Dialectic as a Theory of Knowledge
§1. Practice as the Basis of Knowledge
Dialectically evolving matter is the initial point in the Marx-Leninist
philosophy. In the dialectic of the development of material actuality the very
emergence of social history, the very emergence of thinking individuals find
Thought is a property of highly-organized matter which has reached the
highest stage of its development. In the eternal development of matter there
arise, decline and anew create themselves, infinitely varied forms of material
movement and among them there arises, in some maybe unimportant part of the
world-structure, a peculiar form of material movement, namely organic life, and
after it social history.
The capacity for knowledge proper to men in the social historic epoch is the
highest product of the development of matter, and is the property of a high form
of existence of material actuality.
“Matter,” says Engels, “moves in an eternal cycle, completing its
trajectory in a period so vast that in comparison with it our earthly year
is as nothing; in a cycle in which the period of highest development, namely
the period of organic life with its crowning achievement –
self-consciousness, is a space just as comparatively minute in the
history of life and of self-consciousness; in a cycle in which every
particular form of the existence of matter – be it the sun or a nebula, a
particular animal or animal-species, a chemical combination or decomposition
– is equally in transition; in a cycle in which nothing is eternal, except
eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws of its movement and
change. But however often and pitilessly this cycle may be accomplished in
time and space, however many countless suns and earths may arise and fall,
however long it may be necessary to wait until in some solar system, on some
planet appear conditions suitable for organic life, however many countless
beings may fall and rise before, out of their midst, develop animals with a
thinking brain that find an environment that permits them to live, be it
even only for a short period, we are, nevertheless, assured that matter in
all its changes remains eternally one and the same, that not one of its
attributes may perish, and that that same iron necessity which compels the
destruction of the highest earthly bloom of matter – the thinking spirit –
also necessitates its re-birth at some other place, at some other time.”*
* Engels, Dialectic of Nature (1930), p.
At what moment does this process of knowledge arise? At what degree of
development of material actuality are the conditions created which are necessary
for the emergence of knowing beings?
The process of knowledge, which is a process of reflecting the ever deeper
connections of the material world, can arise only when the conditions are ripe
for the development of real social history; when socially controlled
production becomes possible, when organic life is no longer subject to the
merely unconscious operations of cause and effect, but comes under conscious and
deliberate social control.
Social knowledge can only come into existence on the basis of a development
of material production in the process of which every new generation receives
from its predecessor, together with the accumulated heritage of productive
forces, a heritage of experience embodied in a known sum of knowledge.
Materialism before Marx was only a contemplative materialism, since it
considered the question of knowledge apart from its connection with
social-historic practice. The problem for Marx is to explain man’s sensuous
experience, his hate and love, his joys and sufferings, by the historically
existing form of social practice and the class struggle. Only by such a method
can we understand the significance of human experience and the actions arising
therefrom, which are not the same for people of different epochs and different
In material production the subjective experiences of people are not separated
from the material objects of the external world. The material objects of nature
are in practice found in unity with the social action of people and, through
such action, are also found in unity with the process of knowledge of these
people. When we consider the objects of material production, for example the
appliances of material production – machine-tools, turbines, tractors, we find
in them the subjective action of people, the social practice of many generations
of men, which has passed into the definite forms of these objects.
The article which appears to exist in objective reality, without dependence
on people or their knowledge, is seen in social practice to be in union with the
action and knowledge of people. In the process of material production, and on
the basis of human productive activity, a knowledge of material nature becomes a
necessary factor in the production of articles. In any tool of production a
definite historic stage of social practice and knowledge is embodied. Modern
machines assume not only a modern level of development of people’s productive
activity, but also in conjunction with it more than twenty centuries of
The transition of the action of social beings into an article is actualized
in the process of production. Marx shows in Capital that during the
process of labour that labour is continually changing from the form of action
into the form of being. In the process of labour subjective action enters into
the article, enters into unity with the article by working on it. In social
practice the forms of a material article are changed. From an external object of
nature, independent of society, the article is turned into a social article
indissolubly linked up with the whole complex of social practice. Thus in the
process of material production, in social practice, a material object becomes a
social object, and the social subjective action of people becomes objective.
