Should Marxism have a privileged status?

Aug 29th, 2011 by John Steele. Print This

Following is a response to Steele’s August 1 piece below. Vern Gray has written several essays appearing on khukuri. I think it is confusing, and leads in a wrong direction, to conclude that there were or are “many Marxisms.”… I would argue that some ideologies and politics should be assigned a “privileged position”—not that our conclusions should be limited by them (we have to see where our investigation and exploration go) but that they should be given emphasis in the “palette” we draw from in going forward…I am a Maoist but not an “unreconstructed Maoist.” I am not prepared (not yet, anyway) to uphold the idea of “post-Maoism.”

Two, Three, Many Marxisms…?
Vern Gray Here I will make some comments on John Steele’s article “Marxism or Anarchism or —?“ and discuss at more length a few of the questions it addresses. I will go beyond what he has written but, I hope, maintain a focus on the logic of it so as to see where some of his arguments may lead. Steele is right, I think, that there is no clearly existing “left,” certainly on a world scale, either subjectively or objectively. The reason is not that the imperialist system does not create the urgent need for the formation of a left; the core reason is that there is nowhere near the clarity, coherence, or correctness of political and ideological line that needs to be at the core of it. Accordingly, forging that kind of line, and the practical/political experimentation that Steele speaks of, are of critical importance if there is to be a chance of revolution. I agree, completely, that circling the wagons and posing the question as “Marxism vs. anarchism” is not a fruitful way of approaching the need for a new understanding of a politics that can change the world. Rather, there is clearly a need to learn from both of these trends, to take the insights of both, critically sum up the history of revolutionary practice, and dig into the enormous problems facing us. So the pivotal thing is to begin to make progress on identifying key questions and finding the answers to them. Here, we need to draw on all possible sources of understanding in every sphere. To the extent that Marxism, as developed up to this point in history, is able to help us chart this course, it is of value; to the extent that it is not, it needs to be shed. And the same for anarchism. The point is not to declare an allegiance to either or an opposition to the other but to deeply investigate and analyze conditions, engage in political experimentation (Steele borrows from Badiou and I think it’s a phrase that conveys the right novelty and flexibility), and forge an ideology and politics that can guide and learn from revolutionary practice. This is a brief summary of my understanding of the basic points in Steele’s article, and as far as this goes, I agree with it. That said, I think there are some problems in his approach. Here I will speak to three of them: (I) the question of “many Marxisms”; (II) the character of Marxism as a science (or not); (III) the role of practice in evaluating the history and current status of Marxism. I want to draw out some of what I consider to be potential implications of Steele’s approach to these questions, even where he does not state them. I don’t mean to say that all these implications necessarily follow from what he has written, any more than the historical development of Marxism consisted of a simple emergent process that was all coded in the fundamental DNA of Marx’s views—a position whose invalidity Steele points out. (That point leads to an interesting discussion that I will take up at another time.) But it’s important to get into the logic of some of Steele’s arguments. In doing so, I may run the risk of putting some words into his mouth. But if I do so, I’m sure he’ll point it out. I Steele is right to call attention to the fact that during his life Marx’s thought underwent considerable development and change on many key issues. It would be wrong to look at only one or two aspects or periods in it and generalize to all the others. His views on the state changed, particularly as a result of the Paris Commune experience. In political economy, Capital went well beyond, and contradicted, some of his earlier writings. In philosophy, an earlier, more abstract view of dialectics increasingly gave way to an integration of dialectics and materialism into his writings on economics (and history). His views on the possibility of basing a communist politics on rural communes in Russia in the 1880s constituted a significant departure from his earlier and largely exclusive focus on the proletariat’s class struggle as a revolutionary instrument. These are all very important considerations, and it would be possible to multiply them. Anyone who latches on to only one or a few of the aspects of Marx’s thought and declares them to be the whole of Marxism commits a grave error. Nevertheless, I think it is confusing, and leads in a wrong direction, to conclude that there were or are “many Marxisms.” Part of the reason I want to look at this is that Steele used the same formulation in his article “Why Is Badiou of Political Value?” I will digress briefly here to compare the situation in a few other fields. Darwin’s work showed major shifts in emphasis between his beginning, overwhelmingly empirical summations of his vast collection of specimens in the 1830s, to the theoretical structure he began to build in the late 1830s and early 1840s (which reflected a significant reliance on Malthusian economics), and on to the later refinement and further development of his views on a vast range of questions including selection, speciation, extinction, the pace of change, the relationship of biological and geological changes, sexual selection, the implications of evolutionary theory for human prehistory, and so forth. Yet summing up his work in terms of “many Darwins,”

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) A “general line”. to deny or perhaps more precisely to marginalize the idea that there is any. Mao himself did not make this assumption. Rather. as the basis for revolutionary politics. and English political economy. This is one of the things that must be “untangled. this does not mean that we will necessarily end up with Maoism. But were there many Einsteins? Many Bohrs? Would there be some advantage to seeing things in those terms? It seems to me that the theoretical understanding of these thinkers underwent development as they considered new problems. delving into Marx’s and Lenin’s theories of the state. striving to understand what had happened. Lenin—difficulties that all too often encumber these texts and turn them against the ‘general line’ of a body of thought which has to be given its coherence if we are to think what it designates—we discover. revolutionary advances to learn from—but also. But if we let things rest there. from the Communist Manifesto to his later work.” Now there is. the general theory of relativity. Similarly.” is very problematic. p. Althusser nevertheless says: Let us sum up. Marxists must honestly admit. But wasn’t this the case with Marx as well?—a difference being that he was concerned with phenomena that were actually changing during his lifetime whereas the physicists. which developed a new atomic theory that supplanted his.” and “silences” to which Steele refers. it is fundamentally different from Marxism in this respect. I believe the emphasis on “many Marxes” points away from this understanding and tends to elevate some of the positions that Marx discarded for sound reasons to the level of others that he did not. It tends to flatten out a variety of “Marxisms” and in doing so to make Marxism a less sharp—and. there is an overall body of work that adopted some basic positions and had a certain orientation toward them after Marx and Engels had died. after Khrushchev came to power in the USSR.” My point here is not that various trends should not be critically studied. According to Steele. let’s not close any doors. perhaps. studied parts of reality that had existed for a much longer period and did not undergo significant change during their lives. But there is a huge gap between the two in terms of historical impact. Marx’s famous statement that he was “not a Marxist” notwithstanding. precisely. but one whose overall contours and substance is only arrived at through a rigorous process of “untangling” and synthesis (which. As he comments in his speeches. and many others. Marxism also drew on other sources. There is no “ready-made” Marxism in final form whether in the texts of Marx. II Regarding the scientific character of Marxism: There is a tendency now. I would argue that some ideologies and politics should be assigned a “privileged position”—not that our conclusions should be limited by them (we have to see where our investigation and exploration go) but that they should be given emphasis in the “palette” we draw from in going forward. The same is true of Lenin’s and Mao’s theoretical and practical work taken as a whole. the Chinese Communist Party. of course. we will not be able to find our way through the maze and come out the other end with the new revolutionary ideology and politics that Steele wants to create. If that is correct. that the idea of a science of history is bound up with the view that class society passes through a determined series of stages. Bohr formulated his theory of the atom more than a decade before the discovery of quantum mechanics. considered the possibility that Marxism itself was wrong. semantic and other difficulties in the texts of Marx and. but he nevertheless became the leading exponent of the new theory. applied their best understanding of method. a coherent body of thought. 94. of necessity. more complex problems and constructed new theories. looking at Marxism as a whole. is that the idea that there are scientific aspects to Marxism rests on the idea of a science of history. They developed it “on the shoulders” of Marx and Engels’s contributions even as they took up new. and identifying many of the contradictions. This denial is often associated with certain other positions. (“Marx in His Limits. for example Greek philosophy. or that anything of value in them can be ignored and not critically assimilated. This does not mean that anarchists have not had some penetrating insights about capitalism—and about elements of Marxism. If we untangle all the theoretical. and further. While making many criticisms of the methodology and some of the conclusions of Capital. incorrect). especially. and it is expressed in Steele’s article.” 2 of 16 . an element of truth to that. Again. comprehensive character to Marxism as it has developed since the 1840s. holds a “privileged position.or the work of those who have followed in his wake as “many Darwinisms. But even though Lenin’s formulation is narrow. because any Marxism might hold something of value. and it developed beyond all those sources. and even though some of Einstein’s later thinking about quantum mechanics was. but it is not true that it is essential to Marxism as such or that it is a necessary consequence of a view that aspects of Marxism constitute a science. German idealist philosophy. Lenin. One. environmental studies. sometimes contradictory conclusions. There is a systematic. or “post-Maoism. dissecting Lenin’s (and Kautsky’s) views on the relationship between the development of theory and the workers’ movement. no version of it. from slavery to socialism and ultimately issuing forth with communism. I am not well versed in anarchist thought but I do not believe that it has this overall systematic character. it is that the starting point cannot simply be “let’s look anywhere. It is true that this view is part of Marx’s thinking. Althusser argues as much in the article that Steele linked to his own (I am grateful to Steele for making me aware of this article). errors and disasters to learn from.” in Philosophy of the Encounter. continues). formulated roughly a decade after the special theory and his work on the particle-like character of light. Obviously very different from Steele’s perspective: Lenin’s view of the “three sources and three component parts of Marxism”—French socialism. political. and came to new.” or even Marxism more generally. a coherent body of thought. Further. “gaps. anthropological studies. it was the more developed. for example. later views at which they eventually arrived that were most comprehensive and characteristic of their thought as a whole (even while they addressed new problems. which he explicitly suggests. or Mao. I believe. whose eventual triumph is inevitable. Einstein’s early writings do not “contain in embryo” or imply his most significant theoretical contribution. nor Marxism as a whole. theoretical development. less flexible—instrument for understanding and changing the world.

