History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy

Medieval philosophy

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


Western Philosophy







Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Western philosophy

History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.


Contemporary philosophy

Despite the tradition of philosophical professionalism established during the Enlightenment by Wolff and Kant, philosophy in the 19th century was still created largely outside the universities. Comte, Mill, Marx, Kierkegaard, and Schopenhauer were not professors, and only the German idealist school was rooted in academic life. Since the mid-20th century, however, most well-known philosophers have been associated with academia. Philosophers more and more employ a technical vocabulary and deal with specialized problems, and they write not for a broad intellectual public but for one another. Professionalism also has sharpened the divisions between philosophical schools and made the question of what philosophy is and what it ought to be a matter of the sharpest controversy. Philosophy has become extremely self-conscious about its own method and nature.

The most significant divisions in 20th-century philosophy were influenced and intensified by geographic and cultural differences. The tradition of clear logical analysis, inaugurated by Locke and Hume, dominated the English-speaking world, whereas a speculative and broadly historical tradition, begun by Hegel but later diverging radically from him, held sway on the European continent. From the early decades of the century, the substantive as well as stylistic differences between the two approaches—known after World War II as analytic and Continental philosophy, respectively—gradually became more pronounced, and until the 1990s few serious attempts were made to find common ground between them.

Other less-significant currents in 20th-century philosophy were the speculative philosophies of Henri Bergson (1859–1941) of France, John Dewey (1859–1952) of the United States, and Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) of England—each of whom evades easy classification—and the philosophical Marxism practiced in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe until the collapse of communism there in 1990–91.


Contemporary philosophy » Bergson, Dewey, and Whitehead

In his An Introduction to Metaphysics (1903) and in his masterpiece, Creative Evolution (1907), Bergson distinguished between two profoundly different ways of knowing: the method of analysis, which is characteristic of science, and the method of intuition, a kind of intellectual sympathy through which it is possible to enter into objects and other persons and identify with them. All basic metaphysical truths, Bergson held, are grasped by philosophical intuition. This is how one comes to know one’s deepest self and the essence of all living things, which he called “duration,” as well as the “vital spirit,” which is the mysterious creative agency in the world.

For Whitehead, philosophy is primarily metaphysics, or “speculative philosophy,” which he described as the effort “to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” Whitehead’s philosophy was thus an attempt to survey the world with a large generality of understanding, an end toward which his great trilogy, Science and the Modern World (1925), Process and Reality (1929), and Adventures of Ideas (1933), was directed.

Whereas Bergson and Whitehead were principally metaphysicians and philosophers of culture, Dewey was a generalist who stressed the unity, interrelationship, and organicity of all forms of philosophical knowledge. He is chiefly notable for the fact that his conception of philosophy stressed so powerfully the notions of practicality and moral purpose. One of the guiding aims of Dewey’s philosophizing was the effort to find the same warranted assertibility for ethical and political judgements as for scientific ones. Philosophy, he said, should be oriented not to professional pride but to human need.

Dewey’s approach to the social problems of the 20th century, unlike that of Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), emphasized not revolution but the continuous application of the intellect to social affairs. He believed in social planning—in conscious, intelligent intervention to produce desirable social change—and he proposed a new “experimentalism” as a guide to enlightened public action to promote the aims of a democratic community. His pragmatic social theory is the first major political philosophy produced by modern liberal democracy.


Henri Bergson
French philosopher
in full Henri-Louis Bergson

born Oct. 18, 1859, Paris, France
died Jan. 4, 1941, Paris

French philosopher, the first to elaborate what came to be called a process philosophy, which rejected static values in favour of values of motion, change, and evolution. He was also a master literary stylist, of both academic and popular appeal, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927.

Early years
Through his father, a talented musician, Bergson was descended from a rich Polish Jewish family—the sons of Berek, or Berek-son, from which the name Bergson is derived. His mother came from an English Jewish family. Bergson’s upbringing, training, and interests were typically French, and his professional career, as indeed all of his life, was spent in France, most of it in Paris.

He received his early education at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, where he showed equally great gifts in the sciences and the humanities. From 1878 to 1881 he studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, the institution responsible for training university teachers. The general culture that he received there made him equally at home in reading the Greek and Latin classics, in obtaining what he wanted and needed from the science of his day, and in acquiring a beginning in the career of philosophy, to which he turned upon graduation.

His teaching career began in various lycées outside of Paris, first at Angers (1881–83) and then for the next five years at Clermont-Ferrand. While at the latter place, he had the intuition that provided both the basis and inspiration for his first philosophical books. As he later wrote to the eminent American Pragmatist William James:

I had remained up to that time wholly imbued with mechanistic theories, to which I had been led at an early date by the reading of Herbert Spencer. . . . It was the analysis of the notion of time, as that enters into mechanics and physics, which overturned all my ideas. I saw, to my great astonishment, that scientific time does not endure. . . that positive science consists essentially in the elimination of duration. This was the point of departure of a series of reflections which brought me, by gradual steps, to reject almost all of what I had hitherto accepted and to change my point of view completely.

The first result of this change was his Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (1889; Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness), for which he received the doctorate the same year. This work was primarily an attempt to establish the notion of duration, or lived time, as opposed to what Bergson viewed as the spatialized conception of time, measured by a clock, that is employed by science. He proceeded by analyzing the awareness that man has of his inner self to show that psychological facts are qualitatively different from any other, charging psychologists in particular with falsifying the facts by trying to quantify and number them. Fechner’s Law, claiming to establish a calculable relation between the intensity of the stimulus and that of the corresponding sensation, was especially criticized. Once the confusions were cleared away that confounded duration with extension, succession with simultaneity, and quality with quantity, he maintained that the objections to human liberty made in the name of scientific determinism could be seen to be baseless.

Philosophical triumphs
The publication of the Essai found Bergson returned to Paris, teaching at the Lycée Henri IV. In 1891 he married Louise Neuburger, a cousin of the French novelist Marcel Proust. Meanwhile, he had undertaken the study of the relation between mind and body. The prevailing doctrine was that of the so-called psychophysiological parallelism, which held that for every psychological fact there is a corresponding physiological fact that strictly determines it. Though he was convinced that he had refuted the argument for determinism, his own work, in the doctoral dissertation, had not attempted to explain how mind and body are related. The findings of his research into this problem were published in 1896 under the title Matière et mémoire: essai sur la relation du corps à l’esprit (Matter and Memory).

This is the most difficult and perhaps also the most perfect of his books. The approach that he took in it is typical of his method of doing philosophy. He did not proceed by general speculation and was not concerned with elaborating a great speculative system. He began in this, as in each of his books, with a particular problem, which he analyzed by first determining the empirical (observed) facts that are known about it according to the best and most up-to-date scientific opinion. Thus, for Matière et mémoire he devoted five years to studying all of the literature available on memory and especially the psychological phenomenon of aphasia, or loss of the ability to use language. According to the theory of psychophysiological parallelism, a lesion in the brain should also affect the very basis of a psychological power. The occurrence of aphasia, Bergson argued, showed that this is not the case. The person so affected understands what others have to say, knows what he himself wants to say, suffers no paralysis of the speech organs, and yet is unable to speak. This fact shows, he argued, that it is not memory that is lost but, rather, the bodily mechanism that is needed to express it. From this observation Bergson concluded that memory, and so mind, or soul, is independent of body and makes use of it to carry out its own purposes.

The Essai had been widely reviewed in the professional journals, but Matière et mémoire attracted the attention of a wider audience and marked the first step along the way that led to Bergson’s becoming one of the most popular and influential lecturers and writers of the day. In 1897 he returned as professor of philosophy to the École Normale Supérieure, which he had first entered as a student at the age of 19. Then, in 1900, he was called to the Collège de France, the academic institution of highest prestige in all of France, where he enjoyed immense success as a lecturer. From then until the outbreak of World War I, there was a veritable vogue of Bergsonism. William James was an enthusiastic reader of his works, and the two men became warm friends. Expositions and commentaries on the Bergsonian philosophy were to be found everywhere. It was held by many that a new day in philosophy had dawned that brought with it light to many other activities such as literature, music, painting, politics, and religion.

L’Évolution créatrice (1907; Creative Evolution), the greatest work of these years and Bergson’s most famous book, reveals him most clearly as a philosopher of process at the same time that it shows the influence of biology upon his thought. In examining the idea of life, Bergson accepted evolution as a scientifically established fact. He criticized, however, the philosophical interpretations that had been given of it for failing to see the importance of duration and hence missing the very uniqueness of life. He proposed that the whole evolutionary process should be seen as the endurance of an élan vital (“vital impulse”) that is continually developing and generating new forms. Evolution, in short, is creative, not mechanistic. (See creative evolution.)

In this developing process, he traced two main lines: one through instinct, leading to the life of insects; the other through the evolution of intelligence, resulting in man; both of which, however, are seen as the work of one vital impulse that is at work everywhere in the world. The final chapter of the book, entitled “The Cinematographical Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion,” presents a review of the whole history of philosophical thought with the aim of showing that it everywhere failed to appreciate the nature and importance of becoming, falsifying thereby the nature of reality by the imposition of static and discrete concepts.

