Gerry Healy


Eclecticism – The Paupers Broth of Bourgeois Ideology

(Marxist Monthly, Volume 2. No 4, June 1989)

  The conscious practice of eclecticism as a method has been responsible for considerable disorientation  within the international workers’ movement. This applies to those movements claiming to be Marxist and Trotskyist especially. It consists in the co-ordination of left words and phrases as a subjective presentation of policies with a pre-selected bourgeois ideological content. This method is described by Lenin through paragraphs which appear on page 68 of Volume 14 of the Collected Works in the form of a dialogue compiled by Fichte in his writings of 1801.

   Reader: The existence of a system of things (according to ordinary philosophy) is required and  from them only is consciousness to be derived (our emphasis).

   Author: Now you are speaking in the spirit of a professional philosopher …  and not according to human common sense and actual consciousness.

   Tell me, and reflect well before you answer: Does a thing appear in you and become present in you and for you otherwise than simultaneously with and through your consciousness of the thing ? (our emphasis

   Reader: Upon sufficient reflection, I must grant you this.

   Author: Now you are speaking from yourself, from your heart. Take care, therefore, not to jump out of yourself and to apprehend anything otherwise than you are able to apprehend it, as consciousness and the thing, as the thing and consciousness; or, more precisely, neither the one nor the other, but that which only subsequently becomes resolved into the two, that which is the absolute subjective-objective and objective-subjective.

    ‘Here’, Lenin remarks, ‘You have the whole essence of the empirio-critical “principal co-ordination”, the latest defence of “naïve realism” by the latest positivism.’ (Our emphasis). The division into two of ‘Subjective-objective’ amounts to the imposition of a ‘self-created’ image upon the objective world, existing independently of the subject. In the ‘objective-subjective’ relation, the subjects simply negate their own self-created images which they have already imposed upon the objective world. This is the essence of positivism in which the infinite objective world is constantly related to the self-created images of the ‘subject’. Lenin further explains:

   ‘There is nothing but a paraphrase of subjective idealism (whose essence is positivism –our insertion) in the teachings of Mach and Avenarius we are examining. Their claim to have risen above materialism and idealism, to have eliminated the opposition between the point of view that proceeds from the thing to consciousness and the contrary point of view – is but the empty claim of a renovated Fichteanism. Fichte too imagined that he had “indissolubly” connected the “self” and the “environment”, the consciousness and the thing: that he had  “solved” the problem by the assertion that a man cannot jump out of himself.’ (Vol.14 p.69).

   This subjective idealist method of reasoning can be traced back to Berkeley who claimed, Lenin tells us, that ‘I perceive only my sensations. I have no right to assume objects in themselves outside my sensations’. (Ibid). ‘The different methods of expression used by Berkeley in 1710, by Fichte in 1801 and by Avenarius in 1891-94’, Lenin goes on, ‘do not in the least change the essence of the matter, viz, the fundamental philosophical line of subjective idealism. The world is my sensation; the non-self is “postulated” (is created, produced) by the self; the thing is indissolubly connected with the consciousness: the indissoluble co-ordination of the self and the environment is the empirio-critical principal co-ordination;  this is all one and the same proposition, the same old trash with a slightly refurbished, or repainted, signboard.’

   ‘The reference to “naïve realism” supposedly defended by this philosophy is sophistry of the cheapest kind’ … ‘the principal coordination of Avenarius and Co., is subjective idealism’. (P.69 to 70 Vol.14).


Subjective Idealist Abstractions From ‘Experience’

   Lenin quotes from Wilhelm Wundt in relation to the co-ordination of mages negated from subjective idealist abstractions of ‘experience’. ‘Such abstraction is possible only because the attribution (Hinzudenken) of an experiencing individual to every content of experience, which the empirio-critical philosophy, in agreement with the immanentist philosophy, assumes, is in general an empirically unfounded presumption, arising from a false confusion of the content of real experience with reflections about it.’

   The Immanentist philosophy was, as Wundt explained, only ‘a modification of Berkeleianism or Fichteanism, ‘which is based upon the “indissoluble” connection between subject and object.’ (P.70 Vol..14). Empirically given experience is based upon the indissoluble connection when the subject imposes a self-created image from his practice and re- negates the self-same image impressionistically back into the experience, which is recorded within the memory of the subject. ‘Sometimes’, as Lenin wrote, quoting the English writer Norman Smith, ‘it means experiencing and at other times the experienced, the latter meaning being emphasised when the nature of the self is in question. These two meanings of the term experience practically coincide with his important distinction between the absolute and the relative ‘standpoints’. (P.71 Vol.14)  The anti-thesis between materialism and idealism is eliminated through the use of the word form of ‘experience’, This idealist relation is but a sensuous empirical description of the external world, whereas materialist dialectics insists upon the external objective source of experience independent of consciousness.