and which I know well. That. Marxism because. and the variety of “Marxisms” that have never succeeded in changing anything on anywhere near this level. his views on the class struggle in socialist society. leaving us only to apply the pat answers to arrive at an overall path to liberation that can deviate from what is expected only with regard to some secondary contingencies and relatively unimportant details. This work largely remains ahead of us. or “which Marxism”) have been associated with a revolutionary practice that has actually changed the world at various times and places. If the criterion of “true science” were that it be perfect. Why does he come out of the Marxist tradition? Why did he enter it in the first place? Why is it the tradition he knows well? Because he engaged in revolutionary practice and he studied Marxism. of what happened in the world in the 1960s—and the role within the Chinese revolution. greater quantification does not always make these theories more scientific. and there are new phenomena that require going beyond the old theories. questioning attitude toward Maoism that he has developed over the years following the defeat of the revolutionary forces in China. An orientation toward science is an essential part of this effort. But in twentieth-century Marxism there are numerous other areas that should be understood as science: for example. I think it is wrong to reduce everything to a science. at least in its revolutionary form. but Darwin’s as well. because. He writes: “I take up Marx and Marxism simply because this is the tradition out of which I come. (Mao not only “boiled down” Marxism to “one Marxism” but to one sentence!) But I hope Steele will write more about this. but it doesn’t get down to bedrock. For example. by applying a scientific Marxism (as well as other sciences)? Likewise. and so forth)? He does not even raise this criterion when briefly referring to his own political history. political economy. at any rate. and contorts much of Marxism. is roughly how I understand Steele’s political history. Lenin’s (now outdated) analysis of imperialism.: I believe the principal criterion must be revolutionary practice in the broadest sense. the criterion of revolutionary practice emerges as dominant. that in some ways it is similar to Mao’s “It’s right to rebel!” in its emphasis on creative human activity rather than some sort of deterministic view. aesthetics. Here again. such as political economy. Marxism was a key part of changing the world: this is what drew him to it. that does not mean that those theories were not. and those that cannot. None of this is negated by the more critical. though. I am concerned about the tendency of some people nowadays to restrict the idea of science to natural science. though there are seeds of understanding. These views restrict the idea of science and set up a gap between phenomena that can allegedly be understood scientifically. with its well-known statement at the beginning of the book about the need for science if one is to penetrate beyond surface appearance. a theoretical understanding of the new phenomena is yet to be forged.Marx of course did view his later work as a science. This is not to dismiss the contributions of other Marxists (or “semi-Marxists. a certain detachment from practice creeps in and affects some of his formulations. At present the understanding of any number of areas is entirely inadequate to guide revolutionary practice. anthropology. This is particularly evident regarding the science of political economy (or the scientific “critique of political economy”) in Capital. paltriness of vision. Marxist political economy is scientific even though Marx made some unwarranted assumptions. don’t we arrive at the “postinevitablist” conclusion. first. historically and today. disorientation. usually seen as those in the natural world. and takes up. there is much to learn from Maoism and the 1960s. but in only very partially understood ways. and while not denying that there is a dialectic between these aspects and the scientific aspects of Marxism. We have many new phenomena to analyze and come to grips with. (And Marx is a figure—I’ll admit it—dear to me. or controlled laboratory experiments.” so to speak. I have known Steele for a long time. in part. To be clear. I think that Marxism overall is a philosophy and at its core is Mao’s view that it is an orientation toward revolutionary practice. much further than any other. or highly quantified science. scientific.)—how wrong (and “Cominternist”) that would be. and I think it is essential to differentiate between a Marxism that led a revolutionary struggle that came to victory and built a socialist society that advanced along the revolutionary road to a certain point. Steele makes no reference to this. But there is a huge difference “on the scales of history. and ultimate passing of “the left” today. In other words. As a result. especially Maoism.)” That is all well and good. unless. gives rise to “scientistic” errors. whether those that are studied in politics. does not mean that the approach in those theories was not scientific. Despite all these reversals and setbacks. 3 of 16 . He does not pose the central question: which elements of Marxism (or often at the heart of his stated conception. and the arts. The fact that these are theories that were forged in times and places where the terrain has changed significantly. etc. There are many components of it. that socialism and communism are not truly inevitable does not refute the scientific character of (parts of) Marxism but upholds it. ideologies. or not principally. one holds the view that quantification is a defining characteristic of any science. to play—and then further because he studied it and found that it helped give him a method with which to take up many questions. The idea that there is a scientific character to aspects of Marxism. or other fields (and some of these phenomena cannot be placed only in the natural or in the social world alone).” etc. It makes the idea of science lose all specificity. then. etc. Even though errors were made. the Black liberation movement. again. and the fractionation. not to the exclusion of anything else but as what became for him a core set of ideas. theories. Mao’s military theory. the smashing or petering out of revolutionary movements in nearly all the other countries where they existed in the 1960s and 1970s. actually goes against the dogmatic tendency that Steele identifies—to see it as a set of pat answers to already articulated questions that have been already thought through. I will note. never mind a “science of history”—there would be no history of science either. that do not and need not meet the criteria of science. concerning what Marxism is and is not (and in particular that it is not a science of history). But a one-sided focus on that fact does not mean the theories are not nevertheless scientific. which of Marx’s writings. or other movements that he came to understand Marxism. I am not on board with the notion that Marxism as a whole is a science. including ethics. I do not attempt here to analyze the statement by Badiou that Steele cites. and while Marxism offers a method and an example of how some perhaps similar problems have been solved in the past. and some aspects of politics. III On how to evaluate different political practices. This view not only rules out most of Marx’s work. moving in the direction of classless society. and I think he took up. Now it must be said that in various ways. even though the efforts that drew on and were guided by Marxism eventually failed or were defeated (that time around. not only in politics but in philosophy.

