DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E068-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2021, from

Article Summary

Partiinost’ (Russian for partyness, often translated as party-mindedness, partisanship or party spirit) was long the controlling principle of Soviet Marxism. Though commonly identified with thought control, partiinost’ originally signified social analysis of thought joined with moral judgment, an ancient combination that can work against the powers that be as well as for them. Lenin’s version changed from revolt to thought control after his party came to power in 1917, but especially after Stalin’s ‘revolution from above’ twelve years later. In 1950 Stalin began a restriction of partiinost’ by declaring ‘science’ separate from ‘ideology’. Such reform accelerated after his death in 1953, but slowed down from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s. Then a new burst of reform set off the collapse of the Soviet system and of partiinost’, though the problems that engendered it – the entanglement of group interests and claims of truth – persist.

The self-serving nature of group beliefs has often been exposed. Xenophanes on divinity (‘If oxen could paint, their gods would be oxen’), Thrasymachus on justice (‘the interest of the stronger’) and Thomas More on ‘a conspiracy of the rich, who pursue their own aggrandizement under the name of the commonwealth’, are famous examples. Hobbes distinguished between ideas that involve interests – such as justice – and ideas that ‘cross no man’s ambition, profit, or lust’, such as the sum of angles in a triangle. He added however: ‘If [that sum] had been… contrary to the interest of men that have dominion… it would have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry, suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.’ Thus his sociology of ideas included a bellicose determinism: a ruling party is compelled to suppress thought that threatens its interests. He had seen parties or ‘factions’ bring civil war; the only remedy was for the sovereign to suppress them.

‘Party’ has not always meant factiousness. Shakespeare imagined the War of the Roses brought to an end by those who ‘dare maintain the party of the truth’, and the philosophers of the Enlightenment have been praised as ‘the party of humanity’. The emergence of modern parties, as special-interest groups engaged in routine contests for power, made identification of a party with the interests of humanity seem threadbare rhetoric, hardly concealing the sordid realities of partisan self-seeking. That may be one reason why Das Kommunistische Manifest (The Communist Manifesto) of 1848 declared that ‘the Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties’.

Marx and Engels were political isolates without a significant party, not only in 1848 but through most of their lives, in part because they admired the scholar who seeks all-human truth rather than the ‘party man’ who serves special interests. Belief in disinterested inquiry mingles in Marx’s writing with insistence that ideology is unavoidable when class interests are entangled with claims of reason. Only the proletarian overthrow of class rule will bring the end of class bias in ideas. In that march towards truth the manifesto of 1848 says that Communists do not ‘form a separate party’, but they are ‘the most advanced and resolute section… of the proletariat, [who] have over the great mass… the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement’. Thus Marx in 1848 laid out a rationalization of partiinost’ for Communist Party-states of the twentieth century.

But that is a rationalization, which ignores contrary elements in Marx’s thought and in its uses, both for liberal pluralism by Marxists in Germany and for one-party tyranny by Marxists in Russia or in China and other ‘underdeveloped’ places. Liberal pluralism has emerged mostly in ‘developed’ lands, often through protracted experience of civil war, while Hobbesian choices between civil war and autocracy have attended the spread of party politics to places perceived as ‘backward’, in acute need of drastic ‘development’.

In nineteenth-century Russia talk of grazhdanstvennost’, citizenship, as something to be created through organized struggle, foreshadowed partiinost’. Chernyshevskii opened ‘Antropologicheskii printsip v filosofii’ (The Anthropological Principle in Philosophy) (1860) with a declaration that ‘every philosopher has been a representative of one of the political parties struggling in his time for predominance over the society to which the philosopher has belonged’. Even P.L. Lavrov, the Russian radical who exalted the ‘critically thinking individual’, enjoined such a thinker to serve ‘the people’ through a party, ‘to devote his energies to this party and to be guided by its advice’. ‘Party’ here signified commitment to a dream of an ideal system, which provoked splits as readily as organizations among fellow dreamers. Party discipline, often preached, was an additional impetus to splitting. Trotsky’s famous warning against Lenin’s version of such discipline – that it would replace the working class by the Party, the Party by the Central Committee, the Central Committee by the dictator – could come true only with the accession to state power (see Lenin, V.; Trotsky, L.).

