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Write Theory!

Reaffirming the Importance of Community-Constructed Knowledge


 

By Jeff Korolev

Online Editor


Marxism is the science of the laws governing the development of nature and society, the science of the revolution of the oppressed and exploited masses, the science of the victory of socialism in all countries, the science of building communist society. As a science, Marxism cannot stand still, it develops and is perfected. In its development, Marxism cannot but be enriched by new experience, new knowledge—consequently some of its formulas and conclusions cannot but change in the course of time, cannot but be replaced by new formulas and conclusions, corresponding to the new historical tasks. Marxism does not recognize invariable conclusions and formulas, obligatory for all epochs and periods. Marxism is the enemy of all dogmatism. [1]

Thesis One: The Establishment of an Idea

It is often believed that every established scientific discipline has its founder, its symbolic leader. Evolutionary biology has Charles Darwin, [2] chemotherapy has Paul Ehrlich, [3] and of course Marxism has Karl Marx. Readers will know that this so-called "great man theory" is idealistic—that the roots of every revolutionary discovery are both deep and tangled. We know that Darwin (1809-1882), for example, was not the first to study evolution; Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738), Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-1788), and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) all investigated the problem years prior to Darwin's birth.


Darwin incorporated previous discoveries and ideas, and combined them with his own observations. In this process, he made a qualitative advancement by placing evolution on a concrete material foundation, divorced from creationist ideology. But this does not stop the fact that, in popular discourse, Darwin is perceived to stand alone—the sole proprietor of evolutionary biology, as opposed to being one of many co-constructors. The "great man" fallacy is an idealist mistake which, once believed, prevents us from understanding how knowledge in fact develops, suggesting instead that only "great men" contribute and craft bodies of knowledge. The result of this is a pessimism in one's own ability to affect change and an implicit belief that we can just wait for the next Darwin, the next Marx, the next Lenin.


The same is also true in the popular conception of the formation of Marxism. Even the titles of Marx and Engels' works argue this notion, if mostly in the negative and polemical sense—"Critique of the Gotha Programme," "The Bakuninists at Work," and so on. Without the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Lassalleans who penned their draft of the Gotha Program, or without Bakunin and the Bakuninists, Marx and Engels would not have been able to so clearly elaborate scientific socialism through juxtaposition. Marxism was not simply the product of the brilliant minds of Marx and Engels, but entailed and drew from several distinct motivations:

  1. Advancing material conditions in an emergent and maturing capitalism

  2. Germs of a burgeoning proletarian materialism, and dialectical theory more generally as fed by the work of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Feuerbach

  3. The theoretical work of the utopians—Bakunin, Proudhon, Smith, Ricardo, Stirner, Proudhon, Babeuf, the Communards of Paris, and many more figures who are now lost to history

 

Thesis Two: The Qualitative Advancement of an Idea

Likewise, in any field of knowledge, subsequent groundbreaking advances are not the accomplishment of "great men" alone, but of the whole of intellectual communities. Qualitative leaps require quantitative steps contributed by hundreds, or thousands, of others. And while fundamental, qualitative leaps are often made by extraordinary individuals, no individual is capable of a truly revolutionary discovery without relying on the work and intellectual input of their predecessors and peers.


The task of understanding qualitative societal change was not left to Lenin alone. That is, the leap from Marxism to Marxism-Leninism cannot be ascribed only to Lenin. Adding the contributions of Stalin or Trotsky is not sufficient. To include the work of Axelrod, Kamanev, Krupskaya, Plekhanov, Kautsky, Kollontai, Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Radek, Bogdanov, Martov, Bebel, Zetkin, Zinoviev, Kalinin, Sverdlov, Voroshilov, and Debs (et al.) is still not enough. In life, Lenin was involved in two Internationals and two revolutions. He lived in many countries and could not help but to be influenced by these material conditions.


