Zaira Rodríguez Ugidos

The name Zaira Rodríguez Ugidos is barely known outside the Latin American and Spanish-speaking world. And yet she was a charismatic Marxist thinker at a time when philosophy in general, and Marxist philosophy in particular, rarely included a woman. International Friends of Ilyenkov co-organiser Corinna Lotz interviewed Cuban philosopher Rogney Piedra Arencibia about his discovery of this outstanding woman thinker, who died tragically young at 44 in 1985.

Her focus on dialectical logic was inspired by the work of Evald Ilyenkov, who was still alive when she studied in Moscow during the late 1960s.

“The best 5 pesos I ever spent”

Philosophy, Science, and Value

Arencibia first heard the name Zaira Rodríguez Ugidos a decade ago while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in ‘Marxist-Leninist Philosophy’[1] at the University of Havana. He stumbled across her book Philosophy, Science, and Value, forgotten and gathering dust in a bookshop.

“The good thing about this was,” he remembers, “it was cheap, it cost me only 5 Cuban pesos. Best 5 pesos I have ever spent!” Working as a professor at the University of Havana, Arencibia used some of her texts as study and bibliographical material for his philosophy bachelor’s degree course in the history and theory of Marxist-Leninist philosophy”.

“Marxism was not popular among students and professors in the University of Havana at that time. It may surprise some in the English-speaking world, but to be a Marxist philosopher in Cuba is to be an exception to the rule, given the resentment towards Marxism silently shared in the form of its general oblivion and neglect. As a student and then as a professor at the University of Havana, many of the bitter discussions and ‘troubles’ in which I found myself in, were due to my defence of Marxist views in this adverse scenario. Zaira’s name – and only her name – seemed to be a universal referent for my professors, whose intellectual formation took place in the early 1980s. But, although Rodríguez was commonly mentioned, her contribution, was rarely addressed.”

The International Friends of Ilyenkov is pleased to present here Arencibia’s reflection on Ugidos’ book Philosophy, Science, and Value. This was originally sparked by references in his essay on Ilyenkov and Engels on the Dialectics of Nature, published by Historical Materialism magazine.

Works by Zaira Rodríguez Ugidos include:

  • Lectures on Dialectical Logic (1983),
  • The problem of the Specific Nature of Philosophical Knowledge (1985)
  • Philosophy, Science, and Value (1985)
  • Problems of Dialectical Logic (1986)
  • Works (1988, 1989) a two-volume compilation of forewords and essays

Notes: It seems that only the first two were published during Zaira’s lifetime. None of her writings have so far been translated into English. Arencibia is working on translations.

[1] As far as I [Arencibia] know, they kept that name for the degree until 2 years ago when they started calling it just bachelor’s degree in ‘Philosophy’. To bear the Marxism-Leninism name was a political-ideological imposition to the program for many years. Today, as you could see in the changes made in 2019 to the article 5 of the constitution, the Cuban regime has gladly renounced the ‘Marxism-Leninism’ label in favor of ‘Marxism and Leninism.’

Reflections on Philosophy, Science, and Value by Zaira Rodríguez Ugidos

Rogney Piedra Arencibia


The relation between theory and practice is a fundamental, indeed possibly the fundamental[1] problem of Marxist philosophy. Given its complex, multifaceted nature it should be approached from multidisciplinary angles: historical, political, educational, cultural, epistemological, ethical, etc.  The outstanding Cuban philosopher Zaira Rodríguez Ugidos took up this challenge from its truth-value relation aspect. That is to say, how can we conceptualise a partisan theory (committed to revolutionary practice and interests of the proletariat) which would also be scientific, correctly reflecting the objective reality, independent of those interests. I would like to comment on her book, Philosophy, science, and Value [Filosofía, ciencia y valor][2].

It is a 255-page monograph written and  published in the year of Rodríguez’ tragic death in 1985. It contains the first – and only – comprehensive critique of Althusserianism produced in Cuba. But its primary significance is the manner of her response to the questions “what is Marxist philosophy and how it relates to evaluative and cognitive forms of social consciousness?” 