Among Bergson’s minor works are Le Rire: essai sur la significance du comique (1900; Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic) and, Introduction à la metaphysique (1903; An Introduction to Metaphysics). The latter provides perhaps the best introduction to his philosophy by offering the clearest account of his method. There are two profoundly different ways of knowing, he claimed. The one, which reaches its furthest development in science, is analytic, spatializing, and conceptualizing, tending to see things as solid and discontinuous. The other is an intuition that is global, immediate, reaching into the heart of a thing by sympathy. The first is useful for getting things done, for acting on the world, but it fails to reach the essential reality of things precisely because it leaves out duration and its perpetual flux, which is inexpressible and to be grasped only by intuition. Bergson’s entire work may be considered as an extended exploration of the meaning and implications of his intuition of duration as constituting the innermost reality of everything.

Later years
In 1914 Bergson retired from all active duties at the Collège de France, although he did not formally retire from the chair until 1921. Having received the highest honours that France could offer him, including membership, since 1915, among the “40 immortals” of the Académie Française, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927.

After L’Évolution créatrice, 25 years elapsed before he published another major work. In 1932 he published Les Deux Sources de la morale et de la religion (The Two Sources of Morality and Religion). As in the earlier works, he claimed that the polar opposition of the static and the dynamic provides the basic insight. Thus, in the moral, social, and religious life of men he saw, on the one side, the work of the closed society, expressed in conformity to codified laws and customs, and, on the other side, the open society, best represented by the dynamic aspirations of heroes and mystical saints reaching out beyond and even breaking the strictures of the groups in which they live. There are, thus, two moralities, or, rather, two sources: the one having its roots in intelligence, which leads also to science and its static, mechanistic ideal; the other based on intuition, and finding its expression not only in the free creativity of art and philosophy but also in the mystical experience of the saints.

Bergson in Les Deux Sources had come much closer to the orthodox religious notion of God than he had in the vital impulse of L’Évolution créatrice. He acknowledged in his will of 1937, “My reflections have led me closer and closer to Catholicism, in which I see the complete fulfillment of Judaism.” Yet, although declaring his “moral adherence to Catholicism,” he never went beyond that. In explanation, he wrote: “I would have become a convert, had I not foreseen for years a formidable wave of anti-Semitism about to break upon the world. I wanted to remain among those who tomorrow were to be persecuted.” To confirm this conviction, only a few weeks before his death, he arose from his sickbed and stood in line in order to register as a Jew, in accord with the law just imposed by the Vichy government and from which he refused the exemption that had been offered him.

Although it did not give rise to a Bergsonian school of philosophy, Bergson’s influence has been considerable. His influence among philosophers has been greatest in France, but it has also been felt in the United States and Great Britain, especially in the work of William James; George Santayana; and Alfred North Whitehead, the other great process metaphysician of the 20th century.




John Dewey
American philosopher and educator

born Oct. 20, 1859, Burlington, Vt., U.S.
died June 1, 1952, New York, N.Y.

American philosopher and educator who was one of the founders of the philosophical school of pragmatism, a pioneer in functional psychology, and a leader of the progressive movement in education in the United States.

Early life
The son of a grocer in Vermont, Dewey attended the public schools of Burlington and there entered the University of Vermont. After graduating from the university in 1879, Dewey taught high school for three years. In the fall of 1882 he entered Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, for advanced study in philosophy. There he came under the influence of George Sylvester Morris, who was a leading exponent of Neo-Hegelianism, a revival of the thought of the early-19th-century German philosopher Hegel. Dewey found in this philosophy, with its emphasis on the spiritual and organic nature of the universe, what he had been vaguely groping for, and he eagerly embraced it.

After being awarded the Ph.D. degree by Johns Hopkins University in 1884, Dewey, in the fall of that year, went to the University of Michigan, where, at the urging of Morris, he had been appointed an instructor in philosophy and psychology. With the exception of the academic year 1888–89, when he served as professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Dewey spent the next 10 years at Michigan. During this time his philosophical endeavours were devoted mainly to an intensive study of Hegel and the British Neo-Hegelians and to the new experimental physiological psychology then being advanced in the United States by G. Stanley Hall and William James.

Dewey’s interest in education began during his years at Michigan. His readings and observations revealed that most schools were proceeding along lines set by early traditions and were failing to adjust to the latest findings of child psychology and to the needs of a changing democratic social order. The search for a philosophy of education that would remedy these defects became a major concern for Dewey and added a new dimension to his thinking.

Philosophical thought
Dewey left Michigan in 1894 to become professor of philosophy and chairman of the department of philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy at the University of Chicago. Dewey’s achievements there brought him national fame. The increasing dominance of evolutionary biology and psychology in his thinking led him to abandon the Hegelian theory of ideas, which views them as somehow mirroring the rational order of the universe, and to accept instead an instrumentalist theory of knowledge, which conceives of ideas as tools or instruments in the solution of problems encountered in the environment. These same disciplines contributed somewhat later to his rejection of the Hegelian notion of an Absolute Mind manifesting itself as a rationally structured, material universe and as realizing its goals through a dialectic of ideas. Dewey found more acceptable a theory of reality holding that nature, as encountered in scientific and ordinary experience, is the ultimate reality and that man is a product of nature who finds his meaning and goals in life here and now.

Since these doctrines, which were to remain at the centre of all of Dewey’s future philosophizing, also furnished the framework in which Dewey’s colleagues in the department carried on their research, a distinct school of philosophy was in operation. This was recognized by William James in 1903, when a collection of essays written by Dewey and seven of his associates in the department, Studies in Logical Theory, appeared. James hailed the book enthusiastically and declared that with its publication a new school of philosophy, the Chicago school, had made its appearance.

Dewey’s philosophical orientation has been labeled a form of pragmatism, though Dewey himself seemed to favour the term “instrumentalism,” or “experimentalism.” William James’s The Principles of Psychology early stimulated Dewey’s rethinking of logic and ethics by directing his attention to the practical function of ideas and concepts, but Dewey and the Chicago school of pragmatists went farther than James had gone in that they conceived of ideas as instruments for transforming the uneasiness connected with the experience of having a problem into the satisfaction of some resolution or clarification of it.

Dewey’s preferred mode of inquiry was scientific investigation; he thought the experimental methods of modern science provided the most promising approach to social and ethical as well as scientific problems. He rejected the idea of a fixed and immutable moral law derivable from consideration of the essential nature of man, since such a traditional philosophical method denied the potential application and promise of newer empirical and scientific methods.

Dewey developed from these views a philosophical ground for democracy and liberalism. He conceived of democracy not as a mere form of government, but rather as a mode of association which provides the members of a society with the opportunity for maximum experimentation and personal growth. The ideal society, for Dewey, was one that provided the conditions for ever enlarging the experience of all its members.

Dewey’s contributions to psychology were also noteworthy. Many of the articles he wrote at that time are now accepted as classics in psychological literature and assure him a secure place in the history of psychology. Most significant is the essay “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology,” which is generally taken to mark the beginnings of functional psychology—i.e., one that focuses on the total organism in its endeavours to adjust to the environment.

Educational theory and practice. Dewey’s work in philosophy and psychology was largely centred in his major interest, educational reform. In formulating educational criteria and aims, he drew heavily on the insights into learning offered by contemporary psychology as applied to children. He viewed thought and learning as a process of inquiry starting from doubt or uncertainty and spurred by the desire to resolve practical frictions or relieve strain and tension. Education must therefore begin with experience, which has as its aim growth and the achievement of maturity.

Dewey’s writings on education, notably his The School and Society (1899) and The Child and the Curriculum (1902), presented and defended what were to remain the chief underlying tenets of the philosophy of education he originated. These tenets were that the educational process must begin with and build upon the interests of the child; that it must provide opportunity for the interplay of thinking and doing in the child’s classroom experience; that the teacher should be a guide and coworker with the pupils, rather than a taskmaster assigning a fixed set of lessons and recitations; and that the school’s goal is the growth of the child in all aspects of its being.

Among the results of Dewey’s administrative efforts were the establishment of an independent department of pedagogy and of the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools, in which the educational theories and practices suggested by psychology and philosophy could be tested. The Laboratory Schools, the original unit of which began operation in 1896, attracted wide attention and enhanced the reputation of the University of Chicago as a foremost centre of progressive educational thought. Dewey headed the Laboratory Schools from 1903 to 1904.

Dewey’s ideas and proposals strongly affected educational theory and practice in the United States. Aspects of his views were seized upon by the “progressive movement” in education, which stressed the student-centred rather than the subject-centred school, education through activity rather than through formal learning, and laboratory, workshop, or occupational education rather than the mastery of traditional subjects. But though Dewey’s own faith in progressive education never wavered, he came to realize that the zeal of his followers introduced a number of excesses and defects into progressive education. Indeed, in Experience and Education (1938) he sharply criticized educators who sought merely to interest or amuse students, disregarded organized subject matter in favour of mere activity on the part of students, and were content with mere vocational training.

