Saturday, May 31, 2008



David Brooks (the NYT's ultra-conservative mouth piece) has written an open letter to the presidential candidates (Dear Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain) which appeared 5-30-2008 ["The Reality Situation"].

Brooks means by "reality'' ''right wing reality'' not anything that relates to the real world. Brooks tells the trio of aspirants that their debate over talking or not to Iran will be irrelevant once one of them is the White House. But Iran will be the number one issue anyway. Whoever wins will be be given a history lesson. "You'll be reminded that the 1979 Iranian revolution is one of the signature events of modern history, akin to the 1917 Russian Revolution [he must mean the October not the February revolution], and the U.S. has never figured out how to deal with it."

This is total nonsense. Here is why. In the first place, the new president should be reminded about the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 by the CIA and the reimposition of the Shah at the behest of the big oil companies. Without understanding that, and all the policies of intervention and overthrow of elected and popular governments engaged by the US, the new president won't have a clue about the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Secondly, to compare the October Revolution to the Iranian revolution is to show an almost total lack of historical perspective and a fatal ignorance of the history of modern times (but Brooks may have an ulterior motive, as we shall see).

The October Revolution overthrew the whole economic system of capitalism and the class that controlled it in Russia; it inspired revolutionary movements of workers and peasants throughout the world regardless of their religions and their political systems; it defeated nazism and fascism in Europe, and while it collapsed in Europe because it was a premature revolution and was unable to properly develop because of its initial backwardness, it still inspires secular revolutionary movements of the oppressed and suffering around the world.

The Iranian revolution is religiously based on one Muslim sect, has no world wide appeal even in the Islamic world, and is not a threat in any way to the capitalist economic foundations or the contemporary world domination by the agents of this system.

There is only one reason to pump up this "revolution" to the level of the October Revolution. That is to create the illusion that the US and Europe are facing a world wide threat comparable to the cold war. That threat is "Terrorism"-- it is every where like communists under the bed. Iran is the source and supporter of this movement that is spreading like wildfire and only the US and NATO can stop it. This fantasy is used to justify the war in Iraq, the continuance of failed US foreign policy, and further increases in military spending to feed the war profiteers and protect the oil investments of major corporations while neglecting the working people at home.

The vast majority of nations oppose the US and disagree with its policies-- its war in Iraq, its blockade of Cuba, its indifference to the Palestinians, etc., etc. Yet in reference to Iran, Brooks has the cheek to write "A rich rogue nation can flaunt the will of a disparate majority." That describes the United States government perfectly. The fact that the Times can hire Brooks to pass this off on the American people is no doubt due to the almost total ignorance of reality by those dependent on the American mass media, the Times included, to get their information about the world.

One of the problems of the new president will be trying to figure out what Syria wants. Can it be turned in a more Western Direction? "Nobody can make an educated guess about that because no outsider understands Assad's mind." What rot. I spent a month in Syria in 2006 and after talking to Syrians and reading the Syrian press, and following the response to Chavez (he made a state visit while I was there), it wasn't too hard to figure out what Syria "wants". It wants back the Golan Heights, it wants to end the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate which poisons every thing in the region, it wants a peaceful Iraq, it would like the US not meddle in everyone's business, and it wants a better life for its people. What better reason for the new president to sit down and talk with Assad than that we "don't understand Assad's mind." Sit down and ask him, hey, "What's on your mind." He will gladly tell you, I'm sure.

Another job for the new president is to "work ceaselessly, as the Bush administration has, to make sure the Lebanese government doesn't dissolve." Why shouldn't it dissolve. It surely would with a more democratic electoral system in Lebanon. Its not the business of the US to prop up the government anyway. If Brooks thinks the US giving Israel the green light to attack Lebanon was a way to help the Lebanese government he is sorely mistaken. I was in Beirut right after the bombing, the civilian damages were hugh and deliberate war crimes. There were big signs everywhere showing dead children with "Made in the USA" on them. How does it help the government to say we back it? We are seen as a front for Zionism.

Brooks tells the new president to hold on. The tide is turning against extremism! The best proof of that will be President Obama in the White House.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Thomas Riggins

Well we have learned lately that we have a global warming crisis and we must do something about carbon emissions (CO2 and other greenhouse gases) or else the earth is doomed.

But we also know that capitalism exists to make profits and that given the choice of making money now and killing off the planet in a hundred years or so, profit now wins.

Environmentalists who had hoped the high coast of oil and gas would limit consumption and help reduce pollution will be disappointed. All over the world governments and companies are turning to coal for new power plants. Coal is the worse of all the carbon based pollution sources-- much worse than oil and gas.

Knowing this one would expect coal to be off limits due to the global warming emergency. But the NYT 5/22/08 reports just the opposite. An article in the Business Section ("A Global Comeback for Coal: Oil Prices Spur a Surprising Surge In Mining Operations" by Martin Fackler) gives the details. The bottom line: oil is getting scarce and expensive, coal is cheaper, there is lots of it, lets get it and use it-- to Hell with the environment.

All the floods, storms, tidal waves, famine, diseases, and deaths resulting from increased global warming will take place in the Third World (hopefully). The tornadoes in the US midland and hurricanes like Katrina are just flukes-- not to worry.

Remember folks, this coming election for CEO of America, Inc. is about us and the economy-- the planet is someone else's problem. You don't agree? Then take a look at McCain's environmental record. He's at the bottom of the barrel as a US Senator, if he becomes CEO of America, Inc. things can only go down hill.

"Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" McCain's Chant Becomes Closer to Fruition

Thomas Riggins

I remember a few months back seeing McCain on TV doing this little chant for his fellow moral defectives at a rally. Our intelligence agencies seemingly put the kibosh on this when they announced it looked like Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program, if it ever had one, several years ago. Then the International Atomic Energy Agency said they had no evidence of an arms program and that Iran was cooperating. Israel continued to insist the Iranians were trying to make the bomb and so did the Bushites here at home. The fact there is no evidence of the bomb is itself evidence of the bomb and the cleverness of the deceitful Iranians. So goes the logic of imperialism.

Now a wonderful gift has been handed to Bush. The NYT headlines on page 1 for Tuesday May 27:


The new IAEA report has fallen like manna from Heaven to feed the war frenzy gripping Bush-Cheney-McCain and their followers. They will assume a "We told you so" righteousness and the bombing plans will be revived with a vengeance. Already the TV news has reported a "high official" in the Bush administration has said that a bombing attack on Iran could come in a matter of a few months.

In the body of the article we are informed that the IAEA says much work must "still be done before definite conclusions about the nature of the program can be made." This will take many months.

There is one definite conclusion we can draw. The lack of definite conclusions will not stop Bush-Cheney-McCain from drawing definite conclusions. Iran should be more forth coming with the IAEA because the war maniacs in Washington are chomping at the bit and looking for any excuse to widen their middle east war.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Reflection

Thomas Riggins

Here is just a snipet from the New York Times today "...Given public indifference to a war that refuses to end..." This is standard media baloney. The Times goes on to make points based on this "indifference", but it is the Times, not the public that is indifferent. The American people threw the Republicans out of the Congress and put the Democrats in power to END THIS WAR.
It was not the public that was indifferent. The leaders of the Democratic Party have turned out to be the ones who are indifferent.
If Obama wants to win he must respond to the will of the people. There could be no greater disaster than a win by McCain. It would be like the Manchus, the Dowager Empress retains power, Dynasty doomed. Franklin said, "You have a Republic, if you can keep it." If McCain wins you can kiss it goodbye. Its Memorial Day-- all those who died for "freedom"-- betrayed by their own government. Its the progressive movement that honors them.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empirio-Criticism [16]
Thomas Riggins



How is this philosophy doing 20 years on from its hay day with Mach and Avenarius? Like any ideology, Lenin says, it "is a living thing which grows and develops," so let us see what it is doing today (1908). Lenin picks a book to look at ("Introduction to Philosophy",1903) by Hans Cornelius. Cornelius is recommended by Mach himself. Well, Cornelius ends up with
immortality and God, yet claims to be neither an idealist nor a materialist!

This shows that Lenin's contemporary, Bogdanov is all wet in understanding what is going on in philosophy as he makes the claim that God, free will, and immortality cannot fit into Mach's philosophy. How then can Mach see Cornelius as a disciple?

The whole thrust of this section is show how, in philosopher after philosopher, English, French, or German, Mach's and Avenarius' philosophy of empirio-criticism is used to justify fideism and all sorts of religious notions. We need not go over these philosophers as they are not particularly well known today (2008). The Russian Machist "Marxists" seem oblivious to all this and write as if Machism is new form of philosophy outside of the confines of fideism.


Bogdanov claims to be following Engels' views (referred to as "the sacramental formula of the primacy of nature over mind") but Lenin will show that this is hooey. In "Empirio-monism" Bogdanov writes that "he regards all that exists as a continuous chain of development, the lower links of which are lost in the chaos of elements, while the higher links, known to us, represent the EXPERIENCE OF MEN -- psychical and, still higher, physical experience."

But this is not Engels and it certainly is not materialism. "Nature," Lenin points out, "is in fact reached [by Bogdanov] as the result of a long transition, THROUGH ABSTRACTIONS OF THE 'PSYCHICAL'." A few lines later Lenin says, The essence of Idealism is that the psychical is taken as the starting-point; from it external nature is deduced, AND ONLY THEN is the ordinary human consciousness deduced from nature." We know that the "elements" referred to in the "chaos of elements" are equal to "sensations."

Bogdanov denies all religions, yet his philosophy is a gateway to fideism since the inchoate elements/sensations have a physical origin from which the human mind deduces the physical world. No matter how "atheistic" a philosopher may be, this road always lead to "God" in one form or another.

Bogdanov speaks of "cognitive socialism" arising as a result of humans socially organizing their experiences. This is "insane twaddle" according to Lenin. "If socialism is thus regarded, the Jesuits are ardent adherents of 'cognitive socialism', for the starting-point of their epistemology is divinity as 'socially-organised experience.' And there can be no doubt that Catholicism is a socially-organised experience; only, it reflects not objective truth (which Bogdanov denies, but which science reflects), but the exploitation of the ignorance of the masses by definite social classes."

However, no philosophy is stagnant and Bogdanov's has evolved over the years from his first book (1899) to the present (i.e., Lenin's present, 1908). There have been four stages in the development of Bogdanov's thought: 1) a "natural-historical" materialist phase when he was "semi-consciously and instinctively faithful to the spirit of natural science; 2) he became a follower of Ostwald's "energetics"* described by Lenin as "a muddled agnosticism which at times stumbled into idealism." Ostwald's "Lectures on Natural Philosophy" is dedicated to Mach. 3) Bogdanov, without completely leaving Ostwald behind, soon went over to Mach. 4) Trying to eliminate the subjective idealist elements in Mach, Bogdanov wrote his "Empirio-monism" in order "to create a semblance of objective idealism."

Lenin says that Bogdanov is now 180 degrees from his starting point. He now has a 5th stage to go through and he can return to the ranks of the materialists. He must reject all that remains of Machian idealism in his thought. Lenin will have to wait and see if he does. [But you can check out the Bogdanov article in Wikepedia to see what happened to him.]

*Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932) won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1909.
There is a short but interesting article about his life at:
HYLE--International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 12, No.1 (2006), pp. 141-148. HYLE Biography Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932)
by Mi Gyung Kim-- you can just google: Wilhelm Ostwald energetics.


This section is a supplement dealing with some crticisms from the Machist side of propositions coming from the Marxist side. Our old friend Bazarov has a good time making fun of an error of Plekhanov's-- namely his theory that sensations are symbols or "hieroglyphs of real things and not their copies and images. Sticking with Engels, Lenin says, "Engels speaks neither of symbols nor of hieroglyphs, but of copies, photographs, images, mirror-reflections of things."

Bazarov attacks Plekhanov, however, not to correct him according to the views of Engels, but to indirectly attack Engels by making fun of materialism from a Machist standpoint disguised as "Marxism." To clarify what is going on, Lenin will discuss Helmholtz's* ["a scientist of the first magnitude"] theory of symbols (symbols, hieroglyphs, are the same) and how it was criticized by both materialists and Machists, as well as by other idealists.

Like most scientists Helmholtz's philosophical opinions are confused and inconsistent, according to Lenin. But let's see if we can give Helmholtz the benefit of the doubt. The following quote from his "Physiological Optics" Lenin cites as an example of "agnosticism": "I have ... designated sensations as merely SYMBOLS for the relations of the external world and I have denied that they have any similarity or equivalence to what they represent."

Helmholtz is seemingly contradicting Engels. But let us agree our sensations give a "photograph" like image of reality. But a photograph of a cat is completely different from a cat. To actually be an agnostic Helmholtz would have to say that he doesn't know if there is anything in the external world responsible for his "cat" image (or "symbol") and that perhaps it comes from some internal psychic process that we do not know about. But he does not say that.

Here is what he says, "Our concepts and ideas are EFFECTS wrought on our nervous system and our consciousness by the objects that are perceived and apprehended." Lenin says this is "materialism." The objects exist independently of us. But this does not contradict the previous statement. When I see a red rose I do so because my eyes have evolved to react to visible (to humans) light which is a small band of waves on the electromagnetic spectrum along with radio waves, X ray, infra red and ultra violet waves, etc. Bees have evolved eyes that can see ultra- violet waves which we don't detect. Our "red rose" looks very different to a bee. The rose is red for us, in itself it is much more than it is for us. This is the sense which Helmholtz means by our sensation being a symbol.

Lenin and Helmholtz may be just having a verbal disagreement and not a disagreement of substance. Lenin says because Helmholtz says our sensations are symbols of the external world which, when we learn to read them properly can "direct our actions so as to achieve the desired result....," he has lapsed into "subjectivism" and a denial of objective truth and reality. This is too strong and I believe it is incorrect. The rose is part of objective reality-- it is red for us and ultra-violet for the bee. That the red rose is a symbol of my love-- is that objective or subjective?

I also think Lenin is wrong to say that Helmholtz presents a "flagrant untruth" when he says "An idea and the object it represents obviously belong to two entirely different worlds...." Helmholtz is only saying, more or less, what Plato (I think truthfully) would have said, viz., when I look at the "Mona Lisa" my sensation is not the same as the picture on the wall, and the picture on the wall is not anything like the woman painted by Leonardo.

That this is so is seen when Helmholtz says, "As to the properties of the objects of the external world, a little reflection will show that all the properties we may attribute to them merely signify the EFFECTS wrought by them either on our senses or on other natural objects." Lenin also says this is materialism.

All these terminological arguments are rooted in the Kantian background of many German thinkers. Most of whom would be on exhibit in Lenin's Museum of Reactionary Fabrications of German Professordom. Lenin wants us to believe that our knowledge comes from interaction with the real world and is not a priori (google this term)-- i.e., given to us before any possible experience. But is not the following an a priori statement, even a Kantian one (!)-- before you see anything at all in the world you know it must reflect a certain narrow band in the electro-magnetic spectrum. If it doesn't it may exist but you will never see it, just as you will never hear the sound your dog hears from the dog whistle. And if this is an a priori truth gained from experience then it is a synthetic a priori truth, and Kant's philosophy is back on the table. Materialism will have to deal with it.

Lenin concludes that Helmholtz is a "shame faced materialist" with a Kantian slant, just as Huxley, save that the latter's slant was towards Berkeley. That Kantian element in Helmholtz is totally non necessary because he has a basically realist (materialist) position. Lenin provides a quote from Feuerbach's student Albrecht Rau to back this up. "Had Helmholtz remained true to his realistic conception, had he consistently adhered to the basic principle that the properties of bodies express the relations of bodies to each other and also to us, he obviously would have had no need of the whole theory of symbols; he could then have said briefly and clearly: the sensations that are produced in us by things are reflections of the nature of those things." Helmholtz has fallen victim to Ockham's razor.

Lenin ends this section by noting the critics of Helmhottz from the Machist side object to his being too much of a materialist, and concludes that Plekhanov did make a mistake when he was explaining materialism, but that Bazarov only muddied the waters and finally, from Kant and Helmholtz "the materialists went to the left, the Machists to the right."

Next week we will take up with section 7 "Two Kinds of Criticism of Duhring."

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (August 31, 1821 – September 8, 1894) was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science. In physiology and physiological psychology, he is known for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, ideas on the visual perception of space, color vision research, and on the sensation of tone, perception of sound, and empiricism. In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of thermodynamics. As a philosopher, he is known for his philosophy of science, ideas on the relation between the laws of perception and the laws of nature, the science of aesthetics, and ideas on the civilizing power of science. A large German association of research institutions, the Helmholtz Association, is named after him.-- from Wikepedia. The whole aricle is worth reading. Helmholtz University was one of the major institutions of the DDR.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Thomas Riggins

Bobbitt is a distinguished professor of constitutional law holding degrees from Princeton, Yale and Oxford. He has served in important government positions under Presidents Carter, Bush 1 and Clinton. He is now at both the University of Texas and Columbia University. His theories on history and the origins of terrorism are widely respected and his books are used as college texts. His views have influenced not only Hillary Clinton but also John Howard the former Prime Minister of Australia. There is an informative article about his career and ideas in Wikipedia and also about his earlier work “The Shield of Achilles" (900 pages).

