First Published: The Communist, Vol. 1, No. 2, May 1, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the January 1977 issue of Revolution an article was published, “Theoretical Struggle Crucial Part of Working Class Movement,” which stressed the importance of the theoretical struggle–noting that, along with the economic and political, it is one of the three forms of the working class movement. In that article we identified the most important aspects of the theoretical struggle at this time and emphasized the importance now of studying theory “in its own right,” while also noting that “In an overall sense studying theory with particular problems in mind and applying it to solve concrete questions posing themselves in the actual movement of the working class and masses is the way in which Party members and others will most deepen their grasp of theory and their ability to apply it in a living way.”
Recently it has come to our attention that a group, the ̴Workers Viewpoint Organization” (WVO), has, in the January 1977 issue of its newspaper, written something in response to the Revolution article, entitled “RCP Discovers ’Theory In Its Own Right.’” Fundamentally, there is nothing new and in one sense nothing worthy of comment in this WVO sermon. WVO is one of a number of groupings that formed something calling itself the “revolutionary wing”–before this “wing” further fractured itself, Trotskyite-like, into opposing splinters.
For some time the characteristic of these groupings, before, during and after they formed themselves into a “wing,” has been their vulgarization of Marxist theory, attempting to reduce it to a religious dogma, and their insistence that the “central task” of Marxist-Leninists in this country has been for many years and remains to this day to take part in this perversion of Marxism and the squabble over whose perversions represent ideological purity. Those who, like the RCP and the Revolutionary Union (RU)– which played the major part in the formation of the RCP–have refused to indulge in this, but have followed the path of applying Marxism to the actual situation in the U.S., have been consistently attacked by this “wing” and its various splinters as “belittling the role of theory.” WVO has, in particular, tried to stick the label of “pragmatist” on the RCP–an attempt they repeat, with customary crudeness, in this recent article.
We have, in general, not occupied ourselves with answering these attacks since, by and large, the line these groupings put forward has little influence on the working class in this country, including the most advanced workers, who recognize the importance of revolutionary theory. But, as pointed out in the Revolution article, not only is it true that “dogmatism mainly characterizes a number of opportunist so-called ’communist’ groupings,” among which is the WVO, but also “dogmatism has some influence within the Party itself,” even though “within the Party empiricism now represents a greater error than dogmatism.” And while it may have little influence in the working class movement now, it would be empiricist to say that there are no circumstances under which the kind of dogmatism represented by WVO could exert more influence.
Further, in the recent past, the WVO has become something of a “lightning rod,” attracting various dogmatist forces–though, of course, the storms they are a pole in are not the storms of mass struggle but a “tempest in a teapot” of sectarian bickering. Still, some honest forces may be temporarily attracted to this dogmatic pole–especially those who have only recently come to recognize the importance of revolutionary theory, either because they are new to the revolutionary movement, or because, in some cases, they have belonged for some time to that part of the movement that has, in fact, denied or seriously downgraded the role of theory and have run smack up against the limitations of this line. For these varying reasons it is timely and productive now to examine the line of a group like the WVO, to use it as a teacher by negative example, and in the process deepen the understanding of Party members and others of the correct line, including specifically the correct, Marxist understanding of the role of theory and its relation to the practical movement of the working class.
It is impossible and unnecessary, of course, to analyze every deviation of such a group; and so we are concentrating on the main points which characterize, in particularly sharp form, their main features. In this article, which will serve as a foundation for such an analysis, we are concentrating specifically on the question of the role of theory and the Marxist theory of knowledge, using the WVO reply to our article on the theoretical struggle as a centerpiece. In another article, which follows, we will examine other aspects of WVO’s corruption of Marxism, in terms of its general line as well as its opportunist practice–both “left” and right–which flows from and reflects this line.
Let’s turn then to the WVO article attacking the RCP on the question of the theoretical struggle. The contention of this article is that the RCP and some others are “inching their way toward one aspect or another of the correct Marxist line of the Workers Viewpoint Organization. Incapable of providing leadership to the workers’ and national movements,” the RCP, among others, says WVO, “must look to the only organization that can provide that leadership and cop the lines that WVO has held for years in the struggle.” In particular WVO claims that the RCP is only “now” recognizing the importance of theory and the theoretical struggle. But, the WVO sternly warns, “Tailing after the WVO isn’t going to drag you out of the marsh, RCP, it only underlines how deeply into the marsh you’ve sunk.”
