeful form-creating life activity of
social man, embodied in the material of nature.
The ideal form is a form of a thing, but a form that is outside the
thing, and is to be found in man as a form of his dynamic life activity, as
goals and needs. Or conversely, it is a form of man’s life activity, but outside
man, in the form of the thing he creates. ‘Ideality’ as such exists only in
the constant succession and replacement of these two forms of its ‘external
embodiment’ and does not coincide with either of them taken separately.
It exists only through the unceasing process of the transformation
of the form of activity – into the form of a thing and back – the form of a thing into
the form of activity (of social man, of course).
Try to identify the ‘ideal’ with any one of these two forms of its immediate
existence – and it no longer exists. All you have left is the ‘substantial’,
entirely material body and its bodily functioning. The ‘form of
activity’ as such turns out to be bodily encoded in the nervous system, in
intricate neuro-dynamic stereotypes and ‘cerebral mechanisms’ by the
pattern of the external action of the material human organism, of the
individual’s body. And you will discover nothing ‘ideal’ in that body. The
form of the thing created by man, taken out of the process of social life
activity, out of the process of man-nature metabolism, also turns out to
be simply the material form of the thing, the physical shape of an external
284 E. V. ILYENKOV
body and nothing more. A word, taken out of the organism of human
intercourse, turns out to be nothing more than an acoustic or optical
phenomenon. ‘In itself’ it is no more ‘ideal’ than the human brain.
And only in the reciprocating movement of the two opposing
‘metamorphoses’ – forms of activity and forms of things in their dialectically
contradictory mutual transformations – does the ideal exist.
Therefore, it was only dialectical materialism that was able to solve the
problem of the ideality of things.
Reflections on Lenin’s book:
“Materialism and EmpirioCriticism”*
Introduction
Over the past seventy years since the time of publication of Lenin’s
book, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism,
1 the ideological battles have become
neither less intense nor less significant for the fate of people who
are united in the same warring parties as at the beginning of the century.
The names change, the strategy and tactics of the struggle improve,
becoming ever more refined, but its essence remains the same. As before,
the issue remains just as Lenin posed it in 1908: either consistent (dialectical)
materialism – or helpless wandering about in theory, wandering
about fraught with sad and finally tragic consequences. Beginning in what
would appear to be abstract spheres, these wanderings sooner or later
reach their conclusion on this sinful earth.
‘Does the lecturer acknowledge that the philosophy of Marxism is
dialectical materialism?’ Lenin stubbornly demanded, seeking a straight
answer from Bogdanov one day in May 1908, by emphatically stressing
the last two – key – words.2
Not simply materialism, and not simply dialectics, for materialism
without dialectics nowadays remains only a wishful desire and proves to
be not so much the slayer as the slain, and dialectics without materialism
inevitably turns into the purely verbal art of turning inside out generally

  • Written in 1979 and translated into English and published by New Park
    Publications as “Leninist Dialectics and the Metaphysics of Positivism. Reflections
    on Lenin’s book: ‘Materialism and Empirio-Criticism’” in 1982.
    1 “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism,” written in 1908 constitutes volume 14 of
    Lenin’s Collected Works in English (LCW) and references to LCW in footnotes
    are from the English Fourth Edition. Citations from Complete Collected Works refer
    to the Russian Fifth edition.
    2 LCW vol. 14 p 15.
    286 E. V. ILYENKOV
    accepted words, terms, concepts and assertions, long since known by the
    name of sophistry. It turns into a means of verbally distorting the ideas at
    hand. And only materialist dialectics (dialectical materialism), only the
    organic unity of dialectics with materialism arms the cognition of man
    with the means and ability to construct an objectively-true image of the
    surrounding world, the means and ability to reconstruct this world in
    accordance with the objective tendencies and lawful nature of its own
    development.
    Here was contained the pivotal thought of Lenin’s entire understanding
    of philosophy which he consistently developed in his book.
    The significance of the book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism for the
    intellectual history of our century is far from exhausted by the fact that it
    put an end to ‘one reactionary philosophy’ and its pretensions to the role
    of ‘the philosophy of contemporary natural science’ and of all ‘contemporary
    science’. Much more important is the circumstance that in the
    course of polemicising with it, Lenin distinctly outlined his own positive
    understanding of the problems placed before philosophy by the grandiose
    events in all spheres of human life. In economics, politics, science,
    technology and art, he clearly and categorically formulated the fundamental
    principles of the resolution of these problems, and outlined the logic
    of their resolution.
    We must insist on this for the very reason that frequently the content
    and significance of this highly polemical work is interpreted too narrowly
    and one-sidedly, and consequently incorrectly. And not only by open
    enemies of revolutionary Marxism, but also by some of its ‘friends’.
    Thus the French revisionist philosopher Roger Garaudy (he is neither
    the only one nor the first) in his booklet Lenin condescendingly
    acknowledges the services of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism in presenting
    the fundamentals of materialism in general, which are neither characteristic
    of Marxist materialism nor related in any way to dialectics; this, he
    says, is ‘kindergarten materialism’ and nothing more. Lenin supposedly
    first became interested in dialectics only later – at the time of the Philosophical
    Notebooks. The same thing was confirmed by still another representative
    of philosophical revisionism – Gajo Petrović from ‘Praxis’, who
    added that the study of Hegel’s works forced Lenin to introduce substantial
    corrections in his characterisation of materialism, idealism and dialectics,
    forced him to seriously limit the activity of the principle of reflection
    (such is the way that he explains Lenin’s sentence: ‘man’s consciousness
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 287
    not only reflects the objective world, but also creates it’), etc., etc. This
    statement already represents a direct lie with regard not only to Lenin’s
    understanding of materialism, but also to Lenin’s understanding of
    dialectics.
    In essence, such an incorrect interpretation of Lenin’s position also
    serves as the basis of statements according to which the definition of
    matter developed in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism is justified only by
    the special conditions of the argument with one of the varieties of subjective
    idealism, and therefore is declared to be insufficient, incomplete and
    incorrect beyond the bounds of this argument. Hence far-reaching conclusions
    are frequently drawn about the need to ‘broaden’ or ‘supplement’
    Lenin’s definition of matter and the philosophical conception of
    materialism (as supposedly narrowly epistemological) by means of the socalled
    ‘ontological aspect’.
    The meaning of similar attempts is the same: to portray Materialism
    and Empirio-Criticism, this classic work on the philosophy of dialectical
    materialism, which elucidated in general form all the major contours and
    problems of this science, as a book devoted only to one ‘side of the
    matter’, only to ‘epistemology’, only to that supposedly narrow circle of
    problems which were thrust on Lenin by the specific conditions of a
    polemic with one of the minor schools of subjective idealism. Explained
    in such a way, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism is robbed of its general
    philosophical significance beyond the bounds of this special argument;
    the significance is lost of a book which completely exposes every kind of
    idealism, not only and exclusively subjective idealism.
    All this and much else forces us once again to return to an analysis of
    Lenin’s polemic with the empirio-critics in order better to understand the
    actual reasons behind its origin and hence its actual meaning, its essence
    and significance for the ensuing history of the ideological and theoretical
    struggle in the ranks of Russian and international Social Democracy; we
    will better understand its significance for contemporary disagreements.
    arguments and ideological struggles, since only in such a broad context
    will the ‘philosophical subtleties’ which are dealt with in the book become
    clear.
    Let us begin by recalling a few well-known historical facts.
    Let us open a book, published in 1908. We read:
    A great and formidable revolution is sweeping our country.
    The unfolding struggle is carrying away a colossal mass of
    288 E. V. ILYENKOV
    forces and victims. Everyone who wishes to be a real citizen
    of a great people is devoting the entire energy of his thought
    and will to this struggle.
    The proletariat is marching in the front ranks of the
    revolution, bearing the full brunt. On the party of the
    proletariat lies the greatest historical responsibility for the
    course and outcome of this struggle.
    In such an epoch shouldn’t everyone who is devoted to the
    cause of the proletariat, or even if only to the cause of the
    revolution in general, resolutely say to himself: ‘now is not the
    time for philosophy!’ – shouldn’t everyone place to the side
    this very book for what may be years on end?
    Such an attitude to philosophy has now become common. It
    is very natural under the given circumstances: but that doesn’t
    prevent it from being very mistaken ...
    These are the words of a participant and eyewitness of events which
    provided the conditions under which Lenin’s polemic with Machism
    flared up. The words are true and sincere. Their author is A. Bogdanov.
    The same Bogdanov. This is a quotation from his introductory article to
    the Russian edition of Ernst Mach’s book, The Analysis of Sensations. The
    same Ernst Mach. And the same book of his which became the bible of
    Machism – the same philosophy which was classified as reactionary by
    the author of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. (And as an explanatory
    note to the article quoted by us: ‘The present article by A. Bogdanov was
    translated into German and published under the title “Ernst Mach and
    Revolution” in issue No. 20, February 14 1908, of the journal Die Neue
    Zeit, as a jubilee article commemorating the 70th birthday, February 18
    1908, of Ernst Mach.)
    We have quoted almost a whole page from a book, on the cover of
    which appears: ‘E. Mach. The Analysis of sensations and the Relation of the
    Physical to the Psychical. G. Kotlyar’s authorised translation from the manuscript
    of the 5th expanded German edition, with a foreword by the
    author to the Russian translation and an introductory article by A. Bogdanov.
    Second edition. Publisher, S. Skirmunt. Moscow. 1908’.
    An edition, boosted by the name of a man who at this time was
    known as a comrade-in-arms of Lenin, as one of the fighters against the
    opportunism of the Mensheviks headed by their theoretical leader, G.V.
    Plekhanov ... Try as you might, such paradoxes just don’t happen.
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 289
    Let us investigate the essence of these paradoxes in a bit more detail;
    let us try to understand why the Bolshevik ‘V.I. Ilyin’ argued so sharply
    and irreconcilably against the Bolshevik ‘A. Bogdanov’ (his real name was
    A. A. Malinovsky), after openly declaring moreover that, in the realm of
    philosophy, he expressed his solidarity with G.V. Plekhanov, with the
    acknowledged leader of the Menshevik fraction.
    Why did he declare that the boundary-line in the realm of philosophical
    problems by no means coincides with the line-up of differing
    views on immediately political questions, or on problems of the strategy
    and tactics of the revolutionary struggle albeit that there is a connection
    between them, a very profound connection, and this connection cannot
    be overlooked, especially in the light of the perspective of future events.
    Once he had decided that it was absolutely necessary to speak out in
    the press sharply, categorically and urgently against Machism, Lenin
    remained fully aware of the entire, complicated, confused context in
    which he was forced to enter the ‘philosophical brawl’. The situation was
    not easy and was not at all as it appeared on the literary surface of the
    struggle which took place.
    Plekhanov was considered to be (and was) one of the few Marxists,
    in the ranks not only of Russian, but of the whole of international Social
    Democracy, who sharply and steadfastly came out against philosophical
    revisionism. He showed the reader that Machism in general, and its
    Russian variety in particular, represented chiefly by Bogdanov and
    Lunacharsky, is nothing more than the renovated and terminologically
    disguised archaic philosophy which was a novelty at the beginning of the
    18th century – the system of views of Bishop George Berkeley and the
    ‘sceptic-freethinker’ David Hume, the classic representatives of subjective
    idealism. Plekhanov subtly, sarcastically and ironically exposed the pretensions
    of Machism when they claimed to represent the most modern
    scientific philosophy, and even more so, the philosophy of the social
    forces which were rising to the struggle for socialism – the philosophy of
    the proletariat.
    Insofar as it was none other than Bogdanov and Lunacharsky who
    came forward as the most talented and outstanding opponents of Plekhanov
    in the given situation, the reader was given the impression that
    their philosophy was the ‘philosophy of Bolshevism’. And Plekhanov, of
    course, didn’t let slip the chance to reinforce such an impression by trying
    to portray Bolshevism as a current which had as its source not the dialec-
    290 E. V. ILYENKOV
    tical materialism of Marx and Engels, but the muddled philosophy of
    Mach, Bogdanov and Lunacharsky.
    Already by the beginning of 1908 Lenin understood once and for all
    that it was impossible to remain silent any more. Further silence in the
    realm of philosophy would only be of use to the Mensheviks and their
    tactical line in the revolution, even more so given the regrouping of
    forces which had already begun in the party (as well as the entire country)
    as a result of the ebbing of the revolutionary wave, the onset of political
    and ideological reaction, and the dashing of hopes for an expected imminent
    revolutionary-democratic solution to the crisis which had long since
    been in painful gestation.
    It was necessary to declare distinctly, clearly and unequivocally, not
    only to the party but to the country and the entire international workers’
    movement: it is only Bolshevism, as a strategic and tactical line in the
    revolution, that has as its theoretical foundation the philosophy of Marx
    and Engels. It is therefore Bolshevism, and not the fraction of Plekhanov,
    which is the direct continuation of the cause of the founders of
    Marxism, both in the field of politics and political economy, as well as the
    field of philosophy. And most of all in philosophy, for here, as in a seed,
    or as in genes, are concealed the still undeveloped, but sufficiently clear
    contours and features of future positions (and disagreements) concerning
    the most stirring problems not only of today, which have already taken
    shape, but of tomorrow, which have barely begun to show in outline.
    The task was unbelievably difficult. It was necessary not only to
    thoroughly expose the essence of the Machist-Bogdanovist revision of
    the philosophical views of Marx and Engels (Plekhanov had partially
    done this), but to counterpose to this revision a clear and integral exposition
    of these views; to show the truly Marxist resolution of those fundamental
    problems, which had been so difficult to solve that in the course
    of trying Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and Bazarov ‘slid off the rails into
    idealism’. And these were talented literary men who were able to drag
    along after them even such a man, such an artist as Maxim Gorky ...
    To perform this task, Lenin had to rummage through mountains of
    literature devoted to questions which he had previously not studied, and
    most of all in literature about ‘modern physics’, from which the Machists
    extracted the arguments for the use of their ‘modern philosophy’. And
    Lenin fulfilled this most difficult task, what is more, in a very short space
    of time – from February to October 1908. (It should not be overlooked
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 291
    that parallel with the writing of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Lenin also
    wrote such journalistic masterpieces as ‘Marxism and Revisionism’, ‘An
    Evaluation of the Russian Revolution’, ‘The Agrarian Question in Russia
    toward the end of the 19th century’, ‘The Agrarian Programme of the
    Social Democracy in the Russian Revolution’, and ‘Leo Tolstoy as a
    Mirror of the Russian Revolution’, not to mention the carrying out of a
    mass of other duties connected with his role and obligations as theoretician
    and leader of the Bolshevik fraction of the RSDLP.)
    This can be explained in only one way: Lenin had been writing his
    book not only during these months, but throughout his entire preceding
    life. Prior to the day when he actually set pen to paper, he had already
    endured and suffered over this book. Throughout long winter months in
    Shushenskoe, where, according to the memoirs of N.K. Krupskaya, he
    studied the classics of world philosophy, including Hegel and his Phenomenology
    of Spirit; over long conversations with Plekhanov; throughout
    the correspondence with Lengnik and Bogdanov, in the course of which
    Lenin’s letters (which, alas, have been lost) grew into ‘whole long treatises
    on philosophy’ measuring ‘three notebooks’ ... And, finally, the last
    meeting with Bogdanov and his friends on Capri in April 1908, which
    once again convinced him of the urgent and inescapable necessity of
    giving open, final and decisive battle to Machism.
    And even more, there was that state of ‘fury’ to which he had finally
    been led by the propaganda of positivism which had been spreading day
    by day inside the ranks of the RSDLP. This state of fury was dictated by a
    precise understanding of the damage inherent in Machism both for the
    party and for the fate of the revolution. And understanding that the best
    form of defence is a good offence, Lenin declared war on Machism.
    Maxim Gorky tried in vain to reconcile Lenin with Bogdanov and
    persuaded him to come from afar to Capri. Lenin arrived, played chess
    with Bogdanov, argued with him for a long time, and left in an even
    sterner frame of mind. A reconciliation had not taken place, and the
    saddened Gorky waved his hands in puzzlement, unable to understand a
    thing. Especially the intensity of Lenin’s irreconcilability.
    Could this really be just because of a few philosophical terms? ‘Substance’,
    ‘matter’, ‘complex of elements’ ... But what’s the matter with you,
    good gentlemen and comrades, is it really possible to break off your
    friendship over this? And as for this god-seeking ... After all, Anatoly
    Vasilievich is hardly building the old god, is he? Surely he understands it
    292 E. V. ILYENKOV
    in the same manner that Benedict Spinoza did – as just a word. He isn’t
    naming a church authority with this term. He is seeking and building a
    high moral ideal of the new man, he wants to ennoble the revolution with
    high moral values so that it won’t commit unnecessary stupidities and
    acts of cruelty ... And these terms, such as god, are clearer and closer to
    our Russian peasant and to the proletarian who comes from the peasantry
    ... You can’t expect him to read Spinoza. Of course that would be useful,
    but only when he’s able! You’re acting in vain, in vain, Vladimir llyich.
    And in a most inappropriate way ...
    And indeed Lenin left Capri not only in an extremely troubled state
    of mind (for he knew well that it is foolish to wear out one’s nerves for
    nothing, to waste one’s time on useless conversations with these ‘thinkers’!),
    but also filled with the resolve to settle accounts with the entire
    business once and for all, in his own way. Enough was enough. The time
    had passed for notebooks and discussions. There was nothing more
    harmful than excessive softness now! War was inevitable. This war would
    rapidly finish teaching those who had not yet ‘made an investigation’.
    ‘What kind of reconciliation can there be, my dear Alexei Maximich?
    Please, it’s ludicrous even to hint at this. Battle is absolutely inevitable ...
    ‘Indeed, herein lies the harm, the tragedy, if even you, a great artist
    and an intelligent man, have not yet understood what kind of swamp it is
    they’ll crawl into – dragging other people after them – all these godbuilders,
    empirio-critics, empirio-monists and empirio-symbolists! Is it
    really so difficult to comprehend that behind the entire heap of their
    bombastic phrases there actually stands, at full height, the terrible figure
    of the international petit-bourgeoisie with its “complex of ideas”, born of
    the dull oppression of man by external nature and class repression? Is it
    really so unclear that no matter what beautiful words are used to express
    this “complex of ideas”, it was and remains the most inexpressible vileness,
    vulgar ideological baseness, the most dangerous vileness, the most
    vulgar “infection”?!
    ‘And you want to persuade me to collaborate with people who are
    preaching such things. I’d sooner have myself drawn and quartered’. ...
    When it was still the summer of 1906, Lenin studied Bogdanov’s EmpirioMonism
    and ‘flew into an unusual rage and frenzy’. He then tried, in a
    friendly fashion, controlling his rage, to drive home to him – both orally
    and in writing – where, why and how his homespun ‘empirio-monistical’
    logic was diverting him from the main path of revolutionary Marxism. It
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 293
    was in vain. The stubborn Alexander Alexandrovich took the bit between
    his teeth. And then – one after another – there appeared the Studies in the
    Philosophy of Marxism, the ludicrous booklets of Berman and Shulyatikov,
    Bogdanov’s articles about Mach, the devil knows what else ... A whole
    flood.
    As he was reading the Studies, article by article, Lenin, in his own
    words, ‘immediately flew into a rage of indignation’. These, of course,
    were not inoffensive literary amusements, they were far worse, much,
    much worse ... Now they had organised on Capri a whole literary factory,
    with open pretensions about playing the role of the brain centre of the
    entire revolutionary Social-Democracy, the role of the philosophical and
    theoretical general staff of the Bolshevik fraction!3
    And this was just when the foremost task of every thinking revolutionary
    Marxist had become the comprehension of all those profound –
    and largely still unclear, still unfinished – shifts which had occurred and
    were continuing to occur in the social organism of the land, in the system
    of contradictory relations between classes and their fractions, between
    fundamental social forces and the parties representing their interests, as a
    result of the cataclysm which tragically unfolded from 1905 to 1907.
    Precisely then, when the entire country was painfully trying to understand:
    what exactly had happened, why had the long-awaited revolution
    choked in a sea of blood, for what reasons had it been unable to shatter
    the rotten foundations of the stupid Romanov-Dubasov monarchy, why
    had this monarchy proved to be stronger than all the many-millioned
    democratic forces of a gigantic country? Indeed, before deciding what the
    party must do next, it was necessary to thoroughly analyse the events
    which had taken place and their results, to abstract all the lessons from
    the dramatic experience of the lost battle, to make a clear Marxist diagnosis,
    to take into account the complexity of the new circumstances and the
    arrangement of class forces, and to help the revolutionary forces overcome
    all those political illusions, prejudices and utopian hopes which had
    caused so much harm and had produced a lack of co-ordination in word
    and in action.

3 This monologue of Lenin is in its entirety simply passages joined together from
his letters, especially to A.M. Gorky from February 25, March 16, April 16 and
19 1908, and to A. I. Lyubimov from September 1909. (LCW, Vol. 34, pp. 387,
393, 394, 401-402.)
294 E. V. ILYENKOV
Lenin tried to explain this to Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and their
friends on Capri in April 1908. ‘... At that time I proposed that they use
their common resources and efforts for a Bolshevik history of the revolution,
as opposed to the Menshevik-liquidators’ history of the revolution, but
the Caprians rejected my proposal, since they wanted to occupy themselves
not with common Bolshevik matters, but with the propaganda of
their particular philosophical views ...’ Lenin recalled about a year later (in
the letter to students of the Capri party school, from August 30 1909).4
The point was, of course, not only and not so much that this attraction
to philosophy had diverted a group of undoubtedly talented writers
and propagandists from matters of primary importance. There were
plenty of people in these difficult times who fell by the wayside, abandoning
not only Bolshevism but the revolution as a whole. With those sort of
people it was wiser to sadly wave one’s hand and forget about them.
Here the matter was different. Lenin clearly understood that those
‘particular philosophical views’ which Bogdanov, Bazarov, Lunacharsky,
Suvorov and their co-thinkers were so insistently and ever more actively
trying to thrust on the party, were making the heads of the people who
had come to believe them absolutely unfit for precisely that more important
‘common Bolshevik matter’, for the scientific Marxist comprehension
of the lessons of the defeated revolution. The discussion centred not
on trifles, not on details of understanding, nor on personal tactical disagreements,
but on the most profound fundamentals of Marxist cognition,
on the logic of the analysis of reality.
I am abandoning the newspaper because of my philosophical
binge: today I will read one empirio-critic and use vulgar
language, tomorrow I will read another and use obscene
words. And Innokenty scolds me, for the cause, for my
neglect of The Proletariat. Things are out of whack. But it
couldn’t be otherwise.5
I wouldn’t have raised a storm, had I not become
unconditionally convinced (and I am becoming more
convinced of this each day as I become more acquainted with
the sources of the wisdom of Bazarov, Bogdanov and Co.)
that their book is ludicrous, harmful, philistine and priestly in

4 LCW vol. 15 p 474.
5 LCW vol. 34 p 387.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 295
its entirety, from beginning to end, from its branches to its
roots, to Mach and Avenarius. Plekhanov was completely
correct against them in essence, only he wasn’t able or he
didn’t want, or he was too lazy to say this concretely, in detail,
simply, without unnecessarily cowing the public with
philosophical subtleties. And whatever happens, I want to say
this in my own way.6
Once he returned from Capri, Lenin plunged headlong into philosophy,
pushing aside everything else, no matter how much more important
they seemed. ‘Never before have I neglected my newspaper so much: I
read these wretched Machists for days on end, yet I write articles for the
newspaper with incredible haste’.7
This ‘philosophical binge’ provoked bewilderment among many people,
especially among those who made up Lenin’s closest circle. Later,
after Vladimir Ilyich’s death, M.N. Pokrovsky recalled:
When the argument between Ilyich and Bogdanov on the
question of empirio-monism began, we threw up our hands ...
The moment was critical. The revolution was receding. The
question arose as to some kind of sharp change of tactics, and
at this time Ilyich buried himself in the National Library, sat
there for days on end, and as a result, wrote a philosophical
book ... When all was said and done, Ilyich proved to be
right.8
In what way and why did he prove to be right; what was not understood,
and why, not only by Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and Bazarov, but by
all of that time’s acknowledged theoreticians in the Social-Democracy,
headed by Kautsky (and what was partially understood only by Plekhanov)
– this is what we will try to investigate, trying as well not to intimidate
the reader with ‘philosophical subtleties’. Subtleties become clear
when the main, decisive and determining features are clear.
What is this mystical empirio-monism (Machism, empirio-criticism,
the latest positivism, etc., it had a multitude of names), which provoked
such a ‘furious’ reaction in Lenin?