or that he thinks that the world has changed so much that today. I think.) By this argument. I don’t think the “post-“ prefix is merited. This is the criterion of revolutionary practice. and why. Without this. both Marxism and anarchism have some important things to say. scientific trend in Marxism. then yes. but it is accurate nonetheless. Maoism. by the mid. within the context of and focus on identifying and solving new problems. anarchism” begs the question. sometime in the 1890s. or maybe that. Pre-existing Marxism. or something else. frozen system. is right. even in its most advanced twentieth-century form. including entirely new ones. yes. It is particularly in this light that the formulation of “Marxism vs. and others. And then I think even more is required: there should be not only an identification of some problems that elude the “old paradigm. but I do not think Marxism should be defined so narrowly that they are not under its umbrella. I would say that the only real Marxism of the second half of the twentieth century was Maoism. Neither does anarchism. challenging. both Marxism and anarchism have to be learned from (though I am. and some of the other writers on this site). and centering our study of history on how different theoretical and political approaches have related to that standard. I am a Maoist but not an “unreconstructed Maoist. Mao had realized the disastrousness of the Leninist inheritance of urban insurrection as a military strategy for China. It is on the basis of this criterion more than any other that I believe that in the history of hitherto existing Marxist or semi-Marxist trends. he finds it unproductive and distracting to spend much time contemplating the history of previous socialist revolutions. I do think we should recognize a broad Marxist current that has mainly not been part of the Leninist tradition. by the time he published the special theory of relativity in 1905. in a sense. or at least partially appropriate. The only real Marxism? I do not think it is correct to say that but if I had to choose between saying that and saying that there are “many Marxisms” and not distinguishing among them on the basis of practice. it would be right to see Maoism as it developed over several decades as a (form of) “post-Leninism. in a world that has changed quite a bit. But the designation “post-Newtonian” probably was appropriate. anyway) to uphold the idea of “post-Maoism” (though I respect the work of many who do.” so I will explore it a bit. But then it would be interesting to know what Steele thinks about those questions. mean that we should see ourselves as being in the stage of “post-Maoism. will come to be appreciated in this process. That’s the wrong “topology. take this position. has no ready answer to this.) It is possible that the reason why Steele assigns less emphasis to what have been the most world-changing events and how they bear on what ideology should get a “preferential position” today is that. The fact that Maoism did not solve some of the old problems—and I think Badiou is right in identifying the “party-state” formation as one of the key ones—or that it has not.” One of the most important questions is precisely: how do we understand today’s global economy? The understanding of objective conditions in this overall sense is basic to any revolutionary undertaking. But I would prefer not to be boxed into that position. Mapping out the political and ideological field within today’s Marxism in this “bipartite” way—Maoism and philosophical Marxism—is. and others. more or less. and how does all of that relate to the construction of a “people’s state” (if there is such a thing) under socialism? Here. But again. it seems to me. We must focus on identifying and solving the problems. that Newtonian physics contained certain contradictions and could not explain certain phenomena. or may seem to be. Martin. preferable to the “many Marxisms” formulation. 4 of 16 . he has defined a plane of resources so that. But in some sense they have to “fall into position” with regard to a number of big. His basic point. revolutionary nationalism. It seems that to be a post-Maoist one would have to have a fairly clear notion of what parts of Maoism would need to be discarded or were “saturated.” Yet I am not prepared (not yet. far from saying to an equal extent).This may be. certainly on a world scale.” If the orientation is not firmly based on looking at things from the angle of changing the world. or other understandings. Maoism no longer has such great currency as I am saying. We can learn from all these trends but first and foremost from this one. I think the question of “Maoism or post-Maoism” is related to the question of “many Marxisms.” of at least a few of the key problems it cannot solve. anarchist. especially in the USSR and China. that we need to reexamine and learn from what is best in different ideologies and political trends. I don’t know that “philosophical Marxists” is the best way to refer to these thinkers. were so profound as they are thought to be by the Maoists (and perhaps some of the post-Maoists). or whether they bear very much on his views about revolutionary ideology and politics in today’s world. in the twentieth century is closely related to its being the most systematic and. including Steele. come to a clear understanding of many of the new phenomena (such as today’s global economy) does not yet. The value of Marxist. urgent questions. up to a certain point. everything is everything.” But it would not be right to call it that (and it was not yet Maoism either) merely on the basis that. Steele does not refer to it in his article. then it is not possible to learn the appropriate lessons from history and really put them to the service of changing the world. akin to what Bill Martin calls the “philosophical Marxists.” that has maintained its radical integrity and not been co-opted into the social democratic or modern revisionist trends. the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist trend is distinguished. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all of these. in my view. which is the only possible and sustainable one in today’s world. With regard to these questions. In conclusion So then where do things stand now? It is surely no good simply to “stand on Maoism” as though it were some sort of perfect. The question of its efficacy in changing the world on a large scale. and truly cannot on its own.” but some serious movement toward new solutions. (To draw on another analogy from physics: I would say that Einstein was not yet a “post-Newtonian” because he realized. how is it similar to or different from previous forms of revolutionary (including Leninist) organization. (To be clear: these are not the only revolutionary trends—there are revolutionary anarchism. such as the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment in 1887. clearly. Another example: how do we understand the type of political organization needed to lead and sustain a revolution. While I do not think the position of “many Marxisms” is correct. less “ecumenical” in its attitude toward anarchism. theoretical cogency. either he does not think the advances. and late 1920s.

certainly. fruitless dance of “Marxism vs. Whether we describe this as “many Marxisms” or not is immaterial. Of course this does not mean it’s the only resource. this is not the path to revolutionary practice. and therefore the arguments of those who have based themselves on different aspects and emphases in Marx have been framed as contending answers to the question of “true Marxism. Let me try to unpack what I see as mistaken in it. philosophy. consistent. We have many new phenomena to analyze and come to grips with. but Steele blurs these two questions. Does Marxism constitute a complete. But Marxism has been taken to be such a complete and over-arching theory. in any case. and integrated theory? I think the answer is no on each of these points. Marxism is a resource for politics. can claim a privileged or preferential position on the related criteria of scientificity and successful revolutionary practice. anarchism” that he rightly rejects. including on the part of dedicated revolutionaries. or to look at all ideologies from the standpoint of what needs to be understood and how to understand it. I’ll just make a couple of points on this issue.” I would say no. scientific trend in Marxism. Marxism has no privileged status: it’s a rich resource. and so forth. In this sense of resource. there is a straw-man argument running through it. as “the criterion of revolutionary practice.” which is then theorized. First. begin—where does it start from? What I am saying: it does not start from Marxism (or any other basic philosophy or theory). I am not a partisan if ignorance. or theory: yes.” Leaving aside the question of “the Marxist method. Marxism does have a privileged status. So. Steele writes: The question is: where does politics. a theoretical understanding of the new phenomena is yet to be forged. to help understand the relation of emancipatory politics and communist praxis to history). grounded in what needs to be transformed. as seen from the vantage point of the central question: which elements of Marxism… or “which Marxism”) have been associated with a revolutionary practice that has actually changed the world at various times and places. historically as well as today. Now there are all kinds of ways in which a theory can be a resource (in the case of Marxism. But Gray’s aim is not really to dispute this question.) What is needed. This is a very familiar line of thinking – too familiar. I think this is mostly a red herring. some of these might be: to help understand the dynamics of capitalism. The fact is. at least with respect to the question I was essentially interested in pursuing in my original piece. the relation between theory (here construed as science) and revolutionary practice which seems to underlie the conception and argument here. scientific) an assessment of the world. He wants to claim that one strand – that which runs from Marx to Lenin to Mao – is in fact a truer Marxism. It’s certainly not a complete theory that ‘explains everything. and while Marxism offers a method and an example of how some perhaps similar problems have been solved in the past. and the MLM historical trajectory. that there is diversity within Marxism. and communist praxis. or has a privileged status. At one point Gray says. moving in the direction of classless society… Now Gray identifies the question he has just centered things on. Of course it does not “explain everything”: again. as I’ve argued above. present and past.” The claim. for where it does start from. and if we do not understand that so narrowly as “just our own practice” but as “world-historic revolutionary (and communist) practice. Mao is quite clear. at least a good one to start from. though (as a help to understanding. This is a view I’ve argued against elsewhere. and I believe that we should have as thorough and complete (and yes. a fissure in the structure and dynamics of 5 of 16 . it seems presupposed here. however.” I believe that framing things in this way is both false with reference to Marx and very unfruitful politically.” and goes on to say that the fact that “the Marxist-LeninistMaoist” (MLM) trend stands out with regard to this criterion “is closely related to its being the most systematic and. Yet more important. Rather. Mao was very clear on that. will by itself lead to revolutionary practice. for example). as we can get. But no amount of knowledge and understanding. is that Marxism.’ as it’s sometimes been taken to be. then (ignoring Gray’s undeveloped mention of “what Bill Martin calls ‘philosophical Marxists’”). He gave an argument. But he does not venture any answer. with his formulation about how Marxism embraces but does not replace scientific and artistic theories. in order for a revolutionary political process to begin.Toward the end of his article. and each strand of this multiplicity can claim some basis in Marx. 2011 at 4:52 pm Vern Gray centers a lot of his essay around the question of whether there are many Marxisms or just one Marxism undergoing development. we move from analysis (based on science or more generally knowledge) to revolutionary practice. using the method which “Marxism offers. 16 Comments John Steele September 5. Why make these straw-man or question-begging arguments? What purpose do they serve? By no means are they necessary in order to oppose the dogmatic. (And no. My first observation is that most of this does not really go beyond Maoism. Contrary to Steele. particularly today (and my impetus for raising this issue is very much with regard to today’s political impasse). is something like what Badiou calls an event: a break. but not the only one. Politics and communist praxis do not start from Marxism. it is not that what is needed in addition is moral norms or ideals. yes. as in Marxism—then we have an answer to Steele’s question. to help understand human history. An orientation toward science is an essential part of this effort. perhaps.