As you can see, the WVO has quite a high opinion of itself. It proclaims itself “the only organization” that properly upholds the role of Marxist theory–and the correct line in general–and preaches hell and damnation not only to those it sees as openly opposing WVO but even to those who, WVO asserts, are now tailing after it–too late, alas, to win salvation. WVO wants to play the Pope, but, as we shall see, an examination of its doctrine and antics reveals that it is not even capable of that–it is more like an altar boy imitating the Pope.
But with all its puffery, the basic question remains, what is the line of the WVO and is that line actually the “correct Marxist line” or, in fact, opportunism totally opposed to Marxism? In particular, what is the basis for its claim that the RCP is “pragmatist” while the WVO properly handles the role of theory?
Boiled down to its essence, the basis of their whole argument is that the way in which the RCP itself was formed was pragmatist–by putting emphasis on summing up the experience that the RU and others gained over a number of years in applying Marx-ism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought to the concrete situation in the U.S., in the mass movements, especially of the workers, but also among other sections of the people. Carrying out this summation and ideological struggle over what were the lessons of this pre-Party period, and applying Marxism specifically to the question of developing a political programme for the Party in this country–this was the method by which the RCP was founded. And, for this period of summation and struggle along the lines just summarized, theory was principal over practice.
According to the WVO the clue to the whole of the RCP’s pragmatism is the use of the word “experience.” Really, it is a very simple argument–the formation of the RCP was based on experience, therefore it is empiricist, pragmatist. What is distorted is that the basis for forming the RCP as the Party of the working class in the U.S. was the summation of experience. And, as was repeatedly pointed out during the process of forming the Party, the tool, the guide to be used in this summation was exactly the science of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought, which is itself the summation of the practice, or experience, of mankind in three great struggles–the class struggle, the struggle for production and scientific experimentation.
But WVO has consistently insisted on pitting experience against the scientific summation of this experience–or, simply put, to pit practice against theory–instead of linking the two. This is clearly shown in the WVO’s recent article where it repeats a statement it made in September 1974: “In the final analysis, the point in question here is whether Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought is the basis of our party program, or ’experience’ is the basis of our program.” (emphasis added) According to Mao Tsetung, “Knowledge begins with experience–this is the materialism of the theory of knowledge,” and “Anyone who thinks that rational knowledge need not be derived from perceptual knowledge is an idealist.” (On Practice) This fits WVO perfectly.
No doubt WVO will howl at this point that this argument itself is a further example of empiricism–and deliberate deceit, as well–for Mao Tsetung also emphasizes in On Practice that “one cannot have direct experience of everything; as a matter of fact, most of our knowledge comes from indirect experience, for example, all knowledge from past times and foreign lands.” But Marxism is precisely the summation of mankind’s experience to date, a synthesis of this experience into general laws. This does not help WVO at all–it does not at all strengthen their argument that the RU was concerned only with “its own experience”–but only takes us back to the point made earlier: that it was correct to form the Party in this country on the basis of summing up, through the application of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought, the experience gained by revolutionaries in applying this science to the struggle in this country in the previous period.
Contort–and distort–as it will, WVO cannot get away from the fact that it is treating Marxism as a dogma divorced from reality–not a science based on practice and serving as a guide to practice on a higher level, but an Idea that emerges out of the minds of “geniuses.” In short, WVO, whenever it puts forth its own position and attacks others, cannot help but reveal its own idealism.
Another argument of WVO, another of its bases for attacking the RCP as pragmatist, is WVO’s insistence that, during the entire pre-Party period in the recent U.S. revolutionary movement, Party-building must be the central task, and that central to this is the proposition that all during the pre-Party period theory must be made principal over practice. The RU was–and the RCP is– pragmatist, declares WVO, because the RU said that only “for a brief period” was forming the Party the central task and was theory principal over practice. To make its case on this point WVO openly combines metaphysics with its idealism.
