How did the marxist left contract into ‘materialism’? The answer is clear from the work of Marx and the question rather provokes historical re-examination of the issue. It may be true that academic philosophy trends to the reactionary, but was the solution ‘materialism’ (which is what, in the age of quantum field theory)? It is true that a dark side to Hegel is indeed, if not reactionary, then a hard-to-fathom ambivalence trending to the right as Hegel aged into the Prussian centerfold. But the blame was cast onto idealism which seemed discredited, but only in the generation of Hegel. Idealism cast out into philosophical exile is a confusion of isms. In fact the rise of modernity shows in Kant a breakthrough of sorts in the discovery of a new form of idealism, his transcendental idealism. We cannot in the name of the left send this thesis into exile and in fact ‘transcendental idealism’ which is neither transcendental nor a Hegelian style idealism, is a major advance in philosophy, assuming that Plato had no discovered it first, Plato another sort of reactionary, in the end.
But Kant was the source of new school of socialism, in the late nineteenth century, and Eisner the martyr of the German revolution as such a follower.
The challenge Kant’s brilliant thinking is not a political issue. And the sad reality is that the coarse materialism of the era of Marx has diminished the marxist left and made it the antagonist to a balanced set of viewpoint essential for a sane socialist society. To pit materialism against idealism is monumental constriction of thought and we can see the terrible result in the institutional idiocy of Bolshevism (which had other flaws, no doubt). Praxis would to better to remain neutral to such a useless debate. Note that the physics of materialism must use theory structures that are idealist abstractions and a mystery in themselves.
Is the quantum field of a subatomic particle an idealist political deviation?
The issue of Hegel then is not sufficient grounds for a determination of the materialism/idealism debate that Marx suffered through with a one-sided outcome that was obsessively connected to the birth of positivism in its earliest and stunted form. Marxist succeeded with this strain of bad philosophy to make half the public heretics in the marxist religion, a band move destined to a soon arriving checkmate from the real enemies of the left.
Alan Woods provides an overview of Lenin’s arguments, and mounts a defense of materialism against the obscurantist, postmodernist nonsense on university campuses today.