In 1895, when Lenin first used the word partiinost’, Russia was an autocracy without political parties. He was criticizing a fellow Marxist for showing the inevitability of capitalism but not its evil, though objectivity requires condemnation along with explanation. ‘Materialism includes, so to speak, partiinost’, obliging one in any judgment of an occurrence to take directly and openly the viewpoint of a definite social group’. Like Chernyshevskii and Lavrov, Lenin was pointing to a fellowship of belief rather than a concrete political organization, and that was still his usage in Materializm i ėmpiriokrititsizm (Materialism and Empiriocriticism) (1909). By that time a Marxist party had been formed, and had split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, but Lenin’s book assigned all philosophers to two ‘parties’ of a much broader kind: idealists and materialists, who had been serving the interests of rulers and ruled, of faith and science, since ancient times.

With that crude class analysis of philosophical schools Lenin justified the expulsion from the Bolshevik organization of comrades who rejected the dialectical materialism that he had learned from Plekhanov, a Menshevik in party affiliation. Lunacharskii, one of the expelled Bolsheviks, challenged Lenin to acknowledge his break with a rule laid down by Bebel, a German Marxist leader:

‘We have no dogma and therefore cannot have heretics’. Let us grant that Bebel was mistaken, that both heresy and its condemnation are a possible phenomenon in Social Democracy. But don’t we have the right to expect that in our Party free thought will have at least the same guarantees as are given to it by the Catholic Church, which prides itself on its intolerance?

(Joravsky 1961: 39)

Lenin ignored that demand for precision and due process; partiinost’ was casually invoked, never carefully analysed, even after 1917, when his party won power and suppressed rival parties.

At first the Central Committee limited its efforts to control intellectual life. Its ideological bureaucracy correlated ideas with the interests of social classes rather than parties in the literal sense, and did not try to enforce strict uniformity on thinkers. Such laxity was assailed in a ‘discussion’ following Stalin’s complaint, in 1929, that ‘theorists’ were not adequately serving ‘practicians’, whose ‘chief’ (vozhd’) he was. Henceforth he would be ‘chief’ of ‘theorists’ as well, philosophers included. ‘The basic lesson of the philosophical discussion’, as an ideological official (Kol’man) explained to mathematicians, was to end ‘all efforts of any theory, of any scholarly discipline, to conceive itself as an autonomous, independent discipline… isolated from Party guidance’.

Philosophy became commentary on speeches of Stalin or decrees of the Central Committee, while ideological bureaucrats complained that the commentary was timid and unoriginal, and that it was subversive to limit partiinost’ by attempting careful distinctions between science and ideology. The ‘primacy of practice’ required philosophers to dig up quotes from ‘the classics of Marxism-Leninism’ showing that the changing intuitions of Party leaders were justified by theory as well as practice. In short, an anti-intellectual, authoritarian pragmatism was the heart of Stalinist partiinost’. One of its effects was an ironic inversion of the social analysis of thought compacted with moral judgment, which had once been the meaningful core of the concept. Ferocious attacks on individualistic thinkers regenerated admiration of the type, while servants of ‘the people’s party’ came to be regarded as immoral lickspittles, saying nothing of substance.

The stultifying effects on intellectual life, including the creative expertise demanded by practical leaders, brought Stalin to call a retreat. In 1950 he announced that ‘no science [nauka] can develop and prosper without the clash of opinions, without freedom of criticism’, a ‘generally recognized rule that has been ignored and violated in the worst way’. Of course he blamed ‘petty despots’ in charge of particular disciplines, not the Central Committee or the concept of partiinost’, but he opened the way to restriction of the concept by declaring that ‘science’ or ‘scholarship’ (nauka) was not part of ideology. Efforts to spell out such restriction were feeble until Khrushchev began ‘de-Stalinization’ after Stalin’s death in 1953. Even then Soviet philosophers were much more timid than their Polish and Yugoslav comrades. Kolakowski was especially forceful in showing the absurdities of ‘institutional Marxism’, which insisted that the intuitions of Party chiefs were infallible products of a scientific ideology.

The ouster of Khrushchev in 1964 checked further debate until the late 1980s, when another reformist party chief, Gorbachev, began a campaign for ‘openness’ and ‘restructuring’. That led so swiftly to systemic collapse that serious discussion of partiinost’ hardly began. It became instantly extinct, remembered only to be denounced or renounced by the minority of Russian thinkers still sympathetic to Marxism in some form. Serious inquiry in the sociology of knowledge, including the complex interdependence of group interests and claims of truth, is barely beginning to address the record of partiinost’, whether in Russia or in other Communist countries.

Citing this article:
Joravsky, David. Partiinost’, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E068-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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