Thus in practice is realized the unity of subject and object. So we see it is
only possible to resolve the question of the mutual action of subject and
object, of thought and being, in social practice.
§2. Practice as the Criterion of Knowledge
Social practice is not a form of activity that is independent of the
time-factor; it emerges in a quite definite form at each given historical stage
of social development. In such a concrete historic form Marx regards the
question when he speaks of the criterion of practice. Every social class has its
determinate criterion of practice. In every historic epoch this criterion is
changed; it is changed along with the development of the class in the course of
its historical role. The material content of practice, the historically
determined processes of material production were, and are, for the classes
concerned, the criterion of truth and the criterion of the understanding of
objective material reality.
The patriarchal tribal society with its primitive ways of production was
unacquainted with the productive possibilities of coal. The possibility of using
coal was only discovered at the period of the merchant capitalist relationships
which arose in the feudal period in the twelfth century (near Liege in Belgium).
The extraction of iron, copper and silver has now proceeded for nearly 6,000
years. But neither the Assyrian treatment of copper, nor the working of iron in
very ancient China, nor the mining industry in ancient Rome could serve as a
practical basis for wide geological generalizations. For wide theoretical
generalizations there was needed a long process of mining production, a wide
extension of mining, the knowledge of how to remove subterranean water, and the
utilization of a great many other technical devices. The development of the
commercial-capitalist type of industry in the sixteenth century allows the whole
practice of mining to be transformed into a science. The experience of mining
production became so wide, and the diversity of mine workings so great, that the
science of geology may be said to begin from this time.
Experience is the sum, the result of social practice. Only in that
experience which is the aggregate of the practical attainments of society do we
disclose the objectively existing material reality. “In experience,” according
to Lenin, “emerge objects of understanding, independent of understanding.”
Periodic winds and sea currents existed long before the appearance of organic
life, existed millions of years before the appearance of the social practice and
knowledge of men. But a long period of development of practical navigation was
necessary before it was possible to understand these winds and currents.
Navigation, although considerably developed by the Phoenicians, by the Greeks,
and by the Alexandrians of the first and second centuries, had not yet
accumulated sufficient experience for these scientific discoveries. Only the
changes resulting from the rising capitalist organization of production created
the practical foundation for such knowledge.
The basis of knowledge in the example we give was merchant-capitalist
practice, yet in its experience of sea-travelling this class summed up not only
its own practice but also the practice of those stages of social evolution that
had preceded it. Shipbuilding, the building of wharfs for boats, and many
different ways of rigging a ship, were already known in periods of more
primitive methods of production.
All the earlier developments of historic practice are summed up in the
experience of every epoch. That is just why Marx-Leninism seeks to resolve the
question of knowledge and experience on the basis of all social practice. This
implies a radical change in the manner in which these problems are to be
By including the criterion of practice in the theory of knowledge, Marxism
leaves no place for the Kantian “thing in itself.” For Kant the “thing in
itself” was a secret, unknowable essence, inaccessible to our senses and to our
knowledge alike. The material object ceases to be a secret, “thing in itself” as
soon as it emerges in the process of production, as soon as it is reproduced in
The development of the productive process actually changes the objects of
material nature; where at first they were virtually unknown and unknowable, they
eventually take shape and become known. “What we can do,” as
Engels rightly declared, “that, of course, we cannot call unknowable.”
“For the chemistry of the first half of the nineteenth century,” wrote
Engels, “organic compounds were such unknown things. But to-day we are
succeeding in making them one after the other by means of the synthesis of
chemical elements and with no recourse to organic processes.” The objective
material world is revealed by practice. Processes that seemed to be inaccessible
to knowledge and to exist independently of knowledge emerge as part of the
practice of a particular stage in social development. Thus a whole range of
entirely new laws in thermodynamics, chemistry and electricity have been
discovered in the process of modern social practice.