Scientific understanding is refined when we incorporate correct hypotheses as well as when we excise incorrect hypotheses. Revolutionary understanding is no different. The influences of opportunism, revisionism, social-chauvinism, and reactionary nationalism, as well as the efforts of other good comrades to combat those mistakes have been important aspects of this process. The ultimate formulation of Bolshevism, for example, was aided through juxtapositions made by Lenin and other Bolsheviks against the mistakes of the Second International, against the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Trotskyites. The formulation of Marxism-Leninism required not only Lenin, but the contributions, contradictions, and conflicts of unknowable numbers of solid and not so solid comrades.


"In the new conditions of the era of imperialism, imperialist wars and proletarian revolutions, its leaders further developed the teachings of Marx and Engels and raised them to a new level." [4]

Lenin was not the sole genius behind Marxism-Leninism. Like Darwin, Lenin incorporated previous discoveries and ideas and combined them with his own observations to make the qualitative leap by placing imperialism and finance capital on a concrete material foundation. Marxism-Leninism thus holds that revolutionary theory in the modern era must incorporate, build upon, and take further the ideas of antedated works.


"The C.P.S.U.(B.) grew up on the basis of the working-class movement in pre-revolutionary Russia; it sprang from the Marxist circles and groups which had established connection with the working-class movement and imparted to it a Socialist consciousness. The C.P.S.U.(B.) has always been guided by the revolutionary teachings of Marxism-Leninism. In the new conditions of the era of imperialism, imperialist wars and proletarian revolutions, its leaders further developed the teachings of Marx and Engels and raised them to a new level [...] The textualists [...] regard Marxism and separate conclusions and formulas of Marxism as a collection of dogmas, which "never" change, notwithstanding changes in the conditions of the development of society. They believe that if they learn these conclusions and formulas by heart and start citing them at random, they will be able to solve any problem, reckoning that the memorized conclusions and formulas will serve them for all times and countries, for all occasions in life. But this can be the conviction only of people who see the letter of Marxism, but not its essence, who learn by rote the texts of conclusions and formulas of Marxism, but do not understand their meaning." [5]

Early neuroscientists focused their theories around the roles of certain brain regions in thought and action. These figuresBroadmann, Broca, Wernicke, Galvani, Bell, et al.conducted their work during a time when the study of the brain was possible mostly through gross anatomy and electrophysiology. In the 1890s, microscopic study became possible. Figures like Cajal, Golgi, and Lucas were able to use improved technology to study the brain on a more concrete basis. Their work improved on the theories of the previous generation, but also allowed them to investigate the reciprocal connections and interactions between brain regions and understand neurophysiology more deeplyleading to divergence, specialization, and a more complete understanding of phenomena. Now, modern technology and experimental design allow researchers to study multiple facets of brain activity in real time across conditions in living individuals and to use these advancements to create a more synthesized, comprehensive understanding of the incredible number of factors that influence thoughts and actions.


Part of Lenin's contributions were his insistence that every item must be placed on a material basis, and examined within its full material context. Leninism upholds this method and understands that continued investigation is necessary to understand continued changes. Marxism's full elucidation required the understanding of pre-monopoly capitalism, colonialism, militarism, and the experience of the Paris Commune. Leninism incorporated world-imperialism, the consolidation of monopoly and finance capitalism, world imperialist war, and inter-party struggle. Since, Leninism has incorporated knowledge of new phenomena such as socialist construction, collectivization, and class struggle; after the basis for socialism had been built, it focused on fascism, nuclear threat, and new world historical emergences such the People's Republic of China, People's Democracies, and others. Lately, Marxism-Leninism has interrogated the problems of neo-liberalism, revisionism, collapse, capitalist realism, and post-communist society, yet it struggles to successfully and cohesively incorporate these. The microscope existed well before neuroscientists were able to fully leverage this technology to describe the brain. In the same way that scientists strive to incorporate all techniques to advance their understanding, Marxism-Leninism has striven to understand the above phenomena on a concrete, material foundation. Only through continued struggle and investigation can our understanding catch up to modern times.