6 Ibid., p 151. LCW vol. 34 p 388.
7 Ibid., p 154.
8 Under the Banner of Marxism, 1924, No. 2, p 69. LCW vol. 34 p 391.
296 E. V. ILYENKOV
What was the argument actually about?

  1. Marxism against Machism as the
    Philosophy of Lifeless Reaction
    If we proceed from that oversimplified conception, that Lenin was
    simply defending the general truths of every type of materialism (i.e. the
    thesis according to which outside our head, outside our brain, outside our
    consciousness there exists a real world of natural and socio-historical
    phenomena, events, and everything that in philosophical language is
    called matter – the sun, stars, mountains, rivers, cities, factories, statues,
    tables, chairs, etc., etc.), then the sharpness of the disagreements which
    arose between Lenin and Plekhanov, on the one side, and Bogdanov,
    Lunacharsky, Yushkevich and other Machists on the other side, would
    indeed remain strange and inexplicable.
    That outside and independent of our head there exists a real world of
    things which we sensuously perceive, of objects and phenomena which
    we see, touch, hear and smell, and which are linked together into a certain
    enormous whole (into the real world) – does this really need special
    proof? Doesn’t every sensible man who is in a sober state think exactly
    that? Doesn’t he understand that his individual ‘I’ with its consciousness
    was not only born at some point, but that sooner or later it will disappear,
    while the earth and the sun, the cities and villages, the children and
    grandchildren living under the sun will remain, although they too, in their
    own time, will give way to other suns and stars, to other people or beings
    who resemble people?
    Could it really be that A. Bogdanov didn’t understand this? Could it
    be that this was not understood by the professor of physics, Ernst Mach,
    whose name is immortalised in the units of velocity now known to every
    pilot of a jet-liner? If such is the case, then Lenin’s entire polemic with
    the Machists can indeed be shown to have been an empty waste of time
    and energy.
    But only a naive person who has poorly investigated the essence of
    the dispute could think that Lenin in his book is defending truisms, selfevident
    assertions, banalities and trivialities, which are clear to everyone,
    even the totally uneducated man. But that is precisely how the book is
    approached by such present-day commentators as Garaudy and Petrović,
    and during Lenin’s time by not only those who were described by M.N.
    Pokrovsky, but also by the universally recognised theoretical leaders of
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 297
    the Social-Democracy, the official guardians of the theoretical heritage of
    Marx and Engels. Kautsky generally never attributed any serious significance
    to philosophical arguments, and therefore published in his journal
    – without any reservation – all kinds of positivists and empirio-critics.
    Plekhanov, who had perfectly well scrutinised all the childish helplessness
    which Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and their co-thinkers had revealed in
    philosophy, and who had even exposed, in a series of brilliant pamphlets,
    the ridiculousness of their pretensions to innovation in this area, nevertheless
    simply didn’t see the full danger of the Machist revision of the
    philosophical foundations of Marxism (as well as the full depth of the
    roots which had nourished this revisionism).
    In his eyes all these ‘epistemological amusements’ remained as relatively
    secondary (although, of course, not harmless) quirks on the periphery
    of the Marxist world outlook, as the fruits of the childish babble of
    those who are half-educated in philosophy. Hence that condescendingly
    ironical tone which is consistent throughout his pamphlets – the tone of
    an acknowledged master who finds it a bit awkward to argue with kindergarten
    pupils. With people who are unable to distinguish Berkeley from
    Engels, and Marx from Avenarius. On the purely theoretical plane, these
    muddlers really didn’t deserve any attitude other than: ‘A, B, C, D, E, F,
    G. Now we learn our ABCs ...’ This is where Plekhanov placed the
    period in his polemic with them.
    Lenin looked at the situation not only from this angle, but also from
    another, to which ‘Plekhanov didn’t pay any attention’: he saw the full
    danger which was present for the fate of the revolution in Russia – and
    not only in Russia – in the Russian variation of the positivist revision of
    the philosophical foundations of revolutionary Marxism.
    The philosophy of dialectical materialism, materialist dialectics, the
    logic of the development of the entire Marxist world outlook, the logic of
    cognition by virtue of which Capital had been written, and finally the
    strategy based on Capital of the political struggle of the revolutionary
    movement of the international working class – that is what this revisionism
    was directed against. So the discussion was not at all about abstract
    ‘epistemological research’, but about that ‘aspect of the matter’ upon
    which, in essence, depended all the remaining ‘aspects’ of the Marxist
    world view, the direction and paths of development of all its remaining
    component parts. And such an ‘aspect of the matter’ is called, in competent
    philosophical language, the essence of the matter.
    298 E. V. ILYENKOV
    And history very rapidly showed all the theoretical far-sightedness of
    Lenin. This was shown to everyone, but most of all to the revolutionary
    workers of Russia, or, to be more precise, to their most conscious and
    most advanced representatives, who made up the nucleus of the Bolshevik
    Party and for whom he wrote his magnificent book. And secondly, it
    was shown to all the truly advanced representatives of the scientific and
    technological intelligentsia in Russia (and then throughout the entire
    world), upon whom the specifically positivist variety of idealism was
    designed to have a special influence. (‘Designed’ does not mean that there
    was a conscious and perfidious intent, an ill-intentioned ‘calculation’. The
    point is that if religion, or religious superstition, objectively, regardless of
    the good or evil intentions of the priests in their cassocks, was, is, and
    will remain ‘the opium of the people’, then positivism of the 20th century,
    whether it calls itself ‘primary’, ‘secondary’ or ‘logical’, whether it
    attaches to its name the prefix ‘neo’ or anything else, or whether or not it
    even changes its name completely – it remains idealism and in the final
    analysis will lead to the very same religion.)
    Yes, the discussion centred on exceedingly important things: on the
    damage that had been done by direct or indirect disciples of Mach and
    Bogdanov, by the willing or unwilling followers of this philosophy. These
    were people who had not assimilated the main thing – materialist dialectics
    as the logic and theory of scientific cognition, and, consequently, who
    had not mastered the ability to think in a scientific manner about contemporary
    reality, and who were unable to resolve the enormous and
    difficult problems of our century in a scientific way, on the level of real
    science of the 20th century.
    This was the main topic of Lenin’s book. Of course, there still remain
    in it some ‘ABCs’. For without ‘ABCs’ it is impossible to understand
    anything else. But in no way is it only ‘ABCs’, and there are even
    not so many of them.
    And as for the conversations about how Lenin supposedly still wasn’t
    thoroughly acquainted with dialectics when he wrote Materialism and
    Empirio-Criticism, these are out-and-out falsehoods which could only
    appear to be true to someone with a very limited (and highly dubious)
    conception of dialectics itself.
    In 1908 Lenin was not only the political leader of the Bolsheviks, but
    their theoretical leader as well; he not only knew, but understood and
    used genuine dialectics in resolving all the challenging problems, both of
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 299
    a broadly theoretical and immediately practical nature which arose daily
    and even hourly before the entire country, and before the working class
    and the peasantry during the stormy epoch of the grandiose revolutionary
    upsurge in 1905. A masterful command of materialist dialectics as the real
    logic of revolutionary cognition was a characteristic of Lenin as the leader
    of Bolshevism, which was the sole viable force in the ranks of the SocialDemocracy
    at that time.
    Lenin knew superbly well the highest historical form of dialectics
    which had been the ‘soul of Marxism’ – the dialectics of Capital, dialectics
    as the logic of cognition of Marx and Engels, materialist dialectics. It was
    this, and not ‘dialectics in general’, which he defended in Materialism and
    Empirio-Criticism.
    The same thing applies to the assertions that Lenin at this time still
    was not acquainted with Hegelian dialectics and became interested in this
    only later, when he was writing the conspectus which is known as the
    Philosophical Notebooks. He turned to a special, critical investigation of
    Hegelian dialectics later. This is true. But it was by no means in the
    Philosophical Notebooks that he first studied and became familiar with it. As
    a mature Marxist he had already read Hegel’s Logic and Lectures on the
    History of Philosophy; here, in the course of a critical analysis of them he
    had simply sharpened, polished and refined the details of the formulae of
    his understanding of dialectics, which had already been developed and
    tested in the fires of practice. He refined his materialist understanding of
    dialectics, preparing to write (as Marx had been preparing in his own
    time) a brief and clear outline of the fundamentals of dialectics which
    would be understandable to every literate person.
    But he had perfectly well grasped the essence of Hegelian dialectics
    even earlier. We know that while he was at Shushenskoe he became
    familiar with the Phenomenology of Spirit, a work where this essence comes
    through the text much more clearly, vividly and concretely than in the
    texts of the Science of Logic or the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. The
    fact that the notes from this period were not preserved, of course, by no
    means serves as support for the interpretations of Garaudy and Petrović.
    While preparing to write a materialistic Science of Logic by retaining
    everything in Hegel which is truly scientific and not of passing value, and
    by rigorously purging the Hegelian logic of everything in it connected
    with idealism, he studied, made notes, and commented on the Hegelian
    texts at the same time that the cannons of the first world war were thun-
    300 E. V. ILYENKOV
    dering in Europe and the great October Revolution was reaching maturity.

In 1908 he defended the rightness of the dialectics of Capital, and he
defended its interests in the front lines of the battle for it – along the
border which then divided (and now divides) the materialist dialectics of
Marx and Engels from the surrogates which resemble it on the surface,
including belated Hegelianism. This includes idealism in general as well as
the idealist version of dialectics.
Lenin had no doubts that the Machist diversion in the rear lines of
revolutionary Marxism was the direct continuation of the attack on
materialist dialectics begun earlier by E. Bernstein. This is shown in his
note to the article ‘Marxism and Revisionism’, which concludes the
section of this article devoted especially to philosophy.
This section is worth reproducing in its entirety:
In the realm of philosophy revisionism tailed after bourgeois
professorial ‘science’. The professors went ‘back to Kant’ –
revisionism dragged itself along after the neo-Kantians, the
professors repeated for the thousandth time the banalities
they had been told by the priests against philosophical
materialism, and, with condescending smiles, the revisionists
muttered (copying the latest handbook word for word) that
materialism had long since been ‘refuted’; the professors
turned their backs on Hegel as a ‘dead dog’, and, while they
themselves preached idealism, albeit a thousand times more
petty and banal than Hegelian idealism, they scornfully
shrugged their shoulders when it came to dialectics – and the
revisionists crawled after them into the swamp of the
philosophical vulgarisation of science, exchanging ‘cunning’
(and revolutionary) dialectics for ‘simple’ (and tranquil)
‘evolution’ ...
It isn’t necessary to talk about the actual class significance of
such ‘corrections’ of Marx – the matter is quite clear by itself.
We would simply note that Plekhanov was the only Marxist in
the international Social-Democracy who, from the standpoint
of consistent dialectical materialism, made a criticism of those
unbelievable banalities which were repeated at length here by
the revisionists. It is all the more necessary to stress this firmly
because nowadays, profoundly mistaken attempts are being
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 301
made to bring forward the old and reactionary philosophical
rubbish under the flag of criticising Plekhanov’s tactical
opportunism.
And in the note to this:
Cf. the book, Studies in the Philosophy of Marxism, by Bogdanov,
Bazarov and others. Here is not the place to investigate this
book, and I must limit myself for the time being to the
declaration that in the very near future I will show in a series
of articles or in a special pamphlet that everything said in the
text about the neo-Kantian revisionists applies in essence as
well to these ‘new’ neo-Humist and neo-Berkeleyan
revisionists.9
This ‘special pamphlet’ was the book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism,
which Lenin was writing at that time and in which he showed that Machism
is the No. 1 enemy of revolutionary Marxism, the ‘philosophy of
lifeless reaction’, and the philosophical foundation of every type of
reaction – both in social life and in science.
But then still another question arises. Why was it that A. Bogdanov,
who was personally an irreproachable and selfless man, as well as being a
Bolshevik at that time, not only took this philosophy for the genuine
philosophy of ‘modern science’, and moreover for the philosophical
foundation of the means of the socialist renewal of the earth, for the
‘philosophy of the proletariat’, but even became a passionate propagandist
of this philosophy?
How could this have happened? How could this philosophy have attracted
such people as Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and Gorky?
Lenin’s book could very well have been given a slightly different title:
Materialism and Idealism. And not only in general, but with the addition: In
Our Time. Where is the clear-cut dividing line between them, that line
where every man must make a choice? What is philosophical idealism and
what is philosophical materialism? How do you recognise what you are
dealing with, which of these two points of departure is determining the
direction of all your thought, regardless of the subject of your reflection:
major things or minor, the fate of the earth or the fate of one’s country,
the problems of genes or quarks, quantum mechanics or the foundations

9 LCW vol 15 pp 33-34.
302 E. V. ILYENKOV
of mathematics, the mysterious origins of personality or the mysterious
origins of life on earth?
Here, then, is the question: take your thought, your consciousness of
the world, and the world itself, the complex and intricate world which
only appears to be simple, the world which you see around you, in which
you live, act and carry out your work – whether you write treatises on
philosophy or physics, sculpt statues out of stone, or produce steel in a
blast furnace – what is the relationship between them?
Here there is a parting of the ways, and the difference lies in whether
you choose the right path or the left, for there is no middle here; the
middle path contains within itself the very same divergences, only they
branch out within it in ever more minute and discrete proportions. In
philosophy the ‘party of the golden mean’ is the ‘party of the brainless’,
who try to unite materialism with idealism in an eclectic way, by means of
smoothing out the basic contradictions, and by means of muddling the
most general (abstract, ‘cellule’) and clear concepts.
These concepts are matter and consciousness (psyche, the ideal,
spirit, soul, will, etc. etc.). ‘Consciousness’ – let us take this term as Lenin
did – is the most general concept which can only be defined by clearly
contrasting it with the most general concept of ‘matter’, moreover as
something secondary, produced and derived. Dialectics consists in not
being able to define matter as such; it can only be defined through its
opposite, and only if one of the opposites is fixed as primary, and the
other arises from it.
The difference and opposition of materialism and idealism is thus
very simple, which, on the part of the idealists of various shades, serves
as the basis for reproaches directed at materialism, such as ‘primitivism’,
‘grade-school sophistication’, ‘non-heuristic nature’, ‘banality’, ‘being selfevident’,
etc. (Such a reproach was directed at Lenin as soon as his book
was published: ‘In general, even if one acknowledges as correct the
materialist propositions of Mr Ilyin about the existence of an external
world and its cognoscibility in our sensations, then these propositions can
nevertheless not be called Marxist, since the most inveterate representative
of the bourgeoisie hasn’t the least doubts about them’, wrote M.
Bulgakov in his review of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.)
Lenin’s position isn’t formulated here very precisely. It doesn’t consist
in the simple acknowledgment of ‘the existence of an external world
and its cognoscibility in our sensations’, but in something else: for mate-
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 303
rialism, matter – the objective reality given to us in sensation, is the basis
of the theory of knowledge (epistemology), at the same time as for idealism
of any type, the basis of epistemology is consciousness, under one or
another of its pseudonyms (be it the ‘psychical’, ‘conscious’ or ‘unconscious’,
be it the ‘system of forms of collectively-organised experience’ or
‘objective spirit’, the individual or collective psyche, individual or social
consciousness).
The question about the relationship of matter to consciousness is
complicated by the fact that social consciousness (‘collectively-organised’,
‘harmonised’ experience, cleansed of contradiction) from the very beginning
precedes individual consciousness as something already given, and
existing before, outside, and independent of individual consciousness.
just as matter does. And even more than that. This social consciousness –
of course, in its individualised form, in the form of the consciousness of
one’s closest teachers, and after that, of the entire circle of people who
appear in the field of vision of a person, forms his consciousness to a
much greater degree than the ‘material world’.
But social consciousness (Bogdanov and Lunacharsky take precisely
this as the ‘immediately given’, as a premise not subject to further analysis
and as the foundation of their theory of knowledge), according to Marx,
is not ‘primary’, but secondary, derived from social being, i.e. the system
of material and economic relations between people.
It is also not true that the world is cognised in our sensations. In sensations
the external world is only given to us, just as it is given to a dog. It
is cognised not in sensations, but in the activity of thought, the science of
which is after all, according to Lenin, the theory of knowledge of contemporary
materialism.
Logic as the philosophical theory of cognition is defined by Lenin,
following after Marx and Engels, as the science of those universal laws
(necessary, independent both of man’s will and consciousness), to which
the development of the entire aggregate knowledge of mankind is objectively
subordinated. These laws are understood as the objective laws of
development of the material world, of both the natural and sociohistorical
world, of objective reality in general. They are reflected in the
consciousness of mankind and verified by thousands of years of human
practice. Therefore logic as a science borders on and tends to coincide
with development theory, but not in its readily given form. Logic, however,
according to Bogdanov (Berman, Mach and others) is the collection
304 E. V. ILYENKOV
of ‘devices’, ‘means’, ‘methods’ and ‘rules’, to which the thinking of each
individual is consciously subordinated, while being fully self-aware. At its
base (at the base of its theoretical conception) lie all those old principles
of formal logic which are taught in school – the law of identity, the denial
of contradiction, and the law of the excluded middle.
What is after all ‘thought’? To this question, philosophy mainly since
times immemorial has searched an answer (and for a long time having
developed in its depths into psychology trying to explain what is individual
psyche, ‘the spirit’).
If thought is only ‘speech without sound’, as Bogdanov suggests (and
this is the pivotal line of thought of all positivism), ‘mute speech’ or the
process of development of language systems, then positivism is correct.
And here lies the path to idealism.
Another line of thought proceeds from Spinoza. He understands
thinking to be an inherent capability, characteristic not of all bodies, but
only of thinking material bodies. With the help of this capability, a body
can construct its activities in the spatially determined world, in conformity
with the ‘form and disposition’ of all other bodies external to it,
both ‘thinking’ and ‘non-thinking’. Spinoza therefore includes thinking
among the categories of the attributes of substance, such as extension. In
this form it is, according to Spinoza, characteristic also of animals. For
him even an animal possesses a soul, and this view distinguishes Spinoza
from Descartes, who considered that an animal is simply an ‘automaton’,
a very complex ‘machine’.
Thought arises within and during the process of material action as
one of its features, one of its aspects, and only later is divided into a
special activity (isolated in space and time), finding ‘sign’ form only in
man.
A completely different picture arises when, proceeding from individual
experience, it is precisely the verbally formed world which is taken as
the starting point in the theory of knowledge. It is all the more easy to
yield to such an illusion, since in individual experience, words (and signs
in general) are in actual fact just as much given to sensual contemplation
as are the sun, rivers and mountains, statues and paintings, etc. etc. Here
are the roots of idealism in its ‘sign-symbolic’ variation. If one proceeds
from individual experience, making it the point of departure and basis of
the theory of knowledge, then idealism is inevitable. But it is also inevitable
if one relies on ‘collective experience’, if the latter is interpreted as
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 305
something independent of being, as something existing independently, as
something primary.
Thus it turns out that the question of the relationship between consciousness
and matter is by no means as trivial as several of Lenin’s critics
have tried to show. Of course this is true only when the basic question of
philosophy is understood in its actual content, and not as a question of
the relationship of consciousness to the brain. It is an indisputable fact
that such a ‘wording’ of the basic question of philosophy has frequently
arisen in the past and occurs in the present.
Meanwhile it is by no means the relationship of consciousness to the
brain which is discussed by both Engels and Lenin, but the relationship
of consciousness to nature, to the external world, to objective reality
which is given to us in sensation. The question about the relationship of
consciousness to the brain is a question which is resolved scientifically
and with full concreteness not at all by philosophy, but only by the joint
efforts of psychology and the physiology of the brain.
And it is by no means this question which has divided philosophers
into materialists and idealists. That man thinks precisely with the help of
the brain, and not the liver, was equally clear to Feuerbach, Hegel, Fichte,
Spinoza, Descartes, Aristotle and Plato. Descartes even indicated the
‘exact place’ in the brain where consciousness is located, the conical
gland, and Fichte investigated in the most assiduous manner the peculiarities
of the human body, thanks to which it became an organ of consciousness
and will.
None of the classical idealists had any doubts that man thinks with
the aid of the brain, and not any other part of the body. Therefore, they
had no such problem, no such question. It was only with the Machists
that such a question arose and even turned into an insoluble problem for
their philosophy.
Thus when Lenin demands a straight answer from the Machists to
the question, ‘Does man think with the help of the brain?’, then this
question is purely rhetorical: it is the equivalent to driving a person into
the corner by forcing him to answer directly, ‘Do you agree that you walk
with the aid of your legs and not your ears?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, then, all
the unintelligible constructions of the Machists collapse. If you insist on
defending them, you are forced to say ‘no’, i.e. to express an absurdity
which is obvious to everyone (and to you yourself).
306 E. V. ILYENKOV
For it was not the relationship of consciousness to the brain, but the
relationship of consciousness to the external world which made up the
question around which the Machists themselves began to quarrel. The
relationship of consciousness to the brain is also a very important question,
but it is resolved by concrete neuro-psychological research, by
psychophysiology.
Lenin states: everything that occurs within the human body, inside
the brain, nervous system and sense organs, is the monopoly of natural
scientists. But it sometimes begins to occur to them that the resolution of
the question about the relationship of consciousness to the brain and to
the human body as a whole is also the resolution of the basic question of
philosophy, the question about the relationship of all consciousness to
the entire external world (external in relationship to consciousness).
It is philosophy which investigates this question. In philosophy discussion
is, was and shall be precisely about the relationship of consciousness
to the material, objective world of natural and socio-historical phenomena,
existing outside the thinking brain. This is the very question
which will be answered by no variety of psychophysiology, no matter
how refined it is. For the simple reason that it has never studied this
question.
In addition, in philosophy the discussion by no means centres exclusively
(or even to a great degree) on the relationship of individual consciousness
‘to all the rest’, but chiefly on the relationship of social consciousness
(jointly and consecutively realised in history by millions of
thinking brains) – of consciousness in general – to the world outside it.
The whole infinite totality of things, events, and processes which exist
in nature and history is called in philosophy objective reality (existing
outside the subject and independent of it) or, more succinctly, matter, the
material world.
This material world is counterposed equally to the individual thinking
brain and to the collective ‘thinking brain of mankind’, i.e. to ‘thinking in
general’, to ‘consciousness in general’, to ‘the psyche in general’, and to
the ‘spirit in general’. As far as the resolution of the basic question of
philosophy is concerned, consciousness, psyche, thinking and spirit are all
nothing more than synonyms.
Social consciousness, which develops from generation to generation,
differs in principle from ‘individual consciousness’. It is impossible to
imagine the collective consciousness of people (i.e. that which philosophy
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 307
means by ‘consciousness’) as a ‘molar unit’ (single psyche, single consciousness)
which has been repeated over and over again and thereby
simply increased in its proportions. The historically developing whole –
the entire spiritual culture of mankind – that is what most of all interests
the philosopher, that is what is signified in philosophy by the term ‘consciousness’,
and not simply the consciousness of separate individuals.
Spiritual culture is formed by a multitude of dialectically-contradictory
interactions between them. From similar individual ‘psyches’ there can
develop as a result two, not only different, but directly contradictory
psychical formations.
This circumstance was already perfectly well understood by Hegel, although
he expressed it in his own way. The collective psyche of people
(and not the psyche of the solitary individual with his brain) – developing
from century to century – the psyche of mankind, the consciousness of
mankind, the thinking of mankind, appears with Hegel under the pseudonym
of the ‘absolute spirit’. And the separate (individual) psyche is
called the ‘soul’. This he interprets as a ‘particle of the spirit’.
The ‘nomenclature’ which was accepted in his era contains a great
deal of truth within it. But grandiose illusions are connected with it as
well. The collective psyche of mankind (spirit), which has already been
developing for thousands of years, is actually primary in relation to every
separate ‘psychic molecule’, to every individual consciousness (soul). An
individual soul is born and dies (in contrast to Kant, Hegel caustically and
ironically ridiculed the idea of the immortality of the soul), but the aggregate
– ‘total’ – spirit of mankind lives and has been developing for thousands
of years already, giving birth to ever newer and newer separate
souls and once again swallowing them up, thereby preserving them in the
make-up of spiritual culture, in the make-up of the spirit. In the make-up
of today’s living spirit live the souls of Socrates, Newton, Mozart and
Raphael – herein lies the meaning and essence of Hegel’s – dialectical –
interpretation of the immortality of the spirit, notwithstanding the mortality
of the soul. One comes into being through the other. Through its
opposite.
With all that, Hegel always remains inside the sphere of the spirit,
within the bounds of the relationship of the soul to the spirit. All that lies
outside this sphere and exists completely separate from it the material
world in general – interests him just as little as it interests Mach or any
other idealist. But his idealism is much more intelligent, much broader,
308 E. V. ILYENKOV
and for that reason much more dialectical, than the petty, vulgar and
narrow idealism of Mach.
For he is concerned with consciousness in its actual dimensions,
while Mach is only concerned with individual consciousness. Mach
doesn’t even think about social consciousness (while science is precisely
concerned with it). Therefore, the question of science – what it is, where
it comes from and why, according to what laws it develops – generally
lies outside his field of vision. As do politics, law, art and morality. Mach
never studied the laws of development of these universal forms of consciousness.