that actually pose rather concretely. with reference to how far up the scale they have progressed? Certainly this is something I did believe at one time – the grand march of history. there are also solid points that Steele makes in his comments to Gray around the question. Reading accounts of this period from Alexander Rabinowitch to Helmut Gruber’s documentary histories. Because of the failure of these movements and the consolidation of Bolshevik power in Russia. were isolated or removed. September 5. one revolutionary road. In this sense. The thing with this problem and how it relates to 1918-1923 is that party-state question along with the Bolshevization of the international communist movement. for where reconception begins. Because of Soviet hegemony and the resources at there disposal the ideas of other thinkers were shunned and never had a fair chance to really get off the ground. much further than any other. should success be our criterion with reference to revolutionary practice? I don’t believe so. Should our question be. Obviously this must be merged with Gray’s criterion of advancing up the revolutionary road (otherwise capitalism beats all comers in its successful changing of the world on the widest scale). and (more significantly) it’s not the basis of a fruitful politics. The ideas of a multi-party 6 of 16 . How can we be successful in changing the world? Again. Now Gray has said in his argument that one thing that Mao did not figure out was the party-state question. But leaving that aside. (And of course this Hegelian view can be found in Marx. There are two or three points here. or Amadeo Bordiga. To take an obvious historical example. and to dictate to other parties how they should carry out tactics all became established by 1923. or even Victor Serge or Leon Trotsky. In this sense alternative paths for building socialism and also revolutionary praxis in regard to seizing power also became stifled. and the criterion.things – and then someone. even while I would actually say that Mao’s body of work actually developed against the backdrop of what I would call the negative outcome of those particular years (1918-1923) which embodied the first for congresses of the 3rd international. the consolidation of the one party state became a model for how socialism must be constituted everywhere. 2011 at 10:28 pm I would probably say first of all that I tend to agree with Vern Gray’s overall argument. or just plain left the Comintern. the ambiguity of the question is striking. Those who questioned Soviet authority from within the international such as Herman Gorter. “Advanced along the revolutionary road to a certain point” – There is. the de-facto ability of Bolshevik leaders to initiate splits within other parties. with its goal and. we could also ask. I believe. how successful was the Russian Revolution? A victorious revolution. or some people. and also for local intiative became stifled. Like Gray says. Paul Levi. Mao Tse-tung struggled through this suffocation of revolutionary praxis to lead a successful revolution and to analyze socialist society through its Soviet and Chinese experiences. for creativity and experimentation. And I think it is also true that these policies were defeated through political struggle within the communist movement and not necessarily proved false through revolutionary praxis. and the variety of “Marxisms” that have never succeeded in changing anything on anywhere near this level. becomes very ambiguous at best: a sure sign that we need to rethink the question of revolutionary success. and also his military theory. I think starting out from where Mao left off and giving preference to his body of thought is actually necessary. politics “punches a hole “ (Badiou’s phrase) in knowledges. Bolshevik hegemony over the Comintern became an established fact. Gray is also putting forward the idea that success in “changing the world on a large scale” should be the measure of revolutionary practice. the ability for choice. As things developed. that success in revolutionary practice should overall create a preferance or starting point if you will. that doesn’t mean solely starting out from Mao. some important caveats to Gray’s overall arguments. which ultimately all failed. but does the history of the Soviet Union embody revolutionary success? The question. its progress. and following out the glimpse of the possibility of something new which that break has given them. In this light Hammerquist’s desire in his comments on Steele’s article on “Marxism or Anarchism or…” that there be an assessment within our project of the revolutionary years from 1918-1923 is a desire I very much share. how successful was the Paris Commune? It was not a successful revolution: it was defeated. And especially now. particulalrly around the question of mass line. however he never really gave up on the party-state idea and never really critiqued in a thourough way the lessons of the formative years of international communism (1918-1923). But besides the question of progress along a predefined revolutionary road. no matter how scientific. but I do believe given the history of our last century of revolutionary praxis there is something unique in his work. understanding of class struggle under socialism. I think going back to this period actually show the flaws in giving too much preferance to Mao. “What is it that actually constitutes success?”. That being said.) But its not a view that can really be upheld now. such that various societies can be measured. despite the twists and turns. Also through the particular way that things became consolidated. So that’s one side of it. But didn’t it reveal possibilities. jumping on that break. then. I would argue started in these years. I think it is essential to differentiate between a Marxism that led a revolutionary struggle that came to victory and built a socialist society that advanced along the revolutionary road to a certain point. I am calling these years the formative years of international communism because it was during these years that a number of key demarcations and splits occurred that defined and differentiated this new communist movement both from 2nd International Social Democracy and also from Anarchism or Left Commmunism if you will. it is clear as we all should no that the paradigm of the party-state along with other things consolidated during this time were by no means a given. But I also want to contest the thesis that there is a tradition or trend of successful revolutionary practice upon which we can or should base ourselves in going forward. These were also years of intense revolutionary activity and there were several attempts at seizing power in a number of different countries. yes. and serve as an inspiration for generations? On the other hand. Politics doesn’t follow from knowledge. stifled not through their defeat by capital but through the hegemony of 3rd International Bolshevization. Reply Nat W. Gray says. a constant. a measure and a scale. but it seems clear to me that this guideline leads only to the right. to direct actual insurrections from abroad. betting everything they have on it. and perhaps especially not now. Within the Soviet Union itself.

There was the foundation of Marxian economics. as foundational. there are areas where MLM did not do speak adequately enough. they are still resting on a theoretical foundation. There was dissension and difference of opinion expressed in a way we have not seen in the communist movement maybe up until now in Nepal. it was crucial that a consistently Marxist approach was applied. and while it has been stated by some that the latter two were actually the greater political economists. September 7. Would Lenin have drawn the same conclusions if he was giving equal weight to all theoretical conceptions of political economy or revolutionary praxis? But it is also true that the theoretical tools provided by Marx did present Lenin with an impasse as opposed to a ready made solution. I guess you can say that there was both a foundation and an impasse in this example. I consider myself a Maoist. I agree with the notion that not all Marxisms are equal. including our theoretical history. for instance while Lenin. But I think there are two ways of looking at this history in relation to going forward. And I would agree with Vern here again. In this regard. One example is Marxist political economy. 2011 at 4:48 pm Thanks for clarifying John. and there’s so much that cries out to be studied deeply and critically. in the name of upholding Leninism as part of our MLM or other type of Marxist Leninist identity. 7 of 16 . That Maoism gives us important starting points for communist military science and analysis of socialism. and Hilferding all wrote about imperialism. but must be overcome or gone beyond (I am thinking particularly of that crucial party-state knot). Or. I do not hold the view that everything is up for grabs. On the otherhand. It maybe that in this regard MLM does not deserve as much preference. I don’t hold with disowning that or thinking that it doesn’t matter. Mao. And there is the need to look at our whole history and possibly to reconsider some ideas (even some that today fall under some trend of anarchism) that we have not really not thought about in along time. that we need to start from point zero. about building socialism and even ideas about autonomy in international communist bodies and revolutionary strategy in more developed countries. We all come out of traditions (Maoist or other). Reply John Steele September 7. or with an impasse? I believe it is the latter. In addition the Marxist trend of MLM was not as successful in building socialism as it was in analyzing capitalism and seizing power. yes. While such ideas actually existed and were at times incoporporated. It maybe necessary in that regard to look back at some of the debates and ideas that were defeated during the course of the years 1918-1923. it was not only one of many tools which included varying Marxian and non-Marxian ideas. talks about above. it was Lenin who understood better the dialectic in the new economic situation of that time between destruction and construction and how crisis would be resolved through inter-imperialist war and the opportunities that presented for revolutionaries. These may not be problems that can be resolved in their own terms. the art and science of revolutionary overthrow. I think that the way we look to solve such impasses usually rests on a combination of foundational principles along with new thinking about problems not anticipated and critiques outside of our foundational framework. I think it makes sense to do this. including the revolutionary tradition broadly conceived. I would give MLM preference based on its actual achievements. So I have no thought of disregarding the past. It maybe the case then that the Marxism-Leninism-Maoism may be a preferential place to start for reconceiving political economy. And I agree with John that we should understand this as well for how we go about reconcpetion. And we have to think in new ways and find a new praxis in order to get beyond this impasse. The problem is that it cannot be considered a given that socialism must always be constituted in such a form and that Mao never thought through the possibility of dissolving that form as part of leading the GPCR and creating more substantive representation and leadership by the people themselves. And he saw the problems inherent in socialist society itself as constituted throught the paradigm of the one party state. but foundational nonetheless). or of a socialism where the soviets were given more political authority that were argued for during the beginnings of Soviet power eventually became drowned out. and we all. as a foundation (with cracks and defects which we need to repair. Further events will bear out which conceptions have more validity. Not at all. The arguments from that period were very rich and much was at stake on an international level. 2011 at 7:21 am Just a short note that I hope will clarify my meaning. that history doesn’t matter…. we can see the revolutionary past as presenting some basic problems which must be surmounted. And I think that there is the need to give preference to certain ideas at times. I think there are some times that we can look at aspects of our history. It provides us with a foundation through which to look at developments regarding the structure of the world we are trying to transorm. This presents pretty starkly the contrast I wish to draw: Does the revolutionary past present us with a foundation. While it is true that Marxist economists and communist theorists who apply Marxist political economy develop different outlooks and conceptions about how they percieve economic developments. So on the one hand. there were visions of socialist society that were politically drowned out. like the crucial 1918-23 period that Nat W. At the same time that our history presents us with sets of problems (impasses). but accomplishments nonetheless). On the other hand.socialism. stand in a present that’s been shaped by the past. no matter who. more than they actually failed. Luxembourg. broke with the Comintern in carrying out the Chinese revolution through leading the peasants as the main revolutionary force in the given circumstance of his country. One way is to see it as a basis for revolutionary work now and going forward — as a series of accomplishments (with flaws to be taken account of. in contrast. Reply Nat W. This was the tool used to explain the given situation.

