Lenin and Nietzsche in Althusser's Perspective

Image: Jan van der Zee


Considerations about identities and differences in the understanding of philosophy between the Russian politician and the German thinker

The article is dedicated to identifying some points of intersection in the philosophical ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and Vladimir Lenin. The analysis of Lenin's views, given by Louis Althusser in several of his works, can serve as a methodological basis for such a comparison. In this perspective, Lenin's understanding of philosophy is characterized by the fact that philosophy is treated not only as a theory, but above all, as a practice of struggle for domination.

Lenin and Nietzsche share the dynamic vision of the universe, the idea of ​​\uXNUMXb\uXNUMXbthe leading role of contradictions and struggle in the being of the world. Philosophy appears as an expression of some hidden impulses, which are ultimately reducible to the will to power. Therefore, for both thinkers, knowledge appears not as a result of pure and objective knowledge, but as a product of the struggle of power instincts, and knowledge itself is a necessary element of any order of power.



The diverse and ambiguous influence of Nietzsche's thought on Russian culture has long been the subject of special research, and the first thing that attracts interest is the reception of Nietzsche's ideas during the Soviet era. Although the interest of pre-revolutionary Russian philosophers and artists in Nietzsche is quite obvious and can easily be explained from the general cultural context of the period fin de siècle, their comparable influence on the Bolshevik political and cultural elite requires some special analysis.

First of all, it is necessary to mention here the work of GL Kline (1969), as well as the works of Bernice Rosenthal, whose editorial board published the books Nietzsche in Russia (1986) and Nietzsche and Soviet Culture: Ally and Adversary (1994). The result of these studies was a fundamental monograph New Myth, New World: from Nietzsche to Stalinism (Rosenthal 2002). The role of Nietzsche in Russian literature of the so-called “Silver Age” has been studied by E. Clowes (1988), certain aspects have been examined in the works of M. Deppermann (1998/99), H. Günther (1993), MA Gillespie ( 1996), Yu. V. Sineokaya (2008).

One of these “non-obvious” aspects of the theme “Nietzsche in Russia” is the influence of the German thinker's ideas on Vladimir Lenin, while the interest in Nietzsche of other Russian Marxists, including those close to Bolshevism, was clearly recognized in pre-revolutionary times. (For example, Berdyaev wrote of Lunacharsky that he “mixed up a bundle of Marx, Avenarius and Nietzsche” (Berdiaev 1994: 11)).

For official Soviet philosophical discourse, such a comparison would seem absolutely absurd. However, this comparison did not seem strange, for example, to a thinker as perceptive as Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, who in his work fascist socialism asked the following question: “Nietzsche formed Mussolini, we know him. But did he not influence Lenin? And so he answered his own question: Nietzsche's philosophy – a philosophy of action and coming – imposed an imprint on Lenin, definitely influenced his temperament, despite the fact that, apparently, “Lenin did not read a single line from the anti-socialist philosopher ” (Drieu la Rochelle 2001: 86).

In fact, Drieu La Rochelle was wrong, believing that the leader of the Bolshevik revolution was not familiar with Nietzsche's works. As shown by Aldo Venturelli, there was a German edition of The Birth of Tragedy in Lenin's personal library, a copy of Thus spake Zarathustra it was kept in Lenin's office in the Kremlin, and during his stay abroad before the revolution Lenin had the opportunity to read Nietzsche in French translations in the libraries of Geneva and Paris (see Venturelli 1993: 320-330).

There is every reason to assume that Nietzsche's ideas were somehow included in the topics discussed by Lenin and his writer friend Maxim Gorky, who was heavily influenced by Nietzsche's philosophy (see Clowes 1988). Rethinking Nietzsche's individualism and 'immoralism', coordinating his inspirations with the revolutionary Marxist teaching, takes place in the so-called doctrine of the 'construction of God'. Lenin took these ideas extremely critically (see Lenin 1973: 123). Thus, systematic criticism of the construction of God has assumed some familiarity with its ideological underpinnings, including Nietzscheanism.

In Lenin's published works there are practically no references to Nietzsche's texts. As an exception there are two fragments of the philosophical notebooks. In one of them Nietzsche is mentioned in relation to individualism, while in the other he is critically considered as one of the forerunners of the pragmatic concept of truth (Rosenthal 2002: 130-131).