In philosophy he is interested only in the relationship of individual
consciousness to the brain and sense organs. Therefore he invariably
appeals exclusively to the psychic experience of the separate individual.
Hence the illusory ‘persuasiveness’ of his arguments.
It goes without saying that the actual thinking of a physicist or anyone
else, especially a great scientist, and the understanding which he has
about this cognition, differ essentially from each other. Thus it turns out
that the thinking of the very same Mach, in the form as it actually comes
into being, by no means resembles the description of this thinking by
Mach-the-philosopher, with his pretensions about creating a general
theory of consciousness.
Lenin, therefore, had good reason to call Mach a great scholar in the
realm of physics, a petty and reactionary philosopher, i.e. a pseudospecialist
in the area which investigates consciousness (the psyche, thinking,
the spiritual culture of mankind) and the laws of its origin and development.

If Mach had adopted the same positions in his own field as he had in
epistemology, he would have been obliged in that case to look condescendingly
upon Newton, Faraday and Maxwell, just as he looked down
upon Hegel, Marx and Engels in the field of epistemology. And in physics
he would have to have based himself only on personal experience,
taken by him as the standard of ‘the experience of every physicist’, and
not on the history and experience of physics as a science.
Lenin proves all this. To think well in his own narrow field – in physics
– still doesn’t mean that one also thinks well in the realm of the
science of thought, consciousness and the psyche. Here it is necessary to
know the facts not only according to one’s personal experience, but
according to the experience of all humanity. It is also necessary to know
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 309
the history of their investigation not according to personal experience (or
to be more precise, not according to personal experience alone), but
according to the major landmarks of the development of experience
common to all mankind, i.e. according to the history of this science.
A person who allows himself to make judgements about consciousness
without having bothered to study what people have already been
studying for thousands of years, without becoming acquainted with what
is already rather well known and understood in this field, without having
studied Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Marx or Engels – such a person fully
deserves the assessment which Lenin made of Mach-the-philosopher.
A physicist is by no means obliged to devote himself professionally
to philosophy. Einstein, for example, was and remained a physicist, and
he didn’t pretend to create philosophical conceptions, much less to
publish ‘philosophical treatises’. For he understood – and more than once
he spoke publicly on this – that the problem of consciousness for him
was a thousand times more difficult than his own particular problems,
and therefore he wouldn’t presume to judge in this area. He made a clear
statement about this once to the psychologist Jean Piaget when he became
familiar with the problems which Piaget was studying. Einstein was
able to understand this, but Mach was not. And that is how he has gone
into the history of philosophy. Just as Lenin saw him.
Lenin was therefore indignant when Bogdanov, Bazarov and
Lunacharsky entered into a bloc on this with the Mensheviks Valentinov,
Yushkevich and others, and began to appeal to Russian SocialDemocracy
to learn how to think from Mach and according to Mach, and
even more so in the field of social science, i.e. precisely where the philosophy
of Mach had fully revealed its patent emptiness and reactionary
nature.
That is why Lenin came forward so decisively and sharply (both in
essence and in tone) against Machism. His intervention was concerned
with the fate of a new wave of revolution in Russia. 1905 had not resolved
a single one of the fundamental problems which confronted the
nation. Whether the new revolution would be victorious, or once again
be drowned in a sea of blood – this is actually what the argument was
about.
Lenin clearly understood that if the Bolsheviks would think according
to Marx, i.e. materialistically and dialectically, then they would be able
310 E. V. ILYENKOV
to lead the proletariat of Russia to a decisive victory, to the actual resolution
of the fundamental contradictions of the country’s development.
Hence it is clear that it was not simply philosophical materialism in
general that Lenin defended in his book. He defended scientific (i.e.
materialist) dialectics. Dialectics as the logic and theory of knowledge of
contemporary materialism. People who don’t understand this evidently
do not know certain indisputable facts concerning the essence of the
ideological struggle of the days when Lenin was writing his book. These
facts should be recalled.
Let us introduce a rather extensive excerpt (it can’t be helped!) from
a book which appeared a year before Materialism and Empirio-Criticism:
‘Among the antiquated parts of the well-proportioned edifice, raised by
the efforts of the genial author of Capital, which undoubtedly need repair,
and major repair at that, are, first and foremost, we are profoundly convinced,
the philosophical foundations of Marxism, and, in particular, the
celebrated dialectics’.
Let us interrupt the excerpt with a brief commentary. The author
who is cited here was ‘also’ a Marxist and also belonged at one time to
the Bolsheviks, just like A. Bogdanov. After the October Revolution he
acknowledged the correctness of Lenin, entered the ranks of the RCP
and even taught philosophy until the end of his days, as a professor at the
Y.M. Sverdlov Communist University. This was Y. Berman, author of the
book Dialectics in the Light of the Modem Theory of Knowledge (Moscow, 1908).
He participated as a co-author of the same book, Essays in the Philosophy of
Marxism, which Lenin renamed for all time as the Essays Against the
Philosophy of Marxism.
Let us continue the quotation; it very effectively throws light on the
situation in philosophy during those days, for it allows us to understand
what it was that attracted not only Berman, but Bogdanov and Lunacharsky,
to Mach. ‘... The need to investigate the founding principles of
doctrine, the need to reconcile the points of departure of Marxist philosophy
with the latest scientific conquests’ – this is how Berman himself
explains the motive of his work in philosophy. After all, the motive itself
is a worthy one. But why exactly was it that while acting in the spirit of
this noble motive Berman suddenly began to attack the dialectic? What
was dialectics guilty of in his eyes?
Dialectics was guilty of not only ‘not agreeing’ with the latest scientific
achievements (and at that time, these were the achievements of
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 311
Mach, Einstein, Ostwald, Poincaré, and other no less outstanding natural
scientists), but it was also because (so it appeared to Berman and his cothinkers)
it was none other than dialectics which was to blame for all the
catastrophes which began to occur in the ranks of the Social-Democracy
after the death of Engels. This includes both the failures and consequent
victims of the 1905 Revolution, and the theoretical errors which led to
these failures.
Hegel was to blame for all this, with his pernicious influence on Marx
and Engels, which was then passed on, like an infection, to their disciples
– to Kautsky, Plekhanov and Mehring. And Berman sincerely wonders,
‘Why is a revolutionary attracted to the “trinkets of Hegelian verbiage”,
when there is such clear, “genuinely scientific” thinking as the thought of
Ernst Mach?’ It is with Mach’s guidance that a revolutionist must rid
himself of the illness of Hegelian dialectics, of the anaemia of dialectical
categories. ‘No matter what was said by Messrs. Plekhanov, Mehring and
others, no matter how passionately they assured us that we would find in
the works of Hegel, Marx and Engels all the information necessary for
the resolution of our doubts in the field of philosophical thought; that,
moreover, everything that has been done after them is eclectic nonsense
or, in the best instance, only a more or less successful paraphrase of the
philosophical ideas of Hegel, we cannot and should not cut ourselves off
with a Chinese wall from all the attempts to illuminate the basic problems
of thought in a way other than Marx and Engels had done’.10
In the field of scientific thinking we must equal the method of thinking
which Ernst Mach uses in his field (in physics) and explains in a
popular way (this he does as a philosopher). Such was the conclusion and
sincere conviction not only of Berman, but Bogdanov and Lunacharsky.
‘The philosophy of Mach expresses the most progressive tendencies in
one of the two basic areas of scientific cognition in the field of the natural
sciences. The philosophy of Mach is the philosophy of contemporary
natural science’, writes A. Bogdanov in his introductory article to the
book, The Analysis of Sensations, by E. Mach. The Mensheviks come to the
same conclusion, despite the opinion of their leader Plekhanov who was
also infected by the antiquated ‘Hegelianism’. Therefore, in the realm of
philosophy it was expedient to immediately form a pact with them. It was
both possible and necessary to write a collective work ‘on the philosophy

10 Berman, Y., Dialectics in the Light of the Modern Theory of Knowledge, pp 5-6.
312 E. V. ILYENKOV
of Marxism’ with them – with Valentinov, Yushkevich and others. It was
possible and necessary, as the fundamental task of this collective work, to
discredit dialectics, which was preventing people from assimilating ‘the
most revolutionary’ method of thinking of Ernst Mach and Richard
Avenarius. They, and not Marx and Engels, should become the classical
philosophers of revolutionary Social-Democracy, of revolutionary Marxism.
Such were the basic spirit and fundamental idea of this ‘collective
work’, of the book Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism; such was the basic
thought which united this authors’ collective of ill repute. For Bogdanov,
Berman and Lunacharsky, the objective reality of the ‘external world’ was
a matter of little consequence, little interest, and little importance. In any
case, ‘in the interests of the Social-Democracy and contemporary science’,
it was generally possible to pay no attention to it, to brush it aside.
Was the discussion really about ‘objective Reality’? Could the argument
really be about whether or not the sun and stars actually exist? The
argument centred on a much more important question: about which
method of thinking revolutionary democracy in Russia would henceforth
profess – the method of the Marxists, derived from the ‘Hegelian’, or the
‘scientific’ method, derived from Mach.
And as to whether the sun and stars actually exist, and even more so,
just as we see them – as shining dots on the black dome of the sky – in
the final analysis what difference does it make? We can even agree that
the stars, as we see them, are simply complexes of our visual sensations,
projected by our imagination on a screen of celestial space. It makes no
difference whatsoever: we will see them just as before. But then we
would at last be thinking about them ‘scientifically’. And not only about
them, i.e., in natural science, but also in the field of the social sciences,
political economy, law and politics.
Such was the logic which led the Russian empirio-critics Bogdanov,
Bazarov, Lunacharsky and Berman, along with Valentinov and Yushkevich
to the positions which they outlined as a joint philosophical platform
in the Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism.
And all this was under conditions when the issue of particular importance
was a clear and distinct orientation of theoretical thinking, which is
given by the materialist dialectics of Marx and Engels. Lenin was able to
use it, understanding perfectly well that the one scientific – dialectical –
logic of theoretical thought demands first of all an absolutely precise and
strict analysis of the contradictions which had matured in Russia. In all their
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 313
objectivity. And then the working out of the most skilful means of their
resolution, means which are absolutely concrete.
But Mach and the Machists taught people to look upon all contradictions
(as well as all the other categories connected with contradiction,
especially negation) as simply a state of discomfort and conflict within the
organism (or brain), as a purely subjective state which the organism wants
to escape from as soon as possible, in order to find physical and spiritual
‘equilibrium’.
Could it have been possible to invent something more counterposed
to Marxist dialectics and more hostile to it than such an understanding of
contradiction? But this was precisely the understanding taught not only
by Mach and Avenarius, but by Bogdanov and Berman.
Here is how Berman explained the problem of contradiction. During
the process of an organism’s adaptation to surroundings, inside the
organism there sometimes arise strivings in opposite directions; a conflict
arises between the two ideas and, consequently, between the utterances
which express them. According to Berman, contradiction is a situation in
which speech collides against speech, the spoken word against spoken
word, and nothing else. This situation occurs only in speech, and any
other understanding of contradiction is, he says, anthropomorphism of
the purest water, or the ‘ontologisation’ of a strictly linguistic phenomenon.
‘Undoubtedly’, writes Berman, ‘“identity”, “contradiction”, and
“negation”, designate nothing more than processes taking place solely in the
realms of ideas, abstractions and thinking, but by no means in things ...’11
The relationship of conflict between two psychophysiological states
of the organism, expressed in speech – this is what contradiction is for
Berman. And this is the general position of all Machists. They found
completely unacceptable the position of materialist dialectics about the
objectivity of contradiction, as the identity of opposites, or as the meeting
point of extremes in which these opposites pass into each other. All these
elements of Marxist logic appeared to them to be the pernicious verbal
garbage of ‘Hegelianism’, – and nothing more. The logic of contemporary
scientific thinking had to be thoroughly cleansed of any similar ‘verbal
garbage’, which first of all required that they prove the ‘non-scientific
nature’ of the principle of the identity of opposites. This the Russian
Machists zealously set out to do.

11 Berman, Op. cit. pp 135-136.
314 E. V. ILYENKOV
For them, this principle of the identity of opposites was the sophists’
way of turning scientific concepts inside out. Scientific concepts, insofar
as they are scientific, are subordinated in the strictest manner to the
principle of identity: A= A. ‘To declare contradiction to be a fundamental
principle of thinking, just as lawful as the principle which is its opposite,
is the equivalent therefore to an act of spiritual suicide, to a renunciation
of thinking ...’12 Berman stated in summarising his reasoning on this
subject.
Such is the orientation of the Machists – to forbid the comprehension
of objective contradictions. And this ban – in the name of ‘modern
science’ – was imposed on thinking at precisely the moment when such
comprehension was particularly necessary. Materialist dialectics orientated
scientific thinking toward a concrete analysis of the country’s class contradictions
in all their objectivity. But the Machist understanding of
scientific thinking in actual fact, even if despite the will of some of its
adherents, led to a renunciation of the comprehension of these contradictions.
This was the inevitable consequence of the sharply negative attitude
of the Machists toward dialectics.
But in order to ground their particular understanding of thinking,
they needed a corresponding philosophical base. Materialism, and the
dialectic indissolubly connected with it, didn’t suit them at all. As the
basis for their ‘scientific method’ they had to introduce something else –
empirio-criticism.
Science (the scientific understanding of reality), according to this philosophy,
is a system of pronouncements combining into one noncontradictory
complex of elements of ‘our experience’ and sensation. The
non-contradictory complex of symbols, bound together in accord with
the requirements and prohibitions of formal logic. These requirements
and prohibitions, in the opinion of the Machists, reflect nothing in objective
reality. They quite simply are the requirements and norms of working
with symbols, and logic is the accumulation of the methods of this work.
Logic, therefore, is a science which reflects nothing in objective reality,
but which simply gives a sum of rules regulating the work with symbols
of any type.
Work with symbols. In the name of what? What end does this work
pursue? Where do its norms come from? The Machists also have a ready

12 Berman, Op. cit. p 164.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 315
answer to this. ‘If the norms of law have as their goal the upholding and
preservation of a given socioeconomic structure, then the norms of
thought must have as their final goal the adaptation of the organism to its
surroundings’.13
From the requirements of the organism (i.e. from the requirements
of man interpreted in an entirely biological way) the Machists derive their
understanding of thought. From the need of equilibrium, from the supposedly
innate need to eliminate all contradictions of any type. ‘Of
course, thinking which is absolutely free from contradictions is only an
ideal to which we must come as close as possible; but the fact that we
have been very far from this, both in past thought as well as in the present,
by no means signifies that we should turn away from the struggle
with contradiction ...’14
Thinking, as well as all the other psychical functions of man, is directly
explained here as an activity directed toward the preservation of
equilibrium (or the restoration of destroyed equilibrium) as the immanent
goal located in the organism of every individual.
‘Every organism is a dynamic system of physico-chemical processes,
i.e. a system in which the separate processes support each other in a state
of equilibrium’.15 Equilibrium, understood as the absence of any states of
conflict whatsoever within the organism, proves here to be the supreme
principle of thinking, of logic as a system of rules, the observance of
which guarantees the achievement of this goal. The goal is to reach a state
where the organism feels no needs whatsoever, but exists in a steady state
of rest and immobility.
It is easy to see how unfit for the thinking of a revolutionist the logic
is which is derived from such an understanding of thought. This logic
made any mind which was subordinated to it absolutely blind with regard
to the contradictions of reality standing before it; blind to the contradictions
of the most realistic facts in the sphere of material (economic)
relations between classes. This logic blinded the mind with regard to the
very essence of the revolutionary crisis which had matured in the land, in
the system of relations between people.

13 Berman, Op. cit. p 137.
14 Ibid, p 165.
15 Ibid, p 97
316 E. V. ILYENKOV
The materialist dialectic of Marx directed the thinking of the revolutionist
toward an analysis of these contradictory relations. The idealist
metaphysics of Mach turned his attention away from such an analysis.
Lenin clearly saw that a revolutionist who had adopted such a logic
of thought would inevitably be transformed from a revolutionist into
some kind of capricious creature ignoring the real contradictions of life
and trying to foist his own arbitrary will upon it. He therefore began to
explain to Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and all their co-thinkers the nature of
the philosophy to which they had fallen prisoner, and the terrible nature
of the infection which had entered their brains. He had to explain this
not only to them, but to the whole party and to all those workerrevolutionists
who had been imprudent enough to believe the scientific
authority of Bogdanov, Bazarov, Berman and Lunacharsky. He had to
decisively rescue them from this pestilence, impede the further dissemination
of the Machist infection and at the same time cut short the Menshevik
slander that Machism had been adopted by the Bolsheviks as their
philosophical ideology, that Machism was the logic of Bolshevism, and
consequently the root of its departure from the traditions of the Second
International and the source of its break with Plekhanov.
Lenin declared firmly and clearly: the philosophical banner of Bolshevism
was and remains materialist (yes, materialist, and not Hegelian!)
dialectics, the dialectics of Marx and Engels.
Mach’s scheme of thinking is the scheme (logic) of thinking of an
empiricist in principle who is trying to turn the peculiarities of an historically
limited mode of thinking into a universal definition of thinking in
general. This scheme corresponds as much as possible to the frame of
mind of the petty-bourgeois philistine who is alarmed by the revolution
and concerned with one thing – how to preserve the equilibrium inside
his little universe or how to restore this equilibrium if it has been upset,
how to restore his lost comfort, both material and spiritual, by eliminating
from it all the contradictory elements. By any means and at any price.
It is a catastrophe if the scheme of this thinking penetrates the mind
of a revolutionist and begins to be his guide. The philistine who has
finally lost his equilibrium then becomes transformed into an enraged
petty-bourgeois, into a ‘pseudo-left’, while the revolutionist who has
become like him turns into the leader of such ‘lefts’. Or, having lost his
balance, he begins to look for a way out not in a ‘r-r-revolutionary’
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 317
frenzy, but in the quiet lunacy of religious seekings, in the search for a
kind little god.
Bogdanov, for instance, was (very sincerely) a man of indomitable
revolutionary will, which was both unbending and irreconcilable. But this
energy was always looking for an outlet which was a bit more direct and
straightforward. He never wanted to recognise any detours to his goal,
and he wasn’t able to seek them out. Once he had seen in Mach’s
schemes of thinking the ‘philosophical confirmation’ of the correctness
of these positions, he began to think and act in their spirit in an ever
more convinced and consistent way. And this rapidly led him away from
Lenin, from Bolshevism, and from the conscious acceptance of materialist
dialectics.
Another pole within Russian Machism was Lunacharsky. This highly
educated intellectual and humanist possessed a character that was much
softer than Bogdanov’s; he had a much less iron-like will. He was much
more inclined to making declamations on a moral-ethical plane, or to
constructing ideals, and he found in Machism the philosophical justification
of precisely this weakness. He ardently began to seek and build ‘an
earthly revolutionary equivalent to God’. But the searches for a god on
this earth were no more fruitful than the searches for him in heaven, and
Lenin tried to explain this.
Mother-history, who is the true mother of philosophical, political and
all other ideas, confirmed the correctness of Lenin and showed the
incorrectness of his opponents. And she continues her confirmation.
History, as Hegel often used to say, is a truly terrifying judge. A judge
who in the final analysis makes no mistakes, as opposed to many other
judges and courts of law. But here she has already passed her sentence,
which is final and subject to no appeal. Lenin proved to be correct, and
Bogdanov, Bazarov, Lunacharsky, and Berman were incorrect. After
Lenin’s book, no one among the Bolshevik ranks dared to openly declare
and defend his Machist frame of mind.
There were, it is true, those who sympathised with Mach and Bogdanov,
but now they had to do this in silence. And Bogdanov, who wasn’t
able or willing to investigate theoretically the interconnections of the
material (economic) contradictions within the country (interconnections
which were moreover very dynamic), finally became muddled in politics
as well.
318 E. V. ILYENKOV
When he had finally become convinced that he was helpless in politics,
Bogdanov devoted himself to that which he understood, to biology,
medicine, and the life of a physician. He died in 1928 while conducting a
risky medical experiment with his own blood. A long obituary was published
about him along with his portrait in the journal Under the Banner of
Marxism, treating him as a hero of medicine and as a man of crystalline
purity.
But his disciples who accepted his views as ‘genuine scientific philosophy’
turned to experiments far from the medical field. These were the
vagaries of the Proletcult in art. These were the risky experiments in the
country’s economics during the 1920s, which were based on the mechanical
‘theory of equilibrium’, directly descended from Avenarius and
Mach.
Lenin, of course, did not and could not foresee all this in all its concreteness
at that time. But he clearly saw that great misfortunes were
concealed in Machism for revolutionaries and for the revolution itself.
The objection can be made: isn’t this somewhat of an idealist overestimation
of the strength and power of philosophy in general, and not
only the philosophy of Mach?
Of course, the thinking of people is formed first of all not by teachers
and philosophers, but by the real conditions of their lives.
As Fichte said, the kind of philosophy you choose depends upon the
type of person you are. Everyone is attracted to a philosophy which
corresponds to the already formed image of his own thinking. He finds in
it a mirror which fully presents everything that earlier existed in the form
of a vague tendency, an indistinctly expressed allusion. A philosophical
system arms the thinking (consciousness) of the individual with selfconsciousness,
i.e. with a critical look at oneself as if it were from the
side, or from the point of view of the experience common to all mankind,
of the experience of the history of thinking.
Within the bounds of the experience which Bogdanov and his cothinkers
possessed, no room could be found for a subject such as a
country which was involved in the process of capitalist development, in a
process which had deposited its own, new and specific, contradictions of
development on the old, well-known and still unresolved contradictions
of before. The mind which had been formed on an analysis of particular
scientific and technical problems, and which had been directed toward
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 319
the resolution of these problems, gave up and was lost before the picture
that was so complex, extremely differentiated, and yet unified.
In particular, this was patently revealed when the problem on the
agenda was the drawing of the lessons from the defeat of the Revolution
of 1905-1907. In order to draw the true lessons of the defeat – and only
those could be useful for the future – what was most of all needed was
the strictest theoretical analysis of the course of the revolution, beginning
with its causes and ending with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses
of the classes which had collided in this revolution. An analysis
was required which was absolutely sober, absolutely objective, and which
was made, besides, in the interests of the revolution. The materialist
dialectics of Marx and Engels was directed precisely at such an analysis,
demanded it unconditionally, and armed one’s thinking with the corresponding
logic.
The heads of the future Machists were not prepared to carry out such
a task. They then began to search for some kind of instrument which was
a bit more simple and a ‘bit more effective’. Machism was precisely suited
for such ends.
When the revolution had been drowned in blood, the demand for
Machist philosophy grew much stronger. Of course, not only Machist
philosophy was in demand. So were open mysticism, and pornography.
Times of reaction are very difficult for one’s mental health. The disappointment
of revolutionary hopes is a terrible thing.
The hopes for progress and for democratic transformation begin to
appear to be impossible illusions of ideals which are alluring but which
can never be realised in the real world. The heroes of 1905 who tried to
bring them into being ‘here and now’ seem to be naive utopians or, even
worse, self-sufficient adventurists ...
And so, as he thought about the future, Bogdanov wrote a science
fiction novel which deals with socialism.
320 E. V. ILYENKOV
2. The Positive Programme of Russian
Positivism
This novel – Red Star – is hardly an accidental phenomenon as far as
the fate of Russian Machism is concerned. Let us examine it more closely;
it will provide answers to many of the questions which interest us at this
time – including A. Bogdanov’s attitude towards the teachings of Karl
Marx. We will discover the essence of the philosophy which he (unlike
Lenin) uses as a prism to begin his examination of socialism. A socialism
‘critically purified’ in the light of Mach’s principles, in the light of the
‘successes and achievements of modern natural science’, in the light of
the ‘latest philosophy’ which he was now preaching together with Bazarov
and Yushkevich, Lunacharsky and Valentinov, Berman and Suvorov.