The RU, after its formation almost ten years ago, while stressing the importance of forming the Party as soon as possible, did not take the position that Party-building was the central task for the entire period until the Party was formed. This was based on a concrete analysis of the situation in the U.S. at that time and the steps that were clearly indicated in order to carry out the task of building a Party that would actually be the advanced detachment of the working class and not a petty bourgeois sect detached from the working class practically and ideologically.
With the degeneration of the CP and of early attempts to form a new, genuine Party of the working class in this country, for example, Progressive Labor Party (PL), much confusion resulted in the midst of a mass upsurge of struggle–especially on the part of Black people and other oppressed nationalities, youth, students, women and other movements, and a beginning swell of rank and file resistance in the working class. In this situation the forming of the Party could not be accomplished either through declaring it, or through concentration on studying theory and waging ideological struggle to establish the correct line as the main task. In fact, the RU recognized the importance of this task–theoretical work and ideological struggle–but also recognized that it could not, from the start, and consistently during the whole pre-Party period, be made the main task.
WVO seizes on this, too, as “proof” of the RU’s “belittling of the role of theory.” In their minds the confusion amidst a tremendous mass upsurge, with no clear center of leadership, meant that the role of theory was all the more clearly established as central. Isn’t that logical–there is lots of practice, mass struggle, but no clear pole of leadership to guide that practice; therefore, studying theory to establish the basis for determining the correct line to lead the struggle obviously must be the main task. Yes, this is logic, of a kind–it is bourgeois logic, metaphysics, as opposed to dialectics. And it is idealism, as opposed to materialism.
Why? Because it fails to recognize the basic principle that the correct line must be developed and demonstrated in practice. During this period–roughly the late ’60s and early ’70s–a number of different forces developed, including the RU, which said that they based themselves on Marxism-Leninism, in opposition to revisionism and Trotskyism. All of these stated agreement on basic questions, such as the need for the Party and the dictatorship of the proletariat. But they disagreed on a number of questions specifically related to the U.S.–whether in this country the united front is merely a tactic or the strategy for revolution, how to analyze the national question, woman question, etc.
Studying theory and carrying out ideological struggle, though very important, was not then the key link to resolving these questions–applying Marxism-Leninism to the actual struggles and summing this up was the key link. And, in fact, among these different forces there were two general trends: toward more unity based on a deeper development and understanding of the correct line, especially where they persevered in the process of concretely applying Marxism; and toward splitting, splintering and degeneration, where they refused to take up the task of applying revolutionary theory to the mass movement or–after initial attempts to carry out this task–retreated either into dogmatism and sectarianism and/or open reformism.
The RU, in fact, in its formation, did, “for a brief period”– there is that damning phrase again!–make theory principal. That is, in its formation, it first paid most attention to grounding itself in the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and to developing the foundation of a correct line for making revolution in the U.S. through an application of that science to the concrete situation in the U.S.–the recognition of the working class, especially the industrial proletariat, as the main and leading force in the revolution, the need for a Party of the proletariat to act as its vanguard, the dictatorship of the proletariat and ultimately communism as the aim of the struggle, the determination of the united front as the basic strategy for revolution, the analysis of the Black national question and others, as well as the exposure of the revisionism of the CP, Trotskyism, anarchism and other erroneous and opportunist trends.
Having done this, the RU then correctly laid stress on linking up with the actual mass struggles in the U.S.–especially of the working class–while carrying out theoretical work and ideological struggle as an important but secondary task for a certain period. This line was summed up in the formulation that the central task for that period was “to build the struggle, consciousness and revolutionary unity of the working class and develop its leadership in the anti-imperialist struggle.”
It was exactly because this line was carried out, and experience –that terrible word again!–accumulated in this way, that the basis for establishing the Party was formed–both deeper roots among the masses, especially masses of workers, and a deeper understanding of how the universal principles of Marxism-Lenin-ism, Mao Tsetung Thought and the general line for the U.S. revolution–for example, the united front strategy–must be applied to develop the actual struggle in the U.S. Then by applying Marx-ism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought and carrying on ideological struggle to sum up that experience–and making theory principal in that sense for a certain relatively brief period–the Party, the RCP, was in fact formed on the basis of a correct line, as concretized in the Party’s Programme.