Portrait of Zaira Rodríguez Ugidos in the Institute of Philosophy, University of Havana

A word about Zaira Rodríguez

Born in Havana on 22 December 1940, her short but prolific life reflected the epoch. At the age of 19, influenced by her family’s revolutionary and pedagogical traditions, she returned from her studies in France to participate as an educator in the 1959 Cuban revolution.[3] After receiving her doctorate in Philosophy and Letters from Havana University in 1965, she was amongst the first of many young Cubans sent to study in the USSR. Supervised by the Soviet academician Zaid Melikovich Orudzhev, she was the first Cuban to defend a candidate’s dissertation at Moscow State University.

She taught history of philosophy and dialectical logic at the University of Havana, becoming head of the University’s Department of Dialectical Materialism and deputy drector of the Institute of Philosophy, in addition to assuming administrative positions. She took an active part in the philosophical enthusiasm of 1970s Cuba, which saw a considerable effort to publish philosophical works to which Rodríguez wrote many prefaces.[4] Her book Problems of Dialectical Logic,[5] composed of nine essays, reveals the Soviet influence on her thought (mainly Orudzhev, Evald Ilyenkov, and Pavel Kopnin) and shows how closely she followed the discussions on this topic in the communist world. Cuban thinkers, students and intellectuals held her philosophy classes in high esteem during the 1970s and early 1980s. Renowned personalities, including the great filmmaker, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, participated in them.

Rodríguez died aged only 45 in a car accident on 11 September 1985, only a few months before the publication of Philosophy, Science, and Value. She was due to return to the USSR to be awarded her title of “Doctor of Philosophical Sciences” the very next day. Perhaps her main contribution to Cuba’s philosophy was her influence on a whole generation of professors who still remember her as an example. However, from a theoretical standpoint, her most original contribution was a sophisticated Marxist approach to the relation of fact and value and its philosophical role, which she explored in the book discussed here.[6]

Philosophy, Science, and Value

After Marta Martínez’s brief but informative foreword, the book divides into positive and negative parts: Rodríguez sets out her position in the first, and critiques Althusser and some of his followers in Latin America in the second half.

She opens with “a topic open to debate”. While most Marxist scholars agreed that materialist dialectics emerged not simply as another philosophical trend but a revolutionary new definition of philosophy itself and its functions, there was no such agreement about what this new philosophy might be and its theoretical and practical roles.

Indeed, this remains a highly controversial topic in the history of Marxism. Is its philosophy a new form of metaphysics,[7] an ontology, a theory of (natural and/or social) being[8]? Or is it just a method of inquiry[9]? Some have even argued that there is no such thing as “Marxist philosophy”.[10] What kind of relationship should this philosophy (if it exists at all) have with the other sciences? How should it relate to political (class) struggle? In what precisely does its novelty, its peculiarity, consist?

Rodríguez evaluates Marxism’s place within the history of philosophy using a crisis-revolution-crisis schema. Just like classic positivism (e.g. Comte, Spencer) and continental irrationalism (e.g. Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche), Marxism arose during the crisis of traditional (speculative) philosophy, which had found its ultimate expression in the Hegelian system. In their reaction to this ‘metaphysical’ model of philosophy, the founders of Marxism advanced the ‘death of philosophy’ thesis.[11] Traditional philosophy set herself the task of substitute positive knowledge of reality with speculation, ultimately (in Hegel and his epigones) by turning an aspect of reality into an absolute abstract idea and then deriving reality from it.  

In his Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts, Marx wrote “Where speculation ends, where real life starts, there consequently begins real, positive science, the expounding of the practical activity, of the practical process of development of men. Empty phrases about consciousness end, and real knowledge has to take their place. When the reality is described, a self-sufficient philosophy [die selbständige Philosophie] loses its medium of existence.”[12] This was by no means a simple (positivistic) renunciation of philosophy but the reformulation of its object by determining what “still survives, independently, of all earlier philosophy.”[13] What remains (without being subsumed by positive science) is the theory of laws of thought: logic and dialectics.[14]

Rodríguez sees in this reply the only way out of the crisis of traditional philosophy, hence its revolutionary character. Meanwhile, “bourgeois” (non-Marxist) contemporary philosophy merely represents a resurgence of the crisis, replacing the old speculative formulas with new ones. This reactionary spirit of return, expresses itself in the revival of old philosophies “in an endless list of ‘neos’: neo-Kantism, neo-Hegelianism, neo-Thomism, neorealism, neo-positivism, etc”.[15]