In Essays in the Philosophy, of Marxism he joined them in outlining his
‘new philosophy’. In the same year, 1908, he also published Red Star in
which this philosophy is applied to the rethinking of socialism and its
perspectives.
The effect achieved is very interesting. The more that A. Bogdanov
tries to defend the socialist ideal, the more elegant and lofty it becomes in
the author’s eyes, more and more (and this is not Bogdanov’s fault, just
his misfortune) it begins to remind one of a worn out, sterile and anaemic
icon, which is rather unflattering for a live human being.
Here it is very clear how his thought takes the road going in just the
opposite direction from Marx and Engels, the road away from science to
utopia. But Bogdanov feels that nothing has changed; he thinks that he is
going forward both in philosophy and in the explanation of social and
economic problems.
The novel not only includes numerous passages from EmpirioMonism.
The entire structure of images is organised by the ideas of this
philosophy, and for this reason Red Star is simply an artistic equivalent of
Bogdanov’s theoretical constructions and his epistemology.
From an artistic point of view, the novel is of little interest; it is boring
and didactic. It obviously never joined the golden treasury of science
fiction. But it helps us to understand much in Bogdanov’s philosophy, in
its real, earthly equivalents.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 321
The novel as a whole is a long and popular exposition of Mach’s
(empirio-monist) interpretation of the teaching of Marx. Heroes of the
book frequently present quotations from Empirio-Monism and try to
explain their ‘actual meaning’ as clearly as possible to the reader. The text
of Empirio-Monism is cut up into pieces and commissioned for delivery to
the engineer Menny, the physician Netty and the revolutionary Leonid N.
The novel begins quite realistically. Leonid N. sits down to agonise
over the lessons of the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, as well as the
reasons behind his breaking up with his beloved woman. And suddenly it
appears that he is not the only one who is thinking about these two
subjects.
It turns out that the events of 1905-1908 and his personal fate are being
studied with close attention by ... beings from another planet. Strangers
from Mars.
Their egg-shaped spacecrafts have been hovering over the barricades
of Krasnaya Presnya and over Stockholm, where the heated discussions
between the supporters of Lenin and the supporters of Plekhanov had
been taking place. They know everything. Even the reasons why Leonid
N. and Anna Nikolaevna have separated. Their omniscient eye probes the
depths of all earthly secrets. In addition they are very intelligent, exceedingly
shrewd, and they understand everything much better than the sinful
earthlings. Their attention to earthly matters is not without a definite
motive, but the aims of their visit they hold in secret. Only later will it
reveal itself to Leonid N.
The only person with whom they finally establish contact is Leonid
N. Why has he been chosen? Because their psycho-physiologists have
determined that on the entire earthly globe he is the one human specimen
who is the closest to them. Both physiologically and psychologically.
Only with him can they hope to achieve mutual understanding.
The alien beings explain to Leonid: through a study of him, they
want to thoroughly investigate the psychology of an inhabitant of Earth,
and of its ‘best variant’ besides, in order then to decide whether it would
be risky for them to help the Russian revolutionary Social-Democracy;
indeed, they could arm it with a super-weapon – with a bomb made from
fissionable radioactive elements.
But could they be entrusted with such a superweapon? Were they
sufficiently reasonable for this?
322 E. V. ILYENKOV
With this goal in mind they arrange an excursion to Mars for Leonid
N. There he sees for himself all the wonders of super-science and supertechnology.
Flying devices with engines working on the energy of ‘antimatter’
(‘matter with a minus sign’) are just as common as buses are for
the residents of Moscow or London. But it is not the technical wonders
that interest Leonid N. the most. More important for him are the social
structure of Mars, the people, and their inter-relations. On Mars there is
socialism. Or to be more precise, the fully realised ‘ideal model’ of socialism.

Private ownership of the means of production and of its product
have long since been liquidated and forgotten. Production is carried out
according to a strictly calculated plan (using gigantic calculating machines).
Minor and accidental deviations from the plan are swiftly and
easily eliminated. Personal needs are satisfied in full and are not regulated,
for every Martian is reasonable enough not to want anything superfluous.
Here there is complete equilibrium, without any contradictions or conflicts.

The state has long since disappeared, as well as all organs of violence.
There is no need for them since all normal Martians are intelligent and
modest. Of course, there are exceptions, but only among uneducated
children and abnormal people (the insane). They are easily dealt with by
physicians and teachers, who are authorised to use force that is also not
regulated in any way. Right up to the painless killing of those who are
incurable or unyielding. The physicians and teachers are intelligent and
goodhearted, and there is no reason to fear any abuses.
Labour is neither difficult nor burdensome. Machines do everything
for the people. People only supervise them. A few hours of work where it
is needed for society as a whole (indicated by figures on brilliant scoreboards),
and you are free.
What do Martians do after work? Who knows ... Leonid N. (here
they call him Lenny) isn’t allowed to look into this. Perhaps they devote
themselves to love, perhaps art, perhaps intellectual self-improvement.
But these are everyone’s private matters, and, on Mars it is not acceptable
to poke one’s nose into private matters.
Thus, within society, in the sphere of relations between people, there
reigns a full, almost absolute, equilibrium. All contradictions have disappeared,
and differences are on the verge of disappearing. They have been
reduced to a necessary minimum. Even differences between the sexes
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 323
(Lenny is long unable to understand that Netty, the young physician who
is treating him, is in actual fact a young woman who has fallen in love
with him).
In Lenny’s eyes, all Martians look alike. In each one he only sees one
and the same general type which has been multiplied over and over: a
large-headed being with large impassively-attentive eyes and a weak,
anaemic body, which is concealed beneath the same style of rationally
designed clothing. We have been created in this way by nature, the Martians
explain to Leonid N., by the nature of Mars. Here, solar energy is
less intense and the force of gravity is half as strong as it is for you on
Earth. Therefore we are not as emotional as the inhabitants of Earth, but
on the other hand, we are more sensible. Hence our psychic is more
balanced than yours, and all the other details are bound up with this. And
we have constructed socialism at an earlier date.
Lenny begins to feel uneasy and disturbed. He tries to find out, isn’t
it boring to live in this geometrically balanced and sterilely uncontradictory
new world? The Martians look at him with a sad and condescending
smile: your very question gives you away as an alien being, as a newcomer
from Earth. It betrays the degree to which the remnants of capitalism
remain strongly embedded in your consciousness, and the degree to
which bourgeois individualism remains strong within you.
Lenny is sadly forced to agree with this diagnosis. His reason understands
and accepts everything, but his emotions continue to rebel. His
reason is still not strong enough to crush these irrational emotions, and
Lenny begins to feel extremely despondent. Martian psychiatrists are
forced to place him in a hospital and restore his disturbed mental equilibrium
with the help of drugs. For a time, the remnants of capitalism in his
consciousness cease to torture him. The chemicals have suppressed them.
But only for a while, since Lenny’s psychophysiology has retained its
earthly and imperfect characteristics. He sees everything as before with
the eyes of an inhabitant of Earth, and his ‘narrowly patriotic’ interests
prevent him from completely rising to the level of interplanetary interests.
They prevent him from looking at the world from the point of view of
the interests of interplanetary socialism. Hence, with his reason he understands
everything correctly, especially the fact that Martian socialism is a
much higher and more perfectly developed form of interplanetary socialism
than those forms which have matured on the Earth. This he understands
clearly as long as his ‘bourgeois and individualistic earthly emo-
324 E. V. ILYENKOV
tions’ lie dormant these ‘remnants of capitalism in his consciousness’
which have taken root in his earthly flesh.
They can be suppressed with the help of drugs. But as long as they
simply lie dormant, but have not been eradicated, the main reason for the
lack of understanding between Lenny and Martian socialism remains
intact. What lingers is their obvious psychophysiological incompatibility,
which is based on the biological incompatibility of two different races of
inter-planetary mankind.
Bogdanov was by no means trying to lampoon socialism, on the contrary
he was devoted to it. A different matter altogether is what Marxian
socialism looked like when he began to look at it through the distorting
lenses of Machist philosophy, through the prism of his empirio-monism,
through the conceptual framework of this philosophy. Here is how its
‘optics’ work. When examined through its lenses, the doctrine of Marx is
at first insignificantly distorted, it is only schematised.
In the image of the future which is outlined by Marx, those features
and contours are then abstractly singled out which characterise socialism
exclusively from the point of view of political economy (moreover from a
very narrow understanding of the political economy).
These are all the features which were seen by the hero of Bogdanov’s
novel on the Red Star. Socialised property and the planned organisation
of production, the regulated balance between production and consumption,
between socially necessary time and free time, etc., the absence of
legal and state coercion, the high level of consciousness of the participants
in social production – all this is correct, all these are necessary and
important characteristics of socialism which Bogdanov sees.
But, aside from the features of socialism which are indicated, nothing
else is visible through the Machist spectacles. The economic framework
of Marx has remained, but only as a framework, as a skeleton, while the
flesh and blood, the concrete reality of the Marxist conception of the
socialist future, has been cast aside and replaced by the Machist fantasy.
As a result you see before you the same picture which the hero of Bogdanov’s
novel saw with his ‘own eyes’ on the planet Mars. Marx’s doctrine,
examined through the prism of Machist philosophy, couldn’t look
otherwise.
Bogdanov’s economic framework is Marxian, but its realisation (i.e.
the structure of all the remaining spheres of social life – morality, artistic
culture, the political and legal superstructure) is, no longer according to
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 325
Marx, but to Mach. Or to be more precise, it is according to Bogdanov,
for he ‘creatively developed’ and concretised the philosophy of Mach in
conformity with the interests and goals of the socialist organisation of the
world.
Let us return once again to the ‘Martian’ heroes of the novel and let
us see what further befell them on Mars. This is doubly interesting, for
the author himself makes no secret of the fact that under the guise of
Martian events he is describing future events here on Earth; events that
he ‘calculates’ according to the formulae of empirio-monism.
Thus, Lenny’s biopsychic incompatibility with Martian socialism is
established in a strictly scientific manner – it is verified by Martian psycho-physiologists
and recognised by Lenny himself. He therefore agrees
to be cured. The treatment is the most radical kind. They themselves
determine the degree of the efficiency of treatment. He trusts them
unconditionally. But of course, their medicine (like their psychology, like
all of their mighty culture) occupies the same heights which will be
reached on Earth after many centuries, or even thousands of years.
Thus reasons the hero of the novel after he has run into ‘real’ socialism
on Mars. This is the way the Martians reason as well. Indeed, they
think according to the same iron logic of empirio-monism, only raised by
them to the highest level of perfection. And the conclusions which are
made with the help of this implacable logic are mathematically strict and
irreproachable.
Here are the premises:

  1. The natural resources on Mars are poor and will soon begin to run
    out. Mars is faced with two inexorable alternatives: either its socialist
    civilisation will enter a phase of degeneration i.e. take the path to its
    destruction, or it will save itself at the expense of the widened exploitation
    of the natural resources of other planets. Already in 35 years the
    shortage of resources will adversely affect it.
  2. There is no choice. What is necessary is the immediate colonisation
    of Earth and Venus. Earth would be preferable; there may not be
    enough time and energy for Venus. But Earth is populated by the human
    race, with whom it is impossible to reach a peaceful agreement because of
    biopsychic incompatibility – this was shown by the experiment on Leonid
    N.
  3. Strictly logical calculation shows (as one of the heroes of the novel
    says) that sooner or later, ‘after long hesitation and the fruitless and
    326 E. V. ILYENKOV
    agonising squandering of our energy, the matter will inevitably lead to the
    same formulation of the problem which we, as conscious beings who
    foresee the course of events, should accept from the very beginning: the
    colonisation of Earth requires the complete extermination of earthly
    mankind ...’
    The conclusion: if the Martian – higher – form of socialism is to survive
    and flourish, it must sacrifice the lower – earthly – form of life.
    It is true, they say, that we can try to forcibly re-educate the earth’s
    human race, we can carry out by force the socialist cultural revolution in
    its consciousness. But it really isn’t worth it, there would be many troubles
    and it would drag on for a long time. And time doesn’t wait. Therefore
    there is only one way out – extermination. This is much less complicated,
    more economical, and consequently more rational. ‘And there will
    be no cruelty in our actions, because we are able to carry out this extermination
    with much less suffering for them than they continuously inflict
    upon each other!’
    Thus it is the economy of thinking, the economy of effort, and the
    economy of suffering of the victims themselves ... In the end, the Martians
    spared both the human race and Lenny. They spared them despite
    the fact that in a fit of his recurrent mental disorder, Lenny committed
    murder (he murdered the same theoretician who substantiated the necessity
    of exterminating life on Earth). They simply expelled him from their
    planet.
    And it was love which accomplished this miracle of mercy ... But, if
    you will, while there may be love here, how is it able to withstand the iron
    logic of Martian reason? Very simply. The appeal to love and other lofty
    and noble, albeit rather irrational emotions is generally characteristic for
    positivism, which continually finds itself at an impasse in its arguments.
    And despite rational thinking, which is as precise as the results of a
    calculating machine, and just as soulless as this device, there arises a
    strange yearning – insofar as it is not confined to the usual logic – for
    human warmth, love and sympathy. When fetishised science and scientific
    thinking lead to immoral conclusions, to the justification of violence
    and cruelty, evoking horror even among the adherents of this thinking,
    then the scientist sheds a tear and begins to seek salvation in abstract and
    empty, but ‘humane’ ideals, placating his romantic, but, alas, absolutely
    barren nobility.
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 327
    For this reason then Bogdanov found no other means of saving the
    earth’s inhabitants except through love. The same female Martian, whom
    Lenny for a long time took for a young man, had fallen in love with him
    and therefore understood the essence of the matter better than the
    theoretician of extermination. Netty passionately spoke out against the
    plan of extermination and in favour of an alliance with this semi-barbaric
    earthly civilisation with its intellect which was still weak. Yes, they are
    weaker and lower than we are, but they are other beings. Let us love
    them, brother Martians, such as they are!
    ‘The unity of life is the highest goal, and love is the highest reason!’,
    pathetically explains Netty. Thereupon she sets out towards Earth after
    the exiled Lenny in order to take part personally in the revolution there.
    Let us leave Mars for a while and return to an analysis of Essays in the
    Philosophy of Marxism and other works by Bogdanov and his co-thinkers.
    The reader has probably already managed to notice how often and
    persistently the magical word equilibrium is repeated in the quotations
    from those texts. Yes, here we are dealing not simply with a word, but a
    genuine symbol – a symbol of faith, a fundamental and key category of
    the logic of their thinking. No matter where their arguments originate, or
    where they lead to, they inevitably begin with equilibrium and end with
    equilibrium.
    From their works the reader discovers that equilibrium is not simply
    or solely an equal balance on the scales with which everyone is familiar
    from personal experience, but it is something much more important and
    universal, something metaphysical.
    It turns out that this magical concept contains within it both the secret
    of life and the secrets of the functioning of social organisms, and
    even the mysteries of all cosmic systems and events. It turns out that all
    these mysteries, secrets and enigmas are simple and easy. One only has to
    apply to them the magical ‘lock pick’ – and they become transparent and
    simple.
    It turns out that the entire infinite Universe strives to achieve equilibrium.
    Thus the history of mankind, the history of social organisms (people,
    lands, states and civilisations), is directed towards and yearns for
    equilibrium.
    Immediately, everything becomes clear: both the condition of economic
    and political relations and the organisational principle of the living
    body of the frog, and the direction of the evolution of the solar system.
    328 E. V. ILYENKOV
    It is remarkable that in not one of the works of the Machists will we
    find an intelligible explanation of the meaning of this word. They all
    prefer to explain it by means of examples. But throughout the entire
    system of such examples, the actual meaning of this ‘empirio-symbol’
    clearly shines through: it is first of all a state of inviolable rest and immobility.
    It is the absence of any noticeable changes or deviations, the
    absence of motion.
    Equilibrium means the absence of any state of conflict, of any contradictions
    whatsoever, i.e. of forces which pull in different, contradictory
    directions. And where is this seen? You will never see such a state, even
    in the shop, even in the example of the scales. Even here equilibrium is
    only a passing result, an ephemeral effect, which is achieved at precisely
    that moment because two opposing forces are directed at each end of the
    lever: one presses upward, and the other presses downward.
    In the Russian language, equilibrium means: ‘A state of immobility,
    of rest, in which a body is under the influence of equal and opposing
    forces’. But according to the logic of Machism, the presence of opposing
    forces exerting pressure at one point (or on one body) is already a bad
    state of affairs. It resembles the state which is designated in Hegelian
    language as contradiction, as ‘a body’s state of discomfort’, in which two
    opposing forces exert pressure, either squeezing the body from two
    opposite sides or tearing it in half.
    Such an understanding of equilibrium is therefore unacceptable for
    the Machists. How could it possibly be that equilibrium turns out to be
    only the passing and quickly disappearing result of contradiction, the
    result of the action of opposites applied at one point, i.e. the very state
    which every living organism tries to escape as soon as possible, and by no
    means the state which it supposedly is striving to achieve.
    Here then arises the concept of equilibrium which the Machists want
    to counterpose to contradiction, which is the presence of two opposing
    forces. It is a state in which two opposing forces have ceased to exist and
    therefore no longer squeeze or tear apart the ideal body (or the equally
    ideal point of their application). The forces have ceased to exist and have
    disappeared, but the state which they have established at a given point
    still remains. Equilibrium is a state of this kind. A state characterised by
    the absence of any opposing forces whatsoever, be they internal or
    external, physical or psychic.
    REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 329
    In this form, equilibrium is the ideal. It is the ideal model of the cosmos
    and the psychics, the fundamental philosophical category of Machism,
    and the starting point of Machist arguments about the cosmos,
    about history, and about thinking. The aspiration to escape once and for
    all from all contradictions whatsoever from whatever kind of opposing
    forces, is the striving for equilibrium.
    In addition to all the rest, equilibrium finds under these conditions all
    the characteristics which ancient philosophy describes with the words
    ‘inner goal’, ‘objective goal’, and ‘immanent goal’. According to Machist
    logic, equilibrium is by no means a real state, given in experience, even if
    in passing, but only the ideal and the goal of nature, man, and being in
    general.
    Such an equilibrium is static, complete, disturbed by nothing, an
    equilibrium of rest, an equilibrium of immobility, a state of ‘suspension in
    the cosmic void’. It is the ideal model of the Machist Bogdanovian concept
    of equilibrium.
    This is the first ‘whale’ of Russian Machism.16 The second ‘whale’, its
    second logical foundation is economy as the supreme principle of the
    cosmos and of thinking.
    And if, for the Machists, equilibrium is the ideal and goal of the entire
    world process, then economy turns out to be the sole and universal
    means of its achievement: ‘The forms of mobile equilibrium, which from
    time immemorial called forth the idea of objective expediency (the solar
    system, the cycles of the Earth’s phenomena, the process of life), take
    shape and develop precisely by virtue of the conservation and accumulation
    of their inherent energy, by virtue of their internal economy’.17
    This was written by ‘Comrade Suvorov’ (Lenin demonstratively calls
    this thinker ‘comrade’, showing his ironical attitude towards Plekhanov
    and Bogdanov; in criticising Bogdanov’s Machism, Plekhanov had in a
    similarly demonstrative fashion called him ‘Mister Bogdanov’, and the
    latter was very offended). And ‘Comrade Bazarov’ explains in the same
    Essays: ‘The principle of “the least expenditure of energy” lies at the base
    of the theory of knowledge of Mach, Avenarius and many others, and is
    therefore an unquestionably “Marxist” tendency in epistemology. On this

16 According to an old Russian myth, Earth is supported by three whales. – Tr.
17 Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism. A Philosophical Miscellany. St Petersburg,
1908, p 293.
330 E. V. ILYENKOV
point, Mach and Avenarius, who are by no means Marxists, stand much
closer to Marx than the patented Marxist G. V. Plekhanov with his saltovitale
epistemology’.18
Where does this ‘closeness’ lie? It’s all very simple: ‘There is “economy”
in Marx; there is “economy” in Mach. But is it indeed “unquestionable”
that there is even a shadow of resemblance between the two’,19
Lenin comments on the argument. In addition he patiently explains
to Bazarov and, Suvorov (having in mind, of course, not so much them,
as their readers) that if there actually is a ‘shadow of resemblance’ here,
then it is exhausted by the word, by the term ‘economy’. The ‘resemblance’
here is purely verbal and only verbal.
In his evaluation of the ‘logic’ which helped the Russian Machists
make their discoveries, Lenin was categorical and merciless. After citing
Bogdanov’s tirade: ‘Every act of social selection represents an increase or decrease of
the energy of the social complex concerned ...’ . etc., Lenin sums up: ‘And such
unspeakable nonsense is served out as Marxism! Can one imagine anything
more sterile, lifeless and scholastic than this string of biological and
energeticist terms that contribute nothing, and can contribute nothing, in
the sphere of the social sciences? There is not a shadow of concrete
economic study here, not a hint of Marx’s method, the method of dialectics
...’20
Idle talk, playing with words, terms and symbols – there is not even a
trace of anything else here. All the more so, there is none of that ‘philosophical
deepening’ of the Marxist doctrine to which Bogdanov and his
friends lay claim.
There is economy everywhere, at all times, and in all things: not only
economy with money, but economy with the efforts of thought, and
(remember Mars?) economy with the suffering of the victims of a war of
extermination. In such a ‘generalised, philosophical’ sense, the term
‘economy’ is turned into a simple label which can calmly be attached to
any phenomenon, to any process, without worrying in the slightest about
the investigation of this concrete phenomenon or process.

