Nikolai Biryukov

The Origins of Consciousness in Late Soviet Neomarxism


Among other benefits of Khrushchev thaw was reviviscence of creative philosophical thought. The privileged status of Marxism remained unchallenged, but it acquired new energetic followers (E. Ilyenkov, F. Mikhailov, H. Batishchev), eager to exercise what they believed to be its creative potential and ready for its non-dogmatic, innovative interpretation. Drawing on the recently published writings of early Marx that dealt with subjects going beyond the official tenets of dialectical and historical materialism, they (1) attempted to reconsider the concept of the ideal, seeking to amend its status within the doctrine, (2) stressed the fundamental difference between the natural and the social and hence the irreducibility of the latter to the former, (3) emphasised activism as mans essential quality; (4) and, first and foremost, came with an ingenious hypothesis of the origins of consciousness. Consciousness was to them the product of communication mediated by the use of tools (collective work) that served as a kind of material (stone) protoconcepts symbolising both the relevant extrinsic properties of the objects of work and the relevant common practices, i.e. socialised properties, of workers. Insofar as they were instrumental in presenting the self in an objective form, tools, or rather the socialised use of them, proved crucial to the development of self-consciousness, differentiation between self and non-self, overcoming of the natural solipsist attitude and acquirement of objective knowledge, the latter allowing to transcend the limits of natural life and engage in free activity and creativity.

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