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From the History of Soviet Philosophy: Lukács - Vygotsky - Ilyenkov

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This review-essay explores the subterranean tradition of ‘creative Soviet Marxism’1 through a recent book by the Russian philosopher Sergey Mareev, From the History of Soviet Philosophy: Lukács - Vygotsky - Ilyenkov (2008). It provides a brief overview of the history of Soviet philosophy so as to orient the reader to a set of debates that continue to be largely unexplored in the Western-Marxist tradition. Mareev offers a new account of the development of Soviet philosophy that not only explodes the myth that Soviet philosophy was simply state-sanctioned dogma, but also reinterprets the relationship between the key creative theorists so as to offer a new way of understanding its development that challenges several key-aspects of the dominant Western scholarship on this subject. He argues that alongside official Marxist philosophy in the Soviet Union - the crude materialism of Diamat and Istmat - there existed another line, which counterposed the central rôle of social activity in the development of human consciousness. He traces this line of anti-positivist theory from V.I. Lenin through Georg Lukács and Lev Vygotsky to Evald Ilyenkov - a pivotal figure in the ‘Marxian renaissance’2 of the 1960s, but who ‘has to this day remained a Soviet phenomenon without much international influence’.3 Specifically, Mareev disputes the rôle of A.M. Deborin as a precursor of the Ilyenkov school, and instead introduces Georg Lukács - a figure primarily recognised in the West as one of the founders of Western Marxism - into the line of development of creative Soviet Marxism. Furthermore, he reconsiders the rôle of V.I. Lenin and G.V. Plekhanov - the so-called father of Russian social democracy - in the development of Soviet philosophy. In the process, the author provides a detailed history of the emergence of Diamat and Istmat, and shines a spotlight on a figure widely recognised as the most important Soviet philosopher in the post-Stalin period - E.V. Ilyenkov.

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Affiliations: 1: Wilfrid Laurier University, Email:


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