Thus, there is evidence of Lenin's knowledge of Nietzsche's works, and his silence on the thinker's ideas of "philosophizing with a hammer" creates a special hermeneutic situation: it is enough to imagine Lenin as a Nietzschean (on the order of a mental experiment) to reveal its similarity to those statements by Lenin that are not directly related to Nietzsche. In the present study, we have made an attempt to present not so much the catalog of Nietzschean motives found in Lenin's worldview, but some meta-philosophical position that allows us to explain the correspondence between Lenin and Nietzsche of certain ideas, caused by their similar understanding of the philosophy.

Louis Althusser's approach helps to clarify the essence of the Leninist view of philosophy. We are interested in considering the very essence of philosophy that the French Marxist encounters with Lenin, thus establishing an intriguing approach to the activity of philosophers as a special kind of practice – the practice of struggle and will-mastery. In our opinion, this understanding of philosophy is also in tune with the spirit of our time (in particular, if we keep in mind postcolonial critical discourse, feminist and postfeminist studies, etc.).


Lenin in Althusser's Lens - the non-philosophical theory of philosophy

Paraphrasing Friedrich Engels (1975: 274), we can say that “the great basic question of all philosophy, especially of the most recent philosophy”, is the question of what philosophy is. Here we do not intend to point out the importance of the self-determination of philosophy as a special kind of knowledge, we are talking about the status external view of philosophy as a social phenomenon, and consequently we also need an external point of view on philosophy.

In his report “Lenin and Philosophy”, read at the French Philosophical Society on February 24, 1968, Althusser points out the importance of conquering this external position and declares: “I believe that what we owe to Lenin, something that is perhaps not completely unprecedented , but certainly invaluable, is the beginning of the ability to speak a kind of discourse that anticipates what may one day be an unphilosophical theory of philosophy” (Althusser 1971b: 27).

What vision can be external to philosophy? We suggest that it is the Policy point of view. Philosophy, however much it renounces its involvement in politics, is nevertheless inextricably bound up with politics. This connection is not the involvement of some philosophical doctrines in the struggle of political forces; it is rather an expression of the political essence of philosophy itself, generally denied by “philosophical workers” (Nietzsche's expression). Therefore, we can fully explain both the disdain of Lenin's ideas by university professors and Lenin's curses in his speech (Lenin 1977: 340).

Thus, philosophy is associated with class interests and, consequently, with the political expression of the contradiction between these interests, that is, with the class struggle. It seems that Althusser's parallels with Freud are not accidental: politics is "the repressed" of philosophy (Read more about Philosophy), politics is a kind of neurotic point of philosophy, and Lenin acts as a psychoanalyst-like figure, who brings out the true content of the unconscious into the realm of consciousness – and makes us recognize this connection between philosophy and politics as immovable (see Althusser 1971b: 33).

Althusser speaks of “absolutely limitless insistence”, with which Lenin neglects all philosophical details, abolishing the complexity and variety of philosophical positions and doctrines, reducing the secular history of philosophy to the constant struggle of two camps, two trends.

Lenin wrote that “an expression of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic play with new words, learned terms and subtle “isms”, and said simply and clearly: there is a materialist line and an idealist line in philosophy, and among them there are various shades of agnosticism” (Lenin 1977: 147).

The result of this reduction is the denial that philosophy has a history, because if the whole content of philosophy is a struggle between materialism and idealism in its different variations, then it is necessary to consider this content as the “eternal return”, and not as history. in the proper sense (as a set of unique intellectual events linked to a continuous line of progressive development).

This is why Althusser declares that “philosophy has no history, philosophy is that strange theoretical locus where nothing really happens, nothing but this repetition of nothing” (1971b: 55). However, philosophy is still a “theoretical construction”, albeit a “strange one”, and, moreover, it is inextricably linked with science, although, unlike science, it does not have its own object. After all, we do not consider the opposition “matter/spirit” to be the object of philosophy – the fundamental opposition for Lenin, but, according to Althusser, subject to “infinite and purposeless” inversion, emphasizing one or another of its members.

At this point in our consideration, the previously proposed political nature of philosophy is finally revealed: since it does not have its own object (in the sense of being the object of science), it may have something different. The latter may be philosophy's orientation towards the struggle for mastery of one of the two hierarchies of concepts, and these hierarchies are determined by a possible inversion of the “matter/spirit” opposition. In other words, philosophy, in the Althusserian interpretation of Lenin's ideas, appears not only as a special kind of theory, but also as a practice, and this is the practice of the struggle for domination, for power.