Marxism’s revolutionary answer to the problem of the subject matter of philosophy implies a double elucidation. Marxist philosophy must clarify its concrete (differentiated) unity with science and ‘value’ (i.e., the evaluative forms of social consciousness, e.g., moral, politics, art, etc.). Thus, while participating in both (evaluative and scientific) conditions, philosophy must not be reduced to either. The Leninist notion of ‘objective partisanship’ plays a central role in this dual character of philosophy as a scientific ideology,[16] similar to the Marxist-oriented social sciences.  However, to reveal the specificity of philosophical evaluation, we must address the insights left by classical Marxism and their proper development, i.e., not through their adulteration by notions borrowed from reactionary philosophies.

The first chapter, “Philosophy as a theoretical form of practical-spiritual appropriation of reality” is a positive exposition of Rodríguez’s views on classical Marxism’s view of the object of philosophy, philosophy’s relation to the sciences, and its cognitive and evaluative roles, as well as the development of these topics that “we” (contemporary Marxists) must therefore enhance. Thus it is composed of two sections: “The path opened by Marx, Engels, and Lenin” and “The path still to be walked”.

To determine the specific nature of Marxist philosophy, Rodríguez begins with an historical approach.[17] She looks for the sources in the particular socio-historical conditions that summoned forth Marxist dialectics. The latter emerges as the self-awareness of a historical epoch from the standpoint of a determined social class: the revolutionary proletariat. As we have seen, this was an epoch of crisis in traditional philosophy, but also one of huge scientific developments and profound socio-political revolutions.

A double task confronted the founders of Marxism. On the one hand, they felt the need to develop a philosophy commensurate with the new scientific discoveries (in both the natural and the incipient social sciences). This challenge took the form of a spontaneous tendency towards dialectics in the new era of science. Now the synthesis of dispersed knowledge, previously gathered by analytically-oriented classical science, required the transformation of that unconscious tendency into a critical dialectical logic cultivated through the materialist reading of philosophy’s history. Otherwise, natural scientists would be dominated by philosophies that were uncritically adopted and could obstruct rather than facilitate their work.[18] On the other hand, the founders of Marxism realized that, despite several daring efforts, traditional philosophy could not play an emancipatory role at this point in history, due to its (speculative) nature. Only its union with the revolutionary class would allow philosophy to become a ‘material force’[19] with the potential of transforming the world without losing its scientific character.[20]

In other words, the thesis of the ‘death’ of philosophy represents the overcoming of the structural divorce between theory and practice, science and ideology, inherent in the former speculative, contemplative, philosophical thought.[21] This double task explains the concrete unity in the division of labor between Marx and Engels. “If Marx claimed an urgent rapprochement of philosophy with the proletariat’s political practice, Engels goes for a necessary alliance between philosophy and natural sciences. It is the same logic of thinking and intention: revolutionise traditional philosophy’s structures and contents to fashion a guiding instrument for scientific and practical activity.”[22]

To bring philosophy up to the level required by practical-revolutionary and theoretical-scientific activity, they gave a materialist twist to the Hegelian – certainly advanced but idealistically deformed – definition of philosophy as ‘thought about thought.’ Now, theoretical thought was not considered an autonomous substance alienated (reified) in nature and society, but as the subjectivisation of objective laws of development. Philosophy under Marxism becomes neither a dialectics of being (ontology) nor of thought (epistemology) but the dialectics of the concrete content[23] – the universal laws of objective development – of thought.[24] This Marxist conception of theoretical thinking as the object of philosophy emerged when practice, materialistically interpreted, was included as its crucial category, for it is through practice that such idealisation of the laws of world’s development takes place.[25] In the dual cycle of subjectivisation (practice becoming theory) and objectification (theory becoming practice), the spiral cycle of human activity, philosophy finds its object. It becomes the science of thought as a reflection of the external world’s objective regularities uncovered through its practical transformation into expressions of human consciousness and will.[26]

Here we need to clarify a matter that, although declared and presupposed by Rodríguez, is not quite explained by her in this book.[27] It is Hegel, not Marx and Engels, who has the distinction of introducing practice for the first time as a fundamental principle of philosophy.[28] Indeed, it is Hegel who recognises thought philosophically, not merely in the formal analysis of language or within the narrow psychological boundaries of the individual,[29] but in thought’s objective “other-being”, i.e., in the objects created by man in the course of his activity, in culture, in the material and spiritual body of human civilisation.[30] Nonetheless, Hegel does all this while still maintaining an idealist interpretation of practice and its part in the development of human thought.

