Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Cynthia Lai

The Role of Practice in the Marxist Theory of Knowledge

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First Published: The 80’s, Vol. II, No 1, January-February 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.


By applying the general lessons of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of the U.S. revolution, General Secretary Jerry Tung has developed four tasks, to be carried out simultaneously by the party in the coming period, as the way to prepare for socialist revolution.

1) We must reach out to the majority of the American people. The party will continue to broaden out on all fronts. Party members must break new paths by engaging in pacesetting struggles within and outside of existing areas of work to reach out to new fighters across the country. Along with our independent work, the party will participate in united fronts, and through the policy of unity and struggle, reach out to all strata of the American people. We will continue to pursue work among our friends in the media as a means to use part of the capitalists’ own superstructure and independent sources to create public opinion for the party.
2) We must participate in local and national struggles, and through agitation, swing the mood of the majority and change the political scenery.
3) We must build our existing cadre core into a vanguard mass communist party through meticulous Marxist education and propaganda work.
4) We must effect all around military preparations for the coming revolutionary situation ahead.” (Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 41, page 2)

These four political tasks are a sketch of where the party is at, where the bourgeoisie and the masses are at, and what is needed for the coming period as part of the immediate, systematic and all-rounded preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat in this country.

Defeat Metaphysics & Idealism to Resolutely Fulfill the Party’s Tasks

The question now is implementation. However, there are socially conditioned philosophical tendencies that will hinder it and restrict the firing power of the exploited, particularly its vanguard party.

One tendency is metaphysics, seeing things only in absolute yes or no, black or white, good or evil terms. This can result from inexperience. But no matter what the cause, comrades with a metaphysical tendency cannot correctly coordinate and implement a number of necessary tasks simultaneously. When they engage in national campaigns, they liquidate all the work in different industrial and community concentrations and the day-to-day work with the masses. When they do propaganda, they won’t lead struggles.

The other tendency is idealism, the non-materialist tendency. This can also result from inexperience. Lacking confidence, some comrades say, “I am not sure if I can handle it,” or “I am not that sure of the consequences of the line.” But idealism is common mainly among intellectuals trained to think abstractly rather than dealing with real life. An example is the fear that making our party into a communist mass party might turn it social-democratic by lowering membership standards. Another example is not fully appreciating the political situation and not stepping up military preparation even though this is still a period of political offensive and military defensive. These political tendencies result in the spirit of hesitancy, procrastination in practice and lack of boldness to push out to the American people.

To all these comrades we have one piece of advice: “DO IT”. Put it into practice and persevere in it to the end and you will find out if you can do it or not, and if the lines and policies are correct. This is completely different from Abbie Hoffman’s self-cultivational and pragmatic “do it” philosophy. Here, we are talking about the Marxist theory of knowledge, the historical and immediate value of practice, which comrades with strong idealist and metaphysical tendencies don’t understand. We are writing this article on the role of practice in the Marxist theory of knowledge to ideologically and philosophically strengthen the comrades’ ability to fight the bourgeoisie.

Four Functions of Practice in the Marxist Theory of Knowledge

Practice is very crucial if we are going to learn anything at all. First of all, practice is the source of all knowledge, past, present and future. Secondly, practice is the motive force in the development of knowledge. Thirdly, practice is the criterion to measure the correctness of any knowledge. And last, practice is also the objective of knowledge. We will elaborate on these points.

Fundamental Aspect–Practice is the Source of All Knowledge

First of all, Marxists recognize that practice is the source of all knowledge. In the beginning, man did not know that fire burns until he was burned by it. You cannot learn to swim without actually plunging into the water. We won’t know how to lead a struggle without actually leading it. These simple examples show that without actually doing something, there is no knowledge. Of course there is such a thing as book knowledge, knowledge from tradition, etc. But in the final analysis, they all result from the practice of other people. That’s why practice is the source of all knowledge.

Where does the knowledge come from, that we have to reach out to the majority, to build a communist mass party, to do agitation and carry out action and prepare militarily? Are they products of the General Secretary’s imagination? Obviously not. They are the summation of the bourgeoisie’s practice in advanced capitalist countries and in the U.S. in particular. This knowledge is also the summation of the practice of the proletariat and its parties in these countries. Learning from their practice we can avoid making the same mistakes, as well as learn from their strengths and further develop them. In addition, the four tasks were formulated as a result of the direct practice of the party, the masses and the bourgeoisie in the last two years, and particularly after the murders of the CWP 5 qualitatively changed the political scenery in this country.

The same process goes for the busing line put forth by Jerry Tung at least six years ago. He said that as a whole busing has nothing to do with improving the education either working class white children or black children. It is a scheme by the bourgeoisie to divide the working class and usher in fascism.

Where did this knowledge come from? Again, it is based on the Marxist understanding of how the bourgeoisie rules in capitalist countries, and the concrete practice of the party in the so-called “community control” in New York City’s School District One. This scheme of seemingly giving local control in education actually served to split the community along race lines and split parents from teachers. Now, six years later, the passage of events in Boston, in Canarsie, N.Y., and in Los Angeles have confirmed the correctness of that analysis even more.

Marxism itself is not the product of the deep thinking of the geniuses of Marx and Engels. The three component parts of Marxism–political economy, dialectical and historical materialism, and scientific socialism, are products of the summation of the practice of the masses and ruling classes in different societies and especially under capitalism. Marx and Engels are worthy of being called geniuses only because they correctly summed up this practice into a system of thought able to guide the action of the oppressed class and move history forward.

All these examples show that man’s knowledge results from practice, whether in class struggle, the struggle for production or scientific experiment. Some knowledge results from direct experience. As Mao said,

Hence, a man’s knowledge consists only of two parts, that which conies from direct experience, and that which comes from indirect experience. Moreover, what is indirect for me is direct experience for other people. Consequently, considered as a whole, knowledge of any kind is inseparable from direct experience. (On Practice)

That’s why we say practice is the source, the origin of all knowledge. Though indirect experiences are already recorded in books and traditions and are invaluable sources of knowledge, this is only a tributary, based on the same source of direct experience. For this reason practice assumes a fundamental role in the Marxist theory of knowledge.

The Struggle Between Materialism And Idealism Is A Class Struggle

Though idealist arguments vary in form, they all deny the primacy of the role of social practice in the process of learning and that matter exists independently of man’s subjective feeling or understanding. The recognition that “being determines consciousness” and that “man’s knowledge is a reflection of reality” is what separates a materialist from an idealist. Idealists believe that knowledge comes before material reality, that ideas precede reality. Some believe that wisdom or knowledge is a gift from God, or people are simply born with it.