All of this was an outrage to those who insisted on making the study of theory principal all along. In fact there were such sects in the ’60s, too, and had their line won out there would have been not progress but retrogression in understanding the basic principles of Marxism–for such principles turn into dry dogma when divorced from practice–let alone in establishing the practical and theoretical basis for forming the Party. All of this is, of course, still an outrage to those who have insisted in recent years, and continue to insist, on making the “study of theory” principal as the basis for forming a “party,” when the Party has already been formed! To them the key thing all along has been to study theory and wage struggle in order, first of all, to do what?–to establish the fact that theory is principal over practice during this period!
To such groups, like WVO, who do not base themselves on but oppose the correct, Marxist method of linking theory with practice, and who completely misunderstand and distort the relation between the two, the line of the RU in the past, and the RCP today, is nothing but “practice-practice-practice.” And WVO thinks it has “proof” of this, from the RCP itself. They cite the statement in the January 1977 Revolution article that empiricism now represents a greater error than dogmatism in the Party. To them this means that the RCP is finally admitting that its line is based on empiricism, that the RCP is empiricist.
What is involved here, among other things, is at least a failure to grasp the particularity of contradiction. The question posed and answered in the Revolution article is which is principal at this time within the RCP, empiricism or dogmatism? As to the question, which is principal, empiricism (or dogmatism) on the one hand, or Marxism on the other, the answer is Marxism. In other words, we recognize that within the Party, even though its line is fundamentally correct, there are errors and we work to root them out, recognizing also that this is a protracted process. We will accept and welcome criticism from others that helps us identify and struggle against any such errors.
But the WVO’s attempt to jump on this recognition of empiricist errors in order to say, “See, we were right all along, you are and have been empiricist and now even you have to admit it,” is like the Trotskyites who seize on the self-criticism of shortcomings in socialist countries to say, “See, we were right all along, there is no socialism there!” For sects like WVO to seize on our examination of our errors–specifically empiricist errors–to try to promote their own opportunist dogma, is like a child-beater, seizing on a parent’s admission that in some cases he has been too lenient with his kids, to promote child-beating.
WVO flies into a frenzy at the statement in the Revolution article that the tendency toward pragmatism “has some soil to grow in our Party exactly because our Party, from its very foundation, while carrying out much theoretical work and ideological struggle has correctly laid stress on the need to link up with and sink roots in the practical struggle of the working class and masses of people.” WVO leaves out the words indicated in bold type in a cheap attempt to strengthen their case.
To WVO this very stress on linking up with mass struggles is the historical basis of the RCP’s “pragmatist line.” To them, to stress practice, and specifically to stress the accumulation and summation of practice as a precondition for the formation of the Party, to make the task of linking up with the practical movements, especially of the working class, principal at any time before the Party has been formed in this country, is “pragmatism.” What is revealed here is not the RCP’s “pragmatism,” but the utter dogmatism of groups like WVO, which is made clearer by the actual process of building the Party summarized earlier.
In fact, despite its proclamations and protestations, WVO is the one that is forced to “cop”–or pay lip service–to aspects of the correct line, though they no sooner do so than they pervert it. In their article they state, “There was universal agreement to deepen our roots among the masses. The question was how.” And their answer, which is supplied in their sentence above the one just quoted, turns back on itself in a further display of metaphysical acrobatics: “the key link at that time to solve the burning questions (what is to be done) was to accept the necessity of the role of Marxist theory–as a guide, to our direction, our orientation, to lead the masses.”
And how long should people have gone on with the process of “accepting” this necessity, before they could begin the process of applying theory? If ever there was an example of turning theory into a “thing for itself” here it is! The fact is that the RU had long since “accepted” this necessity and set out to apply theory, while the WVO (or its predecessor, the Asian Study Group) apparently was still caught up in the struggle to “accept” it. And WVO wants to hold itself up as the vanguard force in this country in regard to Marxist theory?! At best, by their own wooden logic, they were, at one time, in the rearguard within the Marxist movement–and now they are not in it at all.