[Hegel] considers practice as the manifestation of previously formed concepts, only as the immanent criterion of truth, but not as a principle external to thought’s activity, nor as a principle of the formation of thought itself. This is because he sees humanity’s cultural and social history as an expression of the concept’s own logic and not as the result of practical-material activity of real men. [… He wrongly] conceives the world as a mere alienation of pure thought. Thus he cannot answer the problem of the origin of thought and its laws, and ignores that the moving force of thought lies not in its conceptual self-determination but in material practice.[31]

This matter, i.e., the opposite[32] relation of the Hegelian and Marxist respective notions of practice and its philosophical role, is of vital importance today, due to renewed attempts to present Marx as simply a Hegelian.[33]

Having clarified this, we can resume the path disclosed by Marx, Engels, and Lenin toward the elucidation of philosophical knowledge’s specificity through the materialist concept of practice. Following this materialist interpretation of practice – as the transformation of the world according to its objective laws while pursuing the subject’s interests – to elaborate the Marxist conception of philosophy, we must address both its cognitive and evaluative aspects in their differentiated yet concrete unity. Rodríguez begins this task by identifying the ‘atomistic’ elements of science, objective concepts (the means to an adequate reflection and regulation of reality), and of evaluative forms of social consciousness, values (the means of self-knowledge and self-regulation of the subject); as well as their contradictory tendencies: while scientific knowledge tends to oppose subject and object, evaluative activity tends to view them as an identity. Despite (or, more precisely, in virtue of) such opposite tendencies, science and evaluative social forms presuppose each other. “Scientific knowledge has an eminently informative function, but this does not prevent it from being an important means for the orientation and regulation of men’s activity and conduct. In return, values possess an essentially practical-regulatory function in human activity, without excluding the presence of cognitive elements.”[34]

Meanwhile, by failing to recognise the philosophical role of practice and the dialectical relation of science and evaluation, contemporary bourgeois philosophy, despite all its diversity, ultimately tends either to an absolute divorce between truth and value (e.g., neo-Kantism, neopositivism) or to their identification (e.g., pragmatist instrumentalism, postmodernism). Accordingly, all these philosophies stem from divorcing the natural and social sciences, and then divorcing both from the ‘humanities.’[35] This point of departure is intimately linked to the philosophical biases of conceiving science as an ‘objective’ (i.e., neutral) realm, while value as a purely subjective or even – in some cases – transcendental sphere subject of a purely irrational interpretation.  “[This view] is common to thinkers as varied as Ernst Cassirer, Robert Hartman, Max Weber, A. J. Ayer, Ralph Barton Perry and Karl Jaspers.”[36] That is why these philosophies ultimately fall into two abstractly-opposed categories: scientism and anti-scientific irrationalism.

By way of contrast, grounded in Marx’s view of the unity between natural and human history and, consequently, between the natural and the human sciences,[37] the “Marxist-Leninist theory of value acknowledges not only the possibility of a scientific treatment of value but also the theoretical-cognitive capabilities of the evaluative approach.”[38]  Moreover, the materialist perspective of practice highlights the objectively social nature of values as normative guides both in the inter-human and human-nature relations. Since practice is essentially the synthesis of the ideal and the material, philosophy – its theoretical reflection – is neither the study of being nor of thought, but the relation between thought and being.[39] “Therefore, the world does not appear before philosophical consciousness only as that which exists objectively, but the possible world, the world that must be, perceived and expressed through the necessities and desires of the subject of social practice.”[40]

In short, only philosophy viewed as the theoretical appropriation of the synthesis of the material and the ideal can simultaneously fulfill a cognitive, evaluative, epistemological, worldview, scientific, and ideological role. Through an awareness of dialectics – of the socio-historically developed system of thought’s categories reflecting the structure of being – such a role is the foundation of the social subject’s cognitive and practical-spiritual activity.

