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The Theory and Practice of communism. A series of 13 lectures taken from the 1967 Wisconsin Alumni seminar held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The speaker Michael B Petrovich is a specialist in Russian and Balkan history the author of numerous books and articles. He is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin. In his last lecture he talked about the life of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and the historical environment in which they thought and worked. Today he discusses Marxism as a philosophy professor Petrovitch. I would like to address myself to the subject of the philosophy of Marx. The reason I do this. Is because Marx and socialism was not just another socio economic theory. Such as those that we have discussed here. When we talked about non Marx and socialism Marx in this is not just
another socio economic theory but it pretends to be a complete system of thought a total outlook on all of existence. In this respect it is what is technically known as a closed system meaning by that that it purports to be a system that contains within itself an explanation to all of existence and needs nothing outside of itself to explain anything. How is it that Marxian socialism is. The only brand of socialism. I know that has wanted such a system and felt such a system necessary. I don't know to what degree angle is on answer here it is valid but I give it to you anyway. Engels writes. We Germans are a terribly ponderous Grindley kite.
I don't know if one can translate Grindley cat really fundamentalist profundity perhaps grimly. We Germans are of a terribly ponderous Grindley. Whenever any one of us expounds what he considers a new doctrine he has first to elaborate it into an all compromising system. He has to prove that both the first principles of logic and the fundamental laws of the universe had existed from all eternity for no other purpose than ultimately to lead to this newly discovered crowning theory. And of quote Let us take Engels at his work. I'm interested in the Soviet philosophy. Because it is an. Indication of how Marxian communists all over the world think and this is my purpose today in going through this. It's very important to
understand the thought processes of other people. And when you stop to consider that say in the Soviet Union today several generations by now of Soviet citizens have been brought up a siege you asleep on what is known in their school system is mocked just as we say poly Sockeye short for political science or soche for sociology. So they refer to DRM not the short form of dialectical materialism. This is a required course in Soviet schools and in the schools of many other communist countries and in the Soviet Union as I say several generations not of young people have been thoroughly imputed in this doctrine. No I would not even venture to guess to what degree they believe in all of this. This is a very touchy subject but chances are that if you have been exposed long enough and hard enough
to anything. And not to anything else that the effects are pretty profound. I can tell you from my own personal experience that in my three trips to the Soviet Union I have on occasion met Soviet citizens who were willing under certain circumstances to be greatly critical of what was going on in the Soviet Union. And were certainly critical of their government. I have never met a Soviet citizen that was critical of the Marxian philosophy. I have the feeling that this part of it they accept. Now. I do not include people who don't think about much of anything. I do not include people for example who especially of the older generation have resisted these things who continue to crowd the churches of the Soviet Union. There are
people who certainly do not agree with this philosophy. The Soviet Union. But on the whole I think that the Soviet educational system has been highly successful. In its an attempt to indoctrinate its citizens with this philosophy. This philosophy also lies at the basis of the Communist educational systems in other countries as well. This is why I thought it would be useful for us to struggle through some of the rather turgid philosophical thinking that goes into it. Because of this fact I have chosen to follow the same sort of exposition that one finds in the Orthodox manuals of Soviet communism. I shall be giving you what amounts to a summary of a Soviet textbook exposition of historical materialism.