This explains what we mean when we say that practice is the real key to our
knowledge of the external world. “The question whether objective truth can be
attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical
question. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is
isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question,” says Marx in his second
thesis on Feuerbach. The best refutation of Kantian and Humist agnosticism as of
other philosophical fancies is practice, or as Engels rightly says: “The success
of our actions proves the agreement of our perceptions with the apprehensible
objective truth of things.”
However conditional and imperfect our knowledge at any stage may be, it
reflects objective material reality, approximating to absolute truth. The fact
that we can and do know the truth and are really in touch with objective
material nature is proved to us by our practice, which turns our knowledge into
actual existing objects of production and remakes and changes material
But it would be a crude distortion and vulgarization of Marxism to see in the
Marx-Leninist doctrine of practice as the criterion of truth a negation of the
vast importance of theoretical analysis and theoretical verification of
different logical conclusions. Dialectical Materialism has nothing in common
with the cheap rule-of-thumb thinking that has no use for abstract thought and
general ideas. “Practice is higher than theoretical knowledge,” says Lenin,
“because it has not only the virtue of generality, but also of immediate
actuality.” A logical development of ideas is possible because the mind engages
in the task of interpreting and working over the historical process which it
reflects. But all such thinking, even when it uses the generalizations of
preceding practice, must instantly be tested by scientific experiment and social
Pre-Marxian philosophy tries to find the criterion of truth in knowledge
itself. Descartes sees the criterion of truth in clearness and precision of
ideas. Kant saw the criterion of truth in the universal and necessary character
of knowledge itself. Contemporary mathematical logic, in the person of Russell,
Cantor and others, perceives the criterion of truth in the logical formal
succession of mathematical conclusions. None of these forms of rationalistic
idealism makes any attempt to find the criterion of truth in the external world.
But knowledge considered as an abstract system of ideas, however
self-consistent, clear and precise that system may be, can never be a criterion
When Marx speaks of finding a criterion of truth by subjective practice he
does not mean by subjective what Berkeley or Mach would mean, he means that the
subject only reaches truth in so far as and in the manner in which he engages in
activity in relation to the external world, in the course of which activity he
changes that world. The practical point of view is the subjective point of view
in the sense that it proceeds from the concrete activity of social man. True
subjectivity is the breaking down of the separation of idea and object, and it
is obviously one and the same thing as practice. The objective world (objective
truth) is through practice reflected in knowledge and ceases to be a strange
world separate from human knowledge
§3. Bourgeois Practice and Knowledge
In class society there cannot be extra-class practice and extra-class
knowledge. The criterion of truth in class society is the practice of the given
In the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, when the bourgeoisie
was struggling with feudalism for mastery; and in the first half of the
nineteenth century, when capitalism had not yet arrived at the period of its
decay, capitalist practice was the criterion of progressive knowledge.
The philosophic systems, natural-scientific theories, social-political views
of that epoch remain among the greatest achievements of the history of
progressive social knowledge.
But however progressive the views of Bacon were in comparison with the
scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages, whatever shattering arguments from the
idealistic point of view Hegel brought against the Kantian “thing in itself,”
the philosophic views of these giants of theoretical thought retain their
The dialectic of Hegel remained a mystical idealistic dialectic. “The whole
Darwinian teaching about the struggle for existence,” writes Engels, “is simply
a transference of the bourgeois economic teaching on competition (and also the
Malthusian theory) from the sphere of society to the sphere of nature.”
The capitalistic means of production could make possible the emergence of a
number of theories – scientific, technical, philosophic – among which, some have
reflected, though in a distorted form, others have only guessed at, different
sides of objective actuality. The capitalist practice of a given time could be
the basis of progressive knowledge. But at no stage of the development of
capitalism, even in the epoch of the revolutionary uprising of the bourgeoisie,
could its historically limited practice create a theory of knowledge correctly
reflecting the contradictions of objective actuality.
At the heart of capitalism lies that principle of exploitation which called
into being a development of the productive forces unheard of until that time,
with which development a remarkable expansion of the mathematical and natural
sciences was closely connected; but at the same time it was this very principle
of exploitation that was responsible for the distorted representation of the
main forces of capitalist production, especially of the essential principle of
capitalism itself which appears in a curiously mystified form.