My remarks are based on Edward Rothstein’s review of his most recent book, “Terror and Consent,” in the Friday, May 9, 2008 New York Times (‘In a Changing World an Ever-Evolving Terrorism’.) At 672 pages this is a hefty tome. Does Rothstein’s review suggest we should make time to read it? Despite Rothstein’s description of it as “powerful, dense and brilliant” I hope to show, from his own review of it, that it does not seem worth the time or effort.

Bobbitt maintains that throughout history “terrorist” groups have resembled the type of political state they have been up against. Rothstein tells us that Bobbitt “is too subtle” to hold that “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” This may be because the terrorism he supports he doesn’t want to call “terrorism.” We shall see there is nothing very subtle about it.

Since the world today is so different from the past the War on Terror will be different than previous efforts against terrorists. There will be many types of wars to contain and defeat terrorism. Bobbitt says "it will take some time before the nature and composition of these wars are widely understood." Does this imply we should give Bush 2 and his generals more time to figure out what is going on? "We will not win the Wars against Terror," he writes, "if we do not understand the novelty of the problems we face."

What novelty? If you invade, oppress, and exploit others they will eventually fight back with whatever means at their disposal however crude and uncivilized you may find them. Imagine roadside bombs instead of attack helicopters and missiles!

The reviewer tells us Bobbitt sees the terrorists of today as, in his own words, "a threat to mankind that is unprecedented." Who can take this stuff seriously? The US with its desire to militarize space, retool its nuclear weapons, police the world, ignore climate change and global warming, poses "a threat to mankind" so qualitatively greater, by many magnitudes, than a dozen or so small groups of fanatics hanging out in the mountains and jungles of the third world. Bobbitt can only be counting everyone, including nation states, that object to US policy as "terrorists" to get his scary and preposterous threat to mankind off the ground. By "threat to mankind" he really means "threat to international capital and war profiteers sponsored by the US government and its hangers on." This is what passes for serious scholarship these days.

The review goes on to tell us Bobbitt says the terrorists of today are modeled on the new type of state that is coming into existence -- the "market state" (such as the US and EU) described by Rothstein as follows: "Such a state defines its main ambition not as seeking the well being of its people, but as maximizing the opportunities it offers its citizens." Such nonsense is unbelievable. You cannot maximize opportunity without increasing well being. Without guarantying jobs, education and health benefits how can you provide opportunities? What type of opportunities can unemployed ignorant sick people have?

There is no "new type of state." The "market state" is in essence the same old monopoly capitalist state Lenin wrote about in "Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism" and "State and Revolution."

The new type of terrorists Bobbitt imagines, who correspond to his fictional state, "are not seeking" Rothstein says, "to sway public opinion, but to expand their domain of terror." Terror for its own sake. This is a ridiculous idea. The groups Bobbitt does not like, and hence calls "terrorists", have the same goals as the groups he likes, and hence does not call "terrorists." Hamas and Zionist settlers want the same things, control of land and resources for their peoples. Al Qaeda and the US military have the same goals-- each wants to be the dominate power in the Middle East. Each wants to control the resources in the area. Each wants to sway public opinion to see the world as it does.

The difference is that Al Qaeda is a small and insignificant group of fanatics who could have easily been contained by efficient policing. They have been elevated into a world threatening power by US propaganda to justify the terroristic and barbaric assault on the Iraqi people by the greatest killing machine in modern history whose attempt to dominate the international order has no parrallel since the Vietnam War.

That Bobbitt was a supporter of the invasion of Iraq should demonstrate to all that regardless of his erudition and supposed command of historical processes, he really hasn't the faintest idea of what is going on and that it is a waste of time to read his hefty tomes to try and figure out the modern world.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 15 ]
Thomas Riggins


SECTION TWO: "How the 'Empirio-Symbolist' Yushkevich Ridiculed the 'Empirio-Criticist' Chernov"

Yushkevich attacked Chernov for saying that Mikhailovsky* (who was influenced by Comte and Spencer) was a forerunner of Mach and Avenarius. He appears to think Mach and Avenarius are very different birds from either Comte or Spencer.

Lenin says this shows that Chernov is an "ignoramus in philosophy." The idealist and agnostic trends in philosophy are represented by Hume and Kant as well as by Comte and Spencer, Mikhailovsky and Mach and Avenarius, and also the Neo-Kantians.

Materialists reject this whole trend however it appears as Neo-Kantianism or as "positivism (Comte). Yushkevich's hairsplitting differentiation's cannot change the fact Mach and Avenarius regularly praised both Hume and Kant and so his attack on Chernov is meaningless. Yushkevich is trying to focus us away "FROM THE ESSENCE OF THE MATTER to empty trifles."

Lenin also notes that among the idealists and agnostics various eclectic mixtures of Kant, Hume and Berkeley are possible with different philosophers stressing different combinations.

He particularly mentions T.H. Huxley ("the famous English scientist") who came up with word "agnostic." The English agnostics, Lenin says, probably inspired Engels' term "shamefaced materialists." Huxley, for example, while rejecting materialism and claiming that if forced to choose an outlook would choose idealism because "our one certainty is the existence of the mental world", nevertheless also says "there can be little doubt that the further science advances, the more extensively and consistently will all the phenomena of Nature be represented by materialistic formula and symbols."

