Marxism-Leninism. The official ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the USSR. Its advocates have claimed that it is not merely a scientific description of nature, society, and knowledge, but also a practical means for their transformation. The name implies that this ideology is a synthesis of Marxism and Leninism. Its basic ontological and epistemological doctrines were, however, elaborated by Friedrich Engels. Marxism-Leninism is usually divided into three parts: (1) a philosophical theory that encompasses dialectical materialism and historical materialism, (2) Marxian economic theory, and (3) a sociopolitical theory known as scientific communism.

Dialectical materialism consists of an ontology that defines matter, the principles and categories of reality, and the three laws of dialectic; an epistemology that deals with the relation of mind and being; and the dialectic method, which treats laws and categories of the dialectic as normative rules of thought. Historical materialism is claimed to be the application of dialectical materialism to history. As a philosophy of history it assumes history to be law-governed, distinguishes the determining factors (base) from the determined factors (superstructure) in social life, and describes the five stages of history and the laws of transition between them. Marxian economic theory deals mostly with the nature of capitalism and its inevitable self-destruction. Scientific communism consists of the Communist Party's pronouncements on the gradual evolution of Soviet society toward communism.

In the first decade of Soviet rule the main task of Soviet philosophers, including those in Soviet Ukraine, was to ensure that the ideology of the new regime prevailed throughout society. Although they devoted much energy to developing the synthesis of Karl Marx's, Friedrich Engels's, and Vladimir Lenin's views which they called Marxism-Leninism, they concentrated on translating the classics of the official philosophy, preparing popular anthologies and textbooks, and training ideological cadres. Most of the classics were issued in Russian translation, but Engels's Anti-Dühring (1924, 1932), Ludwig Feuerbach ... (1926), and Dialectics of Nature (1932, 1934) and Lenin's Materialism and Empiriocriticism (1932) and collected works in 29 volumes (1936) also came out in Ukrainian. Semen Semkovsky compiled a Marxist anthology in Russian (1922); R. Levik and S. Hopner and Emmanuil Kviring published Lenin anthologies. The first textbook in Ukraine in historical materialism was written in Russian by M. Perlin (1925). Textbooks in Ukrainian were prepared by V. Boiko (1928), H. Yefymenko (1929), S. Lavrov (1930), and Semkovsky (1933). The most notable textbook from the philosophical viewpoint was a collectively written work by O. Bervytsky, R. Levik, T. Stepovy, Volodymyr Yurynets, and others (1932), which was condemed and banned for its ‘nationalism’ a few years later.

In his article on the meaning of militant materialism (1922) Vladimir Lenin pointed out the main questions to be addressed by Soviet thinkers: the relation of Marxism to the natural sciences and the materialist interpretation of the Hegelian dialectic. Within this framework Semen Semkovsky wrote several monographs (1924, 1926) defending the compatibility of dialectical materialism and the theory of relativity. V. Asmus (1924) gave, in Russian, the first Soviet account of the evolution of the dialectic from Immanuel Kant to Vladimir Lenin and defined the distinctive features of Marx's dialectic. O. Vasyliva, Ya. Bludov, and O. Zahorulko wrote a book in Ukrainian (1930) examining the influence of Georg W. F. Hegel's dialectic on Marx, and S. Petropavlovsky (1924), Semkovsky (1927), T. Stepovy (1929), and M. Lohvyn (1930) wrote articles assessing Lenin's contribution to Marxism. Particular categories were analyzed by Petro Demchuk (chance, 1928), T. Stepovy (cause, 1929), and A. Slutskin (quality, 1929). The main controversies centered on (1) the place of the dialectic in the new synthesis, with the supporters of A. Deborin defending the importance of the dialectic against the ‘mechanists,’ and (2) Lenin's contribution to Marxism-Leninism, with the ‘Deborinists’ being condemned for underestimating Lenin's philosophical importance and separating theory from practice. In the early 1930s further discussion was suppressed, and in the Stalinist terror of the following years most of the participants in earlier discussions were arrested. An oversimplified official version of Marxism-Leninism was set down in A History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). Short Course (1938).