   The agnosticism of Hume and the idealism of  Kant analysed experience as a passive perception of the external world. They, together with Fichte, started from the outer, superficial side of phenomena of the objective world. This was the source of subjective idealist eclectical elaboration of imaginary contents, designed to subjectively fit forms which were nothing more than impressions or images. In this subjective idealist way experience was reduced to various stages of the subject’s consciousness, denoting a positivist denial of the necessity to prove the content of experience. Materialist dialectics, however, defines experience not as a preselected passive content of consciousness, but as the human being’s practical action on the external world. It is the interaction of the sum total of the practices of all social beings upon the external world which must be the materialist starting point for the analysis of experience. Only in this dialectical context can it play a scientific role in the method of materialist dialectics. .                                                      

Eclecticism – A Manifestation of Bourgeois Ideology

  The separation of word-forms from their historical content which are then replaced by subjectively pre-selected contents, reveals the eclectical manifestation of bourgeois ideology . Since each word-form used must contain its own in-itself historical content, this requires the union of analysis and synthesis, following the completion of the three objective laws of nature, society, and thought, through the negation of the negation. A study of the process of change in the external world, which develops independently of consciousness, can be undertaken through the use of dialectical logic as a world scientific outlook. The individual’s own Ego is in effect a conveyor belt for the manifestation of bourgeois ideological contents. To those who engage in individualistic exhibitions of their Ego, the ‘correction of mistakes’ is only a form of words, which lack a materialist content. What they fail to understand is that the correction of mistakes is an essential element in the dialectical development of theory to guide practice.

   The individual leaders who refuse to base their political analysis upon things-in-themselves counter-pose to materialist dialectics their own self-created images which are in essence determinatenesses of their own Ego. Fichte, the German philosopher who followed Kant, was the historical founder of the method of subjective idealism, which provides the imaginary content of such images.

   As Lenin explains on P.132 of Volume 38 in a quotation from Hegel: ‘The infinite limitation or check of Fichte’s idealism refuses, perhaps, to be based on any Thing-in-itself, so that it becomes purely a determinateness in the Ego. But this determinateness is immediate and a limit to the Ego, which transcending its externality, incorporates it, and though the Ego can pass beyond the limit. The latter has in it an aspect of indifference by virtue of which it contains an immediate not-being of the Ego, though itself contained in the Ego.’ This can be analysed in the following way.

   Fichte’s idealism was a self-created image which was not based upon the Thing-in-itself. As such it was simply a determinateness of his own Ego, but limited to the moment of the self-creation of his abstract image. In Fichte’s perception of the external world, he simply pasted this abstract image over the external world. He thus transformed the external world into an abstraction of the Ego, since his original not-being or abstract image was itself a product of his own Ego.

  He thus separated the Ego from the living social being of men and transformed it into a ‘transcendental subject’ or abstract image of his own individual Ego. Fichte considered the infinite motion of the external world to consist of his own egotistical self-created abstract images. This is the real subjective idealist function of eclecticism, which reduces the infinite substance of the external world in constant motion and change to products of the subject’s thinking Ego. Egoists cannot correct their mistakes.

   Without the identity of the external source of sensation established in the first simple negation, Being into not-Being as a self-related concept, the Egotists are unable to correct mistakes since they confine them to their own self-created abstract word-forms only. They consider the correction of mistakes as a rearranging and modification of abstract word-forms themselves. Without establishing the ‘in-itself’ historical content of word forms it is impossible to correct mistakes. The history of the objective source of the mistake must be analysed as a mistake ‘in itself’ before it can be corrected through the a synthesis of this history with the mistake itself, which through analysis will establish the historical connections and interconnections responsible for he mistake and why it has emerged today in such a sharp form.

   Without the negation of Being from the external world, it is impossible analyse why the mistake occurred. Within that simple negation of Being is implicitly contained the historical source of the mistake, including its connections and interactions with the sources of other mistakes. This requires the negation of Being from the external world, which through negation of negation establishes the union of analysis and synthesis, so that the historical content emerges as not-being in Semblance.

   The Egotist transforms the external world into an abstract substance of his own self-created abstract images. Real material substance, negated from the material motion and change of the external world, is replaced by the abstract images of the Ego, whose subjective Individualism would be the source of his pre-selected abstract images. In this way, only the abstract images imposed by the Egotist upon the external world would constitute a cause. Real material substance negated from the external world, subjected to the union of analysis and synthesis, would be reduced to an abstraction.

    Those individuals who follow Fichte’s subjective idealist method, generally speaking go around accusing others of making the same mistakes, which through the ‘transcending subject’ of their Ego, they are making themselves. Egoism is the mortal subjective idealist enemy of the training of collective leadership in the use of materialist dialectics. It is the classic manifestation of bourgeois ideology, in which the Egotist must start with his own self-interest.

   An egotist thinks through transformations of words which contain only the self-created abstract images of bourgeois ideology. Its real source is private ownership of the means of production (capitalism). The Ego exists as an abstract thinking substance, which inevitably becomes transformed into the principle of intuition, through which it asserts the independence of the Ego. Intuition is under such conditions based upon an infinitely abstract substance in which living human beings are transformed into abstractions.