To be ignorant is one thing–and ignorance can be transformed into knowledge by taking part in the process of changing the world, and using Marxism as a guide to this. But to raise ignorance to a principle, to make a virtue of it, to grow arrogant in direct relation to this ignorance, and to insist that everything stop until, through self-cultivation, struggling to “accept” theory, one has overcome his own ignorance, this is both self-defeating and sabotage of the revolutionary movement. To say, under the conditions that existed during most of the pre-Party period (and which exist most of the time in general), that we cannot go into practice and make it principal because we don’t know enough, is to reverse the dialectic by which both practice and theory proceed from the lower to the higher level. To pass this off as “Marxist theory” and promote it is an abomination of Marxism and is truly right, reactionary in essence.
Stumbling along within its own idealism and metaphysics, WVO states in its article that the RCP “flips to abstract idealism” because we speak of the need to study Marxism “in its own right.” They insist that there is “no such thing as theory ’in its own right.’” Here, in this part of its article, the fuller depth of WVO’s opportunism–its idealism and metaphysics–is laid bare.
They complain that the RCP “now wants the workers to understand the mysteries of the universe,” because the Revolution article states that, when speaking of Marxism as a guide to action, this must not be treated in a narrow sense, simply as a question of working out tactics in any particular struggle, but “in a sweeping, all-encompassing sense, a guide for the working class to grasp the laws governing the development of all things in nature and society...” WVO even goes so far as to insist that “There is no such large law and theory so general that by studying it we will know ’all laws’ of ’mankind’s struggle against nature,’ etc.” Apparently for WVO there is no dialectical materialism–certainly there is, on their part, no ability to grasp and apply it, but that does not deny its existence and validity as a law!
What are you saying here, WVO, that you don’t believe that Marxism provides the basis for grasping the laws of development of all things in nature and society? Is not dialectical materialism a part, a fundamental component part, of Marxism? Is Mao Tsetung wrong when he says that “Dialectical materialism is universally true because it is impossible for anyone to escape from its domain in practice”? Is Mao wrong when he states that Marxism “embraces but cannot replace the atomic and electronic theories in physics”? Is Engels wrong when he argues that “modern materialism is essentially dialectic, and no longer requires the assistance of that sort of philosophy which, queen-like, pretended to rule the remaining mob of sciences. As soon as each special science is bound to make clear its position in the great totality of things and of our knowledge of things, a special science dealing with this totality is superfluous or unnecessary. That which still survives of all earlier philosophy is the science of thought and its laws–formal logic and dialectics. Everything else is subsumed in the positive science of Nature and history.” (Socialism: Utopian and Scientific)
Do not all these statements indicate that Marxism is indeed a “guide ” to grasp the laws governing the development of all things in nature and society? Are there some things in nature and society whose motion and development contradict the laws of dialectical and historical materialism? Of course, different phenomena have their specific laws, but all these are encompassed by the basic laws of dialectical materialism–which is exactly why it is a guide to ”grasping the laws of development of all things in nature and society.”
Does the working class not need to grasp these basic principles and apply them to specific phenomena in order to transform the world–both society and nature? Do you object to this? Apparently you do. What incredible narrowness and mutilation of Marxism–from the “leading theoreticians” of the U.S. revolutionary movement! Evidently your line is: “theory”–i.e., dogma–for yourselves, the “saviors,” the “initiated,” and ignorance for the masses.
This same narrowness and an unmistakable incapacity to see beyond the limitations of capitalist society is revealed in another way WVO responds to this passage in the Revolution article dealing with the role of Marxism as a guide to action. The Revolution article states that grasping Marxism enables the working class to “carry forward the world-historical task of wiping out capitalism and achieving communism and advancing mankind’s struggle against nature (for production) and its struggle to develop science (scientific experimentation) to a whole new stage.”
In quoting part of this sentence, WVO places not one but three exclamation points behind the word “mankind’s.” Unless WVO objects to the use of “mankind” on the basis of bourgeois feminism–which can be assumed is not the case, giving WVO credit for making much greater deviations than that–then these exclamation points must indicate that WVO thinks that the world “proletariat” should have been substituted for the word “mankind.” In that case–and if that is not the case then there is no meaning to these “!!!”–WVO is totally incorrect and shows itself to be completely opposed to Marxism. First, do you think, WVO, that under communism there will still be a proletariat, still be classes? That, indeed, would be a new addition and creative contribution to Marxist theory, since previously all Marxists have held that communism is exactly classless society.
