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.) It 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 science… while dialectics (another part of Marxism) is an aspect of philosophy and methodology (not mainly science), and while the large world of communist works and experiences form (within Marxism) a kind of  tool-chest of previous political strategy and analysis.

I have often said that I think it is possible for communist thinking to be scientific — but most that I have encountered is not (including Lenny Wolff’s “Science of Revolution”). 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 the claim is legitimizing (read: dazzling) for those who encounter them. Or, perhaps worse, 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 from nothing-to-everything in the crisis of real life). Those trying to consolidate revolution often need to promote a popularization of their theory (actually a legitimizing doctrine) as part of replacing the verdicts, religions, notions 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 recourses in  both the Soviet Union and Maoist China). And in those processes, theory was to often simplified, documented, and then promoted as a finished truth.

I understand why they did it. And (more important today) I understand why it is exciting for radicals (at any age) to stumble onto those highly dense constructs — which seem to answer every question of life, science and revolution.

But my point is that this contains a lot of illusion: The popularization of theory (even a correct, explanatory and powerful theory) is not theory itself.

The presentation of a coherent doctrine often disguises (via its very coherence) the cracks and contradictions in ANY body of thought. And the formulas inherited from former periods of state power are not (mainly) the thinking that will enable us to creatively make new revolutions (any more than high school physics enables you to build a suspension bridge).

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. 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 by 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.



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