Only the materialist can give a correct understanding of the relationship between being and consciousness. As Lenin said, “Materialism in general recognizes objectively real being (matter) as independent of consciousness, sensation, experience. . .consciousness is only the reflection of being, at best, an approximately true (adequate, ideally exact) reflection of it.” (Lenin, “Materialism and Empiro-Criticism,” Collected Works, Vol. 14) Or as Engels said, “the material sensuously perceptible world to which we ourselves belong is the only reality,... Our consciousness and thinking, however supra-sensuous they may seem, are a product of a material, bodily organ, the brain. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter.” (Marx and Engels, “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy,” Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 348)

Summing up the historical debate, Engels said, “the great basic question of all philosophy, especially of more recent philosophy, is that concerning the relation of thinking to being.. .the relation of spirit to nature.. .which is primary, spirit or nature.. .The answers which philosophers gave to this question split them into two great camps. Those who asserted the primacy of spirit to nature, and therefore, in the last instance, assumed world creation in some form or other.. .comprised the school of idealism. The others, who regarded nature as primary belong to the various schools of materialism.” (ibid., pp. 345-346)

While the struggle over this question takes philosophical form, it is not an academic question. Rather, it reflects the struggle between two classes, between the oppressor and oppressed class. T justify their exploiting and oppressing other classes, the exploiting class in all countries at all times pushes idealism. Shockley, the reactionary scientist from Harvard, tried to prove the existence of a superior white race and an inferior black race based on genetics. Though it takes a supposedly scientific form, by making believe that wisdom is inherent in your genes, it is out and out idealism. Even though Shockley is a standard joke among serious scientists, this reactionary idealist view justifies the U.S. bourgeoisie’s oppression of blacks. No wonder Shockley is the darling of the U.S. bourgeoisie. Hitler would have loved him.

Social Darwinists also take the Darwinian theory of evolution out of context, and preach the application of the survival of the fittest to human society. Through it they justify wars of aggression and exploitation of man by man as natural phenomena. The fact that people are being oppressed makes it their own problem. They argue that it is just natural that some make it and some don’t. Catholicism, as well as Confucianism, an ideology of the slavocracy, preaches the theory of heavenly mandate. The kings, the landlords, the masters are above you because heaven wants them so, and people better accept their oppression willingly. It is also no wonder that Catholicism and Confucianism are preserved for thousands of years after they first appeared. They are preserved by the ruling classes to justify their exploitation.

The oppressed classes–the slaves, the serfs, the proletariat–have in practice defied this idealist philosophy that serves to keep them down. They have fought throughout history against the oppressing classes that live off their labor.

For instance, the Shah of Iran was a nobody without the Iranian people. But the Iranian people are everything without the Shah. The people in a number of third world countries have kicked out the imperialists and declared themselves masters of their homeland. Liberation struggles–a tremendous movement pushing history forward–also make it very clear who depends on whom. It is surely not the workers and third would countries who depend on the imperialists but vice versa.

Armed by its vanguard party with the philosophical weapon of dialectical materialism and taking up arms to overthrow the bloodsucking imperialists, the workers will build a new world without exploitation of man by man.

The struggle between materialism and idealism is a life and death struggle with tremendous implications in class struggle. Idealism within the party–not understanding the material basis for the development of society and why political economy is one of the key theoretical bases of our lines or approaching political work from concepts rather than the concrete situation–leads to the spirit of hesitancy and not implementing the line. This results in stalling the proletariat’s awakening and the seizure of state power for workers’ rule. That’s why if we don’t do it, we can’t make it.

From Little to More Knowledge, From Raw Data to Concepts, From Perceptual to Rational–The Process of Development of Knowledge

To recognize that matter precedes consciousness is still not yet to be a true materialist. Because this still does not explain how knowledge is gained. Why do different people facing the same phenomena come up with different conclusions? Why are things not known by our ancestors known today? This is explained by the process of learning from practice to theory, and from theory back to practice.

All knowledge begins with the first step of the collection of raw data, of isolated facts and incidents man encounters in the course of social practice. The brain’s reflection of the physical contact between the five senses and this objective data is called perceptual knowledge.

There can be no deeper knowledge without perceptual knowledge. Take the discovery of fire. From thousands of years of repeated practice, man collects the raw data that fire burns. Through man’s thinking process, man uses this data to form the concept of the destructiveness of fire. Then through thousands of years of more repeated practice, using fire in different conditions–such as tasting the cooked meat of animals after a forest fire–man is able to interpret the different aspects of fire and their relationship. He is then able to go beyond the appearance of the destructiveness of fire to see also its usefulness.

This more comprehensive synthesis of what fire is all about is called rational knowledge or generalized knowledge or simply theory. This is how knowledge develops from perceptual to rational, from little to more, from one-sided to all-sided, and from practice to theory, moving society forward each step of the way. So perceptual knowledge has to be raised to rational knowledge, and rational knowledge is useful only because it is based on perceptual knowledge which in turn is the result of the collection of a lot of raw materials based on concrete social practice. This is the dialectical relationship between the two kinds of knowledge. And the more and better the perceptual knowledge based on direct concrete practice, the deeper and more correct is the generalized knowledge.

The process of this transformation is carried out by the brain. To a certain extent, this process resembles how a factory turns raw materials like cotton into manufactured goods. How good a piece of cloth comes out depends on the quality of the cotton, and the different types of cotton you can choose from. And cotton is of little value if not transformed into clothes. In man’s learning process, the brain is the factory. The possession of a brain that can analyze, interpret, synthesize and sum up is what distinguishes man from animal.

This is not the same as the “genius line” propagated by idealists. On the contrary, man’s subjective ability to learn is itself a product of practice. Man gets wiser as more problems are tackled and resolved, which also increases the ability to solve new problems. In this process of problem-solving based on practice, incorrect ideas in our thinking will be discarded. The removal of these barriers will increase our learning ability, with our knowledge coming closer and closer to reality. That’s why materialists believe in changing the subjective world in the process of changing the objective world, and ideological remolding is not a self-cultivational type of soul-searching, but a byproduct of engaging in class struggle. So if you don’t “do it” in class struggle, your knowledge can’t be deepened, and especially your ability to carry it out won’t be sharpened.

Mao describes this process of turning perceptual knowledge into rational knowledge with the following words, “Fully to reflect a thing in its totality, to reflect its essence, to reflect its inherent laws, it is necessary through the exercise of thought to reconstruct the rich data of sense perception, discarding the dross and selecting the essential, eliminating the false and retaining the true, proceeding from the one to the other and from the outside to the inside, in order to form a system of concepts and theories–it is necessary to make a leap from perceptual to rational knowledge.” (On Practice) So there is no easy road to knowledge. It takes a lot of hard work, not just in terms of collecting a lot of raw data through painstaking research and investigation, but even more work afterwards so that the qualitative leap from perceptual to rational knowledge can take place.

Stand, Viewpoint and Method In Learning

Now the question we have to ask is, why is it that presented with the same data about what is happening in the world and in this country, Jerry Tung, the General Secretary of the CWP, could come up with the line that the U.S. bourgeoisie is weaker than ever, but Klonsky of the Communist Party, Marxist-Leninist (CPML) and all sorts of revisionists, as well as Trotskyite Bob Avakian who holds the two worlds line would sum up that “U.S. imperialism is stronger than he thinks,” that “capitalism won’t go away for a long, long time to come?” The answer is, the conclusions one draws from any experience depends what the stand, viewpoint and method he or she employs. In Workers Viewpoint Journal No. 4, written in 1976, in the article, “PRRWO: Anarcho-Socialism U.S.A.,” General Secretary Jerry Tung said in learning, “first we have to understand the question of for whom, which is the question of stand, the most fundamental question for all communists. Communists work for the interests of the vast majority. The proletariat is the last class arid the most advanced class. The proletariat cannot emancipate itself, without emancipating all classes. .. .The proletariat, stemming from this historical role is the most far-sighted and most broad minded.”