Though I trust that you will understand when I make asides which are my asides and which comments belong to the textbook present patients I have chosen to base my comments today largely on the famous fourth chapter of the short course of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This book has been a stand by for several decades now and many people have it in the Soviet world have been brought up on it. I know that some of you are going to wonder even after everything that I have said Friday is that I am boring you with such a subject or at least troubling you with such an abstract subject. And so I thought that I would read to you from the Soviet textbook fundamentals of Marxism Leninism what it is that they themselves see important about the subject of Soviet philosophy and what it has to do with the price of eggs
so to speak. Before I do this I might simply remind you of a statement of Marxist. And that is Marx thoroughly believe that an idea once it is gripped by the masses he calls it itself becomes a physical force. I think it's a very solid base for a study of this. When we come to realize that so that communists regard the philosophy of Marxism as a kind of blueprint and that they are actually engineers carrying this out then we can see some of the importance of this. But going back to the textbook now on fundamentals of Marxism Leninism. It says Marxism-Leninism has great merits that distinguish it from all other philosophical systems. It does not recognize the existence of any supernatural forces or creators. There you have one big difference between Marx and communists and much of the rest of the world. They do
not accept religion in any form. It rests squarely on reality on the real world in which we live. It liberates mankind once and for all from superstition and age old spiritual bondage. The next sentence simply astounds me or anyone who knows the history of thought in the Soviet Union. It encourages independent free and consistent thought. Skipping further the Marxist Leninist world outlook stems from science itself and trusts science. As long as science is not divorced from reality and practice. Marxism Leninism teaches that not only the development of nature but the development of human society too takes place in accordance with objective laws that are independent of man's will. I might add here is a footnote that Stalin was very fond of the phrase social engineers. But skipping the
Marxist-Leninist theory is not a dogma it is a guide to action. Here let me stop to say that this is a very interesting statement because Stalin ism was associated with dogmatism Whereas today there has been a tendency in the communist world to be a little bit freer of the strict interpretations of Stalin ism Marxist Leninist theory. To go back provides a scientific basis for a revolutionary policy. He who bases his policy on subjective desires remains either refute our dreamer or risks being thrust into the background by history for history does not conform to man's wishes. If these are not in accordance with the laws of history that is why Lenin emphasized the need for a sober scientific analysis of objective situations and the objective course of evolution as the basis for defining the
political line of the party. Skipping again Marxism-Leninism therefore represents a most valuable source of strength for all working people. For every progressive man or woman who wants to acquire a correct understanding of the world who does not want to be at the mercy of circumstances but a conscious contributor to the events that are unfolding in the world there are already millions of such men and women and their number is increasing all the time. Marxism Leninism enables them to reach more quickly the political maturity that comes with the experience of life and helps them to direct their youthful energies along the correct path of serving men. Can the Marxist-Leninist world outlook is also a true compass in every sphere of scientific endeavor not only in the social but in the natural sciences. For is it not true that a correct understanding of the world and its general laws into relations and processes greatly helps the natural scientist in his creative
research. The Marxist Leninist outlook opens up splendid prospects to workers in the arts and literature. It directs their creative efforts towards a deeper and richer reflection of reality through artistic media without the beneficial influence of a clear progressive world outlook. The work of contemporary writers and artists is at best anemic whereas bourgeois literature is more and more succumbing to moods of hopelessness and unrelieved pessimism. The work of progressive writers and poets is imbued with the life asserting optimism their artistic creation is inspired by faith in a brighter future and cause for the building of that future. Whereas Western worthwhile idiology is caught in a desperate crisis of disbelief in men and the future of civilization. The Marxist Leninist world inspires the world outlook inspires a desire to work
for a noble social ideals. Marxism Leninism is a source of strength even to the weak a source of steadfast political principles. Millions in every part of the world have already been drawn to this resource and so on and so I think you can see from this exposition just exactly how important these people believe that the philosophy is. Now the Marxist philosophy and world outlook consists of many parts. There is an explanation of the sum total of human history and I shall speak of the historical theory of it. On another occasion it is an economic theory and it does contain an ethic and we shall speak of that another time. But today I would like to speak about particularly the true philosophical aspects of the Marxian theory.