18 Ibid., p 69.
19 LCW vol 14 p 169.
20 Ibid., p 327.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 331
This type of philosophising, with its pretensions to a ‘genuine, scientific
synthesis of all particular generalisations’, provoked a rage in Lenin
which he had great difficulty in controlling: ‘Bogdanov is not engaged in
a Marxist enquiry at all; all he is doing is to reclothe results already obtained
by this enquiry in a biological and energeticist terminology. The
whole attempt is worthless from beginning to end, for the concepts
“selection”, “assimilation and dissimilation” of energy, the energetic
balance, and so on and so forth, when applied to the sphere of the social
sciences, are empty phrases. In fact, an enquiry into social phenomena and an
elucidation of the method of the social sciences cannot be undertaken with
the aid of these concepts’.21
But it is not simple verbiage. It is consciously counterposed to the
fundamental principles of materialist dialectics. For if equilibrium is first
of all the Machist anti-concept of the category of contradiction, then
economy is counterposed in the most unequivocal manner to the dialectical
materialist understanding of truth.
Economy, when it is transformed into a principle of scientific thinking,
into an epistemological principle, is called the principle of the ‘least
expenditure of energy’, or sometimes, the principle of ‘simplicity’. This
principle is even more convenient since it can be remembered when it is
convenient, and forgotten when circumstances prohibit its use.
Lenin makes a brief and precise diagnosis: ‘... if the principle of
economy of thought is really made “the basis of the theory of knowledge”,
it can lead to nothing but subjective idealism. That it is more “economical”
to “think” that only I and my sensations exist is unquestionable, provided
we want to introduce such an absurd conception into epistemology.
‘Is it “more economical” to “think” of the atom as indivisible, or as
composed of positive and negative electrons? Is it “more economical” to
think of the Russian bourgeois revolution as being conducted by the
liberals or as being conducted against the liberals? One has only to put
the question in order to see the absurdity, the subjectivism of applying
the category of “economy of thought” here’.22
Ernst Mach himself, when he is thinking as a physicist, ‘explains’ his
principle in such a way that there is essentially nothing left of it. ‘For

21 LCW vol 14 p 328.
22 Ibid., p 170.
332 E. V. ILYENKOV
instance, in the Wärmelehre Mach returns to his favourite idea of “the
economical nature” of science (2nd German edition, S.366). But he at
once adds that we engage in an activity not for the sake of the activity
(366; repeated on 391): “the purpose of scientific activity is the fullest ...
most tranquil ... picture possible of the world” (366) ... To talk of economy
of thought in such a connection is merely to use a clumsy and ridiculously
pretentious word in place of the word “correctness”. Mach is muddled
here, as usual, and the Machists behold the muddle and worship it!’23
For the Russian Machists, the ‘economy of thought’ is the supreme
achievement of ‘the philosophy of modern natural science’, which must
be rigorously applied to the analysis of social phenomena. Then this
analysis will be ‘precise’ and infallible.
In order to conclude the discussion of this principle, let us introduce
the authoritative testimony of the staff-chronicler of positivist wanderings
in this question, the apologist of the ‘Vienna Circle’, Victor Kraft. In
discussing the latest attempts of Karl Popper to ‘give a “precise formulation”
of the concept of simplicity’, he states: ‘Simplicity plays a decisive
role in all hitherto existing empiricism, starting with Kirchhoff, appearing
with Mach and Avenarius in the form of “economy of thought”, as well
as in the conventionalism which begins with Poincaré. It should determine
the choice between hypotheses and theories. However, all the
attempts which have taken place before now to explain what exactly this
simplicity is, as well as to establish a criterion for simplicity, have not
been crowned with success. That which is characterised as the simple
appears to be so partly from a practical24 point of view (as the “economy
of thought”), partly from an aesthetic point of view, and in any case,
from an extra-logical point of view. What must be understood as simplicity
in the logical sense Popper tries to define with the help of a degree of
adulteration. From his brief explanations in this respect, it is impossible

23 Ibid., p 170-71.
24 The reader should keep in mind that in the positivist lexicon the ‘practical
point of view’ means something far different from what it means in the dictionary
of Marxism. For the positivists, a ‘practical’ view of things signifies a narrowly
pragmatic, immediate view, having no relation whatsoever to a theoretical
view and never able to coincide with it. Here this means: from the point of view
of today’s ‘benefit’ or ‘use’, we have the right to consider something simple,
which from the theoretical (logical) point of view is complex or even supercomplex.
And vice versa, of course. – EVI.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 333
to understand clearly enough how widely applicable such a concept of
simplicity actually is: here a careful inquiry lies still in the future ...’25
More than one hundred years have passed, but the ‘philosophy of
modern natural science’ has thus been unable to intelligibly explain to
people what must be understood by ‘economy of thought’ (or by ‘simplicity’).
This ‘simplicity’ of theirs has turned out to be not very simple.
The only definition which, given the desire, one can extract from the
works of Mach and his successors in this respect, is in actual fact not at
all complex: ‘simplicity’ should be understood as whatever comes into
your head. In ancient philosophical language this was always defined as
extreme subjectivism. When translated into the natural Russian language,
it means the completely arbitrary use of words and terms.
Such is the celebrated principle of the ‘economy of thought’; this is
the second ‘whale’ of Russian Machism.
Before we speak about the third ‘whale’, we would like to turn our attention
to those methods and to that logic which are used to construct
the founding principles (‘the whales’) of Russian Machism.
This is an extremely simple mechanism, and Bogdanov’s Netty very
clearly and in a popular fashion explains its uncomplicated structure. ‘Of
course’, said Netty, ‘every philosophy is an expression of the weakness
and fragmented nature of cognition, the inadequacy of scientific development;
it is an attempt to give a unified portrayal of being, filling in the
gaps of scientific experience with speculations; philosophy will therefore
be eliminated on Earth as it has been eliminated for us by the monism of
science’. And how is such a goal achieved? By the pure and simple accumulation
of ‘scientific information’, which is hauled in from all directions
and combined into a single whole with the help of conversations about
what it is these pieces of ‘scientific information’ have in common with
each other. That’s all. In this is contained the whole of empirio-monism.
The word ‘empirio’ simply stands for ‘experience’ or ‘experimental’.
It is a key word, a catchword. It supposedly serves notice: in a philosophical
system with this label there is nothing that is fabricated, nothing
that is speculative – there is only experience, only the facts of experience,
‘critically purified’ of everything which is alien, of everything which is not

25 Kraft, W. Wiener Kreis. Wien – N.Y., 1968, S. 130.
334 E. V. ILYENKOV
given in this experience, of all ‘things-in-themselves’, of everything ‘transcendent’
and of everything that is ‘above experience’.
‘Scientific monism’ means that works bearing this name will deal exclusively
with what has been firmly established by science, by physics,
chemistry, physiology, psychophysiology and political economy. Here
discussion will centre only on what is guaranteed by science, and whatever
is ‘doubtful’ will be carefully – and ‘critically’ – eliminated and
subjected to ridicule.
There are X-rays, energy, into which matter is transformed, mathematically
proven relativity, conditioned reflexes, and so on and so forth.
From these experimental facts, from scientific data, there will be compiled,
as if from a mosaic, a picture of the world as a whole – a unified
picture of being, as it is described ‘from the point of view of the successes
and achievements of modern natural science’.
But in order that such a picture doesn’t disintegrate into its component
parts, into separate and individual ‘experimental data’, these pieces
must somehow be joined and cemented together. But in what way? It is
necessary to find out what it is that all these pieces, taken separately, have
in common. How are they alike? One must find the ‘general law’, the
‘general principle’ to which all the ‘experimental facts’ are similarly subordinated.
What is there in common that, given the effort, can be seen
between two such dissimilar things and events as the flight of Bleriot
across the English Channel, and conditioned reflexes; between energeticist
theories about substance and the law of the growth of the productivity
of labour?
‘Let us discover that which is in common’ means ‘let us discover that
universal law to which the “entire world process” is subordinated’. It
means, ‘let us create a unified (“monistical”) and “thoroughly scientific”
picture of the world as a whole, a “unified picture of being” ...
‘Suvorov writes: “In the gradation of the laws that regulate the world
process, the particular and complex become reduced to the general and
simple, and all of them are subordinate to the universal law of development
– the law of the economy of forces. The essence of this law is that every
system of forces is the more capable of conservation and development the less its expenditure,
the greater its accumulation and the none effectively expenditure serves accumulation.
The forms of mobile equilibrium, which long ago evoked the idea
of objective purposiveness (the solar system, the cycle of terrestrial
phenomena, the process of life), arise and develop by virtue of the con-
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 335
servation and accumulation of the energy inherent in them – by virtue of
their intrinsic economy. The law of economy of forces is the unifying and
regulating principle of all development – inorganic, biological and social”...

‘With what remarkable ease do our “positivists” and “realists” concoct
“universal laws”!’26
The last sentence, the ironical assessment of Suvorov’s argument
which has been cited above, belongs of course to Lenin.
Yes, these ‘universal laws’ are indeed concocted swiftly and easily.
Only one thing is required for this – the ability to see what it is that two
things which seem to be so different from each other have in common;
let us take, for instance, the radioactivity of radium and the exertions of
labour.
This way the ‘whales’ of Russian Machism turn out.
And now about the third ‘whale’ – ‘organisation’. With this ‘principle’,
things are a bit different. If, with regard to equilibrium and economy, the
Russian Machists were and remained the diligent pupils of their western
teachers, then it was here that they displayed the maximum independence
of thought.27 Machism proceeds from the proposition, according to
which all phenomena of ‘our experience’ are clearly divided into two
categories: on the one hand – ‘Great Chaos’, and on the other – the
countervailing ‘Organisational Principle’. According to Mach, ‘Great
Chaos’ is the entire, unorganised mass of interwoven and flickering
sensations, which descend upon the individual from the very first moments
of his appearance on the Earth; it is an unregulated stream of
sensations, impressions, and feelings, making up the form in which the
real world presents itself to this amorphous individual. But the ‘Organising
Principle’, which imposes its order, its laws and rules upon the world,
is nothing else but thinking (consciousness).
This is the origin of Bogdanov’s socially organised experience, the
origin of the empirio-monist, unified picture of being, which is estab-

26 LCW vol 18 pp 331-32.
27 It should be noted that, in addition to later developing his problematic
conception of universal organisational science (tektology),A. Bogdanov also
anticipated, as a number of modern enquiries have shown, certain ideas of
cybernetics and general systems theory. – New Park Editors.
336 E. V. ILYENKOV
lished by thought out of the chaos of elements of the originally unorganised
experience of separate individuals. Naive people then accept this
picture as the real world, as the world of things-in-themselves as they
exist before, outside of, and independent of their own organising activity.
The theoretical basis of this conception is the self-same logic of empiricism,
which is primarily concerned with mechanical systems. The
investigation of such systems is reduced to singling out the steadily
repeating types of reciprocal action between parts, and correspondingly,
to an orientation of thinking directed not towards a process, but towards
a state. The result of cognitive activity here consists in fixing abstract
general definitions of the object which are suitable only for the needs of
classification, and for practical, utilitarian use. The logic of empiricism,
or, what is the same thing, the logic of reproducing in thought the practical
design of mechanical systems, is quite efficient and yields great practical
results and benefits. But only insofar as the theoretician and practitioner
are dealing with a mechanical system. This type of thinking, which
is limited by the bounds of object science, develops in Bogdanov’s eyes
into a universal framework for thinking in general, into a framework of
Logic with a capital L. All other types and methods of thinking begin to
be seen as backward forms of the given (empirical) logic.
And for Bogdanov, the most adequate type of this kind of logic appears
to be the thinking and activity of the construction engineer. Indeed,
it is he who organises ready-made parts into some kind of system which
is able to serve the completion of one or another goal. Such a construction
engineer looks upon people just as naturally as he looks upon the
parts which go into a structure which he is building. As such, its elements
interest him only insofar as they can be (or cannot be) adapted to the job,
to the small or large machine under construction, to the mechanism, or
to the system of machines.
The explanation of the objective properties of those parts and materials,
from which he must build (organise) his unit – is not his concern.
This is done by physicists, chemists, physiologists, and so forth, and he
always looks upon their data, gathered in the appropriate handbooks, as a
semi-finished product of his own, special construction-engineer’s activity,
as the raw material of his organising activity. His chief concern is to
devise, invent, design, organise, select and assemble, unscrew and then
screw ready-made parts into new complexes, to fit parts into complexes,
to polish them with such precision that they will easily take their place in
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 337
the construction which has been readied for them, and so on and so
forth.
Bogdanov’s philosophy is therefore like no other in holding on to
those specific illusions of our century which have come to be called
technocratic. The secret of these illusions is the idolisation of technology
– technology of every type – from the technology of rocket design to the
technology of dentistry, bomb-dropping or sound-recording. And with
such an approach, the engineering and technological intelligentsia begin
to resemble – both in their own eyes and in the eyes of others – a special
caste of holy servants of this new divinity.
Bogdanov paints an inspired and poeticised portrait of these ‘demigods’
– the organisers and creators of progress – in his novel which is
called Engineer Menny.
This is the same novel about which Lenin wrote to M. Gorky: ‘I have
read his Engineer Menny. The same Machism equal to idealism, hidden in
such a way that neither workers nor the foolish editors of Pravda understood.
No, this is an inveterate Machist ...’28
Yes, in writing his novel, Bogdanov tried to ‘conceal’ his Machism,
expressing his views not in the language of theoretical essays, but in the
language of artistic images. Only rarely is Machism offered here openly in
words. But then what comes to the forefront is the propagation of the
utopian conception about the role of engineers in the development of
history and about the great advantages of their method of thinking over
all other forms and methods of thinking.
The engineer Menny is endowed in the novel with all the characteristics
of God-incarnate – completely in the spirit of the god-building
tendencies of Russian Machism. This is the personified ideal of the superengineer,
the engineer-organiser. Bogdanov spares no colours in trying to
portray the superhuman power of his brain, his superhuman will, and his
absolute selflessness. But most of all, his organisational genius.
The first edition of the novel is dated 1912, and for understanding
the evolution of Bogdanov’s philosophy, it gives us no less material than
Red Star.
In the novel we meet with the already familiar Leonid N. ‘After the
events described in my book Red Star’, he says, ‘I am once again living

28 Lenin, Complete Collected Works vol. 48 p 161.
338 E. V. ILYENKOV
among my Martian friends, and I am working for the cause which is dear
to me – the bringing together of our two worlds’.
‘The Martians have decided for the near future to refrain from any
direct and active intervention in the Earth’s affairs; they intend to limit
themselves for the time being to its study and to the gradual familiarisation
of the Earth’s human race with the more ancient culture of Mars ...
Within the Martian colonisation association there was formed a special
group for the dissemination of the new culture on Earth. Inside this
group I took upon myself the most appropriate role, that of translator ...’
To start with, this secret society for the dissemination of superscientific
knowledge chose, for translation into the languages of the Earth
‘an historical novel ... a novel from the epoch which approximately
corresponds to the present period of the Earth’s civilisation – the last
phases of capitalism. It portrays relations and types which are similar to
our own, and therefore relatively clear for the Earthly reader’.
The historical novel opens with a scene describing the session of the
all-Martian government where engineer Menny outlines his grandiose
plan for the building of the Great Canals. After describing the technological
and financial sides of the project, engineer Menny puts into service
the most persuasive argument for those who are present: ‘Besides all this,
I am able to point out one more important reason for all the financiers
and employers to support this project. You know that, from time to time
over the last century and a half, with different intervals, there have been
severe financial and industrial crises when credit suddenly collapses and
commodities find no market; in addition to this, thousands of businesses
are ruined and millions of workers are left without work ... A new crisis
of this type, more powerful than all those previously, will follow after one
to two years, only if there is no expansion of the market, which at this
point, evidently, is not expected’.
After a certain amount of hesitation, the all-Martian government,
which is the supreme council of employers and financiers, invests engineer
Menny with the full powers necessary for him to carry out the
project.
With this development, early capitalism with its anarchy of production
gives way to state capitalism, and engineer Menny becomes the
Great Dictator. Otherwise the building of the Great Canals would be
impossible.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 339
The cunning financiers and employers agree to this because they understand
that he is not encroaching upon their power: ‘To be a minister,
or president of the Republic – this doesn’t interest him ... He wouldn’t
even want to be financial master of the world ... He has the ambition of
the gods’. Let us look more closely into the further development of
events on Mars, into this ‘science fiction’ prognosis by Bogdanov regarding
the ‘most economical’ ways for mankind to achieve socialism on
Earth.
Invested with dictatorial powers, engineer Menny launches the gigantic
building of the Great Canals. The market immediately expands and
unemployment disappears as if by magic. The phase of super-capitalism
has begun.
But even with super-capitalism, classes still remain. The two ‘pure’
classes are the super-capitalists and the proletariat. The peasantry – an
intermediate class has vanished here; it became polarised and was therefore
no longer cause for any concern.
It turns out that Engineer Menny is in a ticklish position – the difference
between class interests is continuously disturbing him. The supercapitalists
steal, and the proletarians, who are suffering from this thievery,
go on strike, and this hinders to an extreme degree, the realisation of the
great plans of the engineer. What is to he done? The engineer is unable to
find a radical solution, for even his genial mind has still not fully overcome
the remnants within it of the psychology of early capitalism: egoism
and individualism.
The solution is found by his illegitimate son, engineer Netty, who inherited
his papa’s brilliant organiser’s brain, while from his mother, the
beautiful and kind-hearted Nelly who had been raised in a simple
worker’s family, he inherited a love for the proletariat.
Father and son conduct philosophical and sociological discussions in
connection with the immediate problems of building the canals. They
discuss the plundering of resources by representatives of the class of
super-capitalists, and the strikes by the workers, in which they both see
the same misappropriation of the workers’ time, which is of no use to the
building of the canals ... But the son defends the workers and condemns
the capitalists. The father meanwhile condemns them both.
The father can’t fully understand the correctness of his son’s attitude,
but he senses some kind of inexplicable advantages in the latter’s position.
He therefore, in the end, decides to transfer to his son the supreme
340 E. V. ILYENKOV
powers of Organiser of the Great Works. To be sure, he is rather afraid
that his son will adopt a ‘one-sided’ position in support of the workers
and thus do harm to the work.
But the son, to the great surprise of the father, doesn’t want to take
into his hands the sceptre of the Great Dictator, the personal Organiser
of the Common Cause ... He accepts with pleasure the leadership of all
the technical aspects of the job, but the ‘administrative’ (i.e. political)
leadership he agrees to transfer into the hands of a representative of the
all-Martian government.
He feels that such dual power is the most reasonable way out of the
situation that has been created, and he introduces arguments in his own
favour which are borrowed directly from the philosophical works of
Mach and Bogdanov. Here Bogdanov doesn’t even try to conceal his
Machism, but presents it m open form:
Menny arose, and for a few minutes walked around the room
in silence. Then he stopped and said:
‘It’s obvious that such a discussion is leading us nowhere.
How are we to proceed? Do you agree to share the full
powers with another assistant in such a way that all technical
control will belong to you, and all administrative control – to
him?’
He glanced rather uneasily at his son.
‘Very readily’, he answered, ‘that’s the most suitable way to
proceed’.
‘I give you my thanks’, said Menny, ‘I feared your refusal’.
‘In vain’, Netty retorted. ‘Full administrative powers would
have placed me in a difficult and slippery position. To be the
official representative of one side, and with all my sympathies
and interests belonging to the other side – that is the type of
dual position in which it is not easy, and perhaps even
impossible, to maintain equilibrium. To be true to oneself, to
retain a clear and integral frame of mind, demands the
avoidance of contradictory roles’.
Menny began to think and after a short silence said:
‘You are consistent in your own peculiar brand of logic, that I
can never deny you’.
It cannot be denied that his logic is truly peculiar. They offer complete
power to a defender of socialism – both technical and administra-
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 341
tive (political) – with the proviso that he should not act openly on the
side of one class against the other (on the side of the proletariat against
the bourgeoisie), that he try to establish ‘equilibrium’ between them, and
make sure that the interests of one are preserved as much as the other.
But he doesn’t agree to this condition, alluding to the fact that ‘administrative
control’, once it had fallen into his hands, would oblige him to act
against his class sympathies and would compel him to fulfil the functions
of a representative of the class of super-capitalists.
That this ‘administrative control’, taken into his hands, could be and
would have to be finally used in the interests of socialist transformation,
somehow never enters into his head. This role appears to him to be
contradictory.
If you choose to be a functionary of the super-capitalist state, then
carry out your functions honourably – this is what Bogdanov suggests to
the reader through the image of engineer Netty. That is precisely why he
sees the best solution to be the handing over of the functions of ‘administrative
control’ (i.e. the resolution of all political problems connected
with the grandiose building) to a lackey of the super-capitalists, while
retaining for himself purely technical leadership, the resolution of purely
engineering tasks.
The sagacious Martian super-engineers understood what no one on
Earth is able to understand. They understood that all so-called social
problems are in actual fact, fundamentally, engineering and technological
problems. And they should be solved by engineers, representatives of the
scientific-technological elite, for only they are truly capable of investigating
them in a qualified manner.
From this follow all the further things. Those ‘fetishes’ which are
considered to be objective forms of the external world – such as space,
time, value, capital, and so forth – are only the ‘fetishised’ (deified) forms
of collectively organised experience. They are the fixed forms of a conservative
consciousness. Not the consciousness of the individual ‘I’ – no!
– but consciousness with a capital c, the consciousness of all people
without exception. Forms which have crystallised in social consciousness
and which are reinforced by force of habit and tradition.
Outside of consciousness there is neither time, nor space, nor value,
nor surplus value. These are only ‘stable complexes of our sensations’,
the schemas of their ‘association’ as part of a unified picture of the world
as a whole, shared by all. In order to ‘scientifically understand’ these
342 E. V. ILYENKOV
complexes, it is necessary to analytically break them down into ‘elements’
(sensations), and then once again assemble them into new ‘complexes’,
but only according to new, mathematically uncontradictory schemas,
algorithms of construction, according to carefully thought-out recipes of
rational organisation.
It is according to this schema that the super-engineers Menny and
Netty organised first the consciousness of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie,
and then the system of economic, administrative and cultural life
corresponding to it.
This was by no means a simple form of literary amusement: in Engineer
Menny Bogdanov ‘artistically’ interpreted the situation which had
developed in the land and ‘tried out’ those roles which had been prepared
for the supporters of socialism in the near future. The conception of
future events which he describes in the novel explains the positions taken
by the advocates of his philosophy in 1917.
The essence of their position is as follows. February established in
the land a political regime of bourgeois democracy, and solved the main
problem of 1905. Period. The Russian proletariat is not only weak and
small in numbers, but also uncultured and little-educated. Therefore all
talk of seizing power and using it in the interests of the socialist transformation
of the land is utopian and unrealistic. Power (‘administrative
functions’) must be left in the hands of the ‘bourgeois democracy’ (in
actuality – in the hands of Kerensky, Guchkov, and Miliukov), and we
must worry about whether this all-Russian government guarantees the
rapid growth of the productive forces, and leads the country on to the
path of scientific and technological progress. We must help it with all the
means at our disposal, putting to work all our scientific and technological
knowledge, thereby making possible the growth of the productive forces
and the proletariat.
By using the ‘democratic rights’ that have now been granted to it, the
proletariat must grow culturally, master the sciences and mentally prepare
itself for the moment when it will be granted the levers of power and the
carrying out of ‘administrative functions’. Then, and not earlier, there can
be serious talk about socialism in Russia.
Until that time, there is only one road – state capitalism, which is
seen to be the most ‘balanced system’, corresponding to all the necessary
criteria: the minimum of contradictions, and the maximum of equilibrium
and economy.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 343
The earthly human race, however, has clearly not wanted to develop
according to the plans of the ‘Martian’ road to socialism. The Russian
people, led by the proletariat despite all its ‘smallness in numbers’ and
‘lack of education’, carried out the October Revolution, took into its own
hands the full powers of the ‘administrative functions’ as well as the
‘scientific and technological leadership’, and set about the socialist transformation
of the country.
Lenin proved to be the leader of this process. His method of thinking
guaranteed a clear and objective understanding of the concrete,
historical situation which had arisen, and of the necessary tendencies of
its evolution. It allowed him to confidently orient himself amidst the real
contradictions of the development of the country and the world, to draw
truly rational conclusions from the experience of the class struggle and to
find the roads leading forward to socialism. Lenin’s party therefore
proved to be at the head, and not at the tail, of the revolutionary torrent
of events which had spontaneously been unleashed.
And Bogdanov’s (Machist) philosophy? It revealed its uselessness. its
‘incommensurability with the real course of the historical process. Complete
perplexity, complete inability to understand where the stream of
events was leading – whether forward or backward, whether to the right
or to the left – this was the state in which the Russian Machists spent the
entire time from February to October 1917.
In characterising the position of the newspaper New Life (which at
this time proved to be the refuge of Bogdanov, Bazarov, and many other
of their co-thinkers), Lenin defined it in the following manner: ‘... there is
no trace of economic, political or any other meaning whatever in it’: ‘...
only the lamentation of people who have become distressed or frightened
by the revolution’. 29
Turning to ‘the writers of New Life’, Lenin advised them:
Stick to your ‘plans’, my good citizens, for this is not politics,
and it is not the cause of the class struggle, and here you may
be of use to the people. Your newspaper has a great number
of economists. join forces with the kind of engineers and
other people who are ready to begin work on the problems of
the regulation of production and distribution, devote a
supplementary page of your large ‘apparatus’ (newspaper) to

29 LCW vol 26 p 119.
344 E. V. ILYENKOV
the businesslike working up of precise facts about the
production and distribution of produce in Russia, about banks
and syndicates, and so on and so forth – this is how you will
be of use to the people, this is how your sitting between two
stools will not take a particularly harmful toll, and this is the
type of work in connection with ‘plans’ which will evoke not
ridicule, but the gratitude of workers.30
You are unable to, you don’t want to, you don’t have the courage to
unite within yourselves the functions of ‘technological leadership’ with
the functions of the ‘administrative’ (i.e. political) leadership of the land?
That’s your choice; no one is forcing you. But don’t get tangled up
around the legs of those who clearly see the essence of the concrete
historical situation which has developed in the country, and who therefore
lay claim to complete power.
The proletariat will do the following when it takes power: it
will place economists, engineers, agronomists and others under
the control of workers’ organisations for the working out of a
‘plan’, for its verification, for the searching out of the means
to economise labour through centralisation, for the seeking of
measures and the methods of the simplest, cheapest, most
convenient and most universal control. For this we will pay
economists, statisticians, and technicians good money, but ...
but we won’t allow them to eat if they will not fulfil this work
conscientiously and completely in the interests of the workers.
31
This is Lenin’s alternative to the position of engineer Menny – and of
the very real engineer with whom Lenin had a completely real conversation
‘not long before the July days’. Lenin didn’t give his name, but we
can say with complete confidence that this was one of the very real
heroes of 1905 who served as the prototypes for Bogdanov’s Leonid N.:
The engineer was once a revolutionary, he had been a
member of the Social-Democratic and even the Bolshevik
Party. Now he is either completely frightened, or angry at the
raging and indomitable workers. ‘If only these were the type
of workers you have in Germany’, says he (an educated man,
who has spent time abroad). – ‘I, of course, understand in

30 LCW vol 26 p 117-18.
31 LCW vol 26 p 118.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 345
general the inevitability of the socialist revolution, but with us,
under the conditions of the lowering of the level of workers
which was brought on by the war ... this isn’t a revolution, it’s
the abyss’.
He would have been prepared to acknowledge the socialist
revolution if history had only led up to it as peacefully, quietly,
smoothly and punctually as a German express train
approaches the station. The proper conductor opens the
doors of the car and proclaims: ‘Station of the Socialist
Revolution. Alle aussteigen (everyone out)!’ For some reason at
that time, he didn’t want to make his way from the position of
engineer under the Tit Tityches to the position of engineer
under the workers’ organisation.32
Yes, this was he, the very same Leonid N., the very same Lenny,
whom Bogdanov saw, when he was writing Red Star, as the ideal representative
of Russian Social-Democracy. The very same engineer in whose
image of thought A. Bogdanov carved out his ‘philosophy’.
In 1905 he expressed this ideal engineer’s basic principle of thinking
in the following manner:
Fully harmonious development which is devoid of inner
contradictions – for us this is only a borderline conception,
expressing the tendency which we know from experience will
free the processes of development from the contradictions
associated with it. To therefore give a clear representation of
the harmonious type of development can only be done by
means of counterposing the concrete instances which come
closest to it, to those in which the lack of harmony stands out
clearly.
In today’s society, an example of a highly-organised, flexible
life system which is rich in content could be the large-scale
capitalist enterprise, taken especially from the point of view of
its labour technique.33
Such is the ‘ideal model’ according to which Bogdanov dreamed of
rebuilding the world and creating a ‘new world’. The model is extremely

32 LCW vol 26 p 119.
33 Bogdanov, A. The New World (Articles 1904-1905). Moscow, 1905, p 89-90.
346 E. V. ILYENKOV
real. It is the large-scale capitalist enterprise, taken especially from the
point of view of its labour technique.
Naturally, when you try, with the aid of this ‘philosophy’, to think
about something else besides a ready-made mechanical construction, you
will achieve nothing but confusion.
For investigating the real process of development (be it in nature, in
society or even in the sphere of ideology), which takes place at all times
and everywhere through contradictions, through their coming into being
and their subsequent concrete resolution, this logic is, of course, absolutely
worthless. ‘Development devoid of inner contradictions’. It never
enters into Bogdanov’s head that this is just as unrealisable, and, therefore
just as inconceivable an absurdity, as a ‘round square’. Nevertheless,
it is precisely this absurdity which serves as the foundation of his theoretical
constructions. He is for development, but against the fact that
within this development there may exist even a hint of any kind of contradictions.