In the 'Lenin before Hegel' report, made a year after the presentation of the 'Lenin and Philosophy' report, Althusser briefly (and more categorically) repeats the main points of his earlier statement. Among his statements, we find the following: “Philosophy is a practice of political intervention carried out in a theoretical way” (Althusser 1971c: 107).


Nietzscheanism-Leninism: Philosophy as kampfplatz

The dominant position of philosophy in the labor movement's struggle to fuse theory with political practice means that philosophy is at the forefront of attack and must always be ready to take the blow of foreign-class philosophical schools. The space of knowledge itself becomes the sphere of power distribution: knowledge and power are united and mutually supportive, as was declared by Michel Foucault a few years later in Discipline and Punish (see Foucault 1995: 27). Any operation in the knowledge space means nothing more than a shift from the front line in a fierce struggle for power, and these shifts are caused precisely by the political actions of the opposing sides.

Althusser, with references to Materialism and Empiriocriticism, states that “philosophical practice” for Lenin is an intervention in the field of theory, expressed, firstly, in the formulation of complete categories and, secondly, in the specific function of these categories. This function consists of “drawing a dividing line” within the theoretical domain between ideas declared true and ideas declared false, between the scientific and the ideological” (Althusser 1971b: 61).

In fact, any philosophy is the desire to realize this “dividing line”, protecting itself and its science from the influence of opposing philosophical and scientific discourses, pushing them from the sphere of theory to its borders with the aim of finally becoming one another. get rid of hostile concepts. That is why philosophy does not have its own subject and its own history. Philosophy as a political tool has an “empty” character, and its meaning is determined only by the movement of the “dividing line”, which itself is empty. In this eternal battle of philosophical tendencies (for Lenin, of the two fundamental ones – materialism and idealism) only the scenery changes, but the essence remains unchanged, therefore, the history of philosophy appears as Kampfplatz – the battlefield.

Lenin reveals the dynamic framework of the being of thought: he perceives philosophy as a zone of conflict, as a space of permanent struggle, and this struggle is a struggle for power. This understanding is contained in Lenin's statement that philosophy has a partisan character:

Recent philosophy is as partisan as the philosophy of two thousand years ago. The contending parties are essentially – though this is concealed by a pseudo-scholarly quackery of new terms or a feeble-minded non-partisanship – materialism and idealism. The latter is but a subtle and refined form of fideism, which is fully armed, commands vast organizations and continues to exert influence over the masses, turning the slightest vacillation of philosophical thought to its own advantage (Lenin 1977: 358).

Here the intersection of Lenin's thought with Nietzsche's ideas can be seen. “Philosophy is partisan” means that in the field of philosophy we always observe the clash of individual, private positions (“perspectives”, as Nietzsche would say), and behind every philosophical position there is something that philosophers may not admit – the will to power. . Lenin believed that declaring one's non-partisanship in philosophy means hiding (consciously or unconsciously) the undervalued true motives and aspirations for power (Lenin 1977: 341). In criticizing his opponents, Lenin primarily points to his blindness to the political character of his own philosophical theses, which seem to be excluded from the struggle for power.

The perception of philosophy as a space of struggle and manifestation of the will to overcome paradoxically unites figures as different as Lenin and Nietzsche. We do not, of course, claim the identity of their views, but a number of commonalities are evident.

Thus, both inherent to the idea of ​​the dynamic character of the world – be it the world of thought, nature or society. In this case, we can deviate from the fact that Nietzsche's dynamic is inscribed in the model of the “eternal return of the same” and is rooted in the vital-biological origin of the will to power, which acquires a cosmic character and permeates the entire universe, while Lenin's vision presupposes a linear view of history and an exclusively political interpretation of the will to power in terms of the “class struggle”.

In any case, both thinkers perceive the world through the prism of contradiction and struggle. Perhaps this conflictological character of Lenin's worldview determined his intense interest in the Hegelian dialectic, so clearly manifested in the philosophical notebooks. Dialectics for Lenin is both a method of knowing reality and an expression of the essential nature of reality – contradictory, restless, eternal struggle with itself (see, for example, the well-known section on the philosophical notebooks, entitled “On the Question of Dialectics” (Lenin 1976: 357-358)).