So yes the foundation was there. And while there is the absolute need to listen to new thinkers both Marxist and non-Marxist. and I can’t do better at the moment.” Let’s accept that for the moment (although I’d argue that the fact that Marx titled Capital a critique of political economy is crucial). I tried to express one aspect in speaking of Marxism as a resource. but it’s radically inadequate today. Can’t it be said that Badiou’s thinking started from his grounding in Maoism and developed from there incorporating all types of thinkers from Deleuze to Wittgenstein in the development of his theoretical searching. Our relation to revolutionary tradition is complicated. But because the basic Marxist template. Reply Nat W. The essential point. the basis for a possible emancipatory process going forward. I drew a contrast between the past (Marxism. I view or interpret foundation as a starting point not a set of static laws to be applied in current practice. contemporary class analysis and political economy. a mechanic usually has a given preference for the tool that she/he will use. At the same time though. in effect says it’s not a matter of either/or. in the original post to which Gray’s post replies. Neither Marxism nor any other body of doctrine or method of analysis. that the slate is wiped clean and we start from nothing. their thinking did originate from a paticular point and was then able to launch from that point. Nat W. While toolboxes consist of many tools. All of these thinkers certainly. All the great revolutionary theorists (from Lenin to Mao to Althusser. I would venture to say that every theoretical breakthrough stands on the shoulders of some previous thought and is also very much connected to the context of the era in which the breakthrough occurs. this doesn’t mean that everything is up for grabs. September 8.) As I said above. or —) serving as a basis or foundation for revolutionary work now – for praxis – and the past as presenting basic impasses to which the revolutionary process had come. but the foundation also presented a set of problems (an impasse). at the same time I would argue there are areas of our work in which there actually do exist foundations or “starting points” and that such foundations are equal to the notion of giving theoretical “preference” to certain conceptions of revolutionary praxis. rather it be organizational form. is that the revolutionary past is not. that would have to be solved in the concrete. Something like this model may have been sufficient in the past (and this is worth discussing much further). then we’ve got what we need to come up with a revolutionary synthesis which can serve as a foundation for a revolutionary praxis. and also to go back and revisit some of our previous “verdicts”. in any straightforward way. etc. I think that certain methods of analysis (particularly MLM) give us a better chance at arriving at such a praxis. Leaving aside the role of Marxism for a momet though. This is the model that I am contesting. It maybe true that starting from any method of analysis (and certainly any “body of doctrine”) will not necessarily lead to a revolutionary praxis. Reply John Steele September 8. And of course this is not only true for Marxist or MLM thought. Rosa Luxembourg used a Marxist approach to look at this same period and came up with a conception of imperialism which was quite deterministic. but this isn’t wholly adequate. (In Badiou’s terms. then apply that to our present situation. Why? Not simply because the world has changed. Nat W. This does not mean in my own thought that one stay grounded in a particular set framework once one has lift off.) implemented and incorporated the new thinking of their times to develop their theory. looking at MLM as method and a launching pad from which to start reconception. but Marxism as an unfolding nexus of social theory-and-practice. Is it really true that there can ever be just a number of resources all equally adequate 8 of 16 .In other words. including an understanding of the dynamics of capital. there is a combination of both resting on some foundational theoritical concepts. in all its permutations. This becomes a little too much along the lines that if we take our Marxist (or Marxist-Leninist. I’m less concerned with upholding tradition and specific conclusions then I am with. does not yield an emancipatory praxis. 2011 at 1:48 pm Thanks John. etc. but both/and. Such a process will not result in a revolutionary praxis today. through a deep understanding of the world around us. broke away with certain traditional thinking and logic to arrive at new conceptions and to develop new strains of thought. The mechanic will reach in the toolbox and pick out the tool that is best for solving the problem. I won’t give any more examples but I think in regard to many areas in which we must reconceive. I would beg the question. I think we do have a disagreement. I think on this point we agree. I think we need to look at our theoretical and political toolboxes in the same way. That is my point. yes. even if their rhetoric was sometimes cloaked in orthodoxy. you could not just read Marx to gain an understanding of the politcal devlopments leading up to WWI. But to be clear. But all the understanding in the world. or MLM) tradition and its conclusions. Every breakthrough contains both strands of the past and strains of the radically new. military strategy. I do not agree with the idea that Marxism or MLM is essentially one tool along with many others all of equal value. however. this truthprocess has become saturated. as did the development of history itself. has become exhausted – not Marxism as analysis. along with the necessity to see the past as presenting certain problems through which our previous history did not provide strong enough answers or even that it did not anticipate. That being said. 2011 at 7:48 am I need to clarify a bit more (or perhaps simply argue some more). we are not starting from nothing. using creativity and perhaps “the Marxist method” to overcome the problems stemming from the fact that the world has changed. cites Marxist political economy as providing “a foundation through which to look at developments regarding the structure of the world we are trying to transform. the idea that there was a finite capacity for capital to expand globally and that once this capacity was reached capitalism would implode.

such that various societies can be measured. a constant. I wrote: “Politics and communist praxis do not start from Marxism. The point is not to declare an allegiance to either [i. can we not determine which society had progressed further toward communism? Must this determination call on any form of Hegelian idealism whatsoever? 9 of 16 .” and he then likens this to the Hegelian concept of “the grand march of history. .” I wrote. or theory: yes. which all have to do with the elimination of classes. . overall. This formulation pertains specifically to our current situation. a measure and a scale. Again. a completely consistent system? On the contrary. In the mean time I am inclined to take the position that certainly all resources are not equal. Preference must thus be given to certain resources over others. Vern has sensed that implication in your article and I have brought it up and you have not elaborated on that particular point. we move from analysis (based on science or more generally knowledge) to revolutionary practice. Reply Vern Gray September 9. . Mao was very clear on that. I also think he summarizes the historical development of Marxism in a largely correct way. using the method which ‘Marxism offers. with regard to my comments about the part played by science in Marxism: “So. I won’t repeat Vern Gray’s crtieria for what must be done to say that we moved to something called post-Maoism. I agree with you that our relationship to that past is complicated and not the basis in any straightforward way for a possible process going forward. So let me put this a different way. philosophy. not only the overall historical process. paper will put up with whatever is written on it.. much further than any other. Whether we describe this as ‘many Marxisms’ or not is immaterial. Steele writes of his “many Marxisms” that “each strand of this multiplicity can claim some basis in Marx. I do think we are leaping off of the shoulders of our predecessors. and the international situations they were situated in. is mostly a red herring.) Elsewhere. He gave an argument. learning from the problems they encountered (impasses presented). and if we do not understand that so narrowly as “’just our own practice’” but as “’world-historic . Marxism or anarchism] or an opposition to the other but to deeply investigate and analyze conditions.” Well. I do not know why Steele has found it necessary to criticize this viewpoint. as Steele stresses. where I refute Avakian’s so-called “theory/practice/theory dynamic”). However. Now to what I consider the central point: Steele also takes issue with how I discuss the “criterion of revolutionary practice. writing that it implies that “there is one revolutionary road.” which define the sources of practice too narrowly.’ Steele challenges this view. . say. and indeed it has some. in his first post on this thread. and as Stalin remarked. in my article on class truth. as in Marxism—then we have an answer to Steele’s question. there is a diversity within Marxism. I have specifically repudiated this view. and how we explore “what is to be done”? Steele also says. be irrelevant to how we seek to understand the world today. and purpose of Marxism (and not merely certain particulars). On the other hand. How can the question of whether we accept that these trends are actually in accord with the overall content.e. I think it is essential to differentiate between a Marxism that led a revolutionary struggle that came to victory and built a socialist society that advanced along the revolutionary road to a certain point. I also wrote. Part of the method for determining these preferences must be based partly on some summation of our revolutionary past. even if we cannot define its boundaries with full precision (and probably are better off not to).for a particular purpose? This is where I think your idea of Marxism as a resource becomes inadequate and needs further elaboration.’” This is not what I have written. it seems to be presupposed here. which is what Steele is concerned with here. China in 1976 to the Soviet Union in 1936 (when Stalin claimed that antagonistic classes had been eliminated)? Leaving aside all the differences between the Soviet and Chinese revolutions. practice. for where it does start from. . I have criticized the view that. With regard to Steele’s comments. historically as well as today. it is another thing to imply that every resource available to revolutionaries for developing a new praxis has equal value. In his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. he asserts that “whether there are many Marxisms or just one Marxism undergoing development . whether the formulation of “many Marxisms” is correct is certainly relevant to the question of what Marxism might have to do with an understanding of our situation today. and each strand of this multiplicity can claim some basis in Marx. and the claim is central to the specificity and the very existence of revisionism. however. and forge an ideology and politics that can guide and learn from revolutionary practice. and even though Marxism is not. but I tend to think his points are valid.’” which is then theorized. and can thus legitimately be classified as forms of Marxism. Marx makes his formulation about how the resolution of several major contradictions will be essential to the transition to communism.” My use of the term “revolutionary road” was not the best because. . and is no more “one-sided” than his own. thrust. how would we compare. It is likewise with many forms of social democracy. 2011 at 9:13 am I agree with most of what Nat has written about the “privileged status” of revolutionary Marxism and the fact that we are standing on its foundations. at least a good one to start from. There are some other issues Nat raises that I would like to discuss at another time. without necessarily knowing in what direction it will all lead. since I do not hold it or put it forward. . I would love to hear your clarification on that point. and the variety of ‘Marxisms’ that have never succeeded in changing anything on anywhere near this level. theory is a starting point for a communist party (for example. That must be shown in its own right. there is really nothing remarkable about that: as Lenin said shortly after the Russian Revolution. although I did not intend it to mean that there is the same road to revolution in all societies. I doubt you think that. From the standpoint of these criteria. If it is indeed true that Marxism has become saturated then that is one thing. However. engage in political experimentation (Steele borrows from Badiou and I think it’s a phrase that conveys the right novelty and flexibility). and the various particularities of each country.” (I have inserted the ellipses in place of my original words “revolutionary [and communist]. with reference to how far up the scale they have progressed. it can perhaps be interpreted in that way. Revisionism claims some basis in Marx. as Steele knows. Agreeing with Steele. “today everyone is a Marxist”.” How could this possibly be correct—that it makes no difference what the essential defining characteristics of Marxism are.