He therefore understands socialism not as an historically developed
method of resolving real class contradictions, not as a revolutionary
means of resolving material, objective contradictions between the proletariat
and the bourgeoisie, but as a certain type of mathematically uncontradictory
schema which is imposed from without (i.e. by a powerful will)
on the ‘chaos’ of actual relations between people.
It goes without saying that, from the point of view of such a conception
both of socialism and the road which leads to it, absolutely nothing
could be understood in the events of 1917. And it couldn’t have been
otherwise, since, in general, the Machist (empirio-monist) theory of
knowledge and logic, doesn’t allow any material (here read: economic)
contradictions of any kind to be seen, investigated or formulated in
precise scientific conceptions. How could it be otherwise if it declares a
priori that all contradictions are facts which have their place exclusively in
the sphere of social consciousness or, as it is called here, in ‘collectively
organised experience’ in ‘ideology’, and if this ‘ideology’ is further interpreted
as a verbally formulated system of ideas, as a ‘system of stock
phrases’ (as it was called by Gorky’s Klim Samgin)?
Let us imagine for a second a man who has come to believe in this
‘latest philosophy’ under the conditions of 1917 and who is trying to
choose his life’s course based on the axioms of this philosophy and with
the aid of the logic of thinking dictated by it. Naturally, the problem of
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 347
choosing his life’s course turns into this: which ‘system of ideas’ do I
prefer? That which is more logical? That which is psychologically more
convincing? That which is more beautiful? That which is powerful?
But that’s up to you – choose what you like. Machist philosophy neither
offers nor recommends any other criteria for your selection. Or
rather, it does make a recommendation. The very system which is most
capable of harmoniously coordinating, in a non-contradictory way, all the
ideas of every sort and kind into one ‘complex’. The very system which is
able to look for what is ‘in common’ between all the systems which
actually conflict and come into collision with each other. The system
which is obtained after removing all the disagreements and contradictions,
after eliminating the differences between them. This would be a
system which is common to all. This would be a system expressing the
rational kernel, which is equally invariant and equally indisputable and
objective, which ‘boils down’ in the kettle of seething disagreements.
And all talk about how the best of these ‘systems’ is that which corresponds
to objective reality in its necessary development, to a system of
historically developing facts which exist outside of and independent of
any consciousness whatsoever these are ‘philosophically illiterate’ conversations.
Indeed, the conception of a reality existing outside of and independent
of the verbally organised system of experience (i.e. a reality
which is objective in the materialist sense of the word), as well as the
conception of the objective contradictions contained within it – all this is
a pernicious ideological fetish. And the concise symbol which is connected
with this ideological fetish/idol is the symbol/term ‘matter’. This
must be resolutely banished from social consciousness, from ideology,
and from scientific conceptions. Then it will finally be possible to construct,
organise, and erect the type of ‘system’ which will rightfully be
called ‘proletarian ideology’, the ‘science of the proletariat’, and the
science of the universal principles of word-building.
And until the time comes when such a science is constructed and
mastered by the proletariat, it would be better for workers to refrain from
any independent political actions and to leave the ‘administrative’ leadership
of the country to those people whose command of the system of
skills associated with such leadership is far better than that of the proletariat.

Similar notions about the paths of historical development were included
in the Machist (empirio-critical, empirio-monist, empirio-symbolic
348 E. V. ILYENKOV
and so forth) outlook which was outlined in 1908 by the author’s collective
of the Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism.
This was already clearly seen by Lenin in 1908 a circumstance which
must always be kept in mind when reading his book. Only in the broad
historical context which we tried to outline above is it possible to truly
understand the meaning of his whole system of arguments, the significance
of his burning polemic against the Machists, the meaning (and
precision) of Lenin’s understanding of such fundamental categories in
genuinely Marxist philosophy as matter, reflection, truth, and objective
truth. Only then will we understand the absolute and the relative in
cognition as a whole, and in scientific and theoretical cognition in particular.

Yes, if you will, the discussion here centred most of all on the explanation
and defence of the axiomatic basis of the philosophy of dialectical
materialism. Connected with this is the fact that the main accent is placed
here on materialism. But it would be a profound mistake to therefore
draw the conclusion that the book is devoted to an outline of only those
positions which are related to materialism in general, i.e. to any historical
form of materialism, and therefore by no means describes the specific
characteristics of dialectical materialism. This would be an untruth, a
profound falsehood, a mistake in principle. A falsehood which not only
doesn’t help, but directly impedes a faithful (‘adequate’) reading of the
text of the book. It is a falsehood which severs the organic ties between
Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and the Philosophical Notebooks. It is an
untruth which leads to a false understanding of the Philosophical Notebooks
and to a false conception of the meaning and content of theses directly
concerned with the essence of materialist dialectics.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 349
3. Dialectics – The logic of revolution.
Philosophy and natural science
The development of the revolutionary process from 1908 to 1917
completely demolished the pretensions of the Russian Machists in the
realm of social and political thought. On the basis of their philosophy
they proved to be incapable of creating any influential fraction in the
revolutionary movement, not to mention a party which was theoretically
and politically able to lead this movement. Not a single one of the progressive
forces in the country – and most of all, of course, the revolutionary
proletariat – took their philosophy seriously.
The course of events most clearly of all showed that the logic of their
thinking was merely the logic of those who had completely lost their
heads; a logic dooming them to impotence, without giving or being able
to give a scientifically grounded political orientation.
But it was precisely the pretension to being scientific which was the
essence of Bogdanov’s position as well as that of the other Russian
disciples of Mach. They seriously believed that their philosophical constructions
were the ‘philosophy of 20th century natural science’, that it
was distinguished by the ‘force of strict and consistent scientific methods’,
and that the genuine Marxist point of view consists of an orientation
toward a ‘scientific method’ and its application to the cognition of
social life.
Their appeal to the authority of natural science was the main line of
their argumentation. ‘One can learn a great deal from Mach. And in our
stormy times, in our country which is drowned in blood, the most valuable
lesson that he teaches is: a tranquil steadiness of thought, strict
objectivism of method, ruthless analysis of everything accepted on faith,
and the unsparing extermination of all the idols of thought’ – proclaimed
Bogdanov and his cothinkers at every step.
Therefore, no matter how formally irreproachable Plekhanov’s criticism
of Machism as terminologically disguised Berkeleianism was, it made
virtually no impression upon the Machists. ‘Who cares’, they would say,
‘that our philosophy doesn’t correspond to the criteria of “Baron Holbach”
or the “verbal trinkets of Hegel”? This upsets and disturbs us not
in the slightest – our strength lies in our agreement with the principles of
contemporary scientific thought’.
350 E. V. ILYENKOV
It is not surprising that Bogdanov considered it sufficient to simply
brush Plekhanov and his supporters aside with one phrase from all their
criticism – he didn’t even want to examine their ‘polemical ploys’ against
Mach which accused him of idealism and even solipsism. ‘All this’, he
said, ‘is nonsense, having nothing to do with the essence of the argument,
which is that Mach teaches mankind “the philosophy of 20th century
natural science,” while Plekhanov has stayed behind with the “philosophy
of 18th century natural science, as contained in the formulations of Baron
Holbach”‘.
‘Modern natural science’, ‘the logic of thinking of contemporary
natural scientists’ – this was the basic ‘beach-head’ for the Russian positivists
in their war against materialist dialectics. And as long as they held
on to this beach-head, no ‘philosophical’ argumentation had any effect
upon them. And it was precisely this which neither Plekhanov nor his
disciples understood. Or to be more precise, they didn’t understand the
importance of this circumstance, for it was impossible not to notice the
fact – the Machists themselves in all their writings loudly proclaimed that
their philosophy was the ‘philosophy of modern science’, the philosophical
generalisation of its successes and achievements.
But Plekhanov passed by this aspect of the matter in silence, which
the Machists joyfully interpreted as an argument in their favour. They
described Plekhanov’s position as the position of a reactionary who was
hindering the process of ‘enriching’ Marxism ‘with the methods of exact
or so-called “positive” science’.34
Thus until Lenin joined the polemic, to a reader who had not thoroughly
investigated the essence of the argument, the situation looked
something like this: on the one hand there was the ‘school’ of PlekhanovOrthodoks-Deborin,
who neither knew nor cared to know and apply in
politics ‘the methods of exact science’ and who were stubbornly trying to
reinforce archaic concepts and fetishes in Marxism which had supposedly
been thoroughly refuted by 20th century natural science; an equals sign
was placed between Plekhanov’s school as it was thus described and
materialist dialectics.
On the other hand there was the group that was attacking this ‘conservative
school’ – Bogdanov, Bazarov, Suvorov, Lunacharsky, Yushkevich,
Valentinov, Berman and Helphond – who were calling for the

34 Essays in the Philosophy of Marxism, p 2.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 351
union of Marxism with natural science and fighting for a revolutionary,
active trend of thought both in natural science and in politics. Mach
played here the role of an authoritative symbol of the revolution in
natural science, the role of a fully empowered and universally recognised
leader of revolutionary philosophical thinking in the sphere of understanding
nature.
Such a portrayal of the essence of the argument, in which there was a
fairly good dose of demagogy (frequently involuntarily, for the Machists
themselves sincerely believed their arguments), was able to win over and
actually did win the sympathies of those people who were of a revolutionary
frame of mind but who were not very well versed in philosophy;
they were won over to the side of empirio-criticism and its variations.
There were quite a few of these people both among the workers and
among the scientific-technological intelligentsia. And it was for their
minds that the philosophical battle was waged.
Plekhanov’s silence on this point – in the debate over the question
about the relationship between dialectical materialist philosophy and 20th
century natural science – the Machists joyfully interpreted as direct and
irrefutable proof of their correctness and their advantage over Plekhanov
(over materialist dialectics).
Therefore Plekhanov’s silence, as well as the loud demagogy of the
Machists, could have made and actually did make an impression upon the
reader which was highly unfavourable for the authority of materialist
dialectics. In addition, the Machists very assiduously tried to discover in
Plekhanov’s writings even insignificant inaccuracies regarding the special
problems of natural science and the terminology of its specialised fields.
They played these up with malicious joy, but they rejoiced even more at
the definite vagueness which Plekhanov sometimes allowed in his formulations
of extremely serious propositions of philosophical materialism;
this is the well-known slovenliness which is often encountered in Plekhanov’s
writings but which he evidently did not consider very significant.
For instance, the definition of sensations as a special kind of ‘hieroglyph’.
In the context of the discussion of the problem as a whole, these inaccuracies
and vagueness were perhaps not all that terrible, but when they
were torn out of this context, they gave cause for malicious back-biting
concerning the ‘consistency’ and ‘principled nature’ of his position.
But these, of course, were only minor details. The main deficiency in
Plekhanov’s position was that he ignored what was actually the central
352 E. V. ILYENKOV
question raised by the Machists: the relationship of the philosophy of
Marxism – dialectical materialism, materialist dialectics – to the events
which had taken place in natural science, i.e. to the improvements which
had been made in the logic of the thinking of natural scientists. This was
the central point of the question, and only Lenin understood at that time
the full significance of this fact for the philosophy of Marxism.
And only he was able to examine this extremely complex question on
a truly principled level. It was on such a level that even now, 70 years
later (and what years!), it remains a standard for any Marxist who ventures
to examine the problems of the relationship between philosophical
dialectics and developing natural scientific thought or theoretical science.
Of course, the chapter in Lenin’s book The Latest Revolution in Natural
Science and Philosophical Idealism struck a crushing blow at Machism as the
most typical variety of positivism in general, which had until then portrayed
itself as the only philosophy having the supposed right to lay down
the law in the name of 20th century natural science, in the name of
modern science. This blow proved to be so crushing to the Machists
because it was unexpected: the empirio-critics had grown too accustomed
to considering that they had a monopoly on the philosophical problems
of natural science. They did not expect Lenin’s blow to come from this
direction. But the blow proved to be not only well-aimed, but irrefutable.
The chief advantage of Lenin’s criticism of the Russian Machists over
Plekhanov’s consisted of the fact that while Lenin agreed with Plekhanov
in his assessment of Machism, he tried to examine the roots of this
philosophy. That is, he struck his blow not at the effects, but at the
causes. He did not proceed to pluck off the tops of the flowers; he tore
out the roots. This is the main significance of Lenin’s chapter about the
‘revolution in natural science’. And in this lies the fundamental and timely
instructiveness of Lenin’s method of struggle against idealism for us
today.
Let us try to briefly formulate the main principles in Lenin’s struggle
against the Russian Machists, which show how this struggle radically
differs from Plekhanov’s defence of materialism.
... One cannot take up any of the writings of the Machists or
about Machism without encountering pretentious reference to
the new physics, which is said to have refuted materialism,
and so on and so forth. Whether these assertions are wellfounded
is another question, but the connection between the
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 353
new physics, or rather a definite school of the new physics,
and Machism and other varieties of modern idealist
philosophy is beyond doubt. To analyse Machism and at the
same time to ignore this connection – as Plekhanov does, is to
scoff at the spirit of dialectical materialism, i.e., to sacrifice the
method of Engels to the letter of Engels.35
This ‘scoffing at the spirit of dialectical materialism’ by Plekhanov is
shown by the fact that during the debate with the Machists, because of a
number of considerations (among them Lenin noted the desire to inflict
moral and political damage on the Bolsheviks by portraying ‘Bogdanovism’
as the philosophy of Bolshevism) he limited his task to demonstrating
that the philosophy of dialectical materialism and Bogdanov’s philosophy
are two different things. He set out to prove that dialectics and
materialism are integral components of Marxism and by no means the
verbal atavism of Hegelian and Feuerbachian philosophy, as Bogdanov’s
supporters had tried to suggest to the reader.
Plekhanov fulfilled this task with serious knowledge of the matter.
He contrasted the system of the philosophical (epistemological) views of
Marx and Engels with the system of Bogdanov’s psychophysiological
phraseology and demonstrated that these were different things which had
nothing in common. There was either Marxism, which is inconceivable
and impossible without dialectical materialist philosophy, without materialist
epistemology and dialectical logic, or there was the epistemology and
logic of Machism, which are fundamentally hostile to Marxism and
destructive to it – this was the truth which Plekhanov demonstrated, and
here Lenin was in complete solidarity with him.
But the limited character of the task which Plekhanov assigned himself
resulted in weakening his argumentation against the Machists. And
they lost no time in exploiting this weakness. That is: in demonstrating
the fundamental incompatibility of the Machists’ epistemology with the
genuine understanding of philosophical problems by Marx and Engels,
Plekhanov naturally chose first of all to contrast the philosophical texts of
one side with the other, ‘the letter of Engels and Marx’ with the ‘letter of
Bogdanov’. He made such a comparison in a masterful fashion, proving
to the reader, as surely as two times two makes four, that here there was
the inexorable alternative; either/or.

35 LCW vol 14 p 251.
354 E. V. ILYENKOV
For some time, the followers of Bogdanov did not even argue with
this proof. More than that, they saw perfectly well themselves, and openly
admitted that the ‘letter’ of their philosophical constructions differed
from everything Marx and Engels had said and written about philosophy,
materialism and dialectics. Moreover, they looked upon this as their chief
virtue and advantage over the Plekhanov ‘school’. He, they would say,
stubbornly clings to the ‘letter’, to every utterance from Marx and Engels,
while we are ‘creatively developing’ the philosophy of Marxism. We will
bring it into agreement and correspondence with the latest successes and
achievements of natural science.
And the more clearly it was that Plekhanov demonstrated the incompatibility
of their innovations with the system of philosophical views of
Marx and Engels, the louder they talked about the conservatism and
dogmatism of Plekhanov’s attitude towards the ‘letter’ of the classics,
about Plekhanov’s attempts to deliver up propositions formulated at a
different time and under different conditions as eternal truths, as absolutes,
or as fetishes, appropriate for all times and for any circumstances.
This argument was able to make an impression upon many people,
especially since, in the area of the sharpest problems of the socio-political
plane, Plekhanov by 1905 had actually already begun to display (and the
later it was, the more this showed) a definite conservatism, a tendency to
freeze the development of Marxist thought. This circumstance gave the
Machists cause to declaim about how Plekhanov was sacrificing to the
‘letter’ of the philosophy of the classics the true essence, the actual logic
of their thought.
The argument raged, therefore, not over the concrete positions or
statements of Marx and Engels, but over the method of thinking with the
aid of which they extracted, elaborated, formulated and derived the
scientific truths of the communist world view and scientific socialism.
Was this mode (method) of scientific thinking and scientific investigation
materialistic dialectics? Or was it actually something else? The
Machists were convinced, and tried to convince others, that all the statements
and all the utterances of Marx and Engels were simply the phraseological
(purely verbal, purely terminological and formal) heritage of that
philosophical tradition, in the atmosphere of which was formulated the
scientific thought of the classics, and nothing more. And the scientific
method which was used, they said, during the creation of the theory of
scientific socialism, including most of all its foundation – the political
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 355
economy of Marxism, Capital – has nothing in common, and never has
had anything in common, they would say, with discussions about materialist
dialectics. This, they said, is the most ‘common’ scientific method,
which is used to obtain results by any modern science, and particularly, it
goes without saying, by physics.
It is easier and most expedient (most ‘economical’) to learn from this
‘genuinely scientific’ method from modern physics, or, more concretely,
from Ernst Mach, one of its acknowledged leaders. They insisted that
Mach discloses in his writings the secrets of the ‘genuine’ method of
thinking of modern science. At the same time he reveals the ‘truly scientific’
aspects of the method of thinking of Capital’s author, cleansed of
the rubbish of the antiquated Hegelian phraseology and terminology.
It was this aspect of the argumentation of the Machists in the SocialDemocracy
that was not touched upon by Plekhanov’s mode of criticism.
And it was precisely for this reason that Plekhanov’s attack on Machism
fell short of its goal.
Indeed, if the mode (method) of thinking based on Mach’s theory of
knowledge is actually the method which modern physics has used to
obtain all its successes and achievements, then what difference does it
make whether it is called materialist or idealist? In other words, if the
epistemology and logic of Mach-Bogdanov is actually the theory of
knowledge and logic of modern science, modern physics, mathematics,
and so forth, then Bogdanov is essentially correct as opposed to Plekhanov,
although he differs from the ‘letter of Engels’ which is only defended
by Plekhanov.
This then was the heart of the argument. And it was precisely here
that Plekhanov proved to be not at his best. With absolute precision he
had classified Machist philosophy as idealist. He showed how it was
therefore reactionary in its socio-political consequences, insofar as ‘bourgeois
theoretical reaction, which is now wreaking genuine havoc in the
ranks of our leading intelligentsia, occurs in our midst under the banner
of philosophical idealism ...’ Moreover, ‘we are threatened with particular
harm by those philosophical doctrines which are idealist in all their
essence, but which at the same time pass themselves off as the latest
word in natural science ...’36