And so concludes the positive – perhaps most interesting – part of the book. However, following the good old Marxist tradition of bolstering its views by polemical critique, Rodríguez sets her sights on Althusserianism, arguing  that “by delving into the epistemological roots of error, it stands to reason that we penetrate deeper into the foundations of truth.”[41]

Rodríguez’ motive for focusing on Althusserianism appears in the second chapter, “Scientism and practicism[42] in philosophy”. A critique of Althusserian and neo-Althusserian conceptions.” Indeed – and many scholars have overlooked this – 43], Althusser’s thought has the peculiarity of going from the extreme theoreticism and scientificism in its first (best known) stage to the opposite, practicist extreme in its second. So, Althusser and his followers, gave Rodríguez the chance to settle accounts with both abstractly opposite tendencies that she had identified in bourgeois philosophy, but now as deformations within Marxism. Therefore, the chapter splits into three sections. The first, “Philosophy as the theory of theoretical practices,” deals with the first (scientistic) stage of Althusser. The second, “Philosophy as politics and class struggle in science,” deals with his second (subjectively practicist) stage. Lastly, “To walk backward along the path of Marx” critically addresses the ideas of some neo-Althusserians in Latin America, mainly the Mexican authors Enrique González Roja, Raúl Olmedo, and Luis Salazar.

Althusser was also a suitable object of critical analysis for Rodríguez because, from beginning to end, he set himself the task of rigorously determining the subject matter of Marxist philosophy and its functions. His starting point was the undeniable premise of Marxism’s scientificity. However, Althusser defined dialectical materialism, Marxism’s philosophy, as the theory of scientific knowledge production. With this move, he reduced philosophy to a narrowly epistemological role, which comes after the sciences. Such a ‘retardation’ thesis, incapable of grasping the real interplay between science and philosophy, rationalised a one-sided reading of philosophy’s history in which the science always has the active role.

For the early Althusser, dialectical materialism’s historical peculiarity is its ‘scientificity,’ meaning that it was a non-ideological form of social consciousness: science has a revolutionary part in history, ideology a reactionary one. The absolute conterposing of science and ideology, the most distinctive trait of this thinker, dubbed his (or Bachelard’s?) “epistemological break”, is deployed by Althusser to set a young (pre-scientific, ideologically philosophical) Marx against a mature (scientific, post-1845) Marx. He defines science as the ‘theoretical practice’ that appropriates reality in the form of knowledge. The ‘theoretical practice’ oxymoron, Rodríguez notes critically, simply casts off the differentia specifica of classical Marxism’s concept of practice as the material transformation of reality by the social subject’s teleological activity according to reality’s intrinsic laws. Therefore, Althusser performs an illegitimate overextension of the practice concept, now including all forms of human activity (‘productive,’ ‘political,’ ‘ideological,’ etc.), thus rendering it meaningless. Such an abstract concept of practice leads to a double ‘theoreticism’. On the one hand, it meant the primacy of theory over practice, expressed in the aspiration of solving political problems exclusively through the method of theory. On the other, the absolutisation of science signified Marxism’s de-ideologisation as a ‘pure’ scientific theory. Moreover, in this stage, Althusser also advances his absolute distinction between the real object and the object of scientific study, which grants science a sort of metaphysical ‘autonomy’ regarding the world, which it no longer needs to reflect.

In short, for this early Althusser, scientific theory becomes an end in itself and the ‘true’ politics, while philosophy is at the end of the day interpreted in the same (neo)positivistic fashion as the ‘theory of science,’ as ‘metascience’.

Althusser’s second stage is marked by an autocritique precisely regarding the question of philosophy’s subject matter, in which the ‘theoricist’ deviation of his first stage becomes the primary target.  He now justly sees this as an overreaction to the abstract humanism that the ‘thaw’ period in the USSR and anti-Stalinism had provoked in the Western appropriation of Marx. Now, he is willing to embrace the exact opposite of his previous ideas: philosophy is politics.