Viewpoint is the reflection of reality through our thoughts. A viewpoint, therefore, is not simply a direct representation of external reality. It is rather a product of dynamic process of association, induction, etc. – a “judgement” or “interpretation of reality,” one can call it, through preconceived concepts and ideas. For that reason, viewpoints are finished products of man’s thinking. Any viewpoint is already stamped with the brand of a definite class and serves the interest of a definite class.

Method refers both to methods of knowing the world as well as methods of changing the world. The only correct method is dialectical materialism. It is the method of seeking truth form facts, through repeated analysis, distinguishing the appearance form the essence, eliminating the dross from the genuine, proceeding from the one to the other, using class analysis to grasp the principal contradiction, and its concrete relation to secondary contradictions, detecting trends and tendencies, etc. to evaluate a thing and to change it accordingly.

The concrete combinations of stand, viewpoint and method give rise to the people’s different analyses and syntheses when confronted with the same phenomenon.

Putting man’s knowledge in the context of man’s class position, in historical and social context, as well as its internal and external motion and their relationship, that is, its dialectics is what make Marxist philosophy – also called dialectical and historical materialism – different from Feuerbach-type materialism – called mechanical materialism. His brand of materialism, though it made a tremendous contribution to the struggle against idealism, erred in putting man’s practice and knowledge out of class and historical perspective. It sees knowledge as man’s passive reflection of reality, just an image in a mirror. Mao said,“before Marx, materialism examined the problem of knowledge apart from its historical development, and was therefore incapable of understanding the dependence of knowledge on social practice, that is the dependence of knowledge on production and the class struggle.” (On Practice) With the Marxist theory of knowledge, we know that^ the bourgeoisie could never understand the strength of the proletariat and socialism. Blinded by its own class stand, viewpoint and method, it believes it is an invincible class destined to rule the world forever. Now people understand why Klonsky and Avakian and company – who came from a petty-bourgeois background isolated from the actual practice of the proletariat and who have not consciously worked hard to adopt the stand, viewpoint and method of the proletariat can only sum up the present situation with all the liberal petty bourgeois prejudices typical of their class. They long to become part of the oppressors and their indignation is only a reaction to their class interest being squashed. They can only be awed at capitalism’s seeming might and superficial glamor. So instead of carrying out the four simultaneous tasks developed by Jerry Tung to prepare for the revolutionary period ahead, Klonsky, Avakian and co. can only say that since capitalism is so strong, revolution is not an immediate question. Feinting at first to the “left” and swinging back to the right, they repudiate the previous right lines as “ultra-left” and want to effect changes from within the capitalist system and hope to get a piece of the pie from the bourgeoisie.

Knowledge is Both Relative and Absolute

From the process of knowledge developing from perceptual to rational, we can see that any knowledge, no matter now comprehensive, is relative truth. As the process of practice and investigation deepens and is repeated, knowledge will get even deeper. Thus it is relative to what we will know in the future. So the four tasks are the best synthesis the General Secretary could develop given the circumstances. The formulation will definitely deepen with the changing of the Party, working class consciousness, the economic crisis and the changing tactics of the bourgeoisie as his understanding develops summing up direct and indirect experiences. By saying that these tasks are only relatively correct, in relation to the future, we at the same time are upholding that they are absolute truth at this given moment for lack of a better synthesis around. Recognizing both the absoluteness as well as the relativeness of knowledge is the only correct way to look at it. Since absolute truth is the sum total of all relative truths, relative truths all contain elements of absolute truths. So any truth inevitably possesses this dual character. This dual character is inherent in the knowledge that truth is developed through a process of synthesis of past lessons and repeated practice from raw data to formulation of concepts and to theories, of general knowledge.

This is the same way we look at the correctness of Marxism. On the one hand we recognize it as absolute truth in relation to all other theories and philosophies around. At the same time, we also recognize the fact that due to historical limitations, neither Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin nor Mao could have forseen what is going to come up in future socialist revolutions and workers rule. Some of their formulations will be either proven wrong or be further developed and elaborated by future generations of Marxists. Thus Marxism will keep on developing and each step is a step closer to the absolute truth.

Relativism and Absolutism are Idealist Outlooks

Both relativism and absolutism are manifestations of idealism. Both do not see that man’s social practice is the basis of all knowledge. Materialist see that since man’s social practice has no end; neither does the quest and development of knowledge. In this sense all present knowledge is only relatively correct. Materialists see that man’s social practice is very concrete, in a definite time, place and condition, and knowledge gained at that specific moment is also absolutely correct until some other more correct understanding comes about.

Both relativism and absolutism give rise to determinism. The relativist will argue that since there ’is no limit to knowledge, there is no way we could ever learn the complete truth. Since no one can learn any complete truth, what is the difference between knowing a little versus knowing a little more? The relativist argues that, in the final analysis, we are still being controlled by the unknown, and everything depends on our luck and fate. Politically, it is like saying that since under socialism there is still commodity production, still differences between the city and the countryside, between mental and manual labor, differences in wages, in distribution and still certain kinds of inequalities, and the danger of restoration of capitalism, there is no use to make socialist revolution. So let capitalism stay on. This is their conclusion.

As Lenin said, in “On the Question of Dialectics,” “The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics, there is an absolute WITHIN the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, pp. 362-363)

Absolutists, on the other hand, will argue differently, but only in form. Denying that knowledge develops as man’s social practice develops, they fix on a particular accomplishment at a given point in time.

The U.S. ruling class loves to use absolutism to dope the working class. Right after the murder of the CWP 5, Cone’s Granite Mill where Jim Waller was president of the union local, put out a newsletter trying to calm down the sentiment of the workers there. In it they said, though you might still have a lot of complaints, the U.S. is still the best country in the world and U.S. workers are still the best paid. By this, they try to tell workers that they already have the best, so don’t try to overthrow anything since it could only be worse! So though absolutism and relativism might sound different in their arguments, they are only two sides of the same coin, reflecting a non-materialist understanding of the theory of knowledge.

Nihilism – Relativism the American Way

The tendency to see everything only in relative terms has a strong tradition in this country. Expressed in the form of nihilism, it rejects all authority, organization, values, traditions and all standard of right and wrong. Nihilism glorifies amorphousness and rejects definiteness.

Nihilists see that no one can be overall correct. This violates the basic law of the materialist theory of knowledge, that there is an objective criteria for truth. The nihilists are typical idealists. This is the ideological basis for anarchism, a concentrated expression of individualism, the extreme revelativism of the nihilist feeds this individualism. What nihilists end up with is the sole criteria of “whatever I feel is good is good, and whatever I think is right is right.”

In the nihilist’s world, personal survival becomes everything – with no standard of right and wrong. Reaching its highest point today in the midst of social, political and economic crisis, the narcissism of the ’me generation” of the 70’s has become the hard core dog-eat-dog nihilism of the 80’s. It is marked by its cowardice and total lack of principles.

The 60’s and 70’s saw the development of that tendency. “Do your own thing” initially started as a justified response to the bourgeoisie’s oppressive institutions and its war in Vietnam. But it was co-opted by the same bourgeoisie who saw this movement of “rejection” as a valuable asset to prevent the emergence of definite leaders, definite organizations, and definite values and trends that the younger generation could hold onto. This is how the counter-culture turned into the “me generation” where the role of the individual, the role of feelings was promoted to the point of absurdity and the drug culture added fuel to the fire.