As I may have mentioned before Marx Marxism is sometimes referred to as scientific socialism. This was the name that Karl Marx himself preferred. As a matter of fact we are told that in a peak of temper. Towards the end of his lifetime Karl Marx once exploded with the expression to sweep by Marxist I am not a Marxist. I was he was Karl Marx he was not a Marxist and he was tired of all of these people around him misinterpreting him and calling him a Marxist Marx felt that the legitimacy the validity of his ideas did not depend upon that. And the gene in his own genius he even though he was acutely aware of his own genius at all times. But he believed that he had hit upon the key to the universe in this way in an age in which people believe fervently in science
and Marx believed that his theory had all of the validity of scientific truths and this is why the free scientific socialism. It is one that has been preferred by the marxists themselves and yet may I point out. Historically the theory itself did not evolve scientifically After all science itself is theory based on empirical observation of facts and data. The fact the data have to come first and then the theory. But I cannot escape the conclusion that with Karl Marx the theory came first. And all of the main outlines of Marxist philosophy were there in his head by the time he was 30 and he spent the rest of his life elaborating his analysis of the facts on the basis of a philosophy that he had already formulated the philosophy came first and then the economic history. Or as to me being male puts it in this introduction of Marxist theory. The sentence on capitalism came
first the verdict and the trial then followed. I have mentioned before are the two words idealism and materialism. And have asked you to remember that these words are to be thought not in their everyday meaning but in their specific philosophical meaning. I would now like to quote to you the death of the official definition from the Soviet textbook as to what idealism and materialism mean. They start with materialism. Those who consider that the material basis that is nature is primary and regard thought spirit as a property of matter belonged to the camp of materialism. Those who maintain the thought spirit or idea existed before nature and that nature is in one way or another the creation of spirit and dependent upon it comprise the camp of idealism.
That is the only philosophical meaning of the terms idealism and materialism and of course now I should warn you immediately that professional philosophers do not like this dichotomy of dividing everybody into sheep and goats into two things idealists and materialists. No matter what side of the fence you're on. The philosophers in fact don't like to talk about fences and these things. There are other forms of thought besides idealism and materialism. One can be a realist For example again in its philosophical sense and yet not be a materialist. All I want to say by this is that modern philosophers today non Marx and I take exception to the whole basic outlook of Soviet philosophy that every philosophy is either in the one camp or the other. Idealism or materialism that it's an either or proposition. And so they force everybody's thinking onto this Procrustean bed either
to one side or the other. Professional philosophers and non Marx humans do not do that but we are more interested in what this communist philosophers themselves that do and how they proceed. Now. Marx in philosophy is often called dialectical materialism and these two words mean no two different sources. I have talked before too. German philosophers that were very influential in that time Marx they go and write while it is an oversimplification. It is not too far from the truth to say that marks in dialectical materialism is in many ways a synthesis of the ideas of these two men because what they called gays was the dialectic as a method. Even though cable was himself an idealist and Marx rejected a girl's idealism.
Marx didn't accept haggles dialectical method as an explanation of what goes on in the world. For Bach did not have a dialectical method. His views of what goes on in the world today were rather static. He was in an eighteenth century tradition here and this is why his brand of materialism is known as vulgar materialism. But it was definitely looked serious and that is that it gave primacy to nature and to matter in the universe and that matter came first and has an objective existence outside of any spirit or man's thoughts. Now you see what Marx did was to take the dialectic here. And hitch it up with materialism here while rejecting the what is known technically as the vulgar part of firebox materialism or the
idealist approach paid off. They gave him then the dialectical method. But Mark says use of that method was diametrically opposed to him. And similarly with Marx and Engels agreed with firebox emphasis on philosophical materialism. They invested this materialism with a quite different content than Fireback gave to it. The elements of dialectics and materialism are traceable to others but their synthesis into a system is the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Let us begin now with the dialectic. The first part of the term dialectical materialism. And this will involve us with Marx's relation to Haykel. The word dialectic comes from the Greek verb leggo. Which means literally two words.