Huxley mixes up Hume and Berkeley just as much as Mach or Avenarius, but the latter two are out and out idealists and subjectivists in their intentions, while for the former "agnosticism serves as a fig-leaf for materialism."

*Nikolai Konstantinovich MIKHAILOVSKII, 1842-1904: "Russian publicist, sociologist, literary critic, and one of the theoreticians of the Narodnik (Populist) movement."-- from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia

SECTION THREE: "The Immanentists as Comrades-In-Arms of Mach and Avenarius."

Lenin now turns to the philosophy of the immanentists (W. Schuppe 1836-1913, A. v. Leclaire, J. Rehmke 1848-1930, & R. Schubert-Soldern 1852-1924) little remembered today. For them truth comes from within not from without and Lenin says they are in the same trend as the empirio-criticists. Lenin writes it is "Mach's opinion that this 'new' philosophy is a broad CURRENT in which the immanentists are on the same footing as the empirio-criticists and the positivists." The immanentists, for their part, have a similar view about their relation to Mach and Avenarius. They are milk siblings.

Charles Renouvier (1815-1903 French neo-Kantian, foundedr of "neo-criticism") is next on Lenin's list. His philosophy is a mixture of Hume and Kant. He supports religion, ultimately, and completely rejects any independently existing thing-in-itself. The Russian Machists face a charge of "guilt by association" [not always out of place] since they rely on Mach, and F. Pillon (1830-1914), a follower of Renouvier, says that to a great extent "Mach's positive science agrees with neo-critical idealism." One of Renouvier's ideas is that the present universe (!) came into being when a primitive humanity fell out of harmony with the Cosmic Order thru egotism and injustice. "Birds of a feather...."

Lenin says the Russian Machists are "ashamed" of their relationship to the immanentists and fudge what the latter say; they "are afraid to tell the plain and clear truth" about them. Which is that, "There is NOT ONE of them who has not FRANKLY made his more theoretical works on epistomology lead to a defense of religion and a justification of medievalism of one kind or another."

The section closes with a few more examples of what these philosophers peddle. Lenin says their views will end up in "the museum of reactionary fabrications of German professordom" A few Russians, I think, may also be exhibited as, for instance, Bazarov who says "sense-perception IS the reality existing outside us."

As for the German speakers, we have Schuppe maintaining that the external world "belongs to consciousness" and Schubert-Soldern holding forth against the "metaphysics" of a really independent objective world. We needn't quote the rest of gang.

Lenin has made his point that the Russian "Marxists" trying to blend Mach and Marx are unwitting reactionaries in philosophy. "Only among the handful of Russian Machists does Machism serve exclusively for intellectual chattering. In its native country its role as a flunkey to fideism is
openly proclaimed."

Next week we will start off with Section 4 of Chapter 4: "In What Direction is Empirio-Criticism Developing"

Friday, May 16, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 14 ]
Thomas Riggins


SECTION SIX: "Freedom and Necessity

This is a short section but exceedingly interesting. It begins with a quote from Lunacharsky praising Engels for having a "wonderful page" in "Anti-Duhring" which he says is a "wonderful page of religious economics." Lunacharsky says this might lead a non-religious person to "smile." Lenin says it rather leads not to a smile but a feeling of "disgust" with his (Lunacharsky's) "flirtation with religion." This, along with the last section, is giving me the impression that Lenin didn't care much about religion.

The passage from Engels is so important that Lenin quotes it in its entireity, and I must also if we are to see how wacked out Lunarcharsky's interpretation is. Here is what Engels wrote:

"Hegel was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity. To him, freedom is the appreciation ["recognition" is usually used] of necessity. 'Necessity is BLIND only INSOFAR AS IT IS NOT UNDERSTOOD.' [Actually, Hegel got this from Spinoza. It ultimately derives from the Stoics.--tr] Freedom does not consist in an imaginary independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definite ends. This holds good both in relation to the laws of external nature and to those which govern the bodily mental existence of men themselves --- two classes of laws which we can separate from each other at most only in thought but not in reality. Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but the capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the subject. Therefore the FREER a man's judgement in relation to a definite question, the greater is the NECESSITY with which the content of this judgement will be determined.... Freedom therefore consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity."

According to Lenin, Engels is making four important points in this passage (none of them having anything to do with being soft on religion). First, the recognition of objective laws of nature and natural necessity-- i.e., materialism. Second, "the necessity of nature is primary and human will and mind secondary." Third, he accepts "blind necessity" i.e., "the existence of a necessity UNKNOWN to man. Fourth, he jumps from theory to practice and it is this practice which "provides an OBJECTIVE criterion of truth."

All this adds up to the fact that Engels' views are entirely based on the philosophy of dialectical materialism. The Russian Machists take a little bit of diamat from Engels (the "wonderful pages"), a dash from Marx, then some idealism and agnosticism from Mach, mix it all together "and call this hash a DEVELOPMENT of Marxism." As far as Lenin is concerned they are nothing more than "philosophical obscurantists." The Russian "Marxists," inspired by Mach, continue to see him and empirio-criticism, not as a part of the subjective idealist movement or as an eclectic mix, but as compatible with the ideas of Marx and, for most, those of Engels as well. Now it is time to move on to Chapter Four.


SECTION ONE: "The Criticism of Kantianism from the Left and from the Right"

The first point Lenin makes is that Mach himself states, in "Analysis of Sensations," that he started out as a Kantian and then identified more with Berkeley and Hume. So there is no doubt about his relation to the Idealist tradition. But what of Avenarius?

Avenarius claims that as far back as 1876 he, though liking Kant, was the first to "purify" him by getting rid of the a priori nature of reason (i.e., the categories or filters by which we MUST experience the world) and by dumping the "thing-in-itself" because it is not experienced but, he writes, "imported into it [experience] by thought."