Though pragmatism is also a very strong ideological tendency in the U.S. that uses personal gratification as the only measure for right and wrong, before the 60’s, at least there were other social values guiding judgement as well. Today, most standards are gone, creating a vacuum of moral authority and leaving the people leaderless.

Growing up in the era of the 60’s and 70’s, young comrades in the Party and the different movements are inevitably also strongly affected by this nihilist tendency. This is one of the main reasons that it is not an easy task to establish moral authority among the American people. This is also the reason why many comrades suffer from the spirit of hesitancy in recognizing the correctness of the Party’s line and policies and the lack of boldness to implement them in struggles. At a time when the American people as a whole are disorientated and looking for definite leadership and answers, this spirit of procrastination in the Party is very dangerous. To put it bluntly, it could lead to the slaughter of Party members and the masses by the increasingly desperate bourgeoisie. Therefore, it is essential to combat the tendency of seeing everything as only relatively correct, objectively recognizing nothing as correct to justify no “taking a stand” on anything. At the same time we also have to struggle against the tendency to see everything as absolutely, immutably correct at all time leading to shallow complacency and deadly routinism, not able to creatively developing the line further for the proletariat.

Criticizing this tendency to see everything only as relative truth, Jerry Tung wrote, “The weaknesses in stand with the party also inevitably shows itself in the spirit of hesitancy in pushing out the party’s line. It proceeds from doubt rather than unity by mixing up the fact that the line will always further develop (since it is the nature of knowledge) on the one hand the absolute correct nature of the party’s line in relation to all existing opportunist lines and organizations. The correctness of line will always further develop. The process is endless and only in that sense knowledge and the correctness of the party’s line is relative. But at any given time the correctness of line is absolute. Without a firm and absolute stand with the party’s line at any given time will lead to a spirit of hesitancy in implementing the party’s line. But one cannot understand the line without pushing it into practice, by biting into it. This lack of stand, absolute stand, with the line at any given point will lead to not implementing the line in full force and therefore never get to the point of understanding the party’s line rationally. Over a span of time, comrades with this idealist and metaphysical view of lines will weaken their stand with the party.”

At given times “... for this, strict adherence and absolute obedience to implementing the party’s decisions and policies is necessary. This is what the party’s organizational principle of democratic centralism is all about.”

Theory Is Useful Only If It Is Being Put Back Into Practice. Practice Is The Aim of Knowledge

Does knowledge stop after the knowledge is transformed from perceptual to rational, from practice to theory?. Definitely not. You take all the effort to learn a language because you want to able to speak and write that language. You learn recipes in order to cook good food. These are just day to day examples to show that people learn things in order to use them. Therefore, to learn in order to practice is another basic characteristic of the Marxist theory of knowledge. We learn about the world, not to contemplate the world, but to change it. So Marxism in the final analysis is a theory of action, not of word.

Marxists emphasize practice as the aim of knowledge because of the inherent characteristic of practice itself. Marx said practice is higher knowledge because it not only has universal character, but also the character of immediate realization. The universality of practice means that within practice, there are the elements of commonality and generality. Applied under the same conditions, in the process of practice, it will generate the same law and yield the same result, since practice has the advantage of universality, theories produced from practice and that reflect objective matter also have universality. They can be used to guide the work in general. However, theories are still subjective. They do not have the characteristic of immediate, realization. Only practice has the quality of becoming a material force. Therefore, theories must be grasped by the masses, and turned into a material force to change the world through man’s social activities. Other than that, theories have no meaning to the working class. We place such important emphasis on the role of theory in revolutionary practice only for this reason. On this question, Mao said,

Marxist philosophy holds that the most important problem does not lie in understanding the laws of the objective world and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world. From the Marxist viewpoint, theory’s important, and its importance is fully expressed in Lenin’s statement, ’without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movements.’ But Marxism emphasizes the importance of theory precisely and only because it can guide action. If we have a correct theory but merely prate about it, pigeonhole it and do not put it into practice, then that theory, however good, is of no significance. Knowledge begins with practice, and must then return to practice. The active function of knowledge manifests itself not only in the active leap from perceptual to rational knowledge, but – and this is more important – it must manifest itself in the leap from rational knowledge to revolutionary practice. The knowledge which grasps the laws of the world, must be applied anew in the practice of production, in the practice of revolutionary class struggle, and revolutionary national struggle and in the practice of scientific experiment. This is the process of testing and developing theory, the continuation of the whole process of cognition. (On Practice, Mao, Selected Readings, 1976)

Practice Is The Criterion to Measure Truth

Another reason Marxists put more emphasis on this second leap is because all theories have to be tested, and further developed. The only criterion to the correctness and incorrectness of the line can only be practice. And only practice can be the motive force to further develop any knowledge.

How do we know that Lenin’s line on how to seize power in Russia was correct? Well, under the guidance of Lenin’s lines, Russia succeeded in becoming the first country to establish socialism.

How do we know Mao’s line to seize power in China was correct? Well, its correctness was likewise tested by the success of the Chinese revolution. We also know that the General Secretary’s analysis of what busing is all about under bourgeois democracy – fascization – is proven from the practice of the masses, from the kind of chauvinism and narrow nationalism that got whipped up among whites and blacks respectively. We also know that the period to stress biting into the different streamlets of class struggle was correct through the party’s practice. Based on this line developed in late 1977, the party began to sink roots in the working class concentrations. Also during this period, the party learned first hand the particular laws about different movements and how to lead those movements correctly based on the party’s general line. For example, from the practice in those years, we learned how to use union leadership positions correctly to correspond with the work in the base among the rank and file, build factory nuclei and lead workers’ struggles from above and below.

Marx said, “Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradiction of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces, and the relations of production.” (“Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy”, Marx and Engels Selected Works, Vol. 1 pg. 504) What Marx was trying to say is that the criteria to measure any knowledge cannot be such things as personal satisfaction, agreement by the majority, or that , it conforms to past views. Since knowledge is a reflection of nature (objective matter) by man’s brain, which is subjective, we cannot use one’s own feelings to measure the correctness of subjective ideas. On the other hand, the objective matter itself also cannot give an answer to whether man has understood it correctly or not. A pear can’t tell you how it tastes, nor can a fire tell what it is going to do. Therefore, the criteria to measure the correctness of knowledge has to be something that can link the subjective knowledge with objective reality.

Practice is the only link. Since practice is the subjective expressed in the objective, it is the only thing that can bridge the two. Therefore, only when knowledge is being put back into practice, through the process of changing objective matter, can we – using the result of his practice – sum up if the knowledge is correct, incorrect, and further perfect our understanding. To make a long argument short, if you want to see how well you have learned French, you go and talk with a Frenchman.

And in the process of testing our knowledge, in general, an idea which yields a predicted objective is considered a correct idea. An idea that does not give the predicted result is wrong.

