Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line


On Headless Chooks

First Published: Internal Bulletin June 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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What we need to do – as an urgent task – is to train Marxist theoreticians capable of applying the truths of Marxism-Leninism to Australian conditions and by so doing, advance the revolutionary movement in this country with the aim of seizing state power.

Stirring stuff, eh? Pity I don’t go along with it.

What we need to do is to make Marxist theory, not to make Marxist theoreticians. And I’m not engaging in polemics when I say this. Consider the introduction again – and similar statements that have been expressed by us, by the CPA-ML (old days) and by revolutionaries here and internationally – it contains underlying assumptions which, in my view, are wrong.

That Marxists need to apply the truths of Marxism to their local conditions is true, of course, but it is not necessarily the same thing as applying Marxism to local conditions and in practice has usually stopped short of applying Marxism.

Firstly, it misses the point (or tends to) about what Marxism is. Marxism is more than just a set of scientific and revolutionary truths deduced and verified by Marx, Engels, Lenin etc. Marxism is how these truths were arrived at in the first place (i.e., it’s the method, more than the result). Forgetting that Marxism is an analytical method which needs to be applied all the time; that because of this, Marxist theory is being enriched all the time, leaves us wide open to fall for the second underlying assumptions that of treating Marxism as a dogma.

This line – which we have all fallen for at some time or another – maintains that you don’t need to apply Marxism to create new theory, but to apply the truths of Marxism (already known, but not applied). In other words, it’s all been done before (thank heavens); all we have to do is apply it, This is not really Marxism.

Of course there are many truths of Marxism which have been done before and they don’t need going over again (revising) because they reflect reality and universal applications. But to then believe that all the answers are known, that all that is required is the mastering of these truths and the problems and answers of the local revolution will at once become apparent, is crap. It is saying that history has stopped, that social reality (from which Marxism is drawn) has ceased its development. To put it this way, demonstrates the fallaciousness of this position.

There really is a strong temptation for revolutionaries to use the revolutions of other countries – the USSR, China, Albania etc. – as an ideological crutch which hampers our own thinking, our own development of revolutionary theory relevant to (and hence from) local revolutionary practice. Peking Review says that inflation in the west is a reflection of capitalist overproduction. Erudite Fumblebrain Hill agrees. We agree... and that’s another problem solved. Is it really any surprise that the CPA-ML’s anti-inflation campaign didn’t even get off the ground?

Because the proletariat held state power somewhere, be it Russia, China, wherever, revolutionaries were able to stay in a cocoon and get the line from overseas via local gurus. When the USSR became revisionist, we ended up on the rocks – which is fair enough because we asked for it. And the same can be said for the situation we find ourselves in now, after the revisionist coup in China and the degeneration in Albania. The fact that we got pretty much what we deserved again, Indicates the seriousness of the problem and that the lessons of the USSR were not really learnt (or even realized?)

That this situation should have ended years ago (like decades) is self-evident. That it hasn’t means we’ve got e bit of homework to do. The big difference now, however, is that we don’t have a crutch anymore. For the first time in over 60 years, we are completely on our own.

Given this, our choices for the future are few. We could degenerate into a weirdo ’Marxist’ sect (and I always thought that Catholicism was the one true faith), and because religious fervor does have its own momentum, we may even become a little successful. We could become cynics and drop out; or we can take stock of the situation and start to remedy it. And this brings me back to the question of theory and practice.

Yes, there is e dialectical relationship between theory and practice (which is hardly an original or startling piece of news) and at any time, one will hold precedence over the other (relationships between things are always in a state of flux. When this stops, sterile street begins). This shouldn’t really need pointing out – but it seems prudent that I do so.

At the moment we do not possess much (anything?) we can give to the Australian people – which is a direct result of relying on crutches. Although the problem may be older than we are, now that it’s been kicked from under us, we’ve got to stand on our own feet, get our theoretical shit together and use this as a springboard (a solid basis) for the agitational oriented activities.

This is not armchair Marxism. Nor is the suggestion that we become a study group. Part of the problem is that we expended a great deal of energy running around like chooks with their heads cut off (insufficient theory!). No wonder we got pissed off. We also fell for interpreting the relationship between theory and practice as 50% theory and 50% practice very even handed and very undialectical. The paralysis that inevitably followed was a much healthier reaction than people religiously burying themselves into ineffective “mass work”. It was a conscious recognition that something was wrong. The fault was not too much theory – but not nearly enough. Without the basis that will come from theoretical research and struggle (amongst ourselves, nationally and internationally) we will remain headless chooks. The emphasis of our work must be toward understanding and developing Marxist theory to the point where we do have something to give the Australian people.

I don’t want to be a headless chook all my life and go to the grave satisfied at having tried (but unfortunately never trying to seize state power). There is not much objective difference between this and the contribution to life made by Yevsey Klimkov, the principal character in Gorky’s Life of a Useless Man. The motives are better, of course – but the effect is the same – useless. We should be only satisfied with winning.