Such 180º turn appears in his new view of the role of philosophy. Now philosophy is defined as a non-scientific and even dogmatic discipline with no object of its own: its sole role is to set the boundaries between science and ideology. Using his terminology, philosophy set the ‘correctness’ of theories. As we can see, in this second stage, Althusser is only shuffling around the chesspieces on the self-same board: while the abstract opposition between science and ideology remains in place, philosophy moves from scientific non-ideological to ideological non-scientific ‘theoretical practice’.

Rodríguez highlights the clearly metaphysical nature of Althusser’s style of thought. It is only suitable for “introducing dilemmas and alternatives there when what is really needed is a fusion of  the contraries in a dynamic and dialectical unity. That is why Althusser’s practicist project is nothing more but theoreticism turned upside-down”.[44]

Althusser believes that he is now building on the correct interpretation of Lenin’s political metaphors applied to parties in philosophy.[45] Just as with politics, he views philosophy as a battlefield in which war (namely that between materialism and idealism) is fought with theoretical weapons, with ideas. This absolute politicisation of its subject matter leads Althusser to non-cognitivism in philosophy and relativism and pragmatism in politics. Moreover, by eliminating the objective-scientific foundation from philosophy and politics, it becomes impossible to determine the foundations of the ‘correctness’ of materialism. Rodríguez rightly counterposes the authentic meaning of Lenin’s idea to Althusser’s reading. (Objective) partisanship in philosophy should be the result not of abstractly ‘political’ choice without grounding in objective truth; on the contrary, partisanship in philosophy (as in politics) results from a cognitive analysis: what is needed is not our fidelity to the principles but the fidelity of the principles themselves.[46]

Marxism’s ideological contents do not arise from outside science and then try to reconcile themselves with it; instead, they are the product of scientific knowledge of their object, in this case, capitalist society. Moreover, this explains why Marx and Engels did not dedicate themselves to designing ideal societies that would replace the current (despicable) society. Rather they sought to  understand the immanent objective tendencies of this society, which press for its overcoming.[47]

(Neo-)Althusserianism arrived in Latin America accompanied by other Western Marxist ideas and it was mediated by Althusser’s Latin-American disciples. The three cases that Rodríguez considers take the subjectivist and objectivist tendencies of Althusser to their final (ridiculous) consequences. Enrique González Rojo, sharing the same abstract and empiricist approach to the concept of practice, pushed the scientism of Althusser’s first stage even further, openly presenting dialectical materialism as a new metaphysical ontology of nature.

Meanwhile, Raúl Olmedo and Luis Salazar do something similar to Althusser’s second stage. Olmedo claims that, because of its ‘materialist’ character, dialectical logic is absent from Capital (in which Marx supposedly only applied the formal methods of positive science). Here ‘materialism’ is identified with science and idealism with philosophy in general. “Olmedo does not understand that the problem of the relationship and the difference between thought (the ideal) and matter (the material) is an essentially philosophical problem that cannot be solved by natural sciences.”[48] This negation of philosophy’s epistemological and worldview roles, combined with his nominalist positivism, leads Olmedo to a pragmatic instrumentalist position regarding truth: truth is knowledge’s efficacy.

Salazar, who also dismisses philosophy’s worldview aspect, sees dialectical materialism’s ultimate base in the ‘permanent’ class struggle. (Philosophical, scientific, and ideological) contradictions appear then as insoluble antinomies engendered by political conflicts. In short, he responds with a cognitive and evaluative relativism: philosophy (and ideology) is based on party loyalty rather than any objective truth.