It was only after Joseph Stalin's death in 1953 that philosophical discussion of the basic issues in Marxism-Leninism was revived. More attention was devoted to dialectical materialism than to any other branch of the philosophy. V. Voitko wrote the widely used textbooks in the field in Russian (1962) and Ukrainian (1972). V. Bosenko examined the dialectic as a general theory of development (1966), and others analyzed its particular laws and categories: M. Zlotina (1957) and V. Bosenko (1961), the transformation of quantity into quality; D. Fesenko (1957), the negation of the negation; Ya. Savenko (1959) and V. Hott and N. Depenchuk (1960), the unity and struggle of opposites; V. Melnykov (1959) and, in Russian, M. Bulatov (1980), the nature and function of the categories; Valeriia Nichyk (1960), causality; H. Ivanov (1960), necessity and chance; Yu. Bogdanov, in Russian (1962), essence and appearance; and Mykhailo Parniuk, in Russian (1967, 1972), determinism. In the 1980s a group at the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR headed by Parniuk produced a series of collectively written books in Russian describing the history and role of the various categories in philosophy, the sciences, and social practice: finitude and infinity (1982), continuity and discontinuity (1983), space and time (1984), reality and appearance (1987), law and chaos (1987), necessity and contingency (1988), connectedness and separateness (1988), and possibility and actuality (1989). The dialectic was presented as a method of knowledge in Russian-language monographs by Pavel Kopnin (1961), V. Lutai (1970), and Volodymyr Shynkaruk (1977, 1979).

In epistemology I. Holovakha wrote, in Russian, on the intelligibility of the world (1955); L. Horbatova, on the theory of reflection (1961); and D. Mykytenko, on sensation (1966). Pavel Kopnin wrote, in Russian, an introduction to Marxist epistemology (1966) and a study of the dialectic as a logic and theory of knowledge (1978). The subject-object relation in knowledge was discussed by M. Duchenko (1964) and, in Russian, by Mykhailo Parniuk (1979). V. Tabachkovsky dealt in Russian with the role of the categories in knowledge and practice (1986).

Marxism-Leninism's claim to scientific status raised the problem of reconciling dialectical materialism with advances in science and, particularly, with the revolutionary changes in physics. Ukrainian philosophers figured among the leading Soviet authorities in this field. Mykhailo Omelianovsky wrote in Russian on the relevance of Vladimir Lenin's ideas to modern physics (1947), criticized the positivist interpretation of quantum theory (1953, 1956), and edited a collection of articles on philosophical problems of modern physics (1956). Similar collections were edited by Danylo Ostrianyn and others (1954, 1958) in Ukrainian and by Yosyp Shtokalo and others (1964) and V. Bazhan et al (1974) in Russian. N. Depenchuk interpreted, in Russian, the principle of complementarity in dialectical terms (1975). P. Dyshlevy wrote a monograph on time and space in the theory of relativity (1959), coauthored, with O. Kravchenko and M. Rozhenko, a book on philosophical issues in physics (1967), and edited Russian collections of articles on Albert Einstein's theory of gravitation (1964, 1965, 1966). The methodological role of the materialist dialectic in the natural sciences was analyzed in Ukrainian by I. Holovakha (1961) and in a collection edited by Volodymyr Shynkaruk, V. Ivanov, and Oleksander Yatsenko (1973). A Russian language analysis was written by I. Kravets (1960), I. Holovakha (1971), Pavel Kopnin (1962), and V. Chornovolenko (1970) and in collections edited by N. Depenchuk and V. Lukianets (1976); P. Dyshlevy (1976); P. Dyshlevy and F. Kanak (1977); N. Depenchuk and L. Ozadovskaia (1980); V. Lutai (1981); P. Dyshlevy and V. Naidysh (1981); M. Duchenko and others (1983); I. Isaev (1984); and N. Kiselev and V. Khmarova (1985). Its role in biology was discussed in a collection edited by P. Dyshlevy and others (1966) and in Russian by N. Depenchuk (1973). Without abandoning epistemological realism, Soviet philosophers have gradually reduced their claims about the objectivity of science and the intelligibility of nature.