Dialectical Logic Versus Eclecticism

 The method of Materialists  Dialectics, through the use of dialectical logic enables us to establish in subjective thought the ‘In-Itself’ qualities of objects interacting with other objects as processes. These exist in the external world independently of thought. ‘Limit (is) simple negation or first negation” (das Etwas  - something). Every something has its limit) while other [not-being – our insertion1 is at the same time negation of negation’(P.109 Vol.38). The ‘Other’ as Not-Being through negation of negation incorporates the three main objective laws of materialist dialectics.

   Lenin explains this further on the next page 110 Vol.38 in the box towards the end of the page: ‘Shrewd and clever! Hegel analyses concepts that usually appear to be dead and shows that there is movement them. Finite? That means moving to an end! Something? – means not that which is Other.  Being in general? – means such indeterminateness that Being means not-Being. All-sided, universal flexibility of concepts, a flexibility reaching to the identity of opposites – that is the essence of the matter. This flexibility, applied subjectively = eclecticism and sophistry. Flexibility, applied objectively, i.e., reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the eternal development of the world.’

   The late Soviet philosopher, E.V. lIyenkov, refers to Eclecticism as follows: ‘Eclecticism, which has always served as the methodology of opportunism and revisionism, prides itself on its love for all-sided approaches. An eclectic will willingly hold forth on the “harm of any one-sidedness” and on the need to take into account a thousand and one things. In his hands, however, the requirement for an all-sided consideration becomes an instrument of fighting dialectics and the principle of concreteness in its real meaning.

   ‘The way to a concrete theoretical conception is here replaced by endless wandering from one abstraction to another in no way different from the first. Instead of ascending from the abstract to the concrete, an eclectic will move from the abstract to something just as abstract. And his occupation is just as easy as it is fruitless.’ (P.110 The Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital.)  

   The identity of the external source of sensation is simultaneously the identity of the external source of reflection. An Egotistic individual considers that reflection is a product of his own self-created abstract images. When he refers to reflection, he means a refurbishment and reshuffling of his own self-created abstract images. In the use of dialectical logic the identity of the infinite Being as the source of sensation is negated through the first negation into the ‘limit’ of the finite, Not-being, which then constitutes a unity of self-related opposites.

   Lenin quotes Hegel approvingly (P.138 Vol.38): ‘If now the primary determinations of Reflection – Identity, Variety and Opposition – are established in a proposition, then the determination into which they pass over as into their truth (namely Contradiction) should much more so be comprehended and expressed in a proposition: all things are contradictory in themselves, in this meaning, that this proposition  as opposed to the others expresses much better the truth and essence “ things’’’.

   The truth of contradiction within Identity, which by itself expresses nothing, is that in the motion of the external world, Identity contains Difference within it. The Identity of the external source of sensation is negated in the simple negation into finite difference. These in turn contain the material properties of Necessity into Chance and Cause into Effect as a Variety of properties which are implicit within the contradiction that creates the impulse to negate the simple negation back into the infinite motion of the external world.

   Both the Infinite Being negated from the external world and the Finite Not-Being into which it is negated are a unity of self-related opposites.  These include Identity into Difference, Necessity into Chance and Cause into Effect. Lenin quotes Hegel approvingly, inserting in the side-margin ‘In General, he infiniteness of matter deep within … “ ‘The unity of finite and infinite is not an external juxtaposition of these terms, nor an improper connection contrary to their determination, and binding together entities separate and opposed and mutually independent and hence incompatible; on the contrary, each in itself is this unity, … It has been demonstrated above that finitude exists only as a passing beyond itself .. : (P.112 Vol.38).

   Those who eclectically derive knowledge from the forms of things by simply pasting an abstract image over them firmly adhere to the subjective idealist policy of Mach. Lenin explains that it is incorrect that forms are a means for use. It is also incorrect to say that they are external forms ‘(forms which are merely forms attached to the content and not the Content itself).’ (P.92 Vol.38, our emphasis)

   Further down on the same page, Lenin writes in a box: ‘What Hegel demands is a Logic, the forms of which would be gehaltvolle Formen, (forms with content) forms of living, real content, inseparably connected with the content: An Egotist and individualist denies the in-itself of  form and content. Not only are their forms abstract images, but their content is an equally abstract assumption.  

    Only through the ‘in-itself’ dialectical relationship between form and content can the law-governed infinite relation of substance be established. Substance as a concept represents the inner unity of the infinite motion of all forms of matter. It is not opposed to consciousness since thought itself is a product of matter. Eclecticism combines empty word forms without material substance which replace substance as the materiality of ‘internal contradictions’. In other words, they replace it with their own pre-selected abstract contents.

   The practising eclectic, apart from being a subjective idealist, is inherently physically frightened of all kinds of contradictions. They convert the working class and the class struggle into abstractions by objectifying them. When the reality of the world class struggle forces its way into their consciousness, they invariably organise the most conservative of clique formations. These in turn feed ideologically from the ‘pauper’s broth’ of eclecticism with its bourgeois ideological content.