Idealism -- Main Obstacle to Understanding
From conversations between "Soldier Sal" and Jim Lane

We are educated by the societies in which we live. Those who control our educations prefer that we accept idealism as a fundamental philosophy rather than materialism. The difference is simple:

Materialism says that our ideas and concepts are approximations that need to be checked against that real world; idealism says that the real world needs to be checked against our abstractions.

Successful scientists study the real world and check their work against it. Metaphysicians and quacks study almost any of their impressions or feelings, then check to see if the real world measures up. Controllers of societies prefer to emphasize idealism, because it can be used to manipulate their servants.

Did the Bush Administration bring about the invasion of Iraq because they expected material gain, or was it because the Iraqi government was evil? Do people across the world resist pressures from American corporations because of their own economic interests or because they hate freedom? Do bosses subvert unions because they love democracy, or because they want to squeeze more money out of their employees? Should people struggle to advance their own families, or should we wait patiently for pie in the sky when we die?

Discussing the simplest developments is difficult when people cling to the idealism that they have been fed.

Study up by reading Frederick Engels' Ante-Duhring or a much shorter excerpt, "Socialism, Utopian and Scientific." Check for a free annotated copy. Engels provides explanation and historical background on materialism.

While he was in Iraq, Soldier Sal invented the following study questions:

1. Is socialism an unreachable idea?

a. Were the early "utopian" socialists materialists?

b. How were the utopians, such as the ones that came to Texas, different from Marxists?


2. According to Engels, what was the ideological error of the earliest socialists?

a) They misread their real situation.

b) They weren't serious.

c) They had bad intentions

d) Socialism can never work, no matter how it's tried.

e) They didn't realize they had already succeeded

f) They did not have the concept of the opposing interests of different classes


3. What makes socialism scientific?

a) A bunch of guys in a laboratory came up with the idea.

b) Socialism isn't scientific, but was concocted by a bunch of jealous poor people.

c) Socialism is scientific because it is based on a materialist conception of history.

d) It is scientific because it is working in socialist countries.

e) Socialism is scientific because it is based on a materialist conception of history


4. According to a materialist concepion of history, what is the basis of all social structure?

a) Money

b) Music

c) Religion

d) sex

e) economics


Our Discussion: Engels was very interested in the work of the early "utopian" socialists who tried to put their ambitions into effect without analyzing the problems they would encounter. Their principal error, Engels explains, was not analyzing the opposing class interests involved. Workers' problems can be solved by socialism, but not capitalists'! Essentially, the interests of the main capitalists in Texas coincided with the desires of the Southern Confederacy. The anti-slavery German socialist communities did not survive the American Civil War.

The utopians failed, but not because they were poor farmers, as our approved history books assert. They failed because they could not withstand the external pressures brought to bear by the capitalist world around them. Similarly today, we are asked to conclude that other socialist efforts are failures. If we analyze the real-world problems they face, we might understand better. A good example was the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, which did not endure. Were those brave revolutionaries wrong, or were they crushed from outside by the mercenary armies amassed by the Reagan Administration in the "Contra Wars?"

Lastly, a materialist view leads directly to the realization that people's material standing, their economic standing, is their primary source of motivation. From there, one can begin to understand the complicated developments of history and the present. From an idealistic framework, only confusion can result.

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