And involves the concept of dispute and discourse of debate. Among ancient Greeks. And now let me quote Stalin from the short Carcer at least what has been attributed to Stalin among the ancient Greeks dialectics was the art of arriving at the truth by disclosing the contradictions in the argument of an opponent and overcoming these contradictions. There were philosophers in ancient times who believed that the disclosure of contradictions in thought and the clash of opposite opinions was the best way of arriving at the truth. I'm sure that anyone that has seen radio or TV debate understands how this works the moderator is always trying to get people not to agree with one and there but to disagree with one another because this makes not only for a lively discussion but there is the hope that out of the disagreement will perhaps come some greater measure of the
truth. Everybody agreed with everybody else we'd never know what was right and what was wrong perhaps. I much taken by an example that I found in a mimeograph lecture entitled The philosophy of communism. By Roman Catholic priests reverent we'd call the act the president of the end of St Catherine's high school in Racine. Father because the act has the following example of the dialectical method in argumentation. I'm quoting you say that there are people on Mars because there is some evidence of vegetation and growth on that planet. I will state that there are no people on Mars because of the excessive heat on the planet. You will deny my statement by saying that people on Mars. I different from the people on earth and that they can withstand the heat. I in turn will deny your statement by saying that if they are that different from the people on Earth then they are not people and so on and so on into the night. End of quote.
Now involved in this matter are essentially three steps. A statement its contradiction and the third statement which is meant to incorporate what is ever true. Hopefully in both preceding statements and to this they go away from the ancient Greek of course of faeces and it's hard to say and agree again what happens when once you reach the synthesis is that the synthesis in turn then becomes the thesis. Which has within itself. A contradiction and antithesis which then has to be worked out into a new synthesis and so on and so on the process goes on how far no one knows Hangal thought of this is being as infinite as all of nature or as infinite as all of the thought. I had referenced the other day
to one of these propositions Professor Mayo uses it in his theory in practice of Marxism thesis. Justice is treating everyone alike. Antithesis justice is treating everyone differently because you can't treat children like adults you can't treat sick people like healthy people and so forth. But this goes too far. And so you get a synthesis justice is giving everyone his due but this too is an uncertain proposition or conclusion because the wisdom of the ages has not been successful in determining what everyone's due is. So this synthesis in turn becomes a thesis which invites further argument. Now so far may I say that there's nothing even nothing particularly Marxian and nothing even particularly hit Galen about this Plato uses it in his sub Craddick dialogues in medieval times the dialectic was almost synonymous with logic. So what was Hagel's contribution
that he gaily and dialectic might be reduced to a syllogism of the sort that ideas developed by the dialectical process. And that the external world is merely an embodiment of ideas. And that's the important thing that the external world is an embodiment of ideas. In the beginning was the word and therefore the external world develops or moves dialectically. Now let's take up each of these points. Ideas developed by the dialectical process they call did not mean the kind of process that we found in the examples I gave my father because Henry male. That was simply a common sensical common sense exchange of opinions based on the perception and evaluation of known events. However Hagar
had an almost mind we know why say almost mystical belief in the end that every idea has inherently in itself a self generated contradiction that inherent in every idea is a self generated contradiction or a tension between opposites. Which triggers off a movement or a progression of thought. If one were to describe how this happens in a graphic for fear I might say several different ways of showing this graphically. But you have something here called the thesis and then you have the antithesis. They fight it out and reach a synthesis. Which in turn becomes the thesis. Creates its own antithesis and another synthesis. And so it goes. If I might borrow a phrase onward and
upward for ever and please note that it doesn't just go on. It goes on the word and upward at the very the very foundation of this kind of thinking is a progressive one. Note what great appeal this had for people in the 19th century were the word progress was so frequently spelled with a P. This is why I wrote to you certain paragraphs from the Soviet textbook on fundamentals of Marxism Leninism. This is essentially an optimistic theory about things that can't go down it can't go under it can't just stay where it is this is not a status quo theory. It is not a pessimistic theory. It is an optimistic theory in that it goes on and upward. And certainly this process implies improvement as you go onward and upward because the synthesis by definition is supposed to be what is truest and best about the
The theory and practice of communism
Marxism as a Philosophy
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University of Wisconsin
WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
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Chicago: “The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Philosophy,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 19, 2022,
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