In her conclusions, Rodríguez highlights how such deviations (of Althusser and epigones) relate to misunderstandings of practice. Practice integrates both evaluative and cognitive aspects of human activity. Marxist philosophy’s classist condition does not exclude its scientific status but necessarily presupposes it and vice versa.[49] The internally contradictory character of capitalist society demands from Marxism a practical-cognitive attitude always guided by a correct assessment of the progressive and reactionary tendencies inherent in that society. Thus, Marxist philosophy does not absolutise the epistemological or cognitive?? nor the evaluative aspect of human activity. “If scientism leads to philosophy’s dilution in sciences detriment to its evaluative and worldview function, anti-scientism results in relativism, subjectivism, and irrationalism, as it strips philosophy from all objective cognitive content.”[50] Ultimately, those extremes are characteristic of bourgeois philosophy, and Althusserianism only shows that there “cannot be any reconciliation between bourgeois contemporary philosophical thought and Marxism-Leninism.”[51]

Concluding personal judgments

The contraposing of truth and value, science and ideology, has penetrated common sense as the premise of “objectivity” – treated as a synonym for neutrality – in science, leading to an a priori dismissal of any evaluative position as a bias, a prejudice obstructing the process of knowledge. This opposition is present, for instance, in neo-positivism’s isolation of fact from value, where the latter appears as a subjective attitude (often a mere personal state of mind) towards the former. Thus, it eliminates the possibility of an objective evaluation of any action or historical process, leading to moral and political relativism.  This contradiction between scientific thought and humanist action expresses a conservative divorce between theory and practice. To be faithful to the theory, according to such divorce, one has to be unfaithful to humanistic morality, and, conversely, if one wants to be consistently humanist in practice, one has to abandon science. The denial of the evaluative content of scientific knowledge and the cognitive content of evaluation, derives from a contemplative understanding of science. Hence, the positivist ideal of a scientist is the individual isolated in his/her “ivory tower,” insensitive to any external conditioning to the logic of scientific activity, that is, of her or his political, moral, and emotional interest.

Eventually, this (objectivistic) trend inevitably finds its logical counterpart, its external complement, in the (subjectivist) approach to human activity’s evaluative aspects as a matter of merely personal, arbitrary inclination. In this way, as a counterpart to objectivist positions, we could name postmodernism. Let us note the essential point: as much as postmodernists loudly proclaimed their differences with neo-positivism and other forms of “rationalism,” they presupposed, just like them, the rigid separation between knowledge and valuation. The difference is that the postmodern absolutises the opposite pole, the evaluative moment.[52]

Like anyone else, Marxists make use of contemporary common sense, and thus they are not immune from its conservative tendencies, in this case, there is a tendency to present the value-truth relation as a disjunctive, as an abstract opposition. It is such a shame that some even defend this contraposition as the “true” Marxist view,[53] for as Zaira Rodríguez’s book shows, it is precisely the concept of the concrete unity between the evaluative and the cognitive that sets Marxist philosophy apart and what gives it is objectively revolutionary character. This is what differentiates it from the subjective concept of human action shared by those voluntarists who downsize revolution to screams and abstract revolts. Socialism’s real ultimate problem is not the political struggle for power. This has been accomplished several times in history by now. The real challenge is what to do with such a power afterward. Thus, here, in such an unsurpassed challenge, is where the conception of the concrete (determined, differentiated, internal, necessary, and real: dialectical) unity of partisanship and science, ideology and knowledge, value and truth, human desires and existing conditions, freedom and necessity, finds its most significant role.

Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy, which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis.[54]

I could criticise Rodríguez that, at times, she seems to share the same (dualist) vision of the ‘neutrality’ of natural science (as a field without ‘implicit’ ideological content) in contraposition to the social sciences (as responding to class interests) which her very approach requires her to reject.[55] Moreover, although I share her hostility to  vulgar eclectic distortions of Marxism, I could also make a case against her ‘purist’ attitude that denies a priori any possibility of constructive feedback between Marxism and ‘bourgeois’ contemporary philosophy.[56] However, what remains beyond doubt is the enormous value of her contribution in clarifying the specific subject matter of philosophy while conserving its cognitive and evaluative functions. In other words, its enduring virtue consists of its approach to the relation between truth and value, as necessary aspects of the theory and practice relation, which defines the object of the philosophy founded by Marx and Engels. Both her strengths and her shortcomings reflect the intransigent resolution and sense of pride of Marxism in the communist world before the fall of the USSR. Maybe today, Marxists could use some of that pride.


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[1] See Piedra Arencibia 2017, p. 159; cf. Engels 1976a, p. 345.

[2] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b.

[3] Guadarrama González 2013, p. 287;

[4] E.g., Feuerbach 1976; and Rodríguez Ugidos 1988.

