First Published: The Marxist, No. 20, 1971.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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In issue No.19 of The Marxist we published a letter from C.K. Maisels in which he criticized the journal, comparing unfavourably its present standards with those set by its predecessors.
That the journal has changed is as undeniable as it has been intentional. What we challenge is whether his concept of the Marxist and its role is correct and whether the present product is as bad as he asserts.
Overall the letter suffers from a lack of substance and it may be that the somewhat excessive self-confidence that he expresses throughout is intended to compensate for this failing.
The first paragraph contains what could be described as a good example of cause and effect. We read that the Marxist started out “hopefully recognising that the principal task for the creation of a genuine Marxist-Leninist party in Britain was the broadening and deepening of theory.” The author then proceeds to a quote from Engels in which he refers to “the indifference to all theory” exhibited by the English working class movement.
For far too long those sections of the left-wing scene with the training, time and facility to study and absorb the Marxist philosophy of life have exhibited little attitude for applying it to concrete circumstances themselves, neither have they shown any marked capability for passing their knowledge on to those in a position to do so.
Instead they have been – and are – content to devote their time and energy to the “broadening and deepening” of theory, seeing this as an end in itself. Their practice is limited to the constant forming, dissolving, merging and splintering of political groups that incessantly engage one with another, in a barrage of criticism and counter-criticism.
Periodically they refer to the “classic economic disease” of the British working class, regarding the struggle of workers for better ages and conditions as a distraction. To the workers they are irrelevances, hence the indifference.
The second paragraph contains an example of what can occur when quotes are used on the basis that if one of the “Masters” uttered it, it is quite good enough for us. On this occasion Engels is quoted referring to “the fact that, at the present moment, no real labour movement, in the continental meaning of the word, exists here.”
That was his assessment of Britain written in 1878. Now, nearly a century later; we may be permitted to ask to where has that difference led, rather than repeating it parrot fashion.
It is essential that we should recognise differences where they exist, equally that we should take note of deficiencies when they develop but it could be fatal to assume that eliminating one would resolve the other.
It there are those among our readers who feel that we are being a little hard on our student and intellectual friend, the third paragraph should dispel those thoughts.
“As we know”, states Maisels, confidently, “the Marxist was to serve as a common platform where Marxist-Leninist theory would be developed through debate between Marxist-Leninists.”
It must be appreciated that this concept of the development of theory through discussion has advantages for its disciples. The scope for debate is endless, the purification process stretches farther than the eye can see and the knobby problem of making it work can be put off until the theory is sufficiently broad and deep.
However, whilst it would be possible to continue, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, taking the letter apart, the temptation has to be resisted for that is not the main task. To state that the Marxist has no intention of limiting its function to that of providing a forum for sterile debate is to dispose of the negative.
It is necessary to expound the positive!
To recognise the need for a Marxist-Leninist party is to state the obvious. There are those who, perhaps in desperation, have rushed in to proclaim themselves as the party in question. The constant shuffling and re-shuffling of the self-appointed general staff at H.Q. is no doubt of great interest to those involved and, furthermore it provides a welcome alternative to the task of doing something positive.
But if we are serious and the party we aim to build is to be equal to the tasks demanded of it then we cannot continue in the way that has led to so many failures in Britain and elsewhere.
It means that a real attempt must be made to develop the forces that will ensure that this pay will not become yet another political peacock. It also means that there must be a serious and sustained attempt to analyse the class situation in Britain today. To state that there are simply the haves and the have-nots is to evade the issue.
Meanwhile the economic struggle of the workers in defence of their living standards will continue regardless of the strictures from the political puritans.
Conversely, the deepening crisis of capitalism will necessitate the adoption of ever more restrictive and repressive measures in the attempt to contain that struggle.
As a consequence there will be a growing need and a growing opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of Marxist-Leninist theory, not only as a guide to action and as a means of providing perspective to the day-to-day struggle but as a philosophy of life that has immediate practical application to every aspect of our daily existence.
This we see as the primary task in Britain today and it is here that the Marxist must endeavor to make its contribution.
Do we see this as being in contradiction to the broadening and deepening of theory?
The answer must be No, that, in fact, this is the only way of developing theory, not through academic debate but in the application of theory that has its origins in practice, leading to further practice and a raising of our level of understanding.
To quote – if we dare – Mao is most explicit on the subject in ’On Practice’:
The dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge places practice in the primary position, holding that human knowledge can in no way be separated from practice and repudiating all the erroneous theories which deny the importance of practice or separate knowledge from practice. Thus Lenin said, ’Practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also of immediate actuality’.
The Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism has two outstanding characteristics. One is its class nature; it openly avows that dialectical materialism is in the service of the proletariat. The other is its practicality; it emphasizes the dependence of theory on practice, emphasizes that theory is based on practice and in turn serves practice.
The truth of any knowledge or theory is determined not by subjective feelings but by objective results in social practice. Only social practice can be the criterion of truth. The standpoint of practice is the primary and basic standpoint in the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge,”
The major problem we have to deal with is reaching and raising a response from those industrial workers who are searching, and who are being forced to search, for something beyond the next wage claim. For it is here that we must concentrate our endeavours. Nor because we consider that they are the elite but because it is from here that the forces we seek must arise, Not to the exclusion of all else but if theory is to be tested in social practice, where else?
There is certainly no self-satisfaction so far as those involved in the production of this journal are concerned, we are far too conscious of its deficiencies and defects.
Criticisms, suggestions, questions, articles, opinions, all are welcome, particularly from those said to be afflicted with the “economic disease” of the working class in Britain. Only in this way can we work to define the correct path. Only in this way can we test the practicality of the theory.
Comrade Maisels also makes certain assumptions that are not borne out by the facts. The most important of these is that the base on which The Marxist rests is declining. In fact its base and support amongst the industrial workers is on the increase. The money for the printing equipment which we now possess was raised entirely from our supporters in the factories at shop floor level. In terms of existing conditions in Britain this was no mean achievement.
Contributions in the form of articles and letters from industrial workers are much more difficult to obtain, not only because of lack of training but also due to a lack of confidence from which most manual workers suffer when faced with literary problems.
This problem will not be overcome by articles in The Marxist on the subject of literary criticism but only by encouraging people with a practical experience of struggle to write down their ideas.
We have also made a start at taping conversations and discussions with workers so that we can help them to summarise their experience and so contribute their ideas towards the writing of particular articles.
The literary standards may not be as high as some of those who have had the benefit of extended “book” education but technique can be improved in the course of the practice of writing.
With regard to the yardstick by which we judge articles as suitable or unsuitable for publication, we have always maintained, whatever our other failings, that the Thought of Mao Tsetung is the highest development of Marxism to date and have refused, to publish any material which seeks to denigrate the great contribution which Mao has made to the development of Marxist theory.
This is not to say that we intend to take a slavish attitude towards developments in China. We made the mistake during our membership of the C.P.G.B. of allowing ourselves to become in practice a mere adjunct of the Soviet State and Party. We are all too aware of the detrimental effect which this had on the whole course of development, not only in the Soviet Union but in all of the capitalist countries.
Uncritical acceptance of a particular line is un-Marxist because it does not pay proper regard to the existence of class struggle within the leading Party.
We do not intend to make this sale mistake again but neither do we intend to allow The Marxist to become the repository of all “Marxist” trends irrespective of their attitude towards the Thought of Mao.