36 Plekhanov, Works, Moscow 1925, vol. 17 p 99.
356 E. V. ILYENKOV
Plekhanov was, of course, correct, that they only presented themselves
‘as the last word in natural science’ without actually having anything
in common with it at all. But this needed to be demonstrated. To
simply say that they had no right to be speaking in the name of modern
natural science and to then place a period, without even trying to expose
this pretension, meant, under the conditions of that time, the making of
an unforgivable concession to his opponent. The effort of the Machists
to portray themselves as the spokesmen of the ‘spirit’ of modern natural
science was, of course, an illusion, self-deception, and demagogy of the
purest sort. But it was, alas, an illusion which was far from groundless. It
was an illusion of the same kind as other naturalistic illusions of bourgeois
consciousness. It was an objectively conditional semblance, or
appearance, as a result of which the purely social (that is, what historically
comes into existence and historically passes away) properties of things
were taken for their natural (and therefore eternal) qualities and for the
definitions of the things themselves – for their scientific characteristics.
The Machists not only portrayed their teachings ‘as the last word in
natural science’, they unfortunately took as the basis for similar illusions
the numerous utterances of the natural scientists themselves, including
even the greatest scientists; they based themselves on those philosophically
helpless conclusions which the scientists had drawn from their own
discoveries.
The real source of nourishment for ‘Bogdanovism’ as one of the
many varieties of idealism was the philosophical incompetence of many
representatives of modern science, their confusion when faced with the
difficult philosophical problems which arise before them in the course of
their work.
In the given instance this confusion emerged in the form of a lack of
knowledge about materialist dialectics, i.e. about the actual logic and
theory of knowledge of modern materialism, and about modern scientific
cognition of the surrounding world. This was accompanied by a false
conception of materialist dialectics as idealist philosophical speculation.
As was perfectly well shown in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, ignorance
of dialectics was the catastrophe leading to the degeneration of the spontaneous
materialism of natural scientists – their ‘natural’ epistemological
position – into the most vulgar and reactionary varieties of idealism and
clericalism, which was diligently encouraged by professional philosophers,
the conscious or spontaneous allies of clericalism.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 357
Hence Lenin derived his entire subsequent strategy of many years regarding
the majority of scientists: stubborn, consistent work to win them
over to his side. It meant then and means today – to win them to the side
of dialectical materialism, to the side of the materialist dialectics. Otherwise
it is impossible to overcome idealism, the idealistically reactionary
interpretation of the successes and achievements of modern science and
technology.
Until the majority of scientists understands and is able to consciously
apply materialist dialectics as the logic and theory of knowledge in their
own field, idealism will grow out of the development of natural science
itself. The credit and trust of people will be used by those very reactionary
idealist schools, one of which is ‘Bogdanovism’.
The strength of Machist (and more widely – positivist) idealist philosophy
lies in the philosophical weakness of many modern scientists. It
was Lenin who found the courage to tell them this truth which they
found so unpleasant, to say it directly, without any diplomacy, while
perfectly well recognising that this bitter truth might wound their selfesteem.
To publicly make such a diagnosis required quite a bit of moral
courage: especially to tell the greatest modern day scientists to their face
that they had not yet learned how to think in a truly scientific manner
when it came to the theory of knowledge and to logic!
But the central point was not only Lenin’s personal moral courage,
but also the intellectual courage which was unquestionably demanded by
the principles of the philosophy which he defended on every page of
Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. He proceeded from the fact that what
people find to be the most bitter and unpleasant truth is in the long run
more ‘useful’ for them than the most pleasant and flattering lie and
falsehood. He was committed to this view by materialism itself.
Consistent materialism, i.e. the essential and consciously thought-out
philosophical foundations of the Marxist world view, stubbornly requires
a critical attitude toward everything that is said and written in the name of
modern natural science; including statements by its greatest authorities,
the representatives of the ‘new physics’.
In 1908 there were, for instance, Ernst Mach and Henri Poincaré –
stars of the first magnitude in the heavens of theoretical physics of that
day.
It was about them, and not about the petty muddlers in science, that
Lenin felt it was necessary to say:
358 E. V. ILYENKOV
Not a single one of these professors, who are capable of making
very valuable contributions in the special fields of chemistry,
history or physics, can be trusted one iota when it comes to
philosophy. Why? For the same reason that not a single
professor of political economy, who may be capable of very
valuable contributions in the field of factual and specialised
investigations, can be trusted one iota when it comes to the
general theory of political economy. For in modern society
the latter is as much a partisan science as is epistemology.37
Actually, not a single word of theirs can be trusted when it comes to
the theory of knowledge, logic, or the method of scientific thinking, for
they professionally do not know this field and therefore they become
confused, and stagger at every step, continually stumbling into idealism,
i.e., into a philosophical position which is essentially anti-scientific and
hostile to science in general, including their own specialised science. And
even under these conditions they continue to be leading theoreticians in
their own, specialised field of thought.
A paradox? Yes, the same type of paradox which fills the pages of
history in general and the history of science in particular. And on the
basis of a careful philosophical and theoretical analysis Lenin shows the
essence of this paradox. He shows how such an unnatural combination
becomes possible. The combination of scientific thinking which is realised
by scientists who are physicists and specialists (chemists, biologists,
mathematicians, and others) with an inadequate awareness or false
knowledge of the essence of their work, an anti-scientific (‘pseudoscientific’)
understanding of the actual laws of their own thinking, i.e. of
those objective laws of cognition to which are finally subordinated –
whether individual scientists want it that way or not, whether they are
conscious of it or not – the movement both of cognition as a whole and
in its separate fields.
In actual fact, scientists are continually and at every step thinking in
defiance of the logic and theory of knowledge which they consciously
profess, for they are compelled to do this by the powerful pressure of the
accumulation of facts and of the indisputable authority of experimental
data i.e. by the force and power of the fully material conditions of
thought and its laws. People who are really engaged in the process of

37 LCW vol. 14 p 342.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 359
cognising nature (including Mach, Duhem, Pearson and others) continuously
are forced to execute the type of mental moves and ‘operations
with concepts’ which, from the standpoint of the logic and theory of
knowledge that they consciously profess, are not only inexplicable, but
quite simply not according to the law, or even against the law.
According to materialism, i.e. the clear and consistent materialist theory
of knowledge, such situations present nothing enigmatic. They only
graphically demonstrate that without exception, all progress, evolution
and revolutions which occur within consciousness (within social consciousness),
are determined and explained by the fact that this consciousness
– despite all the illusions which it can create on this account – is
forced in its own development to subordinate itself, as if to a higher
authority, to the power of ‘Mister Fact’. Or to be more precise, to that
concrete accumulation of facts, independent of consciousness (psyche,
spirit, thinking, however they are further described in detail) and existing
outside of it, which in the language of philosophy is called the material
world or, for the sake of brevity, simply matter.
In reality, while research is actually being carried out, the thinking of
any serious scientist is governed by precisely this epistemological orientation
and remains scientific only as long as it is actually governed by it.
Lenin was therefore fully justified in insisting upon the fact that natural
science has adopted the standpoint of the materialist theory of knowledge
in the past and continues to do so today.
Another matter is the verbal (terminological) form which different
scientists give to the fundamental principles of their work. For a whole
variety of reasons this verbal form now and then proves to be philosophically
inexact, inadequate or incorrect. And philosophical idealism
immediately clings to this kind of verbal imprecision.
Philosophical materialism (the materialist theory of knowledge, logic
which is materially understood) is orientated toward a strict, critical
differentiation between what scientists actually do in their specialised
fields and how they speak and write about it. Idealism, on the other hand
(and this is especially characteristic of 20th century positivism), is always
orientated only toward the words and utterances of scientists, as the
‘initial data’ of their specialised analysis and their philosophical work.
Idealists concentrate, of course, not just upon any words, but upon
those which can best be used to reinforce the idealist reconstructions of
the real process of cognising nature and to interpret this process in an
360 E. V. ILYENKOV
idealist way. As a result, those assertions which, in the mouths of the
scientists themselves, were terminologically incorrect descriptions of real
events in the path of cognition, are presented as the precise expression of
their essence and as conclusions drawn from natural science.
And such assertions are no rarity, especially since the idealistpositivists
are precisely engaged in trying to arm natural scientists with
philosophically inexact, muddled and incorrect terminology, given out as
the last word in modern philosophy. It becomes a closed circle. Thus the
image is created that it is natural science which refutes both materialism
and dialectics, while the ‘philosophy of natural science’ (as positivism
prefers to call itself) is simply and unpretentiously summing up the true
epistemological positions of natural science.
To create this image the positivists instil in scientists a muddled conception
both of matter and of consciousness. Meanwhile they try to
discredit the simple, clear and carefully considered definitions of the
primary concepts of materialist philosophy with labels that are primitive,
naive, non-heuristic and antiquated.
As a result, 20th century positivists have managed to achieve considerable
success insofar as the whole environment in which the majority of
scientists for the time being live and work, ‘estranges them from Marx
and Engels and throws them into the embrace of vulgar official philosophy’.
Hence, ‘the most outstanding theoreticians are handicapped by a
complete ignorance of dialectics’.38
These words of Lenin’s which were spoken more than 70 years ago
remain absolutely true even today in relation to the capitalist world and
the situation of the scientist in it.
Moreover, the assault of bourgeois ideology on the minds of scientists,
which had as its basic goal then and still has it now the discrediting
of materialism and dialectics, has nowadays become much more concentrated,
much more persistent and much more refined in its methods.
Modern positivism has elevated the creation of ever newer and more
artificial terms to such an art, that the Machism of Bogdanov’s times
seems positively dilettantish in this regard. In 1908 this style had just
barely come into vogue and it had only managed to yield the first, rather
timid shoots in the field of positivist thought, but Lenin already felt that

38 LCW vol. 14 p 263, 265.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 361
it was necessary to have done with it, for this was no innocent linguistic
amusement or some simple play with words, but something far worse. He
saw in it the tendency to create a special jargon in which it was convenient
and easy to express patently idealist lies in such a verbal form that
you could not immediately recognise them.
Such a jargon was created and ‘perfected’ in a very simple manner –
by studiously imitating the specialised language of one or another of the
natural sciences: either physics or mathematics or biology. This was
accomplished by imitating the external peculiarities of the language of
scientists – often by simply borrowing from them not only separate terms
but whole blocks of words which slowly took on a different meaning.
The philosophical (i.e. epistemological) constructions of the positivists
would therefore appear to be quite understandable to the scientist, insofar
as the available concepts of natural scientists, the expressions to which
he was accustomed, served as the basic material here as well.
The very word ‘element’ – a key word in Machism – has such an origin.
Indeed, if a physicist or chemist in Mach’s times were told straightforwardly:
your field of science is actually involved in investigating ‘complexes
of your sensations’, he would not accept this wisdom as the
expression of the essence of his work. Or even more so as a conclusion
drawn from his own research. When, however, he is told that he is investigating
‘complexes of elements’ (even though this is secretly understood
to be sensations), he immediately accepts this phrase as a matter of
course, since he has long since grown accustomed to using the word
‘element’ to mean hydrogen or radium, the electron or the atom. He
accepts the language of this ‘clear’ and flattering philosophy, grows
accustomed to it, and continues to speak in it even when he is no longer
discussing hydrogen or the electron, but the process of the scientific
cognition of hydrogen or the electron.
It was precisely in this manner that the lamentably famous expression
arose, that ‘matter has disappeared’. The first to use this phrase was a
physicist, not a philosopher. Why? Following what logic? The logic was
very simple. First of all the ‘philosophy of natural science’ instilled in him
its understanding of the word ‘matter’, after investing it with the meaning
borrowed from modern physics, i.e. after placing an equals sign between
matter and the available conceptions of the physicists.
The physicist took a step forward and said farewell to his previous
conceptions for the sake of new ones. In the language which he had been
362 E. V. ILYENKOV
taught by the ‘philosophy of natural science’, this was expressed with
absolute logic in the following way: he said farewell to the concept of
matter. The progress of the physicist’s knowledge had ‘refuted’ the
concept of matter, and matter had disappeared, for what had been discovered
in place of the former could no longer be called matter.
Such a phrase could not come from the mouth of a physicist who
knew the correct, but not the positivist, definition of matter. But from a
physicist who agreed with the ‘positivist-scientific’ definition of matter, it
would not only be natural, but even formally correct.
But if when used by the physicist this phrase was an inadequate verbal
formulation of an actual fact – of a real step forward on the path of
cognising physical reality (the physicist here had simply used the word
‘matter’ out of place) when used by the philosopher-idealist the phrase
takes on a very different meaning. From the inexact expression of a real
fact it has become transformed into the ‘exact’ expression of a state of
things which does not exist and which has been dreamed up by idealists.
In such a situation (or any like it) the task of the philosopher-Marxist,
according to Lenin, consists in bringing to light the real fact which is
poorly and unclearly expressed in the words of the scientist, and expressing
it in philosophically correct and epistemologically irreproachable
language. This means making this fact philosophically clear for the scientist
himself and helping him to realise this fact correctly. Lenin’s attitude
was completely different toward the specialist-philosopher who consciously
gambled on the carelessness and gullibility of the scientist-nonphilosopher,
and on his lack of knowledge in the field of epistemology.
Here the tone of the conversation was something else.
To brand the scientist as an idealist is just as mean and stupid as to
make the worthless (and damaging for the revolution) public indictment
of an illiterate peasant who is praying that God grant him rain, by calling
him an ideological accomplice of the petty-bourgeois bureaucratic order
and an ideologist of reaction. With a priest, it is a different matter. And
not the wretched little village priest who shares the peasants’ naive beliefs,
but the educated priest who knows Latin, the writings of Thomas
Aquinas, and even Kant, who is the professional enemy of materialism
and the revolution, living as a parasite on ignorance and superstition.
What remains highly instructive to this day is Lenin’s ability to draw a
clear boundary line between philosophically incorrect expressions which
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 363
are continually found among the greatest scientists, and the way which
these expressions are used in the works of the positivists.
If there were no such expressions among the natural scientists, the
idealists would find it very difficult to refer to science. But as long as
these instances are not rare, idealism will have a formal and verbal basis
for portraying itself as the philosophy of modern natural science, the
philosophy of 20th century science. ‘The idealist philosophers’, writes
Lenin, ‘pick up on the slightest mistake, the slightest confusion in the
expressions of the great scientists, in order to justify their own renovated
defence of fideism.39
Thus the slightest carelessness on the part of the scientist in using
specialised philosophical ‘words’ (which immediately causes no particular
harm to the course of scientific reasoning, that is why the natural scientist
is not inclined to regard this too seriously), potentially conceals within
itself great harm even for natural science.
While he is inclined to search for the rational kernel even in such
phrases of the natural scientists as ‘matter has disappeared’, i.e. to bring
to light those real facts which stand behind them, Lenin does not spare
similar expressions when they are repeated from the philosophical chair.
Here he never looks for the rational kernel, no matter how tiny it may be.
With Mach the philosopher it is a different question than with Mach the
physicist. For this very reason Lenin generally says nothing about the
merits or deficiencies of Mach’s purely physical views – physics and the
physicists have to pass judgement here. But Mach as the author of Analysis
of Sensations and Knowledge and Error deserves the most severe judgement
on the basis of an entirely different set of laws.
But if Mach somehow remains under these conditions a good physicist,
his philosophical disciples have no relationship with physics or with
any other field of actual scientific cognition. Whatever physics they know
is only through its idealistically distorted image in the crooked mirror of
Mach’s philosophy, only from the words of Mach himself and his adherents
who blindly and slavishly believe in his words. By fatally linking all
philosophical concepts with the available (and therefore, naturally, transitory)
, state of scientific knowledge, positivism turns these concepts into
obstacles which the development of science must sweep to the wayside.

39 Lenin. Complete Collected Works vol. 18 p 471.
364 E. V. ILYENKOV
Such an attitude toward philosophical concepts is organically linked
to the positivist conception of philosophy itself, of its subject, role, and
function in scientific understanding. According to these notions, ‘modern’
philosophy – as distinguished from the former, ‘metaphysical’ philosophy
– is nothing but the generalised summation, aided by hindsight,
of everything that has been achieved by the labours of the other sciences;
it is the accumulation of results which have been brought together in one
aggregate whole. It is the abstractly expressed current state of scientific
knowledge, nothing more, a ‘general theory of being’. This is the selfsame
‘scientific monism’ which was dealt with earlier and which Lenin so
ruthlessly criticised!
Listen to this: ‘ ... This law of social economy is not only the
principle of the internal unity of social science (can you make
anything of this, reader?), but also the connecting link
between social theory and the general theory of being’ ...
Well, well, here we have the ‘general theory of being’
discovered anew by S. Suvorov, after it has already been
discovered many times and in the most varied forms by
numerous representatives of scholastic philosophy. We
congratulate the Russian Machists on this new ‘general theory
of being’! Let us hope that their next work will be entirely
devoted to the substantiation and development of this great
discovery!40
Characteristic of all the Russian Machists, by the very nature of the
problem, is the desire to present a unified picture of being, or, to use the
words of S. Suvorov, ‘a general theory of being’, which is constructed
exclusively out if the facts of modern science and the data of scientific
experimentation, and which is carefully cleansed of all vestiges of the old,
‘unscientific’ and ‘pre-scientific’ philosophy. ‘Only when we resolve, in
final form, the task’, writes Berman, ‘of working out the criticism by
which we could distinguish scientific truth from error, will we be able to
get to work resolving the problems which comprise the true object of
philosophy, the problem of what the world is as a whole’.41
It was for the sake of carrying out an assignment of this sort that the
Machists undertook a review of the Marxist resolution of the problem

40 LCW vol. 14 p 334-35.
41 Berman. Op. cit., pp 7-8.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 365
concerning this very same ‘criterion’. But such a review was simply
epistemological propaedeutics, and its goal was the creation of a ‘general
theory of being’, a unified picture of being, and a theory about what the
world is as a whole.
Epistemology for them was only a means, an instrument or a tool for
constructing a picture of the world as a whole. This tool must be made in
advance and sharpened, since they all believe that no such instrument
exists as a part of Marxism. Dialectics is not taken by these people to be
such an instrument. Here, they say, is where not only Marx and Engels,
but all their disciples, made their mistake. ‘Isn’t it strange that with not
only a theory of dialectics which is fully thought out in the scientific
sense, but even a somewhat precise basis for those ideas which taken
together they call dialectics’,42 Berman continues to express his view.
Analogous reasoning about the subject of philosophy in A. Rey’s
book provokes sharp epithets on Lenin’s part. Here is the path of this
reasoning: ‘Why should not philosophy, therefore, in the same way, be a general
synthesis of all scientific knowledge, an effort to represent the unknown as a
function of the known, in order to aid in discovering it and keep the
scientific spirit in its true orientation?’ (Next to this passage in the margins
of the book stands the expressive: “blagueur!”, i.e. braggart, liar). ‘It
would differ from science only in the greater generality of the hypothesis;
instead of being the theory of a group of isolated and very circumscribed
facts, philosophical theory would be the theory of the totality of the facts
that nature presents us with, the system of nature, as it used to be called
in the 18th century, or at any rate a direct contribution to a theory of this
kind’.43 (Next to these words, underlined by Lenin, stands the word:
“fool!”).
His evaluation is so angry because Lenin sees all too clearly: Rey’s
ideas about the subject and tasks of philosophy have as their source the
same ‘classic’ as the ideas of Bogdanov. Both are a rehash of the axioms
of Mach and Avenarius.
Such an understanding of the tasks of philosophy naturally condemns
it to the simple summing up of the results obtained by natural
science. Lenin felt that it was very important and necessary to inform the
reader about the latest scientific facts in physics and chemistry, about the

42 Berman. Op. cit., p 16.
43 LCW vol. 38 pp 471-72.
366 E. V. ILYENKOV
structure of matter, i.e. to offer him precisely that generalised compendium
of all the latest scientific knowledge and all the modern achievements
of science and technology. Lenin, however, neither considered nor
called this understanding philosophy. Moreover, he was immediately
upset when it was offered in place of the philosophy of Marxism, and
even under the title of the ‘latest’ philosophy.
Lenin was absolutely clear and unequivocal when he raised the questions
about the relationship between the ‘form’ of materialism and its
‘essence’, and about the inadmissibility of identifying the former with the
latter. The ‘form’ of materialism is made up of those concrete scientific
ideas about the structure of matter (about ‘the physical world’, about
‘atoms and electrons’) and those natural-philosophical generalisations of
these ideas, which inevitably prove to be historically limited, changeable,
and subject to reconsideration by natural science itself. The ‘essence’ of
materialism consists of the recognition of objective reality existing independently
of human cognition and reflected by it. The creative development
of dialectical materialism on the basis of the philosophical conclusions
drawn from the latest scientific discoveries’ Lenin sees neither the
revision of the ‘essence’ itself, nor in the perpetuation of scientists’ ideas
about nature and about ‘the physical world’ aided by naturalphilosophical
generalisations, but in deepening our understanding of ‘the
relationship of cognition to the physical world’, which is tied to new ideas
about nature. The dialectical understanding of the relationship between
the ‘form’ and ‘essence’ of materialism, and between ‘ontology’ and
‘epistemology’ constitutes the ‘spirit of dialectical materialism’.
‘Hence’, writes Lenin in summing up the genuinely scientific interpretation
of the question of creatively developing dialectical materialism,
‘a revision of the “form” of Engels’ materialism, a revision of his naturalphilosophical
propositions is not only “revisionism”, in the accepted
meaning of the term, but, on the contrary, is an essential requirement of
Marxism. We criticise the Machists not for making such a revision, but
for their purely revisionist trick of betraying the essence of materialism
under the guise of criticising its form ...’44
While mercilessly castigating Bogdanov’s and Suvorov’s conception
of philosophy, Lenin consistently and at every point counterposes to it
the conception which had crystallised in the works of Marx and Engels,