In our opinion, the Hegelian theses in Lenin's works acquire a completely different meaning when placed in the context of Nietzschean thought, according to which it is necessary to consider “all phenomena, movement, Becoming … as the establishment of relations of degree and of strength, like a contest” (Nietzsche 1914b: 61).

Arguing in Twilight of the Idols of philosophical reason's denial of the importance of sensual experience, Nietzsche writes with a 'respectful' reference to Heraclitus: 'Reason' makes us falsify the testimony of the senses. The senses do not lie when they show that they become, pass and change... But Heráclito will always be right in thinking that being is an empty fiction. The “apparent” world is the only world: the “true world” is just a lie added to it…” (Nietzsche 2005: 167-168).

This dynamism of the worldview and the consideration of struggle as the eternal law of the unique, but at the same time, an internally pluralistic world for both philosophers, imply the idea that the desire for power is the main drive for most practical aspirations. , and in the sphere of knowledge – even for all of them without exception, and the separation of theory from practice in their analyzes is supposedly something unacceptable.

We have already mentioned the "partisan" nature of Lenin's philosophy, so let us just note that in the clash between theoretical systems of knowledge Nietzsche also saw the struggle of hidden practical impulses (or, as he would say, "affects" or "instincts"). he wrote in the will to power (fr. 432): “This is a pernicious distinction, as if there were an instinct of knowledge, which, without investigating the usefulness or harmfulness of a thing, blindly accused the truth; and after that, beyond this instinct, there was the whole world of practical interests” (Nietzsche 1914a: 338-339).

the author of The Will to Power saw his own task in showing that “instincts are active behind all these pure theorists (…) The struggle between systems (…) is one that involves very special instincts (forms of vitality, of decline, of classes, of races, etc. .). The so-called thirst for knowledge can be attributed to the lust for appropriation and conquest… (Nietzsche 1914a: 339).

Nietzsche writes about 'instinct', and Lenin about 'class interest', but abstracting from the content of these concepts, we can very easily understand the typological similarity of the worldviews of the German philosopher and the Russian politician, which is reflected in their texts : Nietzsche sees the hidden suppression of instincts in the thinking of European philosophers, starting with Socrates and Plato, while Lenin poses a similar, though lesser, task – to reveal concessions to idealism and fideism in the works of Russian Marxists, and therefore to show their character reactionary (or even counterrevolutionary). In both cases, we see an attempt to find the ulterior motive, the driving force that determines the work of philosophical thought, and in both cases, the force is recognized as the desire to overcome the enemy, to overtake him, to impose it with the world view's own "perspective".

Analyzing a series of passages from Zarathustra, dedicated to the will to power, Walter Kaufmann indicates that for Nietzsche 'the will to truth is a function of the will to power' (Kaufmann 1974: 203), whose evidence is found, for example, in Beyond good and evil, where Nietzsche explicitly states: Philosophy is this tyrannical impulse, the most spiritual will to power, to the “creation of the world”, to the prime cause” (Nietzsche 2002: 11).

Finding themselves in the same field of perception of thought as struggle, Lenin and Nietzsche, however, disagree on the general understanding of the nature of this struggle: unlike Nietzsche, Lenin considers it exclusively in socio-political terms. The “class struggle” becomes a universal image of the universe of the conflict of thought, according to Lenin. He sees a philosopher as a figure of power, a representative of the power of knowledge, which guarantees the preservation of the boundaries of class interests.


Absolute method: dialectics at the service of the revolution

What can we say about the internal content of philosophy if it has neither its own object nor history? It turns out that we can only consider the ways in which the production of the same “dividing line” in the sphere of thought is carried out. In other words, we are only talking about method, and any and all philosophy is reducible to the question of method, according to Althusser. He wrote: 'Lenin takes from Hegel the following proposition: there is only one thing in the world that is absolute, and that is the method or the concept of the process, itself absolute' (Althusser 1971c: 123). This absolute method and at the same time absolute process is nothing but dialectics, that is, 'the concept of a subjectless process, as found in The capital, and elsewhere, too, in Freud, for example' (Althusser 1971c: 124).