Lenin says that Avenarius' views are the same as Mach's and that it is not true that he was the first to object to apriorism and the "thing-in-itself." In 1792 Schulze-Aenesidemus [Aenesidemus, an ancient Skeptic, was the pen name of Gottlob Ernst Schulze 1761-1833, Schopenhauer's teacher at Gottingen] had made the same objections. They had also been made by Fichte. The "thing-in-itself" was too much of a concession to materialism and the categories were not themselves experienced, being preconditions.

The Russian Machists have missed the point that Avenarius and Mach have criticized Kant from the Right (idealism) not the Left (materialism). What is more, they have made (they being Bogdanov, Bazarov, Yushkevich and Valentinov) the charge that Plekhanov has made a "luckless attempt to reconcile Engels with Kant by the aid of a compromise -- a thing-in-itself which is just a wee bit knowable." Lenin says this quote from their works shows a "bottomless pit of utter confusion'' both of Kant and of classical German philosophy [one of the three component parts of Marxism].

Lenin says, "The principal feature of Kant's philosophy is the reconciliation of materialism with idealism, a compromise between the two, the combination within one system of heterogeneous and contrary philosophical trends."

Yes, but here is a question to think about. Why is this not a dialectical unity of opposites, a synthesis of a thesis (idealism) and antithesis (materialism), making Kantianism a higher philosophy than either of the others? Why is dialectical materialism so hostile to Kantianism rather than trying to make a synthetic unity with it?

At any rate, the Russian Machists did not notice, I think, that Lenin is saying when Engels or Plekhanov use the term "thing-in-itself" they are not referring to Kant's transcendental noumena but to the objective independently existing objects we find in the real world. Plekhanov is not trying to "reconcile Engels with Kant."

Lenin ends this section by quoting Feuerbach and his follower Albrecht Rau (can't tell you much about him: if you are not in Wikopedia you do not exist) and Engels' disciple Paul Lafargue as well as Kautsky (his book "Ethics") about the perils of Kantianism and he concludes by saying, "Thus the ENTIRE SCHOOL of Feuerbach, Marx and Engels turned from Kant to the left, to a complete rejection of all idealism and of all agnosticism."The Russian Machists may call themselves "Marxists" but they are far from Marx and his ideas in philosophy.

Next week we will pick up with Chapter 4 Section 2.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


More tax money for Murder Inc.

Thomas Riggins

This news, as reported on the front page of the NYT for 5-10-08, should not be a big surprise. This one article encapsulates the whole insanity of Bush's adventure in Iraq. It also exposes the sharade of a "sovereign" Iraqi government. We all know about the infamous Blackwater mercenaries, hired killers used by the US government to protect the State Department workers and others in Iraq and to also spread death and terror to Iraqis who get in their way. If any group should be on the government's list of terrorist organizations it is Blackwater, Inc.

After gunning down seventeen innocent civilians last year (Blackwater guards shot at everybody in sight after they got held up in traffic) it looked like the company might be in trouble. Not to worry.

The Iraqi government wanted to kick them out of the country. Forget about it, the US vetoed that idea. The Iraqi government wanted to make "contractors" subject to Iraqi law and not be immune to prosecution no matter what they did. Get real! Americans subject to Iraqi law! The US put the kibosh on that crazy idea. It may be their country but its our world.

Congress held hearings about the killings but that was it. Blackwater just got its contracts renewed to protect "our" diplomats in Iraq-- more millions of US tax dollars to thugs and murderers that could have been used to give uninsured children health care. Iraqi kids are not the only ones killed by Bush.

The State department said they had to rehire Blackwater, there was no alternative and they need protection. No alternative? There are two other groups of mercenaries willing and able to kill Iraqis for a fee, Den Corp. International and Triple Canopy. The State Department did not even contact them to see if they could do the job-- Blackwater engaged in "intense lobbying" according to the Times.

All this over 800 Blackwater mercenaries stationed in Iraq. Here is what Patrick F. Kennedy, the unterfuhrer of state for management had to say, "We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq. If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq." What! General Betrayus has 140,000 troops marching around shooting up the cities and countryside, he can't spare 800 to protect the State Department? Its time to come home.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Thomas Riggins

This is a reflection on a review by Barbara King, a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary of Steven Pinker’s new book, “The Stuff of Thought” in the April 11, 2008 issue of TLS. Pinker is a very influential cognitive scientist who made a name for himself with his 1994 book “The Language Instinct.”

In that book he proposed that ONLY humans have language and that the claims that other animals have language abilities as well is bogus. “For Pinker, children learn language because their brains are specifically prepared by evolution to do so.” King will take issue with some of Pinker’s ideas but I am a little bit dubious as to her motivations. She implies he is not “even handed” because he has said religious beliefs are “akin to astrology or alchemy,” which, in fact, they are. However, that said, we will see that her review draws some justifiable critical conclusions about Pinker's work as she presents it.

Pinker thinks the key to understanding human nature is to learn how we put our ideas and feelings into words. King tells us that he uses "conceptual semantics" to do this. Pinker himself says, "Linguists call the inventory of concepts and the schemes that combine them 'conceptual semantics.' Conceptual semantics -- the language of thought -- must be distinct from language itself, or we would have nothing to go on when we debate what our words mean."

Pinker's book is full of examples of how we express ourselves in speech that show we have an underlying of reality to which language conforms . King gives one. "Why, driving home from the grocery store, do we refer to a gallon of milk in our car, but never a gallon of blood (even though blood circulates inside our body as we sit there)? Because we conceptualize our bodies as solids rather than as containers." Expressions such as this lead us to think about space and time, cause and effect, and substance, "through which in turn we may identify the deeper rules of conceptual semantics."