I see the impasse we are facing as being on a much larger scale than the impasse of Marxism.) If I’ve misinterpreted points of Vern Gray’s. and even after we appropriate what can be appropriated from the history of Marxism and the socialist countries—learning not only from the modest advances but from the errors. Nat W. This becomes a little too much along the lines that if we take our Marxist (or Marxist-Leninist. and in particular. in which some possibilities are opened up and others are forestalled (sometimes mistakenly. has become exhausted—not Marxism as analysis. (We all seem to agree that the party-state formation is a big issue. triggering a change in the activity and consciousness of people. this greater development of “openings” and “closings” is inevitable when we are talking about a process that lasts on the order of fifty years (as from the start of the people’s war in China till the seizure of power by the revisionists) rather than two months (the Commune). I would say. in effect says it’s not a matter of either/or. Call that caricature “Marxism” if you must. 10 of 16 . Such a process will not result in a revolutionary praxis today. there must be something new in the world that people have the insight to recognize. ecology. imo. even though the masses and a communist party were in power. Yet Marxism has overall said precious little on this subject—even after allowances for some of the good work that’s been done over the past thirty years. respects still closer to capitalism than to communism.). Finally. Back to Maoist China: in an overall sense. then we’ve got what we need to come up with a revolutionary synthesis which can serve as a foundation for a revolutionary praxis. that sought to suppress what was new and needed because it fell outside orthodoxy. a good analysis? The questions I am raising here do not imply that “nothing is needed but Marxism. this truth-process has become saturated. I think. Whether we speak of Badiou’s “event” or Mao’s “single spark” (these are not exactly synonymous but perhaps either will do for the moment). This is an enormous impasse. But then that is scarcely a new insight.and I can’t deal with much due to time constraints.” a word Steele erroneously uses in describing my view). or —) serving as a basis or foundation for revolutionary work now—for praxis—and the past as presenting basic impasses to which the revolutionary process had come. Steele chose to construct an argument in which he compared the USSR and the Paris Commune. On the other hand. serve theoretical clarity. but doing so cannot. Steele argues: I drew a contrast between the past (Marxism.” What sort of process of unfolding theory-and-practice is not informed by. we not only have a great deal to learn from the Chinese experience. and revolutionary movements elsewhere. but it’s radically inadequate today. Mao nevertheless believed that a mere change in the character of the party leadership could lead to the restoration of capitalism (which is just what happened). that is true of the Soviet Union. in his third comment. apologies for that. as principally presenting an impasse rather than serving as a foundation. but for some reason. political. to the question of “impasse”: Steele sees the revolutionary past.” but that it has become exhausted as an “unfolding nexus of social theory-and-practice. and cultural transformation. there can be no sustainable solution to any of the other big problems we face unless we deal effectively with this one. before there can be the possibility of significant and perhaps revolutionary change. but from changes in the world (another view that Steele disagrees with in his remarks on Nat’s comments). This is a problem of a kind and scale that Marxism has not adequately formulated and has never seriously surmounted. but it does not mean that Marxism is not foundational or that it cannot be extended to a comprehension of environmental issues (not to the exclusion. In other words. As we know. or MLM) tradition and its conclusions. but we stand on the shoulders of it. is good and valuable. Further. Finally. But in some ways. To a lesser degree. Nevertheless. integrated with. With Nat. Though I would not want to argue that the Soviet revolution somehow “ranks beneath” the Paris Commune. Rather it is a familiar truth that something new and different has to change in the objective situation. both clarification and contestation. and “run with. were the possibilities and inspirations it engendered somehow outweighed by those of the Paris Commune? Of course. as apparently I have. much of it is. seize on.I might have thought it was obvious that I was referring to Mao’s China as being the country where society had gone the furthest in a communist direction in terms of economic. He writes that the Commune “revealed possibilities” and “served as an inspiration for generations”—true enough. Here’s why I say this: We are faced with an acute and urgent global problem: the natural environment is severely out of balance. although there were very significant changes in many fields. or exaggerated for polemical purposes.) I must admit that I do not understand how it could be that Marxism as analysis has not been “exhausted. Chinese socialism was in many.” It is true that often in history. certain possibilities of the Commune were foreclosed in China. Why? Not simply because the world has changed. Reply John Steele September 9. in all its permutations. of course. not from the internal limitations of Marxism. And we are faced with making huge steps toward a resolution within a highly compressed time period that is unprecedented for a problem of this magnitude. 2011 at 3:18 pm Well – There’s a lot here. but not always permanently). but both/and. and as part of that. using creativity and perhaps “the Marxist method” to overcome the problems stemming from the fact that the world has changed. whereas the Soviet Union embodied a “revolutionary success” that was “very ambiguous at best”—yes. But because the basic Marxist template. (In Badiou’s terms. a historical bridge between the party and the state. then apply that to our present situation. Probably I’ve not articulated things as well as I should have. but Marxism as an unfolding nexus of social theory-and-practice. etc. but that is part of the dialectical process in all revolutionary advances. social. and then more than that. But it was overwhelmingly a caricature of Marxism. beside the point in relation to what I am attempting to put forward.” with some creative touches or updates added. actually I think the army has to be included as part of a triumvirate.) I think the impasse principally does come. whereas he recognized that there was a long and tortuous road (a “road”!) on the way to communism (and one that can scarcely be accurately called “predefined. (But of course the process of back-and-forth. doing this has gone up against the “established norms of the international communist movement” or the “knowledges” that blindly “know” that such new truths can’t possibly come into existence. the Paris Commune. one which opposed Lenin’s or Mao’s innovations. some of which I agree with. I won’t pursue that here. I think it’s right to say here: both. in many ways it certainly was (and in some it was not even that good). Marxism. This is the model that I am contesting. Something like this model may have been sufficient in the past (and this is worth discussing much further). and no amount of theoretical preparation can substitute for such a process or by itself produce a mass awakening. Part of the question has to do with just how different Chinese socialism was from capitalism. of the necessary role of the sciences of climatology. about which Steele has many opinions. it is a foundation. even most.