The basic contradictions of bourgeois thought are rooted in the
contradictions of the capitalistic mode of production itself. And so such works
as Capital by Marx, Imperialism as the Latest Stage of Capitalism
by Lenin, which uncover the contradictions of capitalism, acquire great
importance for the theory of knowledge.
Marx discloses the character of capitalistic relationships, beginning with
the simple categories of capitalist economy, from that period when capitalistic
relationships were not yet dominant, and ending with the period of their
In trade and finance, in capital and profit, in wages, in the form of surplus
value, in the reproduction of capital, etc., Marx discloses the mystification,
the distorted conception of actual relationships, that is proper to bourgeois
In bourgeois society mutual relationships between people “in the
social-productive process lead,” says Marx, “above all to this, that their own
productive relationships which stand outside their control and outside their
conscious individual action, take on a “thingified” character, in consequence of
which, all the products of their work take on the form of commodities.”
Relations between people become possible only through the means of things,
through the “thing”-form of commodities and money, by means of capital, and
interest, and so much per cent. And so the social relationships between people
are distorted, are mystified.
Even a long time before capitalism became supreme, wherever trade and money
circulation appeared, there appeared at the same time distortions of actual
human relationships. “All forms of society,” says Marx, “to the extent that they
reach the stage of commodity production and money circulation, are to a more or
less degree characterized by such a distortion of actual relationships.”
On the basis of the dominance of the bourgeoisie, thanks to the lordship of
capital in production, the social forces of labour present themselves to the
bourgeoisie in a distorted aspect, as if they generate themselves in the womb of
capital itself. Thanks to an objectively existing exchange a distorted
conception of profit is created, as if it arose out of circulation and not by
the appropriation by a capitalist of the unpaid labour of a worker.
Marx establishes that capitalist practice in the whole complex of its
social relations gives to itself such a form as does not correspond with its
The capitalistic sources of income and forms of income “express,” says Marx,
“the relations of capitalist production in a fetishistic form. Their nature, as
it appears on the surface, is cut off from its hidden connection and real
origins. Thus ground becomes the source of ground-rent, capital is the source of
profit and labour the source of wages.”
Marx is not concerned with passing a moral judgment on capitalism, or
expressing indignation at its injustices in the manner of Rousseau who declared
feudalism to be “contrary to nature.” Marx discloses the actual distortion that
exists in the capitalist order of production which is reflected in the
distortions and mystifications that exist in bourgeois ideology.
The capitalist means of production, in the light of this distorted bourgeois
consciousness, is accepted as an eternal immutable phenomenon, as the
relationship of natural man to nature (as was thought in the epoch of
enlightenment in the eighteenth century) as the sole form of relationship of man
to man (vulgar political economy), hired labour being supposed to comprise all
possible forms of labour.
Bourgeois thought always considers the capitalist means of production as
historically unchangeable, permanent and existing everywhere that men exist.
It moves in a constricted fashion within the limits set by capitalist social
relationships. The system of exploitation, the movement of capitalist forces,
fix the very forms of thought just as they determine economic practice.
It is for this reason that bourgeois economics suffers from such severe
limitations. Even its most useful ideas remain in some degree under the sway of
the distortions of actual relationships that capitalism cannot but produce and
reproduce. True their own criticisms have already destroyed many of the dogmas
of orthodox capitalist economics, but since they are not free to break
completely away into socialist economics this only deepens the confusion and
illogicality of their latest theories. Hence their half-way policies and
hopeless contradictions, while the actual laws of capitalist production remain
for them an unguessed secret. Bourgeois thought cannot pass beyond the stage of
discrediting the semblance without revealing the essential truth which it has
obscured, just as Kant shows that phenomena are only the appearance of
reality but is entirely unable to tell us anything about the unknown “thing in
In every sphere of thought bourgeois thinkers will be found creating
individualistic theories, interpreting the universe in terms of the sanctity of
private property, and separating man from his necessary place in the community.