During the last two decades of Dewey’s life, his philosophy of education was the target of numerous and widespread attacks. Progressive educational practices were blamed for the failure of some American school systems to train pupils adequately in the liberal arts and for their neglect of such basic subjects as mathematics and science. Furthermore, critics blamed Dewey and his progressive ideas for what the former viewed as an insufficient emphasis on discipline in the schools.

Career at Columbia University
Disagreements between President William Rainey Harper of the University of Chicago and Dewey led, in 1904, to Dewey’s resignation of his posts and to his acceptance of a professorship of philosophy at Columbia University in New York City. Dewey was associated with Columbia for 47 years, first as professor and then as professor emeritus of philosophy. During his 25 years of active teaching, his fame and the significance of what he had to say attracted thousands of students from home and abroad to his classes, and he became one of the most widely known and influential teachers in America. Dewey’s influence extended even further after he taught and lectured in countries such as Japan (1919), China (1919–21), Turkey (1924), Mexico (1926), and the Soviet Union (1928).

Dewey’s scholarly output at Columbia was enormous; one bibliography devotes approximately 125 pages to listing the titles of his publications during these years. His thought covered a wide range of topics, including logic and theory of knowledge, psychology, education, social philosophy, fine arts, and religion. Major works dealing with each of these fields appeared over the years and clearly established Dewey as the foremost philosopher in America and as one of the nation’s most productive scholars. His Experience and Nature, published in 1925, brings together in a systematic way the more important aspects of his philosophy and is generally regarded as his magnum opus.

His interest in current affairs prompted Dewey to contribute regularly to liberal periodicals, especially The New Republic. His articles focused on domestic, foreign, and international developments and were designed to reach a wide reading public. Because of his skill in analyzing and interpreting events, he soon was rated as among the best of American commentators and social critics.

Dewey also gave his time and energy to the support of organizations and causes in which he believed. In 1895 he was a founding member of the National Herbart Society (renamed the National Society for the Study of Education in 1902), and he served two terms as chairman (1903–05) of the National Society of College Teachers of Education, which he had helped establish in 1902. Dewey became one of the founders and the first president of the American Association of University Professors in 1915, and the next year he became a charter member of the first teachers’ union in New York City. He helped found the New School for Social Research in 1919 and the University-in-Exile in 1933, established for scholars being persecuted in countries under totalitarian regimes. In 1937, at age 78, he headed a commission of inquiry that went to Mexico City to hear Leon Trotsky’s rebuttal of the charges made against him in the Moscow show trials of 1936 and 1937.

Dewey retired from the Columbia faculty in 1930, after which he concentrated on public affairs while continuing to write. Among his books on psychology and philosophy are Psychology (1887), Ethics (cowritten with James Tufts; 1908), Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), The Quest for Certainty (1929), Art as Experience (1934), Logic, the Theory of Inquiry (1938), and Freedom and Culture (1939). His chief later writings on education are Democracy and Education (1916) and Experience and Education (1938).

George Dykhuizen
Clarence Henry Faust



Alfred North Whitehead
British mathematician and philosopher

born Feb. 15, 1861, Ramsgate, Isle of Thanet, Kent, Eng.
died Dec. 30, 1947, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.

English mathematician and philosopher, who collaborated with Bertrand Russell on Principia Mathematica (1910–13) and, from the mid-1920s, taught at Harvard University and developed a comprehensive metaphysical theory.

Background and schooling.
Whitehead’s grandfather Thomas Whitehead was a self-made man who started a successful boys’ school known as Chatham House Academy. His father, Alfred Whitehead, an Anglican clergyman, in turn headed the school and later became vicar of St. Peter’s in Thanet. His mother, born Maria Sarah Buckmaster, was the daughter of a prosperous military tailor. Alfred North Whitehead was their youngest child. Because they considered him too frail for school or active sports, his father taught him at home until he was 14, when he was sent to Sherborne School, Dorset, which was then one of the best schools in England. Whitehead received a classical education, showing a special gift for mathematics. Despite his over-protected childhood, he showed himself a natural leader. In his last year at school, he was head prefect, responsible for all discipline outside the classroom, and was a highly successful captain of games.

In 1880 Whitehead entered Trinity College, Cambridge, on a scholarship. He attended only mathematical lectures, and his interests in literature, religion, philosophy, and politics were nourished solely by conversation. It was not until May 1884, however, that he was elected to an elite discussion society known as the “Apostles.” Whitehead did well in the Mathematical Tripos (honours examination) of 1883–84, won a Trinity fellowship, and was appointed to the mathematical staff of the college. His interest in James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electricity and magnetism (the subject of his fellowship dissertation) expanded toward a scrutiny of mathematical symbolism and ideas. Stimulated by pioneering works in modern algebra, he envisaged a detailed comparative study of systems of symbolic reasoning allied to ordinary algebra. He did not begin to write his Treatise on Universal Algebra (1898), however, until January 1891, one month after his marriage to Evelyn Willoughby Wade. She had been born in France, a child of impoverished Irish landed gentry, and educated in a convent. She was a woman with a great sense of drama and a real and unusual aesthetic sensibility, and she enriched Whitehead’s life immensely.

Shortly before his marriage, his long-standing interest in religion had taken a new turn. His background had been solidly tied into the Church of England; his father and uncles had been ordained; so had his brother Henry, who would become bishop of Madras. But Whitehead, under the influence of Cardinal Newman, began to consider the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church. For about eight years he read a great deal of theology. Then he sold his theological library and gave up religion. This agnosticism did not survive World War I, but Whitehead was never again a member of any church.

Whitehead was at work on a second volume of his Universal Algebra from 1898 to 1903, when he abandoned it because he was busy on a related, large investigation with Bertrand Russell. He had spotted young Russell’s brilliance when he examined him for entrance scholarships at Trinity College. In 1890 Russell was a freshman studying mathematics there, and Whitehead was one of his teachers. Gradually the two men became close friends. In July 1900 they went to the First International Congress of Philosophy in Paris, where they were impressed by the precision with which the mathematician Giuseppe Peano used symbolic logic to clarify the foundations of arithmetic. Russell at once mastered Peano’s notation and extended his methods. By the end of 1900 he had written the first draft of his brilliant Principles of Mathematics (1903). Whitehead agreed with its main thesis—that all pure mathematics follows from a reformed formal logic so that, of the two, logic is the fundamental discipline. By 1901 Russell had secured his collaboration on volume 2 of the Principles, in which this thesis was to be established by strict symbolic reasoning. The task turned out to be enormous. Their work had to be made independent of Russell’s book; they called it Principia Mathematica. The project occupied them until 1910, when the first of its three volumes was published. The “official” text was written in a notation, most of which was either taken from Peano or invented by Whitehead. Broadly speaking, Whitehead left the philosophical problems—notably the devising of a theory of logical types—to Russell; and Russell, who had no teaching duties, actually wrote out most of the book. But the collaboration was thorough, and Russell gave Whitehead an equal share of the credit. Whitehead’s only large published piece employing the symbolism of the Principia is a masterly speculative memoir, “On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World” (1905).

Career in London.
In 1903 Trinity College had given Whitehead a 10-year appointment as a senior lecturer, made him the head of the mathematics staff, and permitted his teaching career to run beyond the maximum of 25 years set by the college statutes. Yet Whitehead’s future was uncertain: he had not made the sort of discoveries that cause a man to be counted an outstanding mathematician. (His interest was always philosophical, in that it was directed more toward grasping the nature of mathematics in its widest aspects and organizing its ideas than toward discovering new theorems.) There was, thus, little prospect of a Cambridge professorship in mathematics for him at the expiration of his Trinity lectureship. He did not wait for it to expire but moved to London in 1910, even though he had no position waiting for him there. His years of service at Trinity, however, had made him a fellow for life, entitled to twice the regular quarterly dividend paid to fellows. This was scarcely enough to support his family, but Evelyn Whitehead encouraged the venture.

In that first London year, Whitehead wrote the first of his books for a wide audience, An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), still one of the best books of its kind. In 1911 he was appointed to the staff of University College (London), and in 1914 he became professor of applied mathematics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology.

In London Whitehead observed the education then being offered to the English masses. His own teaching had always elicited his pupils’ latent abilities to the fullest. Perceiving that mathematics was being taught as a disconnected set of largely unfathomed exercises, Whitehead made occasional addresses on the teaching of mathematics. He stressed getting a living understanding of a few interrelated abstract ideas by using them in a variety of ways so as to develop an intimate sense for their power. Whitehead also perceived that literature was so taught as to preclude its enjoyment, that curricula were fragmented, and that teachers were handcuffed by the system of uniform examinations set by outside examiners. In 1916, as president of the Mathematical Association, he delivered the notable address “The Aims of Education: A Plea for Reform.” Whitehead reminded youth’s keepers that the purpose of education was not to pack knowledge into the pupils but to stimulate and guide their self-development. “Culture,” he said, “is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it.” Whitehead’s address became a classic in virtue of its unequalled clarity, vigour, and realism and its reconciliation of general with special education. It was followed by penetrating essays on such topics as the rhythm of freedom and discipline. Though Whitehead’s essays on education had little effect on British practice, they inspired many teachers in Great Britain, the United States, and elsewhere.