Any 'morality' interpreted as a 'perspective' always has its purpose hidden, it always hides something from its subject. From Nietzsche's point of view, one cannot speak of a subject as something that has become, and even more so of a real subject: “No subject – atoms. The sphere of a subject incessantly increasing or decreasing, the center of the system continually shifting (…) ” (Nietzsche 1914b: 17). That “something that in itself strives for greater strength” is nothing more than the will to power, while the subject appears as its superficial effect, without stability and certainty. At the same time, Nietzsche's world seems united, and the subject arises precisely because the will to power is realized: these are not two different worlds, but one.

Movement as a non-subject process is another point of the meta-philosophical construction that unites Nietzsche and Lenin. In the light of what has been said, we obtain a complete explanation of Lenin's great interest in Hegelian dialectics, as well as Lenin's identification of philosophy with the clean materialist dialectic of Hegel's idealism, being for Lenin the only reliable tool of political struggle in the field. of theory. Philosophy is no longer considered as an instrument external to politics, used as necessary in the political struggle – now it is the very instrument of politics, having a political essence, being politics itself. As we understand it, this is no longer the involvement of intellectuals in class battles on both sides, but their constant participation in the production of power regimes through philosophical discourse.

If we recall Althusser's idea about the “ideological state apparatuses”, which are nothing more than externally neutral institutions of civil society (Althusser 1971a: 153), then we can find the real reason for Lenin's enmity for “university philosophy”. Nietzsche's fall out of the context of philological and philosophical academic activity and his contempt for "philosophical workers" again demonstrate his paradoxical proximity to Lenin's attitudes towards philosophy. I will insist," wrote Nietzsche, "that people finally cease to confuse philosophical workers and scientific men in general with philosophers." What distinguishes them? His task – for the true philosopher's task is to create values ​​(Nietzsche 2002: 105-106).

The closeness of Nietzsche's and Lenin's arguments about "philosophers" is revealed even in the similar form of expression, in their own style - sarcastically harsh, invective, sometimes reaching deliberate rudeness.

As a Marxist, Althusser takes Lenin's lessons from the perspective of the purification of science from false ideological influences and the scientific support of the class struggle, since philosophy is a "representative of politics" in the field of theory (while facing science) and a “representative of science” in politics (facing the struggling classes). However, a broader interpretation of Lenin-Althusser's lesson is also possible: in the possibility of criticizing the very mechanisms that link all knowledge to power in its many manifestations.



We can conclude that Lenin, being familiar with Nietzsche's ideas, did not appeal directly to them, but it is still possible to reveal a certain similarity between the meta-philosophical attitudes of the two thinkers.

Lenin's appeal to the consideration of philosophical problems was not due to his philosophical interest. Althusser's approach helps to clarify the essence of the Leninist view of philosophy. He considered Lenin's merit in creating a non-philosophical theory of philosophy. In the Althusserian interpretation of Lenin's ideas, philosophy is a special kind of theory, inextricably linked with science, but without an object or history of its own. Philosophy is also a practice – the practice of the struggle for domination, for power. Philosophy is integrated into social relations and is designed to perform certain functions, it has a political nature and is associated with class interests and class struggle. Philosophy is a political tool for drawing the “dividing line”.

We can observe a series of intersections between Lenin's thought and Nietzsche's ideas: (a) the world is perceived through the prism of dynamics, contradiction and struggle, while movement is seen as a non-subject process; (b) in the confrontation between theoretical systems of knowledge there is a struggle of impulses or hidden practical motives; (c) the desire for power is considered the main drive for most practical aspirations; knowledge and power being united and mutually supporting each other.

Thus, the intersection of Lenin's and Nietzsche's thought strategies allows us to understand the essence of philosophy as a special life practice connected with politics. The political function of an intellectual is determined by his objective location within the power-generating mechanism from which he has no way out, and therefore the intellectual must first realize that he is not floating freely between social worlds, but is an element in the power machine and the one who is able to change the operation mode of this machine.

*Aleksandr Sautkin is professor of philosophy at Murmansk Arctic State University (Russia).

*Elena Philippova is professor of philosophy at Murmansk Arctic State University (Russia).

Translation: Lucas Zubelli.


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Originally published in the journal Filosofija sociologija [https://lmaleidykla.lt/ojs/index.php/filosofija-sociologija/article/download/4040/2926?inline=1#fnt189_1b], volume 30, no. 3


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