[5] Rodríguez Ugidos 1986.

[6] On such topic, see also Rodríguez Ugidos 1989; 2009; 1985a.

[7] According to Žižek (2009, p. 5), “[t]he steely “Fourth Teacher” [i.e. Stalin] committed a serious philosophical error when he ontologized the difference between dialectical and historical materialism, conceiving it as the difference between metaphysica universalis and metaphysica specialis, universal ontology and its application to the special domain of society.”

[8] Cf. Lukács 1978.

[9] Lukács 1971, p. 1.

[10] E.g. Mondolfo 1940, pp. 25, 29, and 33.

[11] See Engels 1987a, p. 35; Engels 1976a, p. 342.

[12] Marx and Engels 1998, p. 43.

[13] Engels 1987a, p. 26.

[14] Engels 1976a, 375; Engels 1976b, 131.

[15] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 12.

[16] Cf. Oizerman 1977, pp. 30-39.

[17] “The most promising means of resolving any scientific problem is the historical approach” (Ilyenkov 2009, p. 5).

[18] “Philosophy takes its revenge posthumously on natural science for the latter having deserted it” (Engels 1987b, p. 486).

[19] “The weapon of criticism certainly cannot replace the criticism of weapons; material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory, too, becomes a material force once it seizes the masses” (Marx 1970, p. 137).

[20] “[The] working-class movement is the inheritor of German classical philosophy” (Engels 1976a, p. 376).

[21] “[So far t]he philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (Marx 1976, p. 15).

[22] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 27.

[23] Cf. Lenin 1976, pp. 92-93.

[24] “[The object of materialist dialectics are] the general laws of the reflection of being in thought” (Iliénkov 2014, p. 232).

[25] “[M]an’s practice, repeating itself a thousand million times, becomes consolidated in man’s consciousness by figures of logic” (Lenin 1976, pp. 190, 216).

[26] “The whole problem of consciousness […] lies in understanding how in human activity the physical, the chemical and other natural being is transformed into the beautiful, the good, into honour, dignity, truth, and justice, which actually form the basis and aim of human life” (Mikhailov 1980, p. 255).

[27] She addressed it in a previous work, see Rodríguez Ugidos 1986, pp. 69-85.

[28] See Ilyenkov 2018, p. 13.

[29] Cf. Ilyenkov 2009, pp. 121–122.

[30] Rodríguez Ugidos 1986, p. 70.

[31] Rodríguez Ugidos 1986, p. 71.

[32] “My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea”, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form

of “the Idea”. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought” (Marx 2010a, p. 19).

[33] See, e.g., Levine 2012; and more recently, Cole 2020.

[34] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 38.

[35] Cf. Snow 2012.

[36] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 47.

[37] See Marx 1988, pp. 110-111.

[38] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 57.

[39] Engels 1976a, p. 345.

[40] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 84. “Man’s consciousness not only reflects the objective world, but creates it” (Lenin 1976, p. 212).

[41] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 88.

[42] I use this word to translate Rodríguez’s (even in Spanish, quite unusual) term “practicismo,” which she uses in the sense of an absolutization of the notion of practice within a theory, as opposed to “theoricism” and “scientism.” In accordance with this, “practicist” and “theoricist” are the adjectives that refer to such absolutizations.

[43] E.g.. Kohan 2005, Thomas 2008.

[44] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 154.

[45] See, e.g., Lenin 1977, pp. 194-205.

[46] See Rodríguez Ugidos 1986, pp. 137-138.

[47] “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the now existing premise” (Marx and Engels 1998, p. 57).

[48] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 204.

[49] See Piedra Arencibia 2018.

[50] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 229.

[51] Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 230.

[52] See, e.g., Feyerabend 1996.

[53] E.g., Kohan 2005; 1998; Silva 1978; Levine 2015.

[54] Marx 2010b, p. 807.

[55] See, e.g.. Rodríguez Ugidos 1985b, p. 16.

[56] Althusser himself, although in words not in deeds, was an energic defender of the same ‘purist’ attitude in the relation of Marxism with other schools. See Kolakowski 1983, pp. 467-468.

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