From 1919 to 1924 Whitehead was chairman of the governing body of Goldsmiths’ College, London, one of England’s major institutes for training teachers. He also served as a governor of several polytechnic schools in London. In the University of London he became a member of the Senate, chairman of the Academic Council, and dean of the Faculty of Science. His shrewdness, common sense, and goodwill put him in great demand as a committeeman.

Whitehead was a pacific man but not a pacifist; he felt that the war was hideous but that England’s part in it was necessary. His elder son, North, fought throughout the war, and his daughter, Jessie, worked in the Foreign Office. In 1918 his younger son, Eric, was killed in action, and after that it was only by immense effort that Whitehead could go on working. To Whitehead, Russell’s pacifism was simplistic; yet he visited him in prison, remained his friend, and, as Russell later said, showed him greater tolerance than he could return.

During those years, Whitehead was also constructing philosophical foundations for physics. He was led to this by the way in which he wanted to present geometry—not as deduced from hypothetical premises about assumed though imperceptible entities (e.g., points) but as the science of actual space, which is a complex of relations between extended things. From perceivable elements and relations, he logically constructed entities that are related to each other just as points are in geometry. That was only the beginning of his task, for Albert Einstein had revised the ideas of space, time, and motion. Whitehead was convinced that these three concepts should be based upon the general character of men’s perception of the external world. In 1919 he published his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge; it was both searching and constructive but too philosophical and too complicated to influence physicists.

Whitehead had begun to have discussions of the perceptual basis of scientific knowledge with philosophers in 1915, and he followed up his Enquiry with a nonmathematical book, The Concept of Nature (1920). Though he rejected Idealistic views of the relation of nature to perceiving minds, neither was he a Realist of the school led by Russell and G.E. Moore. In maintaining that events are the basic components of nature and that passage, or creative advance, is its most fundamental feature—doctrines that foreshadowed his later metaphysics—Whitehead was somewhat influenced by Henri Bergson’s antimechanistic philosophy of change. Yet he was something of a Platonist; he saw the definite character of events as due to the “ingression” of timeless entities.

Career in the United States.
In the early 1920s Whitehead was clearly the most distinguished philosopher of science writing in English. When a friend of Harvard University, the historical scholar Henry Osborn Taylor, pledged the money for his salary, Harvard early in 1924 offered Whitehead a five-year appointment as professor of philosophy. He was 63 years old, with at most two more years to go in the Imperial College. The idea of teaching philosophy appealed to him, and his wife wholeheartedly concurred in the move. Harvard soon found that it had acquired more than a philosopher of science; it had acquired a metaphysician, one comparable in stature to Gottfried Leibniz and Georg Hegel.

Early in 1925, he gave a course of eight lectures in Boston, published that same year (with additions—among them his earliest writing about God) as Science and the Modern World. In it he dramatically described what had long engaged his meditation; namely, the rise, triumph, and impact of “scientific Materialism”—i.e., the view that nature consists of nothing else but matter in motion, or a flux of purely physical energy. He criticized this Materialism as mistaking an abstract system of mathematical physics for the concrete reality of nature. Whitehead’s mind was at home with such abstractions, and he saw them as real discoveries, not intellectual inventions; but his sense for the fullness of existence led him to urge upon philosophy the task of making good their omissions by reverting to the variety of concrete experience and then framing broader ideas. The importance of this book was immediately recognized. What perhaps impressed most readers was Whitehead’s appeal to his favourite poets, William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, against the exclusion of values from nature.

In 1926, the compact book Religion in the Making appeared. In it, Whitehead interpreted religion as reaching its deepest level in humanity’s solitude, that is, as an attitude of the individual toward the universe rather than as a social phenomenon.

In January 1927 the University of Edinburgh invited him to give a set of 10 Gifford Lectures in the ensuing academic year. For this, Whitehead drew up the complex technical structure of “the philosophy of organism” (as he called his metaphysics) and thought through his agreements and disagreements with some of the great European philosophers. It was characteristic of him to insist, against David Hume, that an adequate philosophical theory must build on “practice” and not be supplemented by it. The lectures reflected Whitehead’s speculative hypothesis that the universe consists entirely of becomings, each of them a process of appropriating and integrating the infinity of items (“reality”) provided by the antecedent universe and by God (the abiding source of novel possibilities). When, in June 1928, the time for delivering the lectures arrived and Whitehead presented this system in its new and difficult terminology, his audience rapidly vanished, but the publication of the lectures, expanded to 25 chapters, gave Western metaphysics one of its greatest books, Process and Reality (1929).

Whitehead had an unwavering faith in the possibility of understanding existence and a superb power to construct a scheme of general ideas broad enough to overcome the classic dualisms. But he knew that no system can do more than make an approach, somewhat more adequate than its predecessors, to understanding the infinitude of existence. He had seen the collapse of the long-entrenched Newtonian system of physics, and he never forgot its lesson. Henceforth dogmatic assurance, whether in philosophy, science, or theology, was his enemy.

Adventures of Ideas (1933) was Whitehead’s last big philosophical book and the most rewarding one for the general reader. It offered penetrating, balanced reflections on the parts played by brute forces and by general ideas about humanity, God, and the universe in shaping the course of Western civilization. Whitehead emphasized the impulse of life toward newness and the absolute need for societies stable enough to nourish adventure that is fruitful rather than anarchic. In this book he also summarized his metaphysics and used it to elucidate the nature of beauty, truth, art, adventure, and peace. By “peace” he meant a religious attitude that is “primarily a trust in the efficacy of beauty.”

Except for an insufficient familiarity with Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, Whitehead was at home in both the scientific and the literary cultures of his time. Young people flocked to “Sunday evenings,” which his wife skillfully managed. Here the spare, rosy-cheeked man, who might have been of average height if he had not been so stooped, talked to them in a high-pitched but gentle voice—talked not about his system but about whatever was on their minds, sharply illuminating it from a broad and historical perspective.

In his Harvard lectures, as in his books, Whitehead liked best to explore the scope of application of an idea and to show how intuitions that were traditionally opposed could supplement each other, which he did by dint of his own ideas. Most students found attendance at his lectures a great experience. Harvard did not retire him until 1937.

In his first years in the United States, Whitehead visited many eastern and midwestern campuses as a lecturer. Though he loved Americans, he remained always very much an Englishman. A Fellow of the Royal Society since 1903, he was elected to the British Academy in 1931. In 1945 he received the Order of Merit. After his death his body was cremated, and there was no funeral. His unpublished manuscripts and correspondence were destroyed by his widow, as he had wanted.

Whitehead has not had disciples, though his admirers have included leaders in every field of thought. His educational and philosophical books have been translated into many languages. His metaphysics has been keenly studied, in the United States most of all. What is now called Whitehead’s “process theology” is easily the most influential part of his system; this is partly due to the influence of the U.S. philosopher Charles Hartshorne.

Whitehead’s habit of helpfulness made him universally beloved. Though his courtesy was perfect, there was nothing soft about him; never contentious, he was astute, charitable, and quietly stubborn. He had a realistic, well-poised mind and a fine irony free of malice. Whitehead combined singular gifts of intuition, intellectual power, and goodness with firmness and wisdom.

Victor Lowe


Contemporary philosophy » Marxist thought

The framework of 19th-century Marxism, augmented by philosophical suggestions from Lenin, served as the starting point of all philosophizing in the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites. Much of Lenin’s thinking was also devoted to more practical issues, however, such as tactics of violence and the role of the Communist Party in bringing about and consolidating the proletarian revolution. Later Marxism continued this practical concern, largely because it retained the basic Marxist conception of what philosophy is and ought to be. Marxism (like pragmatism) assimilated theoretical issues to practical needs. It asserted the basic unity of theory and practice by finding that the function of the former was to serve the latter. Marx and Lenin both held that theory was always, in fact, expressive of class interests; consequently, they wished philosophy to be transformed into a tool for furthering the class struggle. The task of philosophy was not abstractly to discover the truth but concretely to forge the intellectual weapons of the proletariat. Thus, philosophy became inseparable from ideology.


Vladimir Ilich Lenin
prime minister of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
original name Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov

born April 10 [April 22, New Style], 1870, Simbirsk, Russia
died Jan. 21, 1924, Gorki [later Gorki Leninskiye], near Moscow

Founder of the Russian Communist Party, leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and architect and builder of the Soviet state.

