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Making communism more than a desire
More on claims some make of having (and promoting) "the science of revolution":
Marxism (at its best) is scientific.
But there is not some "science of revolution" lying in the spoon drawer of sciences (along side the science of biology, and the science of evolution, and the science of physics.) That picture is a misunderstanding of science, and a misunderstanding of Marxism.
Historical materialism is the part of Marxism that aspires to a scientific approach to history and the liberatory potential within society... while dialectics (another part of Marxism) concerns philosophy and methodology, and while the larger world of communist works form (within Marxism) a kind of bulging tool-chest of experiences, political strategies and analyses.
I have often said that I think it is possible for communist thinking to be scientific -- but most that I have encountered is not.
In other words, far more often, a rather superficial set of tentative ideas, inherited formulas and pat schema are presented as "scientific" -- not because they are, but because that claim is legitimizing (read: dazzling) for those who encounter them. (And lets remember, many kinds of false ideas mascarade as "scientific" -- including scientology, quack medicine and creationism.)
Or, perhaps worse, what happens is that a genuinely profound body of political thinking (by someone like Marx or Mao) is presented as a tidy, pat, universal, proven, closed set of formulas (to be applied uncritically, out of context, without real engagement). That kind of thinking has nothing to do with science -- it is dogma packaged as a secular religion and marketed as science.
We need communist theory
Those making revolution need a creative, developing, open-ended theoretical framework. Otherwise they can't hope to go from marginal-to-contending in the crisis of real life.
Those trying to consolidate revolutions (after victories) often need to promote a popularization of their theory (actually a legitimizing doctrine) as part of replacing the verdicts, religions, and mental habits of the old society.
Several times in history, communists have codified their Marxism into a very coherent ideology. This was done by the German Social Democratic party before World War 1, but then (with full state resources) in both the Soviet Union and Maoist China. And in those processes, theory was too often simplified, documented, and then promoted as a finished truth.
(I remember ordering with great excitement a book from Norman Bethune publishers in Canada, of a philosophical dictionary that was a french translation of a work written in China during the Cultural Revolution. But unlike some of the better works from China, this one was a tame, and orthodox collection of standard "classic" quotes -- with no examination, no description of how the Maoists were looking at some concepts critically, etc. It was safe (in the context of China), and outside of that context, it was itself (despite the admitted brilliance of the actual quotes from Marx, or Lenin, or Mao) a case study in conservatism and non-critical thinking.
I understand why communist governing parties often did it. And (more important today) I understand why it is exciting for radicals to stumble onto those highly dense constructs -- which seem to answer every question of life, science and revolution.
But my point is that this kind of codification contains a lot of illusion: The popularization of theory (even a correct, explanatory and powerful theory) is not the theory itself.
The presentation of a coherent doctrine often disguises (via its very coherence) the actual cracks, contradictions and controversies within ANY body of thought. And the formulas inherited from former periods of state power are useful for many things ("Combat Liberalism!) -- but will not suffice us for our tasks on the level of strategy and preparation (any more than high school physics enables you to build a suspension bridge).
We also need popularization of communist ideas
It is a contradiction: We do need rich and attractive popularization of a counter-narrative (to all the muck of capitalist and oppressive thinking). But often our body of thinking (codified as a doctrine of pat ideas) serves to lock down thinking, not open it up, especially among its core readers (i.e. the communists themselves).
People just coming to communism often have their minds blown in a good way by, say, "Foundations of Leninism." We actually need the cadre and activists of a revolutionary movement to be emboldened by their body of ideas -- unapologetic, coherent, prepared to do mental battle with all the lies and deadweight of an old society.
But if our thinking, as mature revolutionaries or as people creating a new movement, is confined to popularization of previous verdicts, it "turns into its opposite."
My belief is that if you teach the most radical thinking in the world, using quasi-religious methods (rote, formula, unassailable assumptions of truth), you will end up training people in religion, not radical thinking. I.e. despite its coloration, it will not be true, and it will not be effective in guiding a revolutionary process.
The main point of theory is not to popularize our ideas among the unconvinced. The main point of theory is to actually understand a dynamic world, so that we can change it in the ways we want.
Teaching communist methodology
So how do we teach a "science of revolution" in a way that is actually open-ended, scientific and revolutionary?
1) I think we need case studies and context: I.e. we should study previous victorious revolutions and critically examine :
- What did people think?
- how did they make difficult choices?
- what did they do?
- What did they disagree over?
- What then emerged from their choices and actions?
We should also study defeated revolutionary attempts (KPD, NCM, Panthers, Vietnam, Cultural Revolution, Peru, etc.) so we avoid a typical motion approach (of assuming revolution happens when you get your ideas together).
2) I think we should have an approach to our own society that is deeply analytical -- proceeding (from our starting point) which is the actual world around us, not starting from ideological presumptions based on past truths. Proceeding from reality not from ideology (or our own previous verdicts) is crucial for a self-critical and developing body of thinking.
3) Our approach to larger abstractions (laws of motion, assumptions of commonality and principle) should borrow more from science and less from religion: we should see ourselves as having hypotheses that are standing for testing, application and confirmation. We should see the contradiction in our movement's previous verdicts and assumptions -- and should not casually or lightly assume they apply a century or two later.
4) We should expect our real world opportunities and openings to be disorienting: they will not present themselves in expected forms. They will not conform to our plans or assumptions. They will require learning and transformation -- from us too, not just from others. We need to appreciate contingency, not overestimate necessity (which means to soberly understand the limits of our own predictions).
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Nothing I'm saying is a degrading or disrespecting of Marxism or our past theoretical accomplishments (which are many and precious). On the contrary, it is part of the ongoing fight to rescue Marxism from the merely religious, and to rescue scientific thinking from the deadeningly dogmatic, and to generate a thinking project where we too often have leftist monasteries filled with group chanting.