44 LCW vol. 14 p 251.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 367
and develops this conception further. Philosophy, in the system of the
Marxist (dialectical materialist) world view, exists and develops by no
means for the sake of constructing global or cosmic systems of abstractions
in which each and every trace of difference or contradiction disappears.
Just the opposite is the case. It exists for the truly scientific and
concrete investigation of the problems of science and life, for the genuine
augmentation of our knowledge of history and nature. In the system of
views of Marx and Engels philosophy serves such a concrete cognition of
nature and history. Here universality and concreteness are not excluded,
but presuppose each other.
The materialism of this philosophy is contained in the way it orients
scientific thinking towards an ever more precise understanding of the
phenomena of nature and history in all their objectivity and concreteness,
with all their contradictions (i.e. with all their dialectical characteristics),
and with all their independence from the will and consciousness of
people, or from the specific structure of their body, their brain, their
sense organs, their language or any other subjective peculiarities. ‘Philosophy’,
however, in its Machist and Bogdanovian variation gives scientific
thinking precisely the opposite orientation. It directs man’s thinking
toward the creation of the ‘utmost abstractions’ in whose ‘neutral’ embrace
all differences, all contradictions, and all opposites have died out.
This is direct evidence of the idealism of its epistemological axioms.
Indeed, ‘elements of the world’, ‘logical frameworks’, ‘abstract objects’,
‘systems in general’, ‘God’ and ‘the absolute spirit’ – all these are only
pseudonyms concealing one and the same thing: the idealistically mystified
consciousness of man.
The main, link in the entire strategy of the Machists’ campaign
against the philosophy of Marxism consisted of the attempt to sever the
living unity between materialist dialectics as a theory of development and
as a theory of knowledge and logic, first by isolating ‘ontology’ from
‘epistemology’, and then by counterposing one to the other, thereby
destroying the essence of dialectics as a philosophical science. The design
was simple: having made such a separation it would be easiest of all to
identify the materialist world outlook with any sort of concrete and
historically limited scientific ‘picture of the world’, with the ‘physical’, and
then ascribe the flaws and errors of this ‘ontology’ to all materialism. On
the other hand, the same operation could be performed with materialist
epistemology by identifying it with whatever was the latest scientific
conception of the ‘psychical’. By identifying philosophy as the generalised
368 E. V. ILYENKOV
summation of scientific facts, claims could be made that natural science
itself gives birth to idealism. To destroy what distinguishes philosophy, its
system of concepts and its approach to phenomena, meant to ascribe
idealism to natural science itself. Lenin unmasked these schemes by
giving a clear demonstration of what constitutes ‘the fundamental materialist
spirit’ of modern natural science, which gives birth to dialectical
materialism.
According to Lenin, the latest results of science, in themselves, or the
‘positive facts’, as such, are by no means subject to philosophical generalisation
(and consequently, to inclusion in the system of philosophical
knowledge). Rather what is subject to philosophical generalisation is the
development of scientific knowledge, the dialectical process of the ever
more profound, all-sided and concrete comprehension of the dialectical
processes of the material world, so that it cannot be excluded that even
tomorrow natural science itself will re-evaluate its results in a ‘negative’
manner. While interpreting the revolution in natural science from the
standpoint of dialectical materialist philosophy, Lenin draws generalised
conclusions about how the objective content of scientific knowledge can
be fixed and evaluated only from the standpoint of the dialectical materialist
theory of knowledge which reveals the dialectics of objective, absolute
and relative truth. He shows how ‘ontology’ is just as inseparably
connected with ‘epistemology’, as the categories expressing the dialectical
nature of truth are connected with objective dialectics. To include the
‘negative’ in the conception of the ‘positive’, without losing the unity of
opposites (and this is what constitutes dialectics) is impossible without an
‘epistemological’ approach to the ‘ontology’ of scientific knowledge.
Genuinely scientific philosophical generalisation must consist, according
to Lenin, of the ‘dialectical reworking’ of the entire history of the development
of cognition and practical activity, and of the interpretation of
the achievements of science in the context of its integral historical development.
From such a position Lenin broached the question of the relationship
between philosophy and natural science. The Machists, however,
were precisely counting on discrediting materialism by tearing its true
content out of this historical context.
From an analogous position, positivism looks upon the theory of
knowledge (epistemology). Its scheme is to counterpose epistemology as
a ‘strict and exact science’ to materialist dialectics as a philosophical
science, and then to criticise dialectics in the light of such an ‘epistemology’.
This plan is even reflected in the title of Berman’s book, Dialectics in
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 369
the Light of the Modern Theory of Knowledge. In essence, however, this is not a
theory of knowledge at all, but once again the accumulation of ‘the latest
facts’ from research in psychology, psychophysiology, the physiology of
the sense organs, and so forth. The interpretation and application of
these facts in isolation from ‘ontology’, from the universal laws of development
of nature and society, made it possible to counterpose ‘epistemology’
to dialectics.
Lenin clearly shows the incompatibility of the scholastic ‘epistemology’
of the Machists with the genuinely-scientific theory of knowledge –
with the theory of the investigation of the real world by actual man (and
not the fictitious ‘epistemological subject’) and with the actual logic of the
development of science. And if the theory of knowledge and logic (the
theory of thinking) are understood in a dialectical materialist way, then
there is no reason to fear that consistently advancing the idea of the
concurrence of dialectics, logic and the theory of knowledge will lead to
‘an underestimation of the significance of philosophy as a world view’ or
of its ‘ontological aspect’. This is correctly feared by those who understand
epistemology and logic to be sciences which are locked into a study
of the facts of consciousness or the ‘phenomena of consciousness as
such’ (regardless of whether this is individual or ‘collectively organised’
consciousness), and which direct their attention at the external world only
insofar as it is already represented in this consciousness.
At the beginning of the century, Lenin was the only Marxist who understood
and appreciated the enormous philosophical significance of
dialectics as epistemology and logic. This was a significance which was
neither understood nor appreciated at that time by either Kautsky or
Plekhanov, not to mention other Marxists.
Here there is an inexorable choice. Either materialist dialectics is understood
(and developed) in this plan as the logic and theory of man’s
knowledge of the material world, and as the theory of its reflection in the
historically developing consciousness of both individual man and the
human race, or it is inevitably transformed into a ‘sum of examples’
which are borrowed (often in an absolutely uncritical way) from the most
varied fields of knowledge and which only illustrate ready-made and
previously-known, universal formulae of dialectics ‘in general’.
Such a method is still good enough for the popularisation of general
formulae, but for their creative development – it is not. It fails to deepen
by one millimetre either the comprehension of those general formulae of
370 E. V. ILYENKOV
dialectics which are ‘confirmed’ by examples (even the most modern), or
the comprehension of those examples which are used for the ‘confirmation’.
Such a procedure benefits neither philosophy nor natural science.
But it does do harm since it creates and nourishes the illusion that philosophy
is not a science, but simply the abstract knocking together of
ready-made, concrete scientific facts which are uncritically retold in an
abstractly philosophical language, and nothing more. But by the same
token, materialist dialectics itself is reinterpreted (or actually misinterpreted)
in a typically positivist manner. And insofar as the natural scientist
does not need dialectics of this type, in his eyes it is transformed into
empty word-spinning, into abstract fiction, or into the subsuming of
whatever one likes under abstract and universal schemas. This of course
discredits philosophy in the eyes of the natural scientist, teaches him to
look upon it with disdain and condescension, and thereby undermines
Lenin’s idea about the alliance of dialectical materialist philosophy with
natural science.
Therefore the transformation of materialist philosophy (of dialectics)
into a ‘sum of examples’ contradicts the interests of such an alliance and,
as the saying goes, ‘adds grist to the mill’ of positivism.
The alliance of philosophy with natural science, according to the way
Lenin thought, can be enduring and voluntary only if it is mutually productive
and if it mutually excludes any attempt to dictate or force any
ready-made conclusions, both on the part of philosophy and on the part
of natural science. Such an alliance for the sake of cognising the world is
possible only with Lenin’s conception of philosophy. But the positivist
conception immediately pushes both philosophy and natural science into
a mode of dictating to each other, into mutually incompetent hectoring
and sentences without appeal. When conceived of as a system of absolutely
universal truths, philosophy not only has the right but the obligation
to bless those scientific theories which formally (i.e. according to
their verbal form) agree best of all with its dogmatically fixed formulations.
On the other hand it is obligated to fulminate against and prohibit
those theories which are poorly in accord with its letter, even though the
former may be based on fictitious facts, while the latter may be based on
real facts which are well established by experiment and which only suffer
from being incorrectly expressed philosophically. Philosophical approval
and support are given here to the theoretician who most skilfully uses the
terminology and phraseology of the ontology which is accepted at the
given time.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 371
The theory of knowledge as Lenin understood it (and as it was understood
by Marx and Engels, with whom Lenin is in full agreement
when he formulates his views) is by no means the celebrated ‘epistemology’
which was the speciality of Mach, Bogdanov, and others, nor it is the
dilettantish rummaging around in the psychophysiology of the brain and
sense organs or in the subtleties of the vocabulary or syntax of language;
it is a totally different science, with a different subject.
Its real subject is the entire historically (dialectically) developing
process of social man’s objective cognition of the material world of both
natural and socio-historical phenomena), the process of the reflection of
this world in the consciousness of individual man and mankind. The
process whose result and goal is objective truth. The process which is
realised by billions of people in hundreds of successive generations. The
process which at every step is verified by practice, experiment, and facts,
which comes into being in the results of the entire totality of the concrete
(‘positive’) sciences, and which is materially embodied not only and not
even so much in the neuro-physiological mechanism of the brain, but in
the form of technology and industry and in the form of the real, social
and political conquests consciously made by revolutionary forces under
the leadership of their avant-garde – the party.
As far as the positivist conception of the logic of thinking is concerned,
the fundamental task is seen as the reconstruction, in general
form, of those methods of research which are applied in practice by
people connected with the sciences. Such a reconstruction is accomplished
primarily according to those descriptions which are accepted as
the absolutely precise and adequate portrayal of the logic of scientific
development, but which may diverge very far from this logic.
Under the powerful influence of ‘Mr Fact’, scientists continually are
thinking not only not in accordance with the accepted rules, but directly
in defiance of them, often without realising it themselves or else, after the
fact, trying to force a description of their actions under the aegis of one
or another cliché which explains nothing. And in those instances where
logical clichés clearly will not do, they rely on intuition, or guesswork; on
revelation, etc.
A motif of that type – ‘scientists are more aware of how they think’ –
distinctly reverberates in Bogdanov’s work, Belief and Science (on V I Ilyin’s
book, Materialism and Empirio Criticism), where he tries to defend his
philosophical positions from Lenin’s criticism. In it Bogdanov defends
372 E. V. ILYENKOV
his view of philosophy as ‘the impotent attempt’ ‘to connect that which
has been broken, to give people a unified and integral outlook of the
world, to destroy the partitions which have isolated human experience in
locked cells, to fill up the chasms of thought and to erect a bridge reaching
from it to being, which is mysterious and threatening in its infinite
complexity. It is obviously inconceivable to do all this within the framework
of any speciality’.45
Proceeding from such ideas about philosophy, Bogdanov counterposes
to Lenin’s epistemological analysis only loud declamations, which
from the beginning reject Lenin’s criticism of his positions as incompetent
insofar as this criticism, he says, proceeds from ‘the philosophical
erudition of the workshop’. Bogdanov does not wish to listen to ‘people,
who understand the study of philosophy to be the reading of books, and
philosophical work to be the writing of new books of this type on the
basis of those which have been read. Marxists must renounce such a
naive conception with the least difficulty’, they must ‘know very well that
philosophy is an ideology, i.e. “a superstructure”, or something derived,
and that it is ridiculous therefore to construct it out of itself. One must
begin with an explanation of the “base”, i.e. study the productive forces,
which is done by the science of technology and by natural science ...’
‘For this reason’, continues Bogdanov, ‘a rather well-educated expert
“on the productive forces”, i.e. an expert in the field of technology and
natural science, is generally fully justified in not considering the arguments
of a representative of special philosophical “learning”, because as
far as philosophical work is concerned, he is incomparably better prepared
than the dusty epistemologist-specialist’.46
This, then, is the leitmotif of positivism in its war against materialist
dialectics as the genuine epistemology and logic of modern materialism;
that is, against Lenin’s understanding of philosophy, its subject, its role
and its function in the development of a scientific world outlook.
Bogdanov says this after Lenin has shown, on the basis of the most
painstaking analysis, that the Machists’ references to modern natural
science are thoroughly false, that positivism has absolutely no right to
refer to ‘conclusions drawn from natural science’, that a ‘double falsity
pervades all the talk about Mach’s philosophy being “the philosophy of

45 Bogdanov, A., Belief and Science, Moscow 1910, p 215.
46 Ibid., p 217.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 373
20th century natural science”, “the recent philosophy of the sciences”,
“recent natural-scientific positivism” and so forth ... Firstly, Machism is
ideologically connected with only one school in one branch of modern
natural science’,47 which is precisely the so-called ‘new physics’, and only
that branch, and therefore it has no right whatsoever to speak in the
name of all natural science, and especially in the name of all natural
science of the 20th century. ‘Secondly, and this is the main point, what in
Machism is connected with this school is not what distinguishes it from all
other trends and systems of idealist philosophy, but what it has in common with
philosophical idealism in general’.48
As far as the above-mentioned school of ‘new physics’ is concerned,
to which the Machists refer with certain foundation, in reality it ‘strayed
into idealism, mainly because the physicists did not know dialectics’.49
We have introduced the principal position of Lenin’s work which retains
its critical significance even today, when the defenders of neopositivism
are also setting up their gnoseology (epistemology) and logic,
and like the Machists at the beginning of the century, are leaning on the
epistemologically inexact expressions of various representatives of the
latest physics and mathematics.
Yes, and today the source of such imprecision remains the same –
ignorance of materialist dialectics as the logic and theory of knowledge of
contemporary materialism, the materialism of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
Yes, and today ‘the idealist philosophers seize on the minutest error,
the slightest vagueness of expression on the part of famous scientists in
order to justify their refurbished defence of fideism’.50
In 1908 they searched for and seized upon such ‘vagueness of expression’
on the part of Heinrich Hertz. Now they are just as diligently
seizing upon sentences they find useful from Einstein, Bohr, Born,
Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Wiener, and they are just as diligently
suppressing their other statements which speak in favour of both materialism
and dialectics.

47 LCW vol 14. p 303.
48 Ibid. p 303.
49 Ibid., p 262.
50 Ibid., p 283.
374 E. V. ILYENKOV
No Marxist philosopher who is writing books criticising today’s positivism
can ignore this particular circumstance. This criticism only proves
to be effective when it is based on an analysis of the actual state of things
in contemporary natural science: in quantum mechanics, cybernetics,
mathematics, and so forth. And not on the utterances of the self-same
physicists, mathematicians and cyberneticists regarding the methods of
thinking employed by them in their specialised fields.
In order to equal Lenin, and not Bogdanov, then it is necessary not
to re-examine materialist dialectics ‘in the light of the latest achievements
of natural science and technology’, but, on the contrary, to critically
analyse the logic of comprehending those contradictions, the objectively
effective resolution of which leads to its latest achievements. And such an
analysis is possible only in the light of a clearly, strictly and consistently
applied materialist dialectics as the logic and theory of knowledge of
modern materialism.
Whenever anyone begins to ‘creatively develop’ logic and the theory
of knowledge in the light of completely uncritically accepted statements
by representatives of science and technology, then he turns away from
the road of Lenin on to the crooked pathway of Bogdanov.
It was precisely as a result of an uncritical attitude toward what was
said at the beginning of the century in the name of modern natural
science and in the name of the ‘new physics’, that Bogdanov and his
philosophical friends fell into the most primitive subjective idealism: ‘As
in philosophy, so in physics, our Machists slavishly follow the fashion, and
are unable from their own, Marxist, standpoint to give a general survey of
particular currents and to judge the place they occupy’.51
It was the inability to make an independent, Marxist, i.e. dialecticalmaterialist,
epistemological analysis of modern changes in the body of
knowledge of physics, in its theoretical part, the inability to see behind
the physicist’s statement ‘matter has disappeared’ the real fact, the real
change in the concepts of physics, which is, philosophically, incorrectly
expressed, and by no means the a priori predilection of Bogdanov and
others for philosophical idealism which led them into the camp of reaction
and clericalism (which Lenin was forced to call ‘fideism’ out of
censorship considerations). The inability to think in a dialectical way was

51 LCW vol 14. p 302.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 375
one of the main reasons why Bogdanov, as representative of the ‘new
physics’, slipped into idealism.
Lenin insistently demonstrated the most important truth: in our time,
a time of abrupt revolutionary changes (both in politics and in natural
science), without dialectics, i.e. without the ability to think dialectically, it
is impossible to hold on to the positions of materialism. Even with a
subjective loathing toward clericalism, i.e. toward idealism and reaction,
which was characteristic, undoubtedly, of Bogdanov. ‘Bogdanov personally’,
– wrote Lenin – ‘is a sworn enemy of reaction in general and of
bourgeois reaction in particular’.52
Without dialectics, materialism invariably proves to be not the victor
(or a militant), but the vanquished, i.e. it inevitably suffers a defeat in the
war with idealism, Lenin repeats a bit later in his philosophical testament,
the article ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism‘. This is a fundamental
idea with Lenin. Moreover, this idea is not simply stated in the
form of a thesis, but proven by a meticulous analysis of the crisis-ridden
state of affairs in physics, and by a meticulous, critical analysis of those
concepts, the non-dialectical explanation of which led to ‘the slipping of
the new physics into idealism’.
Among them belongs the principle (concept) of the relativity of our
knowledge, including scientific knowledge, a principle ‘which, in a period
of abrupt breakdown of the old theories, is taking a firm hold upon the
physicists, and which, if the latter are ignorant of dialectics, inevitably leads to
idealism’. 53
As for ‘philosophers’ who write today as if Lenin was not interested
in dialectics when he was working on Materialism and Empirio-Criticism but
was simply defending the ‘universal ABC’s of all materialism’, it must be
that they just have not carefully read this chapter of his book. Or, what is
also possible, they have a conception of dialectics which is essentially
different from Lenin’s and about which he speaks not only here, but in all
his subsequent works on philosophy including the Philosophical Notebooks
and the article ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’.
The conception of dialectics as the logic and theory of knowledge of
modern materialism, which permeates the entire text of Materialism and

52 LCW vol 14. p 326.
53 Ibid., p 308.
376 E. V. ILYENKOV
Empirio-Criticism, was formulated a bit later – in the Philosophical Notebooks.
But ‘implicitly’ it is the essence of Lenin’s position in 1908 as well. Moreover,
it is realised in the form of his analysis of concrete phenomena in
physics and in philosophy. Lenin reflects upon and writes about materialist
dialectics, and not purely and simply materialism throughout the entire
book, especially in the chapter about the recent revolution in natural
science. Here he investigates in particular, the dialectic contained in the
concept of objective truth, the dialectical relationship between the relative
and the absolute (the unconditional, which is established definitively and
for all time) which constitutes objective knowledge. It is precisely this
dialectic which Bogdanov was not able to manage; here he became
completely muddled.
Once he had seen the relativity of knowledge – and it was impossible
not to see it – he directed all of his enthusiasm toward the unmasking of
every absolute, against the fact of the presence in knowledge of a content
which indeed depends neither on a particular man nor on mankind, but
which is consequently already ‘removed’ out from under the control of
those conditions of space and time under which it was derived. It was
derived, therefore, not only once, but once and for all. This, then, is what
Bogdanov, or any other positivist, is fundamentally incapable of imagining
or digesting. And he was incapable of imagining this because of his
fundamental rejection of dialectics.
Yes, here there is a strict alternative: either acknowledge that as a result
of scientific cognition, a content is obtained which mankind will
never be compelled to repudiate, knowledge which we can fully guarantee
to be a conquest for all time; or declare that any knowledge obtained by
science is a purely subjective construct which the first new fact may well
overturn.
In other words, without acknowledging the organic unity and the indissoluble
interconnectedness of the relative and absolute within scientific
knowledge, you do not have to speak about the objectivity or universality
of this knowledge whatsoever. Any possibility of distinguishing
truth from a subjective idea is destroyed, the experimental and practical
verification of the knowledge is impossible. There is not and cannot be
anything objective among our ideas (concepts, or theories).
Bogdanov disassociates himself from what he finds to be the unpleasant
dialectic of the relative and the absolute in the development of
scientific knowledge by means of diatribes against ‘all absolutes’, although
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 377
along with these ‘absolutes’ he is forced to fulminate against the thesis of
the very possibility of objective truth.
This question by no means centres on whether this or that concrete
truth is objective. The central point being discussed is about the fundamental
possibility of objective truth in general. According to Bogdanov,
any truth is either objective or purely subjective; no third is given. The
attempts to search for this third by way of investigating the development
of cognition, the transformation of the objective into the subjective and
vice versa, is for him, as well as for Berman, only an insidious fabrication
of Hegelian speculation. For this reason his conception precludes the
very posing of the question about the relationship of the object to the
subject and the subject to the object.
Within the framework of his epistemology, the object as such can be
discussed only insofar as it already finds representation in the subject (in
one or another ‘organised experience’, i.e. in consciousness, in people’s
state of mind). In the end, this means only insofar as this object already
occurs in speech, in language, in the system of sentences about it, since
thinking is understood to be exclusively ‘mute speech’ which is ‘internal’
and ‘inaudible to others’.54
Such a conception of thinking is already clearly formed in his EmpirioMonism,
when the word appears as the primary and fundamental, sensuously
perceived instrument of ‘the organisation and harmonisation of
collective experience’ (as Mach understood it, as a synonym for the
physiologically explained psyche of people). By way of the word, there
arises the self-same ‘collectively organised experience’, or the ‘collective
psyche’. In the word, and only in the word, they exist strictly, as some
kind of ‘sensuously perceived fact’, as a ‘subject of investigation’.
Therefore, in Bogdanov’s schema there is subsequently no place for
the material relations between people – for the economic relations between
people and classes. He is forced to interpret them as the externally
expressed psychical relations between classes, as the ideological schemas
of the organisation of class experience. (Later this is expressed in ventures
to create ‘a proletarian interpretation of the theory of relativity’ and
other Proletcult extravagances.) And all this began with an inability to
unite in the theory of knowledge such opposites as the relative and the

54 c.f. Bogdanov, A., Essays on Universal Organisatyional Science, Samara 1921 p 214.
378 E. V. ILYENKOV
absolute. It must be either one or the other. Bogdanov never acknowledged
any other logic.
With facts in hand, Lenin meanwhile shows that the genuinely difficult
problem of the relativity of knowledge can only be dealt with by a
person who is armed with materialist dialectics, the dialectics of Marx and
Engels.
As a matter of fact, the only theoretically correct formulation
of the question of relativism is given in the dialectical
materialism of Marx and Engels, and ignorance of it is bound
to lead from relativism to philosophical idealism. Incidentally,
the failure to understand this fact is enough by itself to render
Mr Berman’s absurd book Dialectics in the Light of the Modern
Theory of Knowledge, utterly valueless. Mr Berman repeats the
old, old nonsense about dialectics, which he has entirely failed
to understand. We have already seen that in the theory of
knowledge all the Machists, at every step, reveal a similar lack
of understanding.55
Lenin also ‘at every step’ – in every chapter and paragraph, concerning
each problem of the theory of knowledge – counterposes to them this
dialectics, working it over and demonstrating it in application to the
problems not only of sensation, but of the image, concept, truth and
sign-symbol. We will not enumerate all the problems of the theory of
knowledge which are resolved in a dialectical materialist way in the course
of Lenin’s polemic with the Machists. ‘The Register’ would prove to be
too long.
In his book, Lenin says: here is the materialist dialectic in the theory
of knowledge and in logic, in the resolution of absolutely concrete epistemological
problems. Here is epistemology, elaborated with the dialectical
materialist method, as well as the science of thinking – logic. This is
the logic of the actual cognition of objective reality, of the ideal reproduction
(reconstruction) of the material world, the world of material facts
and the relations between material facts. Logic which assisted the creation
of Capital (by means of its conscious and consistent application), the
foundation of the theory of scientific socialism, and the elaboration of
the strategy and tactics of the struggle for socialism.

55 LCW vol. 14 p 309.
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 379
The entirety of Marxism from top to bottom was established by
means of the dialectical materialist method. In literally any work of Marx
and Engels it is therefore both possible and necessary to study the logic
of their thinking and the theory of knowledge which they consciously
employed – dialectics. This must be studied not only in their writings, but
in the real logic of the political struggle which they conducted throughout
their entire lives. For dialectics is the logic not only of research, and not
only of the unity of scientific works; it is also a logic of real causes which
comes to life and enters into battle, finding realisation in whatever are the
truly real causes changing the face of the surrounding world.
Neither Bogdanov nor Berman understood the real dialectics of
Marx and Engels; they simply did not see it. And they only began to
search for it (in order to refute it) among the statements about dialectics
which can be found in the writings of the classics. This meant first of all,
of course, among those fragments by Engels where he popularly explains
the ABCs of dialectics, the most general propositions.
Berman’s entire ‘criticism of dialectics’ for example, is reduced to
demonstrating that the ‘examples’, which Engels introduces in order to
illustrate the correctness of dialectics, can easily be restated in different
terms, without using ‘specifically Hegelian’ terminology. Berman proves
nothing else. In general there is no mention in his book of any actual
dialectics, either Hegelian, or much less Marxism. His book deals exclusively
with words and terminology which, he says, Engels and Marx
unwisely copied from Hegel.
By rummaging around in the ‘Hegelian’ lexicon and diligently explaining
what is meant in pre-Hegelian and post-Hegelian logic by the
terms ‘identity’, ‘contradiction’, ‘negation’, ‘opposition’, and ‘synthesis’,
Berman triumphantly proves that ‘Hegel and his imitators use these terms
in an extremely unscrupulous and completely uncritical manner’, i.e. ‘in
various meanings’ and ‘in different contexts’.56 All this, he says, is because
‘Hegel treated formal logic with contempt’, ‘continuously lumped together’
contrary and contradictory judgements, and so forth. After he had
calculated that ‘with Hegel the term “contradiction” has six different
meanings’, Berman triumphantly decrees the ‘one solitary sense’ in which
this term must henceforth be used. That is nonsense and nothing else.
Whosoever uses this term in any other sense (and particularly in the

56 Berman. Dialectics in the Light ..., p 74.
380 E. V. ILYENKOV
‘ontological’ sense!) will be excommunicated from Marxism and from
‘modern science’ in general by the Machist logic and theory of knowledge.

Let the reader judge for himself whether this ‘absurd little book by
Mr Berman, which sets forth such old, old nonsense’, deserved special
and serious refutation on Lenin’s part.
Lenin felt that it was neither necessary nor even possible to specially
examine and refute Berman’s arguments against dialectics for the simple
reason that the latter generally never dealt with any actual dialectics
whatsoever. For Lenin, dialectics was the method of scientifically cognising
objective reality, while Berman was concerned with the verbal expression
of the psychophysiological states (‘experiences’) of any biological
organism, i.e. he was not dealing with the same thing. To get involved
with him in a debate over the details of his argumentation would mean to
reach a prior agreement with him regarding the very subject of the argument,
its boundaries, and limits, i.e. with all those general Machist premises
from which he proceeded.
But Lenin had after all already smashed to smithereens these selfsame
premises by counterposing to them the dialectical materialist form,
as it is concretely applied to the examination of epistemological problems.

Lenin counterposes to the Machist diatribes about logic and the theory
of knowledge, the dialectical materialist (and not simply materialist)
conception of the essence of those problems which genuine scientific
cognition runs up against. He shows that dialectics with elemental force
intrudes upon the thinking of scientists precisely as the logic of thought
which alone allows them to find and grope their way to a truly radical
escape from the crisis embracing natural science, the cognition of nature,
and physics in particular. Lenin sees the task which the 20th century has
placed before philosophy to be the careful elaboration of dialectics as the
logic of scientific thought and as the genuinely scientific theory of knowledge
capable of helping natural science to find its way out of its crisisridden
state.
The Machist logic and theory of knowledge suggest to natural science
only imaginary and purely verbal means of resolving the disagreements,
conflicts and contradictions that have arisen within it. This is because the
Machists see the actual presence of contradictions only within the verbal,
terminological formulation of knowledge, but not within the very essence
REFLECTIONS ON LENIN’S BOOK 381
of the make-up of this knowledge, not within the attributes of concepts
(for a concept in the language of dialectical philosophy is not the ‘meaning
of a term’, but the understanding of the essence of the matter).
For this reason materialist dialectics orients the thinking of the scientist
toward a sharp and clear explanation of contradictions and thereby
directs the search for a completely concrete way to resolve them in a new
and more profound (i.e. more objective) knowledge.
Machist logic is nothing more than the purely formal ‘harmonising’
of the verbal expression of whatever kn