Born to a middle-class family, he was strongly influenced by his eldest brother, Aleksandr, who was hanged in 1887 for conspiring to assassinate the tsar. He studied law and became a Marxist in 1889 while practicing law. He was arrested as a subversive in 1895 and exiled to Siberia, where he married Nadezhda Krupskaya. They lived in western Europe after 1900. At the 1903 meeting in London of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, he emerged as the leader of the Bolshevik faction. In several revolutionary newspapers that he founded and edited, he put forth his theory of the party as the vanguard of the proletariat, a centralized body organized around a core of professional revolutionaries; his ideas, later known as Leninism, would be joined with Karl Marx’s theories to form Marxism-Leninism, which became the communist worldview. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, he returned to Russia, but he resumed his exile in 1907 and continued his energetic agitation for the next 10 years. He saw World War I as an opportunity to turn a war of nations into a war of classes, and he returned to Russia with the Russian Revolution of 1917 to lead the Bolshevik coup that overthrew the provisional government of Aleksandr Kerensky. As revolutionary leader of the Soviet state, he signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany (1918) and repulsed counterrevolutionary threats in the Russian Civil War. He founded the Comintern in 1919. His policy of War Communism prevailed until 1921, and to forestall economic disaster he launched the New Economic Policy. In ill health from 1922, he died of a stroke in 1924.

founder of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), inspirer and leader of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), and the architect, builder, and first head (1917–24) of the Soviet state. He was the founder of the organization known as Comintern (Communist International) and the posthumous source of “Leninism,” the doctrine codified and conjoined with Marx’s works by Lenin’s successors to form Marxism-Leninism, which became the Communist worldview.

If the Bolshevik Revolution is—as some people have called it—the most significant political event of the 20th century, then Lenin must for good or ill be regarded as the century’s most significant political leader. Not only in the scholarly circles of the former Soviet Union but even among many non-Communist scholars, he has been regarded as both the greatest revolutionary leader and revolutionary statesman in history, as well as the greatest revolutionary thinker since Marx.

Early life » The making of a revolutionary
It is difficult to identify any particular events in his childhood that might prefigure his turn onto the path of a professional revolutionary. Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was born in Simbirsk, which was renamed Ulyanovsk in his honour. (He adopted the pseudonym Lenin in 1901 during his clandestine party work after exile in Siberia.) He was the third of six children born into a close-knit, happy family of highly educated and cultured parents. His mother was the daughter of a physician, while his father, though the son of a serf, became a schoolteacher and rose to the position of inspector of schools. Lenin, intellectually gifted, physically strong, and reared in a warm, loving home, early displayed a voracious passion for learning. He was graduated from high school ranking first in his class. He distinguished himself in Latin and Greek and seemed destined for the life of a classical scholar. When he was 16, nothing in Lenin indicated a future rebel, still less a professional revolutionary—except, perhaps, his turn to atheism. But, despite the comfortable circumstances of their upbringing, all five of the Ulyanov children who reached maturity joined the revolutionary movement. This was not an uncommon phenomenon in tsarist Russia, where even the highly educated and cultured intelligentsia were denied elementary civil and political rights.

As an adolescent Lenin suffered two blows that unquestionably influenced his subsequent decision to take the path of revolution. First, his father was threatened shortly before his untimely death with premature retirement by a reactionary government that had grown fearful of the spread of public education. Second, in 1887 his beloved eldest brother, Aleksandr, a student at the University of St. Petersburg (later renamed Leningrad State University), was hanged for conspiring with a revolutionary terrorist group that plotted to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. Suddenly, at age 17, Lenin became the male head of the family, which was now stigmatized as having reared a “state criminal.”

Fortunately the income from his mother’s pension and inheritance kept the family in comfortable circumstances, although it could not prevent the frequent imprisonment or exile of her children. Moreover, Lenin’s high school principal (the father of Aleksandr Kerensky, who was later to lead the Provisional government deposed by Lenin’s Bolsheviks in November [October, O.S.] 1917) did not turn his back on the “criminal’s” family. He courageously wrote a character reference that smoothed Lenin’s admission to a university.

In autumn 1887 Lenin enrolled in the faculty of law of the imperial Kazan University (later renamed Kazan [V.I. Lenin] State University), but within three months he was expelled from the school, having been accused of participating in an illegal student assembly. He was arrested and banished from Kazan to his grandfather’s estate in the village of Kokushkino, where his older sister Anna had already been ordered by the police to reside. In the autumn of 1888, the authorities permitted him to return to Kazan but denied him readmission to the university. During this period of enforced idleness, he met exiled revolutionaries of the older generation and avidly read revolutionary political literature, especially Marx’s Das Kapital. He became a Marxist in January 1889.

Early life » Formation of a revolutionary party
In May 1889 the Ulyanov family moved to Samara (known as Kuybyshev from 1935 to 1991). After much petitioning, Lenin was granted permission to take his law examinations. In November 1891 he passed his examinations, taking a first in all subjects, and was graduated with a first-class degree. After the police finally waived their political objections, Lenin was admitted to the bar and practiced law in Samara in 1892–93, his clients being mainly poor peasants and artisans. In his experience practicing law, he acquired an intense loathing for the class bias of the legal system and a lifelong revulsion for lawyers, even those who claimed to be Social-Democrats.

Law proved to be an extremely useful cover for a revolutionary activist. He moved to St. Petersburg (from 1914 to 1924 known as Petrograd; from 1924 to 1991 known as Leningrad) in August 1893 and, while working as a public defender, associated with revolutionary Marxist circles. In 1895 his comrades sent him abroad to make contact with Russian exiles in western Europe, especially with Russia’s most commanding Marxist thinker, Georgy Plekhanov. Upon his return to Russia in 1895, Lenin and other Marxists, including L. Martov, the future leader of the Mensheviks, succeeded in unifying the Marxist groups of the capital in an organization known as the Union for the Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class. The Union issued leaflets and proclamations on the workers’ behalf, supported workers’ strikes, and infiltrated workers’ education classes to impart to them the rudiments of Marxism. In December 1895, the leaders of the Union were arrested. Lenin was jailed for 15 months and thereafter was sent into exile to Shushenskoye, in Siberia, for a term of three years. He was joined there in exile by his fiancée, Nadezhda Krupskaya, a Union member, whom he had met in the capital. They were married in Siberia, and she became Lenin’s indispensable secretary and comrade. In exile they conducted clandestine party correspondence and collaborated (legally) on a Russian translation of Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Industrial Democracy.

Upon completing his term of Siberian exile in January 1900, Lenin left the country and was joined later by Krupskaya in Munich. His first major task abroad was to join Plekhanov, Martov, and three other editors in bringing out the newspaper Iskra (“The Spark”), which they hoped would unify the Russian Marxist groups that were scattered throughout Russia and western Europe into a cohesive Social-Democratic party.

Up to the point at which Lenin began working on Iskra, his writings had taken as their focus three problems: first, he had written a number of leaflets that aimed to shake the workers’ traditional veneration of the tsar by showing them that their harsh life was caused, in part, by the support tsarism rendered the capitalists; second, he attacked those self-styled Marxists who urged Social-Democrats and workers to concentrate on wage and hour issues, leaving the political struggle for the present to the bourgeoisie; third, and ultimately most important, he addressed himself to the peasant question.

The principal obstacle to the acceptance of Marxism by many of the Russian intelligentsia was their adherence to the widespread belief of the Populists (Russian pre-Marxist radicals) that Marxism was inapplicable to peasant Russia, in which a proletariat (an industrial working class) was almost nonexistent. Russia, they believed, was immune to capitalism, owing to the circumstances of joint ownership of peasant land by the village commune. This view had been first attacked by Plekhanov in the 1880s. Plekhanov had argued that Russia had already entered the capitalist stage, looking for evidence to the rapid growth of industry. Despite the denials of the Populists, he claimed, the man of the future in Russia was indeed the proletarian, not the peasant. While attempting to apply the Marxist scheme of social development to Russia, Plekhanov had come to the conclusion that the revolution in Russia would have to pass through two discrete stages: first, a bourgeois revolution that would establish a democratic republic and full-blown capitalism; and second, a proletarian revolution after mature capitalism had generated a numerous proletariat that had attained a high level of political organization, socialist consciousness, and culture, enabling them to usher in full Socialism.

It was this set of principles that Lenin adhered to after he read Plekhanov’s work in the late 1880s. But, almost immediately, Lenin went a step beyond his former mentor, especially with regard to the peasant question. In an attack on the Populists published in 1894, Lenin charged that, even if they realized their fondest dream and divided all the land among the peasant communes, the result would not be Socialism but rather capitalism spawned by a free market in agricultural produce. The “Socialism” put forth by the Populists would in practice favour the development of small-scale capitalism; hence the Populists were not Socialists but “petty bourgeois democrats.” Lenin came to the conclusion that outside of Marxism, which aimed ultimately to abolish the market system as well as the private ownership of the means of production, there could be no Socialism.