On the question of testing of rational knowledge, Mao continued, “The problem of whether theory corresponds to objective reality is not and cannot be completely solved in the movement of knowledge from the perceptual to the rational. The only way to solve this problem is to redirect rational knowledge to social practice, apply theory to practice and see whether it can achieve the objectives one has in mind.” (“On Practice”)

Practice Is the Motive Force to Develop Line and Knowledge

This brings us to the fourth role of practice in the Marxist theory of knowledge, that practice is also the motive force in the further development of knowledge. Because society develops and moves, in the process of man’s social practice to change nature and society, as soon as old questions are solved, new questions arise demanding new answers. Engels once said that if a society demands a certain technology, this demand will advance science more easily than ten universities.

For example, Lenin applied the generalized truths of Marx and Engels to the practice of the Russian revolution. Inspired by this great success, the Chinese people followed the Bolsheviks. But China, being a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country was different from Russia under the Czar. So, though the Chinese people wanted to make revolution, certain of the truths developed by Lenin and Stalin on how to make revolution (i.e. concentrate in the big cities first) did not bring the anticipated results. In fact, when that lesson was applied like a dogma – “the starting point” – it brought disaster to the Chinese revolution.

Confronted with these new conditions, Mao further elaborated and enriched the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and applied to an agrarian, semi-colonial, semi-feudal country in the era of imperialism. He developed the strategy of taking the countryside first, establishing red base areas before the encirclement of the cities, etc. After the general truths of Marxism-Leninism were integrated with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution, the Chinese people succeeded in freeing their country from imperialist rule.

Now communists in our country are faced with an entirely different set of problems; how to prepare to overthrow the most refined bourgeois democratic system of exploitation in history, a problem that Russia and China did not have. We have to deal with a very deceptive and advanced parliamentary and judicial system as well as the widespread influence of the mass media, radio and television, and the stranglehold of a stratum of labor aristocrats and strata of misleaders bribed with imperialist superprofits. How do we prepare for workers rule under these conditions? These new questions demand new answers. And every new analysis by our Party’s Central Committee, led by Jerry Tung on how to prepare for workers rule in the U.S., in the course of the Party’s practice, develops and enriches the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought and-brings us close to the day when the workers of the U.S. seize state power.

Practice as the motive force for the further development of knowledge is also illustrated by the method all great Marxists used to develop their lines. Marx and Engels saw the need to overthrow the old classes in order for the proletariat to take state power. But when they first wrote the Communist Manifesto, the need to smash the old state machinery was not addressed at all. Then the Paris Commune took place. Though the working class was able to control state power for 78 days, the old class recaptured power after summing up the failure of the struggle, that they came to the great synthesis that it is not enough to just overthrow the ruling class. After they are overthrown, the proletariat cannot simply use the ready made state apparatus to achieve its goal. But the state machine must be smashed. This was a very important change in the program of the Communist Manifesto, a change developed from the blood lessons of the Paris Commune.

Mao also further developed his understanding of the contradictions under socialism through the same process of practice. In 1955, summing up the peasant movement to building socialism in the countryside, Mao said that 1955 was a year when socialism scored a fundamental victory in its battle against capitalism. At the time, as in 1949, his grasp of the new development of class struggle domestically and internationally was still weak. In 1958, when the same writing was published, he criticized his previous formulation as inaccurate, inadequate. Instead, he wrote 1955 should be seen only as the year when fundamental victory was achieved in the socialist ownership of the means of production. The other two aspects in the relation of production, the aspect of distribution and relations between people, as well as the relation between the superstructure (philosophical, political and organizational) and the base are not fundamentally or completely solved.

To sum up briefly, practice is both the source of all knowledge, the aim in knowing the world, the criteria to measure knowledge as well as the motive force in the further development of knowledge. So, unless the four tasks and other lines and policies of the Central Committee, led by Jerry Tung, are implemented, there is no way to tell if they are correct or not, nor can we move from here to talk about what to do next in our preparation to make socialist revolution for workers’ rule.

Learning Requires Repeated Practice and Repeated Synthesis

However, the ability to apply generalized knowledge to particular struggles, making the leap from theory to practice, requires not only that you have a good understanding of general knowledge. It also requires that you have a good grasp of the specific laws in new conditions. It means that while we are applying theory (of laws generalized under other conditions) to practice, the process of learning and synthesizing new knowledge gained from new practice has to begin immediately. We cannot just put general lines into practice without any understanding of the new conditions. If this happened, the theory will not yield results, and neither will new knowledge be obtained.

So far as political work is concerned, though political leadership is principal, it is a big mistake to separate political leadership from practical leadership. The political and practical has to be engaged as part of the same process in the development of the Party’s line. Knowledge obtained from applying the line to practice has to be summed up right away, so that future practice will be at a higher level. This process of repeated synthesis, repeated practice, and again repeated synthesis, and repeated practice is how rational understanding is gained, developed and tested, moving science, production and class struggle in society forward.

Since learning requires repeated practice, sometimes a theory or rational knowledge that doesn’t yield immediate results is wrong. But it may also mean that knowledge we have about it is still one-sided or superficial, that we have not yet penetrated from the appearance to the essence, and have not made the leap from the quantitative to the qualitative.

For example, water boils at 100 degrees Centigrade. If it doesn’t boil at that temperature, does it mean that our understanding is wrong? No, it could be that the person boiling water is doing it on top of a high mountain, where water boils at a higher temperature. Knowing that water boils at 100 degrees Centigrade is just the most basic understanding of water. There are many other aspects about water that must be learned to made our knowledge relatively complete. Then, not only do we learn that water boils at a definite temperature, it also freezes at a definite temperature. Then, when it becomes ice, it floats instead of sinking, are there more properties of water? There may be and then again, there may not be. But again, it is not a question of speculation. Only future practice and scientific experiment will tell. In the article, “Great Benefits Derive from a Good Analysis,” the CPC comrades summed up this process. “Knowledge of the objective world is obtained only after a certain process. The analysis and study of problems, by which knowledge is gained of the objective world, too, can be made only after a certain process. The dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge tells us that correct knowledge often can be arrived at only after many repetitions of the process from practice to knowledge and then back to practice. This is especially true of important problems involving many complex1 contradictions.” (Red Flag No. 11, 1973, reprinted in WV Journal #2) This is only only [text in the original EROL] was knowledge develops from one-sided to all sided, from quantitative to qualitative, and from a lower level to a higher level. That also explains why Marxism believes that all things are knowable, and when it will be known is just a matter of time. It also explains why things that were not known before are knowable now, thus enriching the lives of society and people. To sum up this point, Mao said, ”Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into a 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 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.” (“On Practice”)

Improve Our Methods of Work to Strengthen Our Learning Ability and the Party’s line

The Marxist line of cognition teaches us that all knowledge starts from practice and has to be raised to theory and go back to guide revolutionary practice. And then to be able to develop our rational knowledge correctly, we must have the stand, viewpoint and methods of the proletariat. So, in our method of work, it demands, first and foremost, that we must “do it.” We must do investigation and research of the objective situation by starting everything from the concrete. For without ample data, we cannot have enough materials to raise our perceptual understanding to a rational level.