Or do you think that it is incorrect to speak of “mankind’s” struggle for production and scientific experimentation now, because we still live in class society? Should we speak only of the proletariat–and other exploited classes in today’s world–carrying out this struggle? If that is what you mean, it only shows that you have not even grasped a fundamental principle of Marxism–that human society (“mankind”), in whatever form at whatever stage of development, is fundamentally an organized way that its members carry out the production and exchange of the material requirements of life; that corresponding to certain stages in the development of the productive forces, people enter into certain productive relations; and further, that the struggle for production (and scientific experimentation) has been carried out by mankind before classes developed and will be carried out, on a far higher plane, after classes have been eliminated.
Would you, WVO, also like to insert your three exclamation points behind the word “mankind” in the following statements by Mao and Engels?–“The epoch of world communism will be reached when all mankind voluntarily and consciously changes itself and the world” (Mao, On Practice); “...Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc....” (Engels, Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx).
To object to the use of the word “mankind” here is to object to basic principles of Marxism, and to historical materialism in particular. It is, as stated before, to be completely incapable of seeing beyond the frontiers of capitalism and class society, incapable of recognizing the material foundation of capitalism–and society generally–incapable of placing capitalism in its correct historical context. It is to be incapable of seeing that, as Marx wrote, “scientific analysis of the capitalist mode of production demonstrates the contrary, that it is a mode of production of a special kind, with specific historical features; that, like any other specific mode of production, it presupposes a given level of the social productive forces and their forms of development as its historical precondition: a precondition which is itself the historical result and product of a preceding process, and from which the new mode of production proceeds as its given basis....” (Capital, Vol. 3, p. 878)
In other words, it is because mankind has carried out the struggle for production (and scientific experimentation)–and also, of course, that the class struggle has been carried forward to achieve higher forms of productive relations, and organization of society as a whole, further liberating the productive forces, from one stage of society to the next–that the material basis of capitalism exists and that capitalism can be superceded by a higher form of society, communism, which will combine a high level of development of the productive forces with social organization of production unfettered by class relations of exploitation, will be based on a high level of culture and consciousness in society as a whole and will open the way to tremendous and increasing development of the material and cultural level of society. WVO cannot see all this because their outlook is characterized by idealism and metaphysics, and they cannot see beyond the confines of capitalism.
The philosophical foundation on which WVO’s opportunism rests is its distortion of the correct, Marxist theory of knowledge and the relation between theory and practice. In its response to the Revolution article, WVO insists that “There is no such thing as proceeding from the abstract.” This is by way of attacking the need to study theory “in its own right,” as laid out in the Revolution article. Now it may seem strange that WVO, itself a devoted disciple of the school of theory “for its own sake”– which the Revolution article contrasts with “in its own right” (more on this shortly)–should attack the formulation “in its own right.” But in fact, this is totally consistent with WVO’s whole warped view.
To WVO, theory is itself “concrete,” it cannot be “abstract.” WVO tries to muddy the waters for a while with talk about not “proceeding from the abstract,” (our emphasis) but then they get around to saying straight out that only pragmatists “treat it [theory] as abstractions.” But theory is exactly abstraction– the abstraction and generalization of the material world, the synthesis in the mind of the objective world perceived through the senses. That theory is not abstraction would certainly come as a surprise to Mao and Lenin, for in On Practice Mao quotes Lenin as follows: “’The abstraction of matter, of a law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short, all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely.’” (emphasis, parenthesis, by Lenin)
Of course, as Lenin points out elsewhere, “truth is always concrete, never abstract.” (Collected Works, Vol. 32, p. 94) What Lenin means here is that truth can only be arrived at by the method he termed the “living soul of Marxism”–the “concrete analysis of concrete conditions.” But this in no way contradicts the actual process of cognition which, as Lenin states, proceeds as follows, “from the concrete to the abstract...From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice-such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality.” (Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 171) Again, clearly theory is exactly abstraction, and if this leap is not made–along with the leap back to practice–there is no way to arrive at truth, a correct understanding of the real world, and no way to change it in accordance with the laws governing it.