Even while in exile in Siberia, Lenin had begun research on his investigation of the peasant question, which culminated in his magisterial Development of Capitalism in Russia (published legally in 1899). In this work, a study of Russian economics, he argued that capitalism was rapidly destroying the peasant commune. The peasantry constituted for the Populists a homogeneous social class, but Lenin claimed that the peasantry was in actuality rapidly stratifying into a well-off rural bourgeoisie, a middling peasantry, and an impoverished rural “proletariat and semi-proletariat.” In this last group, which comprised half the peasant population, Lenin found an ally for the extremely small industrial proletariat in Russia.

Iskra’s success in recruiting Russian intellectuals to Marxism led Lenin and his comrades to believe that the time was ripe to found a revolutionary Marxist party that would weld together all the disparate Marxist groups at home and abroad. An abortive First Congress, held in 1898 in Minsk, had failed to achieve this objective, for most of the delegates were arrested shortly after the congress. The organizing committee of the Second Congress decided to convene the congress in Brussels in 1903, but police pressure forced it to transfer to London.

The congressional sessions wore on for nearly three weeks, for no point appeared too trivial to debate. The main issues, nevertheless, quickly became plain: eligibility for membership and the character of party discipline; but, above all, the key questions centred around the relation between the party and the proletariat, for whom the party claimed to speak.

In his What Is To Be Done? (1902), Lenin totally rejected the standpoint that the proletariat was being driven spontaneously to revolutionary Socialism by capitalism and that the party’s role should be to merely coordinate the struggle of the proletariat’s diverse sections on a national and international scale. Capitalism, he contended, predisposed the workers to the acceptance of Socialism but did not spontaneously make them conscious Socialists. The proletariat by its own efforts in the everyday struggle against the capitalist could go so far as to achieve “trade-union consciousness.” But the proletariat could not by its own efforts grasp that it would be possible to win complete emancipation only by overthrowing capitalism and building Socialism, unless the party from without infused it with Socialist consciousness.

In his What Is To Be Done? and in his other works dealing with party organization, Lenin articulated one of his most momentous political innovations, his theory of the party as the “vanguard of the proletariat.” He conceived of the vanguard as a highly disciplined, centralized party that would work unremittingly to suffuse the proletariat with Socialist consciousness and serve as mentor, leader, and guide, constantly showing the proletariat where its true class interests lie.

At the Second Congress the Iskra group split, and Lenin found himself in a minority of opinion on this very issue. Nevertheless, he continued to develop his view of “the party of a new type,” which was to be guided by “democratic centralism,” or absolute party discipline. According to Lenin the party had to be a highly centralized body organized around a small, ideologically homogeneous, hardened core of experienced professional revolutionaries, who would be elected to the central committee by the party congress and who would lead a ramified hierarchy of lower party organizations that would enjoy the support and sympathy of the proletariat and all groups opposed to tsarism. “Give us an organization of revolutionaries,” Lenin exclaimed, “and we will overturn Russia!”

Lenin spared no effort to build just this kind of party over the next 20 years, despite fierce attacks on his position by some of his closest comrades of the Iskra days, Plekhanov, Martov, and Leon Trotsky. They charged that his scheme of party organization and discipline tended toward “Jacobinism,” suppression of free intraparty discussion, a dictatorship over the proletariat, not of the proletariat, and, finally, establishment of a one-man dictatorship.

Lenin found himself in the minority in the early sessions of the Second Congress of what was then proclaimed to be the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP). But a walkout by a disgruntled group of Jewish Social-Democrats, the Bund, left Lenin with a slight majority. Consequently, the members of Lenin’s adventitious majority were called Bolsheviks (majoritarians), and Martov’s group were dubbed Mensheviks (minoritarians). The two groups fought each other ceaselessly within the same RSDWP and professed the same program until 1912, when Lenin made the split final at the Prague Conference of the Bolshevik Party.

Challenges of the Revolution of 1905 and World War I
The differences between Lenin and the Mensheviks became sharper in the Revolution of 1905 and its aftermath, when Lenin moved to a distinctly original view on two issues: class alignments in the revolution and the character of the post-revolutionary regime.

The outbreak of the revolution, in January 1905, found Lenin abroad in Switzerland, and he did not return to Russia until November. Immediately Lenin set down a novel strategy. Both wings of the RSDWP, Bolshevik and Menshevik, adhered to Plekhanov’s view of the revolution in two stages: first, a bourgeois revolution; second, a proletarian revolution (see above). But the Mensheviks argued that the bourgeois revolution must be led by the bourgeoisie, with whom the proletariat must ally itself in order to make the democratic revolution. This would bring the liberal bourgeoisie to full power, whereupon the RSDWP would act as the party of opposition. Lenin defiantly rejected this kind of alliance and post-revolutionary regime. Hitherto he had spoken of the need for the proletariat to win “hegemony” in the democratic revolution. Now he flatly declared that the proletariat was the driving force of the revolution and that its only reliable ally was the peasantry. The bourgeoisie he branded as hopelessly counterrevolutionary and too cowardly to make its own revolution. Thus, unlike the Mensheviks, Lenin henceforth banked on an alliance that would establish a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.”

Nor would the revolution necessarily stop at the first stage, the bourgeois revolution. If the Russian revolution should inspire the western European proletariat to make the Socialist revolution, for which industrial Europe was ripe, the Russian revolution might well pass over directly to the second stage, the Socialist revolution. Then, the Russian proletariat, supported by the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat at home and assisted by the triumphant industrial proletariat of the West, which had established its “dictatorship of the proletariat,” could cut short the life-span of Russian capitalism.

After the defeat of the Revolution of 1905, the issue between Lenin and the Mensheviks was more clearly drawn than ever, despite efforts at reunion. But, forced again into exile from 1907 to 1917, Lenin found serious challenges to his policies not only from the Mensheviks but within his own faction as well. The combination of repression and modest reform effected by the tsarist regime led to a decline of party membership. Disillusionment and despair in the chances of successful revolution swept the dwindled party ranks, rent by controversies over tactics and philosophy. Attempts to unite the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions came to naught, all breaking on Lenin’s intransigent insistence that his conditions for reunification be adopted. As one Menshevik opponent described Lenin: “There is no other man who is absorbed by the revolution twenty-four hours a day, who has no other thoughts but the thought of revolution, and who even when he sleeps, dreams of nothing but revolution.” Placing revolution above party unity, Lenin would accept no unity compromise if he thought it might delay, not accelerate, revolution.

Desperately fighting to maintain the cohesion of the Bolsheviks against internal differences and the Mensheviks’ growing strength at home, Lenin convened the Bolshevik Party Conference at Prague, in 1912, which split the Rsdwp forever. Lenin proclaimed that the Bolsheviks were the RSDWP and that the Mensheviks were schismatics. Thereafter, each faction maintained its separate central committee, party apparatus, and press.

When war broke out, in August 1914, Socialist parties throughout Europe rallied behind their governments despite the resolutions of prewar congresses of the Second International obliging them to resist or even overthrow their respective governments if they plunged their countries into an imperialist war.

After Lenin recovered from his initial disbelief in this “betrayal” of the International, he proclaimed a policy whose audacity stunned his own Bolshevik comrades. He denounced the pro-war Socialists as “social-chauvinists” who had betrayed the international working-class cause by support of a war that was imperialist on both sides. He pronounced the Second International as dead and appealed for the creation of a new, Third International composed of genuinely revolutionary Socialist parties. More immediately, revolutionary Socialists must work to “transform the imperialist war into civil war.” The real enemy of the worker was not the worker in the opposite trench but the capitalist at home. Workers and soldiers should therefore turn their guns on their rulers and destroy the system that had plunged them into imperialist carnage.

Lenin’s policy found few advocates in Russia or elsewhere in the first months of the war. Indeed, in the first flush of patriotic fervour, not a few Bolsheviks supported the war effort. Lenin and his closest comrades were left an isolated band swimming against the current.

Lenin succeeded in reaching neutral Switzerland in September 1914, there joining a small group of anti-war Bolshevik and Menshevik émigrés. The war virtually cut them off from all contact with Russia and with like-minded Socialists in other countries. Nevertheless, in 1915 and 1916, anti-war Socialists in various countries managed to hold two anti-war conferences in Zimmerwald and Kienthal, Switzerland. Lenin failed at both meetings to persuade his comrades to adopt his slogan: “transform the imperialist war into civil war!” They adopted instead the more moderate formula: “An immediate peace without annexations or indemnities and the right of the peoples to self-determination.” Lenin consequently found his party a minority within the group of anti-war Socialists, who, in turn, constituted a small minority of the international Socialist movement compared with the pro-war Socialists.

Undaunted, Lenin continued to hammer home his views on the war, confident that eventually he would win decisive support. In his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), he set out to explain, first, the real causes of the war; second, why Socialists had abandoned internationalism for patriotism and supported the war; and third, why revolution alone could bring about a just, democratic peace.

