Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2.: Marxist Criticisms of Idealism and Phenomenalism - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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2.: Marxist Criticisms of Idealism and Phenomenalism - H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed 
The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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© 1962 by H. B. Acton. The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by H.B. Acton’s estate. It is reproduced here by permission and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
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Marxist Criticisms of Idealism and Phenomenalism
A detailed discussion of these matters from a Marxist point of view is to be found in Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. An account of how this book came to be written is contained in chapter 4 of the Soviet History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as well as in Lenin’s own preface to the first edition (1909), and Professor Deborin’s preface to volume 13 of the 1927 edition of the English translation of Lenin’s Collected Works. In brief, it appears that a number of members of the Russian Social Democratic Party had been reading books by Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius in which, under the name of “empirio-criticism,” a phenomenalist account of matter was advocated. These Russian socialists became convinced both that phenomenalism was true and that it was compatible with Marxist materialism. Lenin considered they were wrong on both counts, and thought it most important to convict them of error. Thus he says that he wrote Materialism and Empirio-Criticism “to seek for the stumbling block to people who under the guise of Marxism are offering something incredibly baffling, confused and reactionary.”6 Lenin worked on the material for this book in the British Museum in 1908.
In Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Lenin touches on many topics in a highly controversial manner. It seems to me, however, that he argues for four main positions which may be summarized as follows:
(a) Phenomenalism cannot be detached from idealism. Since, therefore, the function of idealism is to provide philosophical support for religious faith (called by Lenin “fideism”), phenomenalism too is religious in its tendency, whatever its supporters may say about it.
(b) Phenomenalism is false. Lenin thinks he can show its falsity, in the first place by reference to practice or action, and in the second place by showing that if it were true, then well-attested scientific theories to the effect that the world existed for a long time before living beings inhabited it, would have to be denied.
(c) The denial of phenomenalism involves the assertion that matter exists, in the sense of a reality that is neither sense datum nor mind. Matter, according to Lenin, is “the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations, while existing independently of them.”7 He also says: “To regard our sensations as images of the external world, to recognize objective truth, to hold the materialistic theory of knowledge—these are all one and the same thing.”8
(d) At the end of the book Lenin argues that there is no foundation for the view that materialism is being rendered untenable by new discoveries in physics, and in particular by “the electrical theory of matter.” In his view, new physical discoveries such as those that led to the abandonment of the “billiard ball” view of matter, can only lead us to the discovery of new characteristics of matter, not, as had been held by some, to its “disappearance.”
In the following sections of this chapter I shall discuss the first three of these contentions.
[6. ]V. I. Lenin. Selected Works, vol. 11, p. 90 (London, 1939). For the sake of brevity later quotations from this book will be given in the form: M. and E-C, p. . . ., the page reference being that of the Selected Works. The phrase “seek for the stumbling block” is obscure, and the rendering in the 1927 translation: “to find out what is the trouble with” is more comprehensible.
[7. ]M. and E-C, p. 192.
[8. ]Ibid., p. 193.