On Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Confused Philosophy

Materialism and Empirio-Criticism

Gregory Zinoviev once aptly noted that around “everything that Lenin wrote there is always seething strife. Nobody can remain indifferent to his writings. You can hate Lenin, you can love Lenin to distraction, but you cannot remain neutral.” Nowhere is this truer than his famous 1909 book Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy (MEC). More people have held this book up to be a Marxist masterpiece than have actually read it. However, it is terribly confused. Yes, Lenin correctly showed that Machism was idealism, but the book’s basic and ultimately harmful flaw is that he did so from the standpoint of pre-Marxist materialism. I say the latter because Anton Pannekoek was incorrect that Lenin’s basis was simple 18th and 19th century materialisms. Rather it was a hodgepodge of 18th century materialism, the materialism of Feuerbach, of Epicurus, and, above all, that of Plekhanov. What it did not present was the viewpoint of Marx’s dialectical logic. For Lenin was wrong in holding Marxism to be a philosophy, something Marx and Engels never held. He also did not comprehend the scientific, theoretical revolution that Marx’s materialist outlook represented as against all previous views. This is because, following Plekhanov, he collapsed all the abovementioned materialisms into one viz. he reduced the views of Marx and Engels to that of Feuerbach and others. Thus Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism is not Marxist, but Plekhanovian. This is shown even more so by the fact that Lenin, during his study on Hegel, broke with MEC on all essential points. Finally, Lenin’s earlier position would also be later de facto repudiated by those Marxists in Soviet psychology who made real scientific advances by applying the activity-oriented approach, such as A.N. Leontiev, A. R. Luria, P. Galperin, and N. Talyzina, among others.

Download a PDF of the article by clicking the link below