Studies in East European Thought

, Volume 70, Issue 2–3, pp 107–119 | Cite as

On Lenin’s Materialism and empiriocriticism

  • David Bakhurst


In May 1909, Lenin published Materialism and empiriocriticism, a polemical assault on forms of positivistic empiricism popular among members of the Bolshevik intelligentsia, especially his political rival Alexander Bogdanov. After expounding the core claims on both sides of the debate, this essay considers the relation of the philosophical issues at stake to the political stances of their proponents. I maintain that Lenin’s use of philosophical argument was not purely opportunistic, and I contest the view that his defence of realism was designed as a philosophical rationale for revolutionary vanguardism, arguing instead that Lenin primarily saw himself as defending the world-view of ordinary rank-and-file Marxists against varieties of philosophical obscurantism. Although of marginal influence at the time of its first publication, Materialism and empiriocriticism was later celebrated as a model of philosophical excellence, as the cult of Lenin was fashioned by Stalin. As a result of the text’s subsequent prominence, Lenin’s manner of philosophizing, with its vitriol and abuse, had a disastrous influence on the subsequent course of Soviet philosophical culture.


Bogdanov Experience Idealism Knowledge Lenin Politics Positivism Realism Science Truth 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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