Marxism-Leninism constituted the theoretical core of the ‘scientific’ worldview dominant in Soviet society. Volodymyr Shynkaruk and his colleagues at the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR collectively wrote a series of monographs in Russian on the nature of a worldview and its role in individual existence and social life. While broadening the discussion about the nature and role of philosophy, this approach did not lead to any new discoveries. Much of it consisted of old dogmas dressed up in new terminology.

Some attention was devoted to the methodology and basic concepts of historical materialism, but much more time has been spent on the so-called practical issues of ‘developing socialism’ and the ‘transition to communism.’ The methodological function of historical materialism in the social sciences was discussed in Russian in I. Boichenko's monograph (1982) and several collections of articles edited by Volodymyr Kutsenko (1972, 1985, 1986, 1987). Under Kutsenko's editorship the Department of Historical Materialism at the AN URSR Institute of Philosophy prepared collections in Russian in which it tried to apply the laws and concepts of historical materialism to problems of social forecasting (1977) and social management (1979). In Russian, Yu. Pryliuk examined the problem of communication in historical materialism (1985), and M. Bulatov (1982), Bulatov and V. Tabachkovsky (1983), and M. Honcharenko (1980, 1987) applied the dialectic to an analysis of cultural progress.

In the field of ‘scientific communism,’ a number of ‘practical’ themes were discussed continuously: the friendship of nationalities (in Ukrainian: O. Bilous et al, 1953; in Russian: I. Kravtsev, 1965, 1966), democratic centralism (in Ukrainian: V. Vasylenko, 1957), the stage of developed socialism (in Russian: Volodymyr Kutsenko et al, 1980, 1982; A. Butenko, 1984; N. Kirichenko, 1984, 1985; and V. Pazenok, N. Kirichenko, et al, 1987), the development of the individual within socialist society (in Russian: L. Sokhan, 1966; A. Lysenko, 1976; and Kutsenko et al, 1983), scientific-technological progress (in Ukrainian: Volodymymr Shynkaruk et al, 1976; in Russian: Ye. Holovakha et al, 1988), and the imminent transition from socialism to communism (in Ukrainian: P. Koval et al, 1965; in Russian: L. Sokhan, 1966, and N. Kirichenko, 1984). From the 1960s this field was extensively revised and developed. But this was not the only area of Marxism-Leninism where discussion and change were permitted.

Despite the appearance of unanimity and changelessness, there was some debate among Soviet philosophers even on the basic doctrines of dialectical and historical materialism. Competing interpretations were offered, and the consensus of philosophical opinion has shifted on some points. Yet diversity and change were difficult to detect. They appear to have been concealed intentionally by the avoidance of open confrontation and the adherence to traditional formulas. In spite of the growing disparity between the predictions of Marxism-Leninism and reality, the claim of its scientific nature was not given up.

Wetter, G. Dialectical Materialism: A Historical and Systematic Survey of Philosophy in the Soviet Union, trans P. Heath (London 1958)
Ievdokymenko, V.; et al (eds). Rozvytok filosofiï v Ukraïns'kii RSR (Kyiv 1968)
Scanlan, J. Marxism in the USSR: A Critical Survey of Current Soviet Thought (Ithaca, NY 1985)

Taras Zakydalsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

List of related links from Encyclopedia of Ukraine pointing to Marxism-Leninism entry:

A referral to this page is found in 7 entries.

Click Home to get to the IEU Home page; to contact the IEU editors click Contact.
To learn more about IEU click About IEU and to view the list of donors and to become an IEU supporter click Donors.  

©2001 All Rights Reserved. Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.