 

Thesis Three: The Growth of Comrades
"Often, correct knowledge can be arrived at only after many repetitions of the process leading from matter to consciousness and then back to matter, that is, leading from practice to knowledge and then back to practice. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge, the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge. Among our comrades there are many who do not yet understand this theory of knowledge. When asked the sources of their ideas, opinions, policies, methods, plans and conclusions, eloquent speeches and long articles they consider the questions strange and cannot answer it. Nor do they comprehend that matter can be transformed into consciousness and consciousness into matter, although such leaps are phenomena of everyday life. It is therefore necessary to educate our comrades in the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge, so that they can orientate their thinking correctly, become good at investigation and study and at summing up experience, overcome difficulties, commit fewer mistakes, do their work better, and struggle hard so as to build China into a great and powerful socialist country and help the broad masses of the oppressed and exploited throughout the world in fulfillment of our great internationalist duty." [6]

Lenin’s writing career began in earnest in 1893. His first major work, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, was written in 1899, six years later. Even considering only the pre-October period, it is clear that as he wrote, as he worked, Lenin's theoretical positions grew more and more refined. This growth was not only passive, as from the advance of history, but also from his active experiences in organizing, writing theory, and his dogged assault on what he perceived as the flourishing of incorrect ideas. The Lenin of 1893 was not yet developed enoughnot only due to the yet-incomplete development of world imperialism, but also due to his own to relative youth and inexperienceto write Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (or, perhaps, more importantly, to lead the world’s first proletarian revolution). We must remember that it not only took 24 years of history, but 24 years of work, training, and study for Lenin to become the Lenin remembered by history.


 

The Call

The most important and transformative conclusions can only be arrived at through the combined efforts of the widest spectrum of backgrounds in the revolutionary movement. Workers, intelligentsia, semi-proletarians, and poor peoples should all be represented, including the unhoused and imprisoned. All national groups and ethnic minorities, including the undocumented and visitors. All gender expressions, all identities. And similarly, all levels of rank or experience in the movement should be represented. Theory written by leaders is valuable, and greater weight should be placed upon the opinions of the experienced, yet leaders alone cannot provide a full perspective of the struggle, given that no one person is capable of understanding every single topic comprehensively.


Theory should be diverse in every way. It should range from the short to the long, the informal to the formal, the broad to the focused, the sterile to the provocative, and the historical to the current. It should reach a diverse audience. The medium itself should reflect all ways that working class and oppressed peoples might consume information, taking into consideration accessibility, preferences, and reach. Theory should include a large body of original works, alongside translations, republications, retranslation of often-confused ideas to increase accessibility, and it should strive to include figures and diagrams to illustrate complex ideas concisely.


It is in this spirit that the editors at Iskra Books are excited to re-launch the Peace, Land, and Bread Blog. Continuing our mission of moving intellectual production outside of the academy and into the hands of the workers, organizers, and educators most involved in its construction and practice, we invite contributions from all scholarly and practical fields, and from all experience levels.


Iskra Books exists to publish book length and longer form theoretical works; Peace, Land, and Bread exists to publish peer-reviewed, scholarly articles; and, perhaps most excitingly, the Peace, Land, and Bread Blog exists to publish flexible and interesting shorter-form works of theory, reviews, scholarly reflections, and reports.


To submit your work for publication review for our online-only Blog, please send your work as a .docx to:


jeff@iskrabooks.org

Prior to submittal, please be sure to consult our style guide, which can be found here. We look forward to reading your work.


 

Notes

[1] Stalin, Joseph V. Marxism and problems of linguistics. Wildside Press LLC, 2008. Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1950/jun/20.htm

[2] Ruse, Michael. Darwin and design: does evolution have a purpose? Harvard University Press, 2009.

[3] Riethmiller, Steven. "Erlich, Bertheim and Atoxyl: the origins of modern chemotherapy." Bulletin for the History of Chemistry 23 (1999): 28-33.

[4] Stalin, Josef V. History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) Short Course. 1938. Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1939/x01/

[5] Ibid.

[6] Mao Zedong. Where do Correct Ideas Come From? 1963.

Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-9/mswv9_01.htm


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