War erupted, he wrote, because of the insatiable, expansionist character of imperialism, itself a product of monopoly finance capitalism. At the end of the 19th century, a handful of banks had come to dominate the advanced countries, which, by 1914, had in their respective empires brought the rest of the world under their direct or indirect controls. Amassing vast quantities of “surplus” capital, the giant banks found they could garner superprofits on investments in colonies and semi-colonies, and this intensified the race for empire among the great powers. By 1914, dissatisfied with the way the world had been shared out, rival coalitions of imperialists launched the war to bring about a redivision of the world at the expense of the other coalition. The war was therefore imperialist in its origins and aims and deserved the condemnation of genuine Socialists.

Socialist Party and trade-union leaders had rallied to support their respective imperialist governments because they represented the “labour aristocracy,” the better paid workers who received a small share of the colonial “superprofits” the imperialists proffered them. “Bribed” by the imperialists, the “labour aristocracy” took the side of their paymasters in the imperialist war and betrayed the most exploited workers at home and the super-exploited in the colonies. The imperialists, Lenin contended, driven by an annexationist dynamic, could not conclude a just, lasting peace. Future wars were inevitable so long as imperialism existed; imperialism was inevitable so long as capitalism existed; only the overthrow of capitalism everywhere could end the imperialist war and prevent such wars in the future. First published in Russia in 1917, Imperialism to this day provides the instrument that Communists everywhere employ to evaluate major trends in the non-Communist world.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution
By 1917 it seemed to Lenin that the war would never end and that the prospect of revolution was rapidly receding. But in the week of March 8–15, the starving, freezing, war-weary workers and soldiers of Petrograd (until 1914, St. Petersburg) succeeded in deposing the Tsar. Lenin and his closest lieutenants hastened home after the German authorities agreed to permit their passage through Germany to neutral Sweden. Berlin hoped that the return of anti-war Socialists to Russia would undermine the Russian war effort.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » First return to Petrograd
Lenin arrived in Petrograd on April 16, 1917, one month after the Tsar had been forced to abdicate. Out of the revolution was born the Provisional Government, formed by a group of leaders of the bourgeois liberal parties. This government’s accession to power was made possible only by the assent of the Petrograd Soviet, a council of workers’ deputies elected in the factories of the capital. Similar soviets of workers’ deputies sprang up in all the major cities and towns throughout the country, as did soviets of soldiers’ deputies and of peasants’ deputies. Although the Petrograd Soviet had been the sole political power recognized by the revolutionary workers and soldiers in March 1917, its leaders had hastily turned full power over to the Provisional Government. The Petrograd Soviet was headed by a majority composed of Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary (SR), or peasant party, leaders who regarded the March (February, O.S.) Revolution as bourgeois; hence, they believed that the new regime should be headed by leaders of the bourgeois parties.

On his return to Russia, Lenin electrified his own comrades, most of whom accepted the authority of the Provisional Government. Lenin called this government, despite its democratic pretensions, thoroughly imperialist and undeserving of support by Socialists. It was incapable of satisfying the most profound desires of the workers, soldiers, and peasants for immediate peace and division of landed estates among the peasants.

Only a soviet government—that is, direct rule by workers, soldiers, and peasants—could fulfill these demands. Therefore, he raised the battle cry, “All power to the Soviets!”—although the Bolsheviks still constituted a minority within the soviets and despite the manifest unwillingness of the Menshevik–SR majority to exercise such power. This introduced what Lenin called the period of “dual power.” Under the leadership of “opportunist” Socialists, the soviets, the real power, had relinquished power to the Provisional Government, the nominal power in the land. The Bolsheviks, Lenin exhorted, must persuade the workers, peasants, and soldiers, temporarily deceived by the “opportunists,” to retrieve state power for the soviets from the Provisional Government. This would constitute a second revolution. But, so long as the government did not suppress the revolutionary parties, this revolution could be achieved peacefully, since the Provisional Government existed only by the sufferance of the soviets.

Initially, Lenin’s fellow Bolsheviks thought that he was temporarily disoriented by the complexity of the situation; moderate Socialists thought him mad. It required several weeks of sedulous persuasion by Lenin before he won the Bolshevik Party Central Committee to his view. The April Party Conference endorsed his program: the party must withhold support from the Provisional Government and win a majority in the soviets in favour of soviet power. A soviet government, once established, should begin immediate negotiations for a general peace on all fronts. The soviets should forthwith confiscate landlords’ estates without compensation, nationalize all land, and divide it among the peasants. And the government should establish tight controls over privately owned industry to the benefit of labour.

From March to September 1917, the Bolsheviks remained a minority in the soviets. By autumn, however, the Provisional Government (since July headed by the moderate Socialist Aleksandr Kerensky, who was supported by the moderate Socialist leadership of the soviets) had lost popular support. Increasing war-weariness and the breakdown of the economy overtaxed the patience of the workers, peasants, and soldiers, who demanded immediate and fundamental change. Lenin capitalized on the growing disillusionment of the people with Kerensky’s ability and willingness to complete the revolution. Kerensky, in turn, claimed that only a freely elected constituent assembly would have the power to decide Russia’s political future—but that must await the return of order. Meanwhile, Lenin and the party demanded peace, land, and bread—immediately, without further delay. The Bolshevik line won increasing support among the workers, soldiers, and peasants. By September they voted in a Bolshevik majority in the Petrograd Soviet and in the soviets of the major cities and towns throughout the country.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Decision to seize power
Lenin, who had gone underground in July after he had been accused as a “German agent” by Kerensky’s government, now decided that the time was ripe to seize power. The party must immediately begin preparations for an armed uprising to depose the Provisional Government and transfer state power to the soviets, now headed by a Bolshevik majority.

Lenin’s decision to establish soviet power derived from his belief that the proletarian revolution must smash the existing state machinery and introduce a “dictatorship of the proletariat”; that is, direct rule by the armed workers and peasants which would eventually “wither away” into a non-coercive, classless, stateless, Communist society. He expounded this view most trenchantly in his brochure The State and Revolution, written while he was still in hiding. The brochure, though never completed and often dismissed as Lenin’s most “Utopian” work, nevertheless served as Lenin’s doctrinal springboard to power.

Until 1917 all revolutionary Socialists rightly believed, Lenin wrote, that a parliamentary republic could serve a Socialist system as well as a capitalist. But the Russian Revolution had brought forth something new, the soviets. Created by workers, soldiers, and peasants and excluding the propertied classes, the soviets infinitely surpassed the most democratic of parliaments in democracy, because parliaments everywhere virtually excluded workers and peasants. The choice before Russia in early September 1917, as Lenin saw it, was either a soviet republic—a dictatorship of the propertyless majority—or a parliamentary republic—as he saw it, a dictatorship of the propertied minority.

Lenin therefore raised the slogan, “All power to the Soviets!”, even though he had willingly conceded in the spring of 1917 that revolutionary Russia was the “freest of all the belligerent countries.” To Lenin, however, the Provisional Government was merely a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” that kept Russia in the imperialist war. What is more, it had turned openly counterrevolutionary in the month of July when it accused the Bolshevik leaders of treason.

From late September, Lenin, a fugitive in Finland, sent a stream of articles and letters to Petrograd feverishly exhorting the Party Central Committee to organize an armed uprising without delay. The opportune moment might be lost. But for nearly a month Lenin’s forceful urgings from afar were unsuccessful. As in April, Lenin again found himself in the party minority. He resorted to a desperate stratagem.

Around October 20, Lenin, in disguise and at considerable personal risk, slipped into Petrograd and attended a secret meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee held on the evening of October 23. Not until after a heated 10-hour debate did he finally win a majority in favour of preparing an armed takeover. Now steps to enlist the support of soldiers and sailors and to train the Red Guards, the Bolshevik-led workers’ militia, for an armed takeover proceeded openly under the guise of self-defense of the Petrograd Soviet. But preparations moved haltingly, because serious opposition to the fateful decision persisted in the Central Committee. Enthusiastically in accord with Lenin on the timeliness of an armed uprising, Trotsky led its preparation from his strategic position as newly elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Lenin, now hiding in Petrograd and fearful of further procrastination, desperately pressed the Central Committee to fix an early date for the uprising. On the evening of November 6, he wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee exhorting them to proceed that very evening to arrest the members of the Provisional Government. To delay would be “fatal.” The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, scheduled to convene the next evening, should be placed before a fait accompli.