What does being concrete mean? It means to be comprehensive and getting into all aspects, all sides. This is the precondition for all analysis. If we are not comprehensive in our investigation, and take short cuts to proceed to finding the principal aspect, the key link, the main feature alone, we are bound to make mistakes. Looking for the principal contradiction, key link, etc., is a very important method in analysis and problem solving. But this methodology is worth something only if it is based on a comprehensive understanding of many aspects of the concrete situation. If we are able to identify a principal contradiction out of a hundred contradictions, it means a lot to our analysis. If we identify it out of a thousand contradictions, it means even more. But if our investigation is so shallow that we only know two contradictions, and from there pick out the principal contradiction, it means little or nothing to the understanding of the phenomenon.

Why? Because maybe neither of the two are significant to the matter, but they become significant only because we don’t know what else is there. In struggling against Trotsky over what is the role of the trade unions under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin said, “Dialectics requires an all-rounded consideration of relationships in their concrete development but not a patch work of bits and pieces.” (“Once Again on the Trade Unions and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin, Collected Works, Vol. 44)

He also said, in the same article, “A tumbler is assuredly both a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel. But there are more than these two properties, qualities or facets to it, there is an infinite number of them, an infinite number of mediaces’ and interrelationships with the rest of the world. A tumbler is a heavy object which can be used as a missile, it can serve as a paperweight, a receptacle for a captive butterfly, or a valuable object with artistic engraving of design, and this has nothing at all to do with whether or not it can be used for drinking, is made of glass, is cylindrical or not quite, and so on and so forth.” So before we even list all the properties of a glass, what is the point of saying that the glass is principally for drinking and secondarily for whatever else?

Though Chairman Mao made a tremendous contribution on the question of dialectics in his article On Contradiction, because he was fighting a certain line, one major weakness is his not addressing the question of comprehensiveness as the basis for the Marxist method of analysis. So rule number one in our work is to start from the concrete which means to be comprehensive and all rounded. Rule number two in our methods of work is to apply mass line in our day to day work with the masses and fight the bourgeoisie. In Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership, Mao wrote, “In all the practical work of our party, all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses, to the masses.’ This means take the ideas of the masses (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are perservered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.” And to be able to do investigation well, it requires that we must be engaged in the struggles of the masses, apply mass line in order to know the real sentiments of the masses, their concerns and desires. But doing that is just the minimum. Facts and data alone don’t guarantee correct analysis. Yes, we have to try hard to synthesize, but trying hard alone still won’t guarantee that. We have to conscientiously study Marxism-Leninism, the synthesis of the experience of the masses for thousands of years, and use it as a basic weapon to do analysis of the new facts derived from class struggle. Then to verify this knowledge and make it useful we have to do propaganda to the masses, so that they will turn the knowledge into a material force. Since the acquisition of knowledge is not a totally objective thing, affected also by our own perceptions, our prejudices – namely our own world outlook, it is important that in the course of learning from practice, we consciously sum up incorrect ideas we have and consciously get rid of them in the process of concrete struggle, in applying our knowledge to practice. Then knowledge is attained, our subjective world is also transformed in that process.

In Great Benefits Derive From a Good Analysis, the Chinese comrades said, “There must be a meticulous and prudent attitude, carelessness must be opposed. Coming to a rash conclusion when the situation is still unclear or on the basis of scant and desultory material will lead to mistakes in our work. On the other hand, not paying attention to certain signs and tendencies which have already appeared because the situation is not yet entirely clear will also lead to mistakes in work. The correct attitude is to grasp in time problems that tend to become a trend and make a proper analysis first on the basis of the material already available, and at the same time let our knowledge grow along with practice, so that it gradually deepens and approaches nearer and nearer to the essence of things.”

Dogmatism and Empiricism – Both Are Non-Materialist

There are two types of people that can’t learn. They are the empiricists and the dogmatists. By absolutizing one aspect and arbitrarily cutting up the whole process of learning, both dogmatists and empiricists fall into idealism, non-materialism. Lenin said, “Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one sided, exaggerated, uberschwengliches (Dietzgen) development (inflation, distention) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature.” (On the Question of Dialectics)

“... Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness – voila, the epistemological roots of idealism.” (ibid.) Let’s see how both dogmatists and empiricists fall into the same problem.

Dogmatists Reject the Soul of Marxism–Concrete Analysis of Concrete Conditions

Dogmatists absolutize book knowledge and underestimate direct experience. They absolutize rational knowledge and negate the importance of perceptual knowledge. Mao said, “Anyone who thinks that rational knowledge need not be derived from perceptual knowledge is an idealist. In the history of philosophy, there is the ’rationalist’ school that admits the reality only of reason and not of experience, believing in that reason alone is reliable while perceptual knowledge is not, this school errs by turning things upside down.”

In the history of the U.S. communist movement there have been many struggles against dogmatists. The advanced representative of the dogmatist line was represented by PRRWO (Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization), who insisted four years ago that the definition of advanced had to be those workers already studying Marxism. What was their reason for saying that? Because Lenin said that for advanced workers in Russia in 1899. But the fact is, Lenin said that at a time when the party was already fused with the working class movement and there were many workers in the party, or already taking up study on their own. But there is still no fusion in this country yet. To adopt definitions blindly out of time, place and condition is the hallmark of a dogmatist.

Now we may say that is ancient history. But not so. What about those who fear that building a mass communist party will turn us into a social-democratic party? This fear comes from the same idealist view, with a preconceived notion of what the party should look like, and not what it has to be to address the concrete conditions of the U.S. today. It is a fear not founded on any investigation or practice.

It is pure intellectual speculation. The same goes for those that fear going into united fronts will lead to liquidation of the party’s independence and initiative. These dogmatists have so much fear of reality that they go about doing political work with a lot of timidness and half-steps. Criticizing the dogmatist PRRWO in 1976, Jerry Tung said, “Dogmatists – start from book knowledge instead of concrete reality; they absolutize universality, the general truths of the theory of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought, and negate particularity, the concrete time, place and conditions. In practice that means using Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought as a dogma, imposing certain concepts, definitions, slogans and formulations on objective reality instead of grasping the stand, viewpoint and method of Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse Tung Thought and applying it to concrete reality to come out with a concrete analysis of concrete conditions, which is the soul of Marxism. Despite the fact they always chant the eternal truths of Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse Tung Thought, they can never really understand the essence of it, which is the laws that govern the development of a thing. This is reflected in the vulgar mechanical materialism. This is so because truth always resided in the concrete, not in abstract generalities.” (Workers Viewpoint, Journal No.4, 1976, Vol. 2, No. 2)

Shallow Bourgeois Realism Is An Example of Empiricism

Empiricists are just the exact opposite of the dogmatists. They absolutize experience and negate theories. To the empiricists, experience means only their personal direct experience, not the experience of others. If they did recognize the experience of others, it would make them have more respect for theory, which is the summation of other people’s direct experience. They also absolutize perceptual knowledge and negate rational knowledge, and are satisfied with appearance rather than essence. Though they seem to be materialists, believing that knowledge comes from practice, they are idealists also.

Bourgeois realism is one manifestation of empiricism. For example, when Teddy Kennedy went to speak to a college campus, about 2,000 students showed up and they all clapped for him. Empiricists will sum up that all the students love Kennedy. What they fail to see is that after the Viet Nam war, Watergate and in the midst of the crisis, most people are disgusted with politicians.