Pretty thin gruel! If our bodies are conceived as solids why do say we put too much food in our mouths, or have a pain in our stomach, or too much gas in that self same organ? I fear we cannot draw Pinker's conclusions based on the different idiomatic expressions of different languages and cultures.

Half way through the book, we are told, Pinker reveals the key to his speculations. One of his inspirations is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, of whom he says:

"Kant's version of nativism, with abstract organizing frameworks but not actual knowledge built in to the mind, is the version most viable today, and can be found, for example, in Chomskan linguistics, evolutionary psychology, and the approach to cognitive development called domain specificity. One could go so far as to say the Kant foresaw the shape of a solution to the nature-nurture debate: characterize the organization, whatever it is, that makes useful learning possible."

This is a strange theory for an evolutionist to hold. The human mind has a built in abstract framework a la Kant which is there to organize our experiences into categories (domains) before we even have them. Only humans have this with regard to languages, so the first humans to have a language must have come with this ready made. This is a pre-Darwinian outlook.

According to Darwinian notions language ability would have gradually developed by natural selection and there is no reason "lower" forms in the evolutionary sequence would not exhibit different stages of this ability.

Pinker thinks that the way evolution worked was to form different domains in the human brain each with its own task to fulfill. King says, for Pinker, "The human past constrains our present human nature because it has so closely shaped our brain modules." Pinker says, for instance, that it is necessary to "pry our mental modules free of the domains they were designed for."

This is not good science. Our so called modules were not "designed" for anything. Our responses evolved as the result of environmental adaptations. There is no reason to think that this process halted sometime in the paleolithic and is no longer functioning.

King quotes Pinker as saying that "left to our own devices, we are apt to backslide to our instinctive conceptual ways." The solution, he says is, by education "to make up for the short comings in our instinctive ways of thinking about the physical and social world." This outlook is basically that of Confucianism as put forth by Xunzi well over two thousand years ago and in our time by Freud. We are apt to let the Id take over if we are not educated to be social by Ivy League Super Ego types.

Marx asked who educates the educators. King is fairly critical of Pinker and thinks his views could lead to a "ranked hierarchy" of humanity antithetical to democratic values. She says he back pedals a bit from his basic theory when he grants that some of the properties he finds in the domains may not be, in his words, "necessarily direct reflections of the genetic patterning of our brains: some may emerge from brains and bodies interacting in human ecologies over the course of human history."

King thinks this much more likely than Pinker allows. Marxists would think it is the most important factor and agree, I think, with King when she concludes that our real "human nature" is much more creative and contingent than the pre-programmed computer brains (her analogy) of Pinker's pre-Darwinian Kantian humans.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 13 ]
Thomas Riggins


SECTION Four: "The 'Principle of the Economy of Thought' and The Principle of 'The Unity of the World'"

This section opens with a discussion of Bazarov, Avenarius and Mach. The idea of 'economy of thought' in nature and in epistemology is one of the reasons that empirio-critics hold SENSATION is all that exists. Why have "sensation" and "matter" if everything can be explained by the first idea?

Lenin says thought is "economical" when it describes reality without using extra terms and entities which really don't exist. He writes, "Human thought is "economical" when it CORRECTLY reflects objective truth, and the criterion of this correctness is practice, experiment and industry."

There is no doubt that Mach and his followers reject the above formulation and subscribe to subjectivist and idealist notions. Lenin cites, in their own words, others who have also come to this conclusion: Richard Honigswald [an Austrian neo-Kantian who was born in Hungary in 1875 and died in New Haven, Connecticut in 1947] said Mach is near to the "Kantian circle of ideas ("Zur Kritik der Machschen Philosophie", 1903), Wundt, whom we have seen before, says Mach is "Kant turned inside out" ( "Systematische Philosophie, 1907), and James Ward [1843-1925 was professor of Mental Philosophy and of Logic at Cambridge] maintains Mach's criterion of simplicity (i.e., economy of thought) "is in the main subjective, not objective "("Naturalism and Agnosticism, 3rd ed.).

Lenin concludes, by saying that those Russians who want to be Marxists and who try to merge empirio-criticism into Marxism are "simply ludicrous."

Lenin next turns to the idea of "the unity of the world." Duhring had said the reason the world appears to be unified (we have one world after all) is due to the unity of thought-- viz., it is a deduction from the unity of thought. Engels says in "Anti-Duhring" that, "The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science."

Is this clear enough? Not for the likes of Yushkevich who says of this quote, "First of all it is not clear what it is meant here by the assertion that 'the unity of the world consists in its materiality.'"

Lenin is quite frustrated by this and wonders why Yushkevich calls himself a Marxist if the most elementary propositions of Marxism (viz., the objective and materialist basis of reality) are " 'not clear' to him."

As far as the unity of the world is concerned, Yushkevich says of the propositions from which this is deduced that, "it would not be exact to say that they have been deduced from experience, since scientific experience is possible only because they are made the basis of investigation." This is a form of KANTIANISM, and in the hands of Yushkevich "it is nothing but twaddle."

SECTION FIVE: "Space and Time"

Lenin says that Marxists reject both Kantianism ( space and time are forms in the human mind and have no existence on their own) and Humean agnosticism ( I don't know where these ideas come from). He supports Feuerbach who says, "Space and time are not mere forms of phenomena but essential conditions ... of being."

In other words, what is the answer Marxists should give if asked "are space and time real or ideal, and are our relative ideas of space and time APPROXIMATIONS to objectively real forms of being; or are they only products of the developing, organising, harmonising, etc., human mind?"

The answer to this question is the fundamental epistemological dividing line separating different philosophies. Lenin thinks all Marxists need to be on the side of Engels when he asserts that, "The basic forms of all being are space and time, and being out of time is just as gross an absurdity as being out of space."