Philosophers as different in their outlook as Spengler, Max Stirner, Fichte and
Hume, will all be found exalting the individual and his sensations and the
individual and his private property as the criterion of reality and the key to
the understanding of the universe.
But the reactionary elements in individualistic bourgeois thought emerge most
clearly in our own epoch, in which the contradictions of capitalism have been
sharpened to the limit the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolutions.
The concealed laws and connections of the capitalist system can be actually
disclosed and known only from an anti-capitalist proletarian point of view.
When human society is really understood and capitalism is revealed as one of
its necessary forms of development, the class struggle is seen to be the basis
of its movement, of its progress into a new and higher form. From this point of
view, which was that of Marx, the laws of the rise and fall of capitalism, of
the movement of the proletariat and of the proletarian revolution are revealed.
From the standpoint of Marx the revolutionary destruction of capitalism has
become historically necessary and also the building up under conditions of
proletarian dictatorship of a socialist society, of a collectivized society.
In distinction from other oppressed classes, the proletariat goes through the
grim school of large-scale capitalist production. This form of exploitation and
the struggle against it train the proletariat in habits of joint social work and
create the possibility of party political solidarity and organization.
The proletariat is the only class that is able, logically and finally, to
struggle against capitalist exploitation and private property in the means of
production, against the actually existing irrationality and mystification of the
practice of capitalism.
“Only that class among the oppressed classes which has been taught,
united, disciplined, tempered by decades of industrial conflict, which has
assimilated all the culture of urban, industrial large-scale capitalism and
which has the ability and determination to defend, to preserve and further
develop these achievements, to make them accessible to all the people, to
all workers, only that class which knows how to endure all the burdens,
torments, misfortunes, great sacrifices that are inevitably laid by history
on whosoever breaks away from the past and courageously opens up for himself
a road to a new future – only that class which has passed through the
hardening school of toil and knows how to inspire with respect for his
labour every working man, every honourable man – only such a class can
destroy the classes which it supersedes by its own dictatorship” (Lenin).
Lenin, as we see, in his approach to the question of the independent
class-movement of the proletariat, attributes great importance to the character
of the work of the proletariat under capitalism. The working class in the
conditions of capitalist production is the greatest productive force. The
proletariat is the immediate producer in bourgeois society. It is their activity
and not that of the capitalist that transfers itself to and comes into unity
with the material object.
The conditions of large-scale capitalist industry foster in the revolutionary
class such habits of approach to the object as are not possible to the
capitalist, whose basic motive of action is “exchange value and its increase.”
Therefore only the ideologies of the working class can work out a logical
materialistic attitude towards the object, towards those actual processes in
which the proletariat itself takes part as a producing force.
The dialectical point of view towards material actuality, as we shall trace
in detail further on, has as its most highly developed form the logical
revolutionary political struggle of the proletariat which is directed to the
destruction of capitalism.
While it is true as we have seen that the very character of the activity of
the proletariat has already created all the necessary conditions for working out
a logical materialistic philosophy of nature and society, we must yet remember
that in capitalist society there exists between the worker and the means of
labour a severance which is conditioned by the whole economic structure of
capitalism. The means and instruments of labour are the private property of the
capitalists. The progress of capitalist technique and of industrial organization
emerges as a hostile force in relation to the worker, as a force that increases
unemployment and exploitation.
The social character of labour is itself under capitalism “a kind of force
foreign to the worker” (Marx). For the condition that makes real the social
character of labour, of co-operation of workers in the process of material
production, is such that the worker only feels it as an external force.
Capital makes use of every available means to distort the consciousness of
the worker. The bourgeois school, the Church, the Press make it their task to
suppress in the worker his power to oppose capitalism, to foster in him the
ideology of the slave who is content in his slavery.
In the epoch of imperialism sections of the workers, because of privileged
material conditions, identify their interests with the success of their
capitalist masters, and help to spread the ideology of capitalism among the
workers. This particularly applies to the trade union and political bureaucracy,
which with the spread of democratic institutions is increasingly drawn into the
State machinery for the preservation of the existing system, and is therefore
led into opposition to the forces making for social change.