The students response is a typical conditioned response. When big shots are being introduced amidst glaring lights and cameras, people respond with courtesy out of routine, and it takes courage to do otherwise. The general sense of apathy towards politicians in this situation is expressed in polite applause, as every “decent and educated” person is “supposed to.”

This is an example of going from appearance to essence, sizing up the general trend to understand a particular phenomenon and not taking any particular fact out of context.

Empiricism, Dogmatism and Reagan’s Election

Another example. How would you have interpreted the fact that Reagan got elected this November? The empiricist will tell you so and so he knows is a racist and he voted for Reagan who is an open racist, and an ultra-conservative, and the fact that he got elected shows that the whole country is going racist, and those who voted for him are racist and conservative.

This is straight from looking at things at the surface. On the other hand, dogmatists will tell you that by definition advanced people don’t have illusions in the electoral system. So those that voted have illusions about that system so those that voted must be backward. So both the empiricist and the dogmatist agree that the 75 million people that voted for Ronald Reagan are all backward and want a fascist U.S.A. Only a Marxist can sum up the phenomenon from a historical and materialist standpoint. Only the Marxist can go from appearance to essence, to see that Reagan’s election is actually more a rejection of Carter than endorsement of Reagan caused by peoples frustration with the crisis. Though they have no confidence in any candidate, they still have the strong desire to participate in social change, and the system has a grip on the masses in general. Only this analysis will save us from freaking out and to pay serious attention to electoral tactics to reach the American people.

What will the empiricist and the dogmatist do? Since their only conclusion is that so many American people are already consolidated and conservative, there is little chance for us to make it. We should give up or go underground. They will just give up 75 million people and let the Klan and Nazis mislead them.

Smash Doctrinairism, Proceed from Concretes

For the masses and young comrades who have not studied Marxism, the tendency to be empirical is great. In the absence of any theory – the synthesis of indirect experience of other people as well as their own experience – they tend to absolutize their own experience, no matter how limited and one-sided, as the only truth. They will proceed in their work purely from the standpoint of sentiment of the masses or desire to make revolution and nothing more. To a certain extent, this is inevitable. That’s why the theoretical level of these comrades has to be raised consciously through more study and political training. However, this is a long term strategic task. There is just no short cut to it.

On the other hand, also due to the lack of real life experience, when young communists get into Marxism, there is the even greater danger of being dogmatic, of being doctrinaire. This is just the other side of the coin. Because they lack experience, they then flip into being overwhelmed by the synthesis of other people’s indirect experience, and awed by its richness and complexity. As a result, these theories, though valuable, become dogmas, the only truth, the way religious fanatics treat the Bible.

One example will illustrate this point. Lenin once wrote that as one of the conditions for revolution, the bankruptcy of the middle strata, particularly the social props, have to be exposed. Part of this middle strata according to Lenin are the labor aristocrats who are bought off by the bourgeoisie’s superprofits to keep the working class down. This is the general truth that Lenin laid out. But what is the correct way to look at it? How should this theory be applied to practice? How do we deal with Mr. Jones, who is the president of our local? Instead of judging Mr. Jones from the concrete positions that he takes on various issues, how he stands among the workers, and his history and other considerations, the dogmatist will use a formula approach. The formula can go something like this. Lenin said labor aristocrats are reactionaries that have to be exposed and isolated. Mr. Jones as president of a local is a labor aristocrat. So Mr. Jones should be exposed and isolated. The dogmatist will also apply the same formula to the petty bourgeoisie. Lenin said that the petty bourgeois class is a reactionary class. Since Ms. Smith is a petty bourgeois element, therefore she is a reactionary. This formula approach works well in bourgeois logic. With this doctrinaire frame of mind, comrades will go about doing their work by criticizing Mr. Jones everywhere they go, and using every chance they could get. But real life is not bourgeois logic. It is many dimensional and varied. Individuals also defy categorization. In reality, Mr. Jones turned out to be a person very much respected by the workers who put him up in leadership for being a genuine fighter for the workers’ interest. Though he is a reformist, which is inevitable due to the lack of Marxism, he is sincere in his effort to fight injustice. Without proceeding from concrete, from investigation, our arbitrary exposure and attack of him isolate us from the workers. It also loses a big opportunity to possibly neutralize him or to bring him under our influence and even win him over to communism. This doctrinaire frame of mind will lead to not working with the petty bourgeoisie, or take a very suspicious attitude toward them, even when we do work with them, and keep them away from us. This negates the fact that many communists came from petty bourgeois backgrounds and as students and professionals were reformists before they became communists.

The political consequence of this doctrinairism is to turn the party into a sect, not being able to recruit from all strata, to reach out to the majority and to tap the positive potential for all forces regardless of class background. Proceeding from the concrete situation is essential in class struggle or it will lead to great mistakes.

Another manifestation of this doctrinairism is the intellectual debate among the so called communists over the categorization of which group is “left” or “right” and whether “left” or “right” is the main danger. It is intellectual because instead of political lines, practice, and real substance, these intellectuals argue over terms. In this case, the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie are masters at that in order to deceive and manipulate public opinion. The bourgeoisie love to say the liberals are leftists. But what are liberals actually? Elizabeth Holtzman, a progressive New York congress woman who has visited the boat people and voted against military spending is the idol of many liberals. But she herself has rejected being called a liberal. She said she is not a liberal because she is against child pornography and against crime, which are issues that implied liberals are going for. Then under this bourgeois categorization, Reagan is also supposed to be anti-child pornography and anti-crime but is known as a rightist, a conservative. And what about Senator Kennedy? He is a known liberal supposedly for the social service programs for blacks and labor. But then, he is also the sponsor of the notorious S-1 bill which could virtually put any striker on picket line in jail. He is also the main exponent of gun control laws which supposedly the conservatives and rightists are against. So what is Kennedy, left or right? If you want to go around in circles around this category of ’left’ and ’right’ rather than the actual substance of the different positions, and the economic and social basis for how these positions come about and get promoted, you could go around in circles for the rest of your life.

The same is true among communists. How do you call somebody who refuses to build the party into a mass communist party in the coming period, left opportunist or right opportunist? Someone refuses to build it because he or she doesn’t think the masses are open to communism yet. Another refused to do it because a party is supposed to be very advanced, and its members very theoretically developed and a communist mass party would lower the level of the party into a social-democratic party. Isn’t it absurd to even debate whether it is right or left when both end up the same way politically – which is the liquidation of the most important task in this period to prepare for workers’ rule?

Both Empiricists and Dogmatists Are Metaphysical

The one thing that is common in both the dogmatists and empiricists are the lack of dialectics, manifested in their separation of theory and practice, perceptual and rational knowledge, general and particular, from the masses and to the masses, propaganda and leading struggles, leadership and masses. In this sense, both dogmatists and empiricists are metaphysical. And because of their not looking at things in their entirety, comprehensively, truly reflecting the objective reality, their knowledge is not real knowledge. Due to this one-sidedness their knowledge could only be subjective. In this sense, both dogmatists and empiricists are also idealists.