Mach, on the other hand, according to Lenin holds that "it is not man with his sensations that exists in space and time, but space and time that exist in man, that depend upon man and are generated by man." This is what empirio-criticism leads to and, among some, to "defending medieval 'nonsense' [i.e., religion]."

The truth is, Lenin points out, that the "existence of nature IN TIME, measured in millions of years [in our day by billions of years], PRIOR TO the existence of man and human experience, shows how absurd this idealist theory is."

There now follow a few pages where Lenin defends the objectivity of time and space against Mach who thinks that Newton's views may not actually be applicable. Here Lenin seems to equate Newton's notion of ABSOLUTE time and space with the materialist view the denial of which leaves room for fideism [religion]. Newton was, however, himself a Deist and left room for God in his system. Modern physics has adopted the views of Einstein concerning time and space which are very different from those of Newton.

Since Lenin devotes a chapter (chapter five) to physics, we will postpone a detailed discussion here, as likewise his views on the "atom". Lenin's main point, however, remains, regardless of the further developments in natural science since his time, and that is that the world dealt with by science is not created by the human mind but has objective and independent existence.

Lenin does agree with Mach in rejecting a fourth spacial dimension. Mach is no "believer" and rejects a fourth spacial dimension so as not to aid "many theologians, who experience difficulty in deciding where to place hell." Lenin, of course, doesn't worry about the location of Hell. He would probably agree with Sartre that Hell is other people (especially mensheviks). His point is that Mach, thinking that Space and Time are products of the human mind, unconsciously adopts the materialist position (as it was in his time) when he asserts there are only three spacial dimensions because he assumes this to be an objective fact and is thus inconsistent.

Also, in this section, you might think when Poincare says that space and time are relative and "we impose them on nature" that he is thinking of the new Theory of Relativity (1905). Einstein, however, thought of his theory as an objective fact about the universe.

Lenin also discusses Karl Pearson again, who openly declares that his Machism is based on Hume and Kant and with whom Mach himself says he is in complete agreement. Nevertheless, the Russian Machists, posing as Marxists (they were all members of the bolshevik faction except for two mensheviks) keep claiming that Machism is an advance, is not idealism, and is a "new" philosophy. Bazarov even says "Many of Engels' particular views, as for instance, his conception of 'pure' [i.e., 'objective'] space and time, are now obsolete."

Of course many of Engels' views are obsolete, based as they were on the level of science in the nineteenth century, but the objectivity of space and time is not one of them. I will now quote a delightfully vituperative sentence about Bazarov and idealists in general.

"Like all the Machists, Bazarov erred in confusing the mutability of human conceptions of time and space, their exclusively relative character, with the immutability of the fact that man and nature exist only in time and space, and that beings outside time and space, as invented by the priests and maintained by the imagination of the ignorant and downtrodden mass of humanity, are disordered fantasies, the artifices of philosophical idealism, rotten products of a rotten social system."

In "The Future of an Illusion" Freud referred to the disordered fantasies of religion as forms of neuroses and religious people as neurotics. The US of A is by these measures, of both Lenin and Freud, populated by an immense number of disordered downtrodden neurotics who, in addition, are both ignorant and infected with false consciousness. It is my hope this Reading Lenin series will reduce their numbers but I have no expectation that it will.

Lenin ends this section with some choice remarks about Bogdanov and his notion that space and time are forms "of social co-ordination of the experiences of different people" ("Empirio-monism). He holds that space and time adapt themselves to our perceptions. Lenin says just the opposite is the case and perceptions "and our knowledge adapt themselves more and more to OBJECTIVE space and time, and REFLECT them ever more correctly and profoundly."

Next week we will begin with section 6 "Freedom and Necessity."

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Thomas Riggins

There is an article in Wednesday's New York Times that is a perfect illustration of how capitalism works (“Patent Bill is Bonanza To Lobbyists” by Robert Pear, NYT 5/1/08, Business Section).

There is a heated debate going on in Congress whether or not companies (especially drug companies) “should be allowed to keep patents they obtained by misrepresentation or cheating.” Fraud would be a better word but the Times doesn’t want to upset its advertisers.

Imagine, a company lies to the Patent Office to get a patent because if the truth were known it would not qualify for the patent. The truth comes out. Our senators and representatives are actually debating a new law which says its ok for the company to keep the patent; it cannot be revoked just because it was obtained by lying to the government. Remember if you as an individual lie to the government, i.e., the FBI or the IRS, it’s off to jail.

The courts have been voiding patents, Pear reports, of companies “that have intentionally misled the Patent and Trademarks Office.” This will never do and Congress intends to put a stop to this outrageous judicial interference with free trade.

As the law now stands a company can lose its patent if it “misrepresented or concealed information with an intent to deceive the patent office.” R.A. Armitage, a VP at Eli Lilly & Co., says, “This is like imposing the death penalty for relatively minor acts of misconduct.” He means, it seems, capitalism can’t function without fraud and deceit.

What is at issue for the drug companies is that they can prevent cheaper more inexpensive generic versions of their patented drugs from going on the market (God forbid that corporations be forced to compete in the market) by means of fraud. The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that will curtail this outlandish requirement of telling the truth on your patent application. Now its the Senate’s turn. The Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by the Democrats, has already passed a companion bill to take to the full Senate. Both parties of monopoly capitalism are backing big business on this one folks, the American people will be the losers.

Drug makers have “inaccurately described experiments and concealed information that contradicted their claims.” Some say they want the new law because they want to lighten the load of the “poor patent examiner” who gets too much information anyway. How charitable.

Maybe instead of lapel pins the presidential candidates should be asked their positions on this bill.