The bourgeois political education of the workers is being assiduously
promoted by every one of the political parties of the bourgeoisie, whose first
and radical task is a pitiless struggle against the party of the proletariat,
the communist party. But the more the contradictions of capitalism deepen and
the fiercer becomes the class struggle, so much the more conscious and
revolutionary become the working masses and with still less success can the
bourgeoisie apply its methods of deforming and distorting the consciousness of
Bourgeois individualism when it becomes the ideology of monopoly capital, an
ideology which is organically at one with the aggressive politics of
imperialism, emerges stripped of all disguise. One of the clearest examples of
the decay of bourgeois thought is to be found in the pragmatic theory of
knowledge, which reduces the whole question to one of practical advantage and
the wishes of the individual. For me, says William James, the founder of
pragmatism, only that which is practically useful is truth. Truth is not
actuality reflected in our thinking, but that which happens to suit the needs
and feelings of an individual personality. Such a view is far removed from the
conception of knowledge as a reflection of material reality.
The British representative of the pragmatist philosophy, Schiller, develops a
number of possible definitions of truth. Truth as necessity, as correspondence
with an object, as that which is self-evident, as authenticity. All these
definitions are from Schiller’s point of view only expressions of the different
psychical states of the subject. Truth is not arrived at in the process of
reflecting material reality by the thought of social man – truths are created by
man. Of the numerous definitions of truth, man selects those which are most
suitable to him at a given moment, those which best express his will, his
desires and personal interests. Truth is a working hypothesis which has no
relationship to the actual development of the material world and always remains
merely an hypothesis. The only things with which truth can agree are the
personal acts and aspirations of man.
Pragmatism means that instead of allowing truth to reflect objective reality
whether we like what we see or not, we construct a version that suits our
desires and see whether we can maintain it in the face of the facts. For so long
as we can do so this version is truth.
Thus a financial swindler wishes to persuade his victims, the public, his
fellow financiers and the law that his schemes are perfectly honest. He
therefore constructs a complete case and puts it about with all the conviction
he can muster. It is very much to his interests that it shall be believed. Now
according to pragmatism as long as he can get it believed it is “true.”
Conformity to fact, according to pragmatism, is no test at all. For after all
what is fact? There are only the facts as they appear to you and me,
and very often they appear quite different to you and me, as visitors to the
U.S.S.R. discover! Actually there are no bare facts, there are only human
judgments about facts, and judgments are really points of view not photographs
The only useful evidence is the evidence produced by the financier and in his
hands, as we know, the facts come to look quite different, much more innocent
than they did in the hands of a suspicious lawyer.
Thus Pirandello, in his play “You’re right if you think you are,”
gives us two versions of the inaccessible “thing as it is,” which are quite
contradictory and yet each of which can be made to appear as true as the other.
“You want documentary proofs in order to affirm or deny! I have no use
for them, for, in my opinion, reality does not lie in these, but in the mind
of these two persons into which I cannot enter unless by that evidence which
they themselves give me.”
Pragmatism was advocated by Papini the Italian fascist philosopher and
exerted a powerful influence over Mussolini. Under fascist rule pragmatism means
that whatever view of events you can persuade the world to accept is “truth.”
Have supreme confidence in your own version of affairs, trust your own
optimistic presentation, insist on it, get it accepted. It is as true as any
other. It is the only truth if you can get it believed in preference to
any other version of the facts.
Whether you are convincing the outside world or your own people the principle
is the same. As long as propaganda keeps the system going because it goes on
being believed, your world view, your “Third Reich,” your renewed nation, your
fiction, is successful, maintains itself, and is therefore true.
There is not a country in the capitalist world today in which a great myth
has not to be believed in the interests of the status quo. The United
States has its great myth, Great Britain and the Empire, the toiling millions of
Japan and India. Every myth misrepresents the facts. But every myth holds the
masses hypnotized in subjection. Therefore it is true. Hence the immense
popularity of pragmatism in a decaying world in which it is not convenient for
the masses to know the truth. Truth, pragmatism claims, is what is valuable to
the knower. But what is most valuable to a capitalist knower is a successful
lie, so that lie is the truth as long as he can get it believed.