as for Marx and a revolutionary Marxism. Of course 11 of 16 . where it is the recognition of the event which founds both subject and truthprocess. At that point. generating a for-or-against field. 2011 at 2:27 am It seems to me that the orientation toward taking movement in the world and practice as primary is very combatible with the notion of looking at our revolutionary past as a combination of foundational grounding and the presentation of a set of problems to be resolved through our current practice. in coming to grips with the revolutionary political vista thus opened up. however never approaching anything close to the hegemony enjoyed by international communism. Using our understanding of this history as a foundation to reconceive revolutionary praxis.” (From Mao Papers. Basing their action on this thesis. Jerome Ch’en. practice. then Marxists” statement. And then again it was the trend of MLM that was able to find its way through this obstacle and provide the most valuable insights on revolutionary praxis and building socialism. Should the Marxism put forward by Mao in this passage be understood as beginning from a primordial ethical judgment (rebellion is right.) In making an interpretation here. not without its own problems and unresolved contradictions (some of which have been pointed out by Badiou). Practice. But more later Reply Nat W. (The movement here is similar to Badiou’s sequence of event. a thesis established by Marx from the struggle of the proletariat. and it’s this which generates the need which is not only what has led. whether there s an essence of Marxism — interesting.” Let’s start from a fuller quotation of Mao’s famous statement in its original context: “The immense complexity of Marxism can be summed up in one sentence: ‘It is justifiable to rebel’ For centuries people have been saying: ‘It is justifiable to oppress or to exploit people. I must run. And ultimately we can asume there will be new things that arise that have never been dealt with. I don’t see a problem because our revolutionary past does represent a vast wealth of actual practice in the first place. At the same time it is true. Putting this together with the “first revolutionaries. where I begin by citing two things that Mao said. is precisely a position that puts practice as primary. which I’d argue for. and nationalism can allow for us to make the arguement that Maoism deserves a privileged position in beginning our attempts at reconception and regroupment. but a practical one which is simultaneous with ranging oneself with those who rebel. and as a result we became Marxists. between theory and practice. And our past will also give us a sense of how those who came before us tried to answer these questions. September 11. Marxism turned this thesis upside down. That is a great contribution. putting oneself on the side of those who rebel? In the latter case.” and the second is his much-quoted “it’s right to rebel. I would say deserves a privileged position in how we look at forging a new path out of where our past has led us because I think it is correct to say that no other path has moved us closer to our goals then this Marxist trend. but a conceptual relationship and construal of what’s going on. to taking up Marx. I’m going to resort (with apologies!) to self-quotation. I think. None of this movement from practice to theory guarantees anything. but not important or pressing with regard to the truly important question of emancipatory praxis today. The point is not a sure-fire method of getting everything right. and only then Marxists (Maoists). but it is wrong to rebel’. there are many problems to be solved. the justifiability is not an abstract (or an a priori) judgment. isn’t it also the case that MLM has in fact been primarily responsible for pinpointing the contradictions under socialism and also making attempts in practice to move through the contradictions it discovered. and worked for socialism. It in no way conflicts with the idea that first we are revolutionaries. with an ethics following out of this nexus. This past practice serves as a foundation in the sense that it marks the history of our previous attempts at forging a path toward communism and is in fact responsible for developing the methods that have led us to our current impasse for better or for worse. MLM. if you will. other trends of revolutionary praxis both Marxist and non-Marxist were discredited. or were otherwise unable to develop mass bases of support due to the resounding advantages in resources and the perceived legitmacy of the said 3rd International. the following is from Part II of my essay Marxism.4) What is primary is the movement in the world. including ethically. not pursued. I really don’t think it’s an important question. earlier in our history that because the 3rd International gained a strong ammount of hegemony within the international communist movement. justified)? Or should rebellion be seen as the primary action. however. a lot turns on a question of priority. The summation of our past is seen as an important part of our reconception precisely because it can ground us in some things that we will almost certainly come across in our revolutionary endeavors. I agree with Vern. But the essential point has to do with the relation. Politics. It is also a position that takes into consideration the way that the world and our revolutionary struggle for communism have actually moved. and to try to again clarify my meaning. yes. but which is also necessary in order to come at Marx in such a way as to see his theory as an understanding of the present which shows a different future as possible. anarchism. of course. and certainly not a good or fruitful understanding of Marx. Again in this sense. we can see how (as I see it) the basic movement is from rebel or revolutionary practice to Marxism as the affirmation and comprehension of that practice within a larger. This grounding certainly won’t provide us with exact replicates of how problems presented themselves in the past. There were exceptions where some other revolutionary left forces gained some traction. Ethics in this conception is formed upon and around a basic practical orientation. people have shown defiance. and then movement forward from there.On a couple of minor points (to my mind): I don’t hold that all possible resources are on a level. with Marxism beginning from affirmation of the rebellion. This primacy of practice is essential for Mao. Along with key insights on how to lead hundreds of millions of people in revolutionary struggle through the conception of mass line and communist military strategy. and Evil. but hope the above may clarify what I mean by the overall nexus of they and practice. our wealth of human experience including our history of revolutionary movement in the 20th century including different trends of communism. or of equal value. deeper context. subject and truth-process. historically. struggled. and it certainly won’t give us ready made answers. It will ultimately present us with a set of questions that we will face in beginning to build a new communist movement. This whole experience represents our revolutionary practice up to our current point. ed. in part. The first is his observation that “First we were revolutionaries.

others can argue otherwise and I am by no means implying that Maoism’s body of work should be all we need from our history or our present. 2011 at 3:50 pm A few quibbles aside. In each case. when the focus is on the ‘victories’ of the Soviet revolutionary period and when it is on the ‘advances’ of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. the balance of global power had shifted in favor of ‘socialism’ and the entire framework of revolutionary possibility and revolutionary responsibility had been decisively and permanently reworked. That’s almost a truism. the motives. The fact is that there have been no revolutionary advances towards communism that are so distinctive. 2011 at 5:06 pm I want to say a few things about this discussion that are in general support of John’s arguments – although he may not see it quite as I do. Not only had the Russians moved beyond the stage of the dictatorship of the proletariat and become a “state of the whole people” – a concept so wrongheaded on so many levels it still makes my teeth hurt – but this transition was a conclusive one. and I agree that one is necessary. what is and isn’t a ‘foundation’ for further advances. Possibly I should write a little less and read and think a little more. The real point at issue is whether we can assume our understandings of Marxism provide us with some significant foundational truths that don’t need to be constantly reconfirmed and revalidated and that are not accessible to other. How can it be concluded a priori that it will provide the ‘best tools’ when it isn’t even apparent if these tools are hammers. Each key concept in this one of Vern’s. what is and isn’t an essential core of ‘Marxism’. Badiou & Politics. and I certainly include myself here. or ‘whose Marxism’. To what extent is revolutionary theory detachable? Reply Don Hamerquist September 13. in the first place. Such debates do not come with easy and conclusive resolutions. while the “imbecilic self sufficiency” that it supported in so many is subject matter for jokes. particularly in the absence of clear evidence that they either were politically defeated in a hostile split or were handcuffed by ‘objective conditions’? Just to be clear. what actually is a ‘positive’ and what is a ‘negative’. The relevance to this particular discussion is that this was all presented as exemplary results from the scientific practice of Marxism Leninism by the vanguard detachment of a global revolutionary movement. Back when I was wasting a decade in the CPUSA. they provide a mess of contradictory estimates and interpretations. the results. ‘…is that Marxism’. far exceeding what capitalist military power or ideological hegemony could have accomplished on its own legs – or perhaps I should say shoulders – is why Badiou is certainly guilty of understatement when he notes that. This is the practical reason why this talk about the need to ‘privilege’ Marxism is so wrongheaded and off the point. tape measures. if so. in other words. and so self-evidently positive that they provide a stable set of shoulders for our clumsy feet. But considering this discussion. While those Soviet claims to have advanced the revolution past the ‘socialist’ tipping point were fraudulent and no one in this discussion would consider them a foundational truth. That is. 275) And. … a revolutionary struggle that came to victory and built a socialist society that advanced along the revolutionary road to a certain point. or something completely different – and we can’t decide whether they have functioned to destroy – or resurrect – 12 of 16 . ‘which Marxism’. I have tried to deal with this whole question more fully in my current post. ‘victory’. we will continually have to retest and revalidate the most basic premises and the most concrete programmatic steps. ‘socialist society’. one major source of the “mould” (sic) is that very experience that Vern Gray argues was. one common theme of the recently post-Stalin Soviet officialdom was of the ‘irreversible’ character of revolutionary progress in the USSR. a matter of the definition. and so long as it can be reasonably and rationally asked about the most disparate revolutionary strategies. that shouldn’t obscure more general problems with the notion that a contemporary revolutionary movement should look to ‘develop on the shoulders’ of past revolutionary practice. The word communism has contracted some mould. (cited in Bosteels. is contested among Marxists. I have to confess I haven’t followed the discussion carefully and will probably both distort and oversimplify some positions and understate the agreements that I share with all of the participants. in my opinion. perhaps the problems with a political framework that could reach such absurd conclusions are still not fully understood. the likelihood is that we will slip off such platforms into the crap that mired past generations of radicals including those that are presumed to offer the very best of the good shoulders. It’s hard to believe now that this was all taken seriously. but it was. appear to believe that the Marxist revolutionary tradition can be divided into positives and negatives and that we can build on the positive while discarding the negative. Somehow behind our backs. non-Marxist. will always privilege Marxism in our approach to politics. in fact. this mold on Communism can be traced back to the two central experiences with Marxism identified on the one hand with Lenin and the Russian Revolution. and on the other hand with Mao and the Cultural Revolution. or. the explanations don’t provide a solid foundation of knowledge and experience from which to move ahead. it must be set in the context of their most evident impact: the discrediting of the idea of communism with the essential mass social base and constituency for liberatory politics and the maximizing of cynicism about the ‘possibility of new possibilities’ among those sectors that are actually and potentially revolutionary. p. to continue with the naturalistic metaphors. it is always possible to debate what was and wasn’t a ‘victory’. and. revolutionary road’. If there is a need to make an overall evaluation of these central revolutionary experiences. Both Vern and Nat W. those of us who see ourselves as Marxists. represents the strongest body of theory and historical practice (yes. This holds equally. To the contrary. On the contrary. few of which have much claim to even a superficial surface truth. much further than any other… We have all lived a history that raises serious questions about such perspectives and estimates. that’s for sure. How should we evaluate a notion of ‘revolutionary road’ that doesn’t consider the destination that was actually reached…and doesn’t ask if the road actually taken might have been used to reach different destinations? To the extent that the views and political practice that were hegemonic in those revolutionary periods are those of Lenin and Mao – and these were the banners that were flown – why shouldn’t they receive a large share of responsibility for actual outcomes. so enduring. I would agree with this: This past practice serves as a foundation in the sense that it marks the history of our previous attempts at forging a path toward communism and is in fact responsible for developing the methods that have led us to our current impasse for better or for worse. and by millions of people in the middle of the last century. But. Of course now the specifics of this argument are rejected as total crap by all variations of radicals except the most benighted. This impact. revolutionaries. Reply John Steele September 12. based on its successes) from which to launch off and begin our new revolutionary mission. I am merely stating that in my view Maoism.

