E.V. Ilyenkov and Creative Soviet Theory: An Introduction to ‘Dialectics of the Ideal’

In: Historical Materialism
Alex Levant Wilfrid Laurier University

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This article aims to introduce E.V. Ilyenkov’s ‘Dialectics of the Ideal’, first published in unabridged form in 2009, to an English-speaking readership. It does this in three ways: First, it contextualises his intervention in the history of Soviet and post-Soviet philosophy, offering a window into the subterranean tradition of creative theory that existed on the margins and in opposition to official Diamat. It explains what distinguishes Ilyenkov’s philosophy from the crude materialism of Diamat, and examines his relationship to four central figures from the pre-Diamat period: Deborin, Lukács, Vygotsky, and Lenin. Second, it situates his concept of the ideal in relation to the history of Western philosophy, noting Ilyenkov’s original reading of Marx through both Hegel and Spinoza, his criticism of Western theorists who identify the ideal with language, and his effort to articulate an anti-dualist conception of subjectivity. Third, it examines Ilyenkov’s reception in the West, previous efforts to publish his work in the West, including the so-called ‘Italian Affair’, as well as existing scholarship on Ilyenkov in English.

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