But it is in opposition to such “value” determinations of truth that the
whole of science has made headway. Enlightenment and criticism mean little more
than conscious discrimination against fictions which are merely useful and not
true. The scientist has to learn to forgo the pleasing and the hopeful
hypothesis. Knowledge is a means of adaptation to experience not in proportion
to its pleasantness and hopefulness, but in proportion as it dispels illusions,
be they ever so grateful and inspiring.
But suppose the class conscious workers come forward with their own theory
and after a revolution impose their ideas on the masses and on the bourgeoisie.
Once again we have a theory, this time the Marxian theory, that works. Is it not
regarded as true on just the same grounds as the fascist theory? Does it not
maintain itself by just the same vicious propaganda? Not in the least. The
fascist theory is held to be true only because it works in the sense that by
propaganda the system keeps going. The Marxian theory works because it is true
and if it did not work it would not be true. The fallacy is a logical one.
Because every true theory works that is not to say that every theory that works
is true. Many false theories work for quite a long time yet they are not true
even while they are working satisfactorily.
Marxism is true not because it works in this sense but because it is always
being tested by the facts and because it arises out of the facts. Therefore for
the great mass of the people it is believed not because it is put across by
successful propaganda but because it corresponds with the facts known to the
workers, because as a working hypothesis it is repeatedly verified by social
experiment and achievement.
Verifying an hypothesis by the test of facts is a very different process from
choosing an hypothesis because we like it. An hypothesis is verified by finding
out what facts would follow from it, and then looking to the facts to see
whether they are as the hypothesis demands. The unfavourable answer is taken as
well as the favourable and the hypothesis modified accordingly.
Marxism is always being verified by experiment. Fascism presents conceptions
that are only believed because the desire to do so outweighs all the factual
evidence against them.
Pragmatism is the decadent philosophic ideology of imperialism. For the
bourgeois of the epoch of imperialism the objective processes of development,
the laws of social history, are something foreign to his personal will, his
actions and his interests. At every step of his action he encounters movements
of working-class revolutionary action that are strange to him – crises, the
contraction or disappearance of markets. This is where pragmatic philosophy
comes to his aid, for it “easily proves” that crises are not conditioned by
active law, that one ought to seek the truth, not in them, but in the practical
interests of the agents of the capitalist means of production. Truth is given
not in the process of reflecting the object, but in the subject and its personal
actions. Only by personal actions based on individual interests is it possible,
from the pragmatic point of view, to establish or refute a given truth.
“About pragmatism,” wrote Lenin, “the philosophic journals say just about
everything. Pragmatism ridicules metaphysics and materialism and idealism,
exalts experience and only experience, acknowledges practice as the sole
criterion, completely accepts the positivist flux in general, holds that
science is not an ‘absolute copy of reality,’ and happily deduces from all
this a God who exists only to serve man’s practical aims, only for practice,
without any metaphysics, without any reality, beyond the bounds of
* Lenin, vol. xiii, p. 279.
Pragmatism is one of the extreme forms of bourgeois subjectivism. Only that
which “helps us and works on us” is true for us, says Dewey. Truth is an
instrument and not a reflection of the material process, and the theory of truth
is the theory of the instrument. Wherefore John Dewey calls pragmatism
Monopoly capitalism has brought to extremity the contradictions of bourgeois
society. Attempts to reconcile the demands of individuality with the objective
process of actuality on the basis of an adequate reflection of the latter are
being made less and less frequently. To most bourgeois philosophers of the
imperialist epoch the view that knowledge can be the reflection of the objective
process of development appears as something monstrous.
Pragmatism has most accurately formulated the turning of bourgeois knowledge
away from the attempt to disclose the essence of the contradictions of the
objective process of material actuality. We cannot know the actuality of the
material world and its internal contradictions, as realities independent of us,
say all pragmatists without exception. Knowledge is a working hypothesis
(James), an instrument which depends on our interests and advantages (Dewey), on
our “internal sensation” (James). The only thing accessible to us is our
practice, everything that goes beyond is unknowable.