On November 7 and 8, the Bolshevik-led Red Guards and revolutionary soldiers and sailors, meeting only slight resistance, deposed the Provisional Government and proclaimed that state power had passed into the hands of the Soviets. By this time the Bolsheviks, with their allies among the Left SR’s (dissidents who broke with the pro-Kerensky SR leaders), constituted an absolute majority of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. The delegates therefore voted overwhelmingly to accept full power and elected Lenin as chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, the new Soviet Government, and approved his Peace Decree and Land Decree. Overnight, Lenin had vaulted from his hideout as a fugitive to head the Revolutionary government of the largest country in the world. Since his youth he had spent his life building a party that would win such a victory, and now at the age of 47 he and his party had triumphed. “It makes one’s head spin,” he confessed. But power neither intoxicated nor frightened Lenin; it cleared his head. Soberly, he steered the Soviet government toward the consolidation of its power and negotiations for peace.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Saving the Revolution
In both spheres, Lenin was plagued by breaks within the ranks of Bolshevik leaders. He reluctantly agreed with the right-wingers that it would be desirable to include the Menshevik and Right SR parties in a coalition government—but on Lenin’s terms. They must above all accept the soviet form of government, not a parliamentary one; they refused. Only the Left SR’s agreed, and several were included in the Soviet government. Likewise, when the freely elected Constituent Assembly met in January 1918, the Mensheviks and Right SR majority flatly rejected sovietism. Lenin without hesitation ordered the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly.

The Allies refused to recognize the Soviet government; consequently it entered alone into peace negotiations with the Central Powers (Germany and her allies Austro-Hungary and Turkey) at the town of Brest-Litovsk. They imposed ruinous conditions that would strip away from Soviet Russia the western tier of non-Russian nations of the old Russian Empire. Left Communists fanatically opposed acceptance and preached a revolutionary war, even if it imperilled the Soviet government. Lenin insisted that the terms, however ruinous and humiliating, must be accepted or he would resign from the government. He sensed that peace was the deepest yearning of the people; in any case, the shattered army could not raise effective resistance to the invader. Finally, in March 1918, after a still larger part had been carved out of old Russia by the enemy, Lenin succeeded in winning the Central Committee’s acceptance of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. At last Russia was at peace.

But Brest-Litovsk only intensified the determination of counterrevolutionary forces and the Allies who supported them to bring about the overthrow of the Soviet government. That determination hardened when, in 1918, Lenin’s government repudiated repayments of all foreign loans obtained by the tsarist and Provisional governments and nationalized foreign properties in Russia without compensation. From 1918 to 1920 Russia was torn by a Civil War, which cost millions of lives and untold destruction. One of the earliest victims was Lenin himself. In August 1918 an assassin fired two bullets into Lenin as he left a factory in which he had just delivered a speech. Because of his robust constitution, he recovered rapidly.

The Soviet government faced tremendous odds. The anti-Soviet forces, or Whites, headed mainly by former tsarist generals and admirals, fought desperately to overthrow the Red regime. Moreover, the Whites were lavishly supplied by the Allies with materiel, money, and support troops that secured White bases. Yet, the Whites failed.

It was largely because of Lenin’s inspired leadership that the Soviet government managed to survive against such military odds. He caused the formation and guided the strategy of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, commanded by Trotsky. Although the economy had collapsed, he managed to mobilize sufficient resources to sustain the Red Army and the industrial workers. But above all it was his political leadership that saved the day for the Soviets. By proclaiming the right of the peoples to self-determination, including the right to secession, he won the active sympathy, or at least the benevolent neutrality, of the non-Russian nationalities within Russia, because the Whites did not recognize that right. Indeed, his perceptive, skillful policy on the national question enabled Soviet Russia to avoid total disintegration and to remain a huge multinational state. By making the industrial workers the new privileged class, favoured in the distribution of rations, housing, and political power, he retained the loyalty of the proletariat. His championing of the peasants’ demand that they take all the land from the gentry, church, and crown without compensation won over the peasants, without whose support the government could not survive.

Because of the breakdown of the economy, however, Lenin adopted a policy toward the peasant that threatened to destroy the Soviet government. Lacking funds or goods to exchange against grain needed to feed the Red Army and the towns, Lenin instituted a system of requisitioning grain surpluses without compensation. Many peasants resisted—at least until they experienced White “liberation.” On the territories that the Whites won, they restored landed property to the previous owners and savagely punished the peasants who had dared seize the land. Despite the peasants’ detestation of the Soviet’s grain requisitioning, the peasants, when forced to choose between Reds and Whites, chose the Reds.

After the defeat of the Whites, the peasants no longer had to make that choice. They now totally refused to surrender their grain to the government. Threatened by mass peasant rebellion, Lenin called a retreat. In March 1921 the government introduced the New Economic Policy, which ended the system of grain requisitioning and permitted the peasant to sell his harvest on an open market. This constituted a partial retreat to capitalism.

From the moment Lenin came to power, his abiding aims in international relations were twofold: to prevent the formation of an imperialist united front against Soviet Russia; but, even more important, to stimulate proletarian revolutions abroad.

In his first aim he largely succeeded. In 1924, shortly after his death, Soviet Russia had won de jure recognition of all the major world powers except the United States. But his greater hope of the formation of a world republic of soviets failed to materialize, and Soviet Russia was left isolated in hostile capitalist encirclement.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Formation of the Third International
To break this encirclement, he had called on revolutionaries to form Communist parties that would emulate the example of the Bolshevik Revolution in all countries. Dramatizing his break with the reformist Second International, in 1918 he had changed the name of the RSDWP to the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and in March 1919 he founded the Communist, or Third, International. This International accepted the affiliation only of parties that accepted its decisions as binding, imposed iron discipline, and made a clean break with the Second International. In sum, Lenin now held up the Russian Communist Party, the only party that had made a successful revolution, as the model for Communist parties in all countries. One result of this policy was to engender a split in the world labour movement between the adherents of the two internationals.

The Communist International scored its greatest success in the colonial world. By championing the rights of the peoples in the colonies and semi-colonies to self-determination and independence, the International won considerable sympathy for Communism. Lenin’s policy in this question still reverberates through the world today. And it offers another example of Lenin’s unique ability to find allies where revolutionaries had not found them before. By taking the side of the national liberation movements, Lenin could claim that the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, then living under imperialist rule, as well as the European proletariat, were the natural allies of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Thus Lenin’s revolutionary genius was not confined to his ability to divide his enemies; more important was his skill in finding allies and friends for the exiguous proletariat of Russia. First, he won the Russian peasants to the side of the proletariat. Second, while he did not win the workers to make successful Communist revolutions in the West, they did compel their governments to curtail armed intervention against the Bolshevik Revolution. Third, while the Asian revolutions barely stirred in his lifetime, they did strengthen the Soviet Communists in the belief that they were not alone in a hostile world.

By 1921 Lenin’s government had crushed all opposition parties on the grounds that they had opposed or failed to support sufficiently the Soviet cause in the Civil War. Now that peace had come, Lenin believed that their opposition was more dangerous than ever, since the peasantry and even a large section of the working class had become disaffected with the Soviet regime. To repress opponents of Bolshevism, Lenin demanded the harshest measures, including “show” trials and frequent resort to the death penalty. Moreover, he insisted on even tighter control over dissent within the party. Lenin’s insistence on merciless destruction of the opposition to the Bolshevik dictatorship subsequently led many observers to conclude that Lenin, though personally opposed to one-man rule, nevertheless unwittingly cleared the way for the rise of Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship.

By 1922 Lenin had become keenly aware that degeneration of the Soviet system and party was the greatest danger to the cause of Socialism in Russia. He found the party and Soviet state apparatus hopelessly entangled in red tape and incompetence. Even the agency headed by Stalin that was responsible for streamlining administration was, in fact, less efficient than the rest of the government. The Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies had been drained of all power, which had flowed to the centre. Most disturbing was the Great Russian chauvinism that leading Bolsheviks manifested toward the non-Russian nationalities in the reorganization of the state in which Stalin was playing a key role. Moreover, in April 1922 Stalin won appointment as general secretary of the party, in which post he was rapidly concentrating immense power in his hands. Soviet Russia in Lenin’s last years could not have been more remote from the picture of Socialism he had portrayed in State and Revolution. Lenin strained every nerve to reverse these trends, which he regarded as antithetical to Socialism, and to replace Stalin.

Leadership in the Russian Revolution » Illness and death
In the spring of 1922, however, Lenin fell seriously ill. In April his doctors extracted from his neck one of the bullets he had received from the assassin’s gun in August 1918. He recovered rapidly from the operation, but a month later he fell ill, partially paralyzed and unable to speak. In June he made a partial recovery and threw himself into the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the federal system of reorganization he favoured against Stalin’s unitary scheme. However, in December he was again incapacitated by semiparalysis. Although no longer the active leader of the state and party, he did muster the strength to dictate several prescient articles and what is called his political “Testament,” dictated to his secretary between Dec. 23, 1922, and Jan. 4, 1923, in which he expressed a great fear for the stability of the party under the leadership of disparate, forceful personalities such as Stalin and Trotsky. On March 10, 1923, another stroke deprived him of speech. His political activity came to an end. He suffered yet another stroke on the morning of Jan. 21, 1924, and died that evening in the village of Gorki (now known as Gorki Leninskiye).

The last year of Lenin’s political life, when he fought to eradicate abuses of his Socialist ideals and the corruption of power, may well have been his greatest. Whether the history of the Soviet Union would have been fundamentally different had he survived beyond his 54th birthday, no one can say with certainty.

Albert Resis



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