Because of that, it is very easy to find dogmatists turned into empiricists and many empiricists who draw the same conclusions as the dogmatists. That is why Mao said those who criticize others as empiricists are empiricists themselves. That is what Jerry Tung said about PRRWO. “Dogmatists like PRRWO generally only attempt to make facts and phenomena fit pre-set schemes and artificial constructions. At best, they repeat general truths without linking them up with reality; most of the time they do damage by chopping up reality and forcing it to fit their ’wooden cabinet’ of ’theory.’ And when they do this, they have to resort to empiricism to give it credibility. That is, they appeal to their ’own experience,’ their ’we have-been-through-it-before’ line to give credibility to the formalistic ’theory’ of isolated words and phrases.” (Workers Viewpoint Journal No. 4, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1976)

So on the communist mass party question, dogmatists will tell you that the party should be this, that and that. And anything other than that is not a party. When this view is challenged, then they will turn into empiricists of “this person and that person we met have a lot of prejudices and when they are in the party, they will definitely lower the standard of the party. And when their view is still being challenged, they will say, “show me a party that is broad and is not marsh.” This is the same line as “I have to see it to believe it” line of the empiricists. As a result, the dogmatists refused to go about building up the party into a communist mass party even when the conditions are ripe for it and are content at having a small cadre core, or in other words a sect.

So while the basis of this dogmatist line may be “left” from absolutizing theory, the manifestation is right opportunism. Their subjective line lacks the understanding of the development of the situation, and hinders the party from recruiting in a big way. This view has to be thoroughly smashed.

On the other hand, empiricists will lead to not studying the lines of the party, or relying on superficial knowledge to guide the work. They will be overwhelmed by the seeming strength of the reactionary “Moral Majority” fundamentalist preachers, the election or Reagan, the shallow anti-communism due to bourgeois indoctrination. They will also hesitate to push out the party in a big way. Both are detrimental to the preparation for workers’ rule in the U.S. To change that, we must lead mass struggles, apply mass line and turn the party’s line and policies into a material force by applying them to the concrete conditions of different localities. “Doing it” is the only way to defeat the spirit of hesitancy.

Conclusion: Freedom is the Appreciation of Necessity – Carry Out the Party’s Line and Policies to Change the World

As elements of society and nature, human beings live within many restrictions imposed by the laws of nature and society. For example, we must have oxygen or else we will die. We must eat and sleep and drink water. Laws in society vary from place to place. In the U.S., there is a law called the Taft-Hartley Act that forbids workers from going on strike. There is no law prohibiting bosses from hiring scabs when workers go out. Under these conditions what is freedom? Freedom not to breathe? Freedom not to drink water? Freedom to go on strike anytime and anywhere regardless of the National Guard shooting at the strikers? Or every 20 to 30 years or so there are wars in capitalist countries. What is freedom if you are anti-war? Freedom of not fighting by going to Canada or somewhere else to evade the draft?

Marxists don’t consider any of the above alternatives as real freedom. In Anti-Duhring, Engels wrote this, ”Freedom is the appreciation of necessity.” It means that freedom is not an imaginary independence from the laws of nature. It is achieved from knowing how these laws operate and we are able to systematically use these natural laws to serve a specific goal. Learning about the laws of the development of things is what the Marxist theory is all about. This is the pre-condition for freedom. So if you don’t want any war, you have to know the laws of imperialism that are the root cause of world war, that as long as imperialism exists, war is inevitable. So to really be free from wars, it requires not that people escape it by running away, it means that people fight to end imperialism, and end war once and for all. Then to be free from the bondage of oxygen, it doesn’t mean that we just stop breathing, it means that we understand the law governing how oxygen functions, and how it can be stored so that we won’t die even when we have trouble breathing. That is what the oxygen tank and the iron lung are for. Man doesn’t have this freedom before the development of this equipment.

If we want to be free from the oppression of the ruling class, it requires first of all to understand the laws of capitalism, the law that they will resort to any action to maintain their profits, and only unity and struggle of the masses will counteract their viciousness. So what it means is that when the ruling class comes down with repression during a mass struggle, instead of giving in and stopping the struggle, it means that the masses should be even more united and struggle to beat back the attack, now and in the future. In the same manner if you don’t like the present system which is capitalistic, you have to know how the laws of capitalism work, and use that to overthrow the system all together once and for all. Any other way to do it is not freedom. Even if you have the feeling that you are free, you are not free.

So for people that have not worked hard to understand the laws of things, there are only two possible roads in front of them. One is arbitrary practice. Under this situation, even though it seems that he has freely made a certain decision, the result could only be failure. On this Lenin said that the fact that man’s consciousness and man’s practice hinders the achievement of our own goal is due to the fact that consciousness separated ourselves from practice, and we don’t believe that external reality are real objects that exist. Therefore, we must link theory with practice. If we don’t, understand the nature of the objective laws, and do work by pure subjective wish and imagination, then the stronger the desire to achieve our goal, the stronger our will and consciousness the greater will also be the failure in practical activity. If we don’t have a good grasp of the laws, another possibility is the spirit of hesitation and vacillation. Under this circumstance, though it seems that a person has a lot of choices, (say, of going to Europe, or to Canada or go to jail to avoid being drafted) in reality he is in a very passive situation that he really has no control over. Because if we really know the situation correctly there is only one option that will bring the best results.

The Marxist theory of knowledge, of knowing the laws of the world and society, through practice, through doing it and applying them to change the world to achieve our objective of a classless society is the only way to obtain real freedom.

The four tasks developed by Jerry Tung, General Secretary of the CWP, and the other lines and policies are the synthesis of tasks based on knowing the laws of capitalism in general, and of U.S. imperialism in particular. They are weapons in day to day struggle with the bourgeoisie to make the proletariat and the American people truly free. Furthermore, the four tasks are indispensable in the learning process of all comrades. The tasks are 1) broadening out to the American people through leading pace setting struggles, united front work, work in the media; 2) propaganda to build the party into a mass communist party; 3) doing agitation and action to change the political scenery and 4) carrying out-all-rounded military preparation. These are all components of linking theory and practice.

On the importance of propaganda and agitation Lenin wrote the following at a time when theoretical work was very important for party building. He said,

In thus emphasizing the necessity, importance and immensity of the theoretical work of the Social-democrats, I by no means want to say that this work should take precedence over practical work (on the contrary, the practical work of propaganda and agitation must always take precedence, because, firstly, theoretical work only supplies answers to the problems raised by practical work, and secondly, the social democrats, for reasons over which they have no control, are so often compelled to confine themselves to theoretical work that they highly value every moment when practical work is possible – [Lenin’s footnote] – still less that the latter should be postponed until the former is completed. Only the admirers of the ’subjective method in sociology’ or the followers of Utopian socialism, could arrive at such a conclusion.. .The task of the socialists is to be the ideological leaders of the proletariat, in its actual struggle against actual and real enemies who stand in the actual path of social and economic development. Under these circumstances, theoretical and practical work merges into one aptly described by the veteran German Social Democrat, Liebknecht, as “Studieren, Propagandieren, Organisieren (Study, Propaganda and Organization)”.
You cannot be an ideological leader without the above mentioned theoretical work, just as you cannot be one without directing this work to meet the needs of the cause, and without spreading the results of this theory among the workers and helping them to organize.
Such a presentation of the task guards Social Democrats against the defects from which socialist groups so often suffer, namely, dogmatism and sectarianism. (Lenin, “What the Friends of the People Are and How They Fight the Social Democrats”, Collected Works, Vol. 1, pp. 297-298)