What Lenin and Mao emphasize and what WVO fails miserably to grasp, is that laws, theory, are developed by a leap in the process of cognition, from perceptual to rational. If theory were “concrete,” as WVO presents it, then there would not be rational knowledge, theory would not and could not “reflect nature more deeply, truly, and completely,” as Lenin insists. In short, there would be no difference between perceptual and rational knowledge. Everything would be both perceptual and rational at the same time, and therefore neither. This view is exactly the reactionary philosophical principle of “combining two into one,” in place of the materialist dialectical principle of “one divides into two.” And this is exactly the reactionary philosophy embraced by WVO.
In a number of his works, Mao stresses that the process of cognition involves leaps–first from perceptual to rational, from matter to ideas, and then from ideas back to matter–from rational knowledge back to the practice of changing the objective world. Those who do not understand this process, and specifically do not understand that theory and practice represent separate stages in the process of cognition, that there is a leap from the one to the other, do not understand how practice leads to the development of theory and in turn how theory leads back to practice on a higher level. Or, as Mao puts it, they fail to “comprehend that matter can be transformed into consciousness and consciousness into matter, although such leaps are phenomena of everyday life.” Mao stresses that “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”–“summing up experience”–Mao Tsetung, too, must be an empiricist! (See Mao’s “Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?”)
WVO does not understand all this, so they combine theory and practice, two-into-one, which is why they, on the one hand, attack the line of studying theory “in its own right”–as laws abstracted from particular phenomena of practical life–and on the other hand pervert the process of applying theory to practice. What this means for WVO and where it leads them can be seen in their statement that “general theory itself is highly concrete” and, as some kind of amplification of this, “the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat [is] itself highly concrete.” Perhaps this is why WVO, when it does deign to “intervene” in practical struggles, insists on passing out leaflets to the workers combining a laundry list of demands–most of them “good Ideas”– with stereotyped, dogmatic rhetoric about the Idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat–as for example in the strike of auto workers last year, when WVO, besides putting forward demands such as 15-minute wash up time, no layoffs, complete job security, etc., informed the auto workers that forming a “Bolshevik” type party was on the order of the day and “the Party must lead the battle for the six-hour day and carry out the immediate preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Since to WVO ideas and objective reality combine into one and all ideas are “concrete,” then the idea of the “immediate preparation” for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is just as concrete to strikers as their strike and its real demands. (These leaflets hit the ground in droves, prompting some to say that WVO was trying to get strikers busted for littering–but we believe WVO’s line is responsible, not direct police ties.)
To sum this up, from matter to consciousness–and from consciousness to matter–involves a leap. If no leap is made, if theory is not treated as, in Lenin’s words, “abstractions” that “reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely,” then there is no way theory can be grasped and applied in practice–which involves another leap. As the Revolution article on the theoretical struggle stresses, “How can theory be applied if it is not studied, how can it be applied well if it is not studied deeply and consistently?”
Studying theory “in its own right,” which WVO so bitterly and woefully attacks, means studying the basic laws, the universal principles of Marxism, as abstractions reflecting nature (and society) in a concentrated way, not to break the link between theory and practice, turning theory into dogma, something “for its own sake,” but to carry out more correctly the dialectic from practice to theory and back to practice, so that as fully as possible we conform our thinking and action to the principles summarized by Mao in On Practice: “Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and objective world. Practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge. This form repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of practice and knowledge rises to a higher level. Such is the whole of the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge, and such is the dialectical-materialist theory of the unity of knowing and doing.”
And such is the basic law which WVO consistently and completely violates. Thus, despite its pompous proclamations that it is “the only organization that can provide leadership” for the working class and oppressed nationalities, WVO is utterly incapable of leading anyone under its influence anywhere but backward, away from the goal of revolution. And, despite its name, it is clear that this organization represents not the viewpoint of the working class, but that of the petty bourgeoisie, which is held down by the existing order and lashes out against it, but is incapable of seeing beyond–let alone leading the masses beyond the framework of the capitalist system and which, in pursuit of its own narrow interests, declares itself the savior of the masses, and demands that the masses elevate it as such.
But despite WVO, and against it–and other, far more formidable, foes–Marxism is bound to take root more deeply in the working class and among the masses generally, as the Party deepens its grasp of Marxism and its ability to concretely apply it to leading mass struggle, and ever greater numbers of workers and others oppressed by the ruling class are armed with this science and use it as a guide to acting to achieve their own emancipation and the emancipation of all mankind from the fetters of class society.