He is also a Maoist of some variety. These formations and the political experiences around them provide real limits and obstacles to the struggle. Our beginning point of reference for these experiences should be that the radical visions that animated them led to social formations with an increasingly rotten core.can be sustained without much deeper agreement on what Marxism is – or at least what its ‘core principles’ are. either in John’s selection above or in my limited understanding of the body of his work. one becomes the other in a dialectical process quite central to the thinking of what’s his name. (Bosteel. award Marxism some sort of higher status in the hierarchy (probably not the best word to use here) of revolutionary analyses? I would say no. I think that that Bosteels extends this and similar positions of Badiou in a manner that does give Marxism a certain privileged status that I believe is not warranted. However there is a real problem revealed by the very language of ‘building on the shoulders’. Listen to Badiou who says: From Spartacus to Mao (not the Mao of the state. However. which Leninism. The very notion of “communist invariants” points to the conclusion that there is more to revolution and human liberation than Marxism. and the Lenin of State and Revolution and the Philosophical Notebooks is a matter of mystery. they may not be a waste of time. It is what Marxism should be –if it is to be useful – but definitely not what it was in past revolutionary sequences. but they are certain to be frustratingly inconclusive until real alternatives can be clarified and tested through revolutionary practice. I suspect that some of my initial disagreements with Vern and Nat W. p. A casual reading of Bosteel’s concluding argument makes it fairly clear that he locates this necessary Marxism in an interpretation of the Mao of the Cultural Revolution period. while there is no agreement on what is the ‘mature Marx’ and what is not – and why it matters. and how this obstruction. but for living. For those of us who are Marxists. As soon as Marxism is considered the essential content of the idea of communism. And this persistent lack in the content of Marxism has been a heavy contributor to the eclipse of the idea of communism. John’s initial piece introduced another point from Badiou: Science of history? Marxism is the discourse with which the proletariat sustains itself as subject. prevented the emergence of just such a practical proletarian discourse. Badiou presents a political objective with major ethical overtones. So I think it not surprising that he would find the prospects for communism most closely linked to the “stage of Marxism” exemplified in the Maoist Cultural Revolution period. a signal working class victory against capital. The problems with this linear view become apparent with the essential dilemma of the Soviet Revolution where the revolutionary seizure of state power in Russia. a parallel dilemma is evident in the Chinese experience. recognizing 13 of 16 . 273) We should ask. I think it is more accurate. I won’t go into details but many examples of this are close at hand in essentially every decision and every topic of discussion at the Bolshevik 10th Congress. When it comes to deciphering Badiou. He deals with ways this episode didn’t escape the Marxism of the party/state variety. but the rebellious extreme complicated Mao) it is…a question of communism…(cited in Bosteel. conditioned. Marxism as a “practical discourse”. In my opinion. Of course. does the question of ‘communism’. Dialectics is the doctrine of the identity of opposites – how they can be and how the become – under what conditions they become identical. It projects a linear incrementalist ‘revolutionary road’ that is not conducive to the centrality of the ‘leaps’ and ‘breaks’ which many of us believe are of primary importance to the emergence and the cognition of the possibility of new possibilities. although I can never be completely sure I understand Badiou. to see how the positive in these struggles became its opposite…how revolutionary initiatives and successes were transformed into the barriers to the revolution moving forward. and undoubtedly a very competent one. Since this is true. Any avoidance of these historical lessons and their full range of implications contributes to intellectual atrophy among advocates of anti-capitalist revolution. I don’t see this in what Badiou says. My position is that we should see the content of any practical discourse in which the masses (proletariat) emerge as a revolutionary subject as communism. Unless of course it is to remain an ideal that will be always yet to come. the issue becomes whose Marxism. while the relative validity and strategic priority of the Lenin of Left Wing Communism and What Is To Be Done. I would defer to Bosteels (Badiou and Politics) and probably a lot of others as well. it is possible and probably necessary to rule out certain levels and forms of disagreement on these subjects – but only to structure and concretize a legitimate broadly collective discussion that will not presume that important parts of the debate are already finished and that we Marxists have the answers in hand – or at least the keys to the answers. which is far from a given. Marxists should reemphasize the fact that these questions of revolutionary strategy must be regularly revisited in the light of the new manifestations of the issues – new manifestations that are partly created by the old types of answers – some of which came from leaving a painfully evident void and a heavy coating of new “mould” on the idea of communism for all to see who chose to look. “From Spartacus to Mao…”.) names the real movement that abolishes the present state of injustice only when it is historically tied to the various stages of Marxism. d. In this he would agrees with Vern Gray although perhaps not so much with Nat W. transforming one into the other. a framework which includes Badiou’s “communist invariants” that predate the struggle between the defining capitalist classes. what Maoism? If arguments on this terrain clarify some real questions. reflecting and sustaining the emergence of a revolutionary proletarian subjectivity – now this seems much better to me. I see Nat acknowledging important problems in what he raises about the Bolshevik pre-emption and narrowing of matters that should have been more generally discussed and implemented in broader more collective framework.Marxism is the practical discourse for sustaining the subjective advent of a politics…. communism (for Badiou. although it was hardly the only one. 280) Bosteels apparently assumes a real existence of a “practical discourse” with which “the proletariat sustains itself as subject” that either can or will be found somewhere within the “various stages of Marxism”. No argument that ‘Marxism (or some variant of it) should be privileged’. was transformed into a new basis for working class subordination and eventually morphed into a new manifestation of the hegemony of capital. and far more useful. who also exists. or at least we cannot say this while there is controversy among Marxists about how the Mao “of the state” relates to the “rebellious” Mao. p. suggesting that Marxism has some privileged revolutionary is either a mistake or an empty notion that only says the obvious: communists who are also Marxists will probably attempt to apply their Marxism politically…if they are moved to do anything politically. the author of the ‘Philosophical Notebooks’. including the Cultural Revolution. That’s why I think posing the choice as one between ‘foundation’ and ‘impasse’ is a misstatement of the problem. transforming one into the other. disagreements about what is essential to Marxism will throw a wrench into the works. – why the human mind must not take these opposites for dead. But Badiou’s Communist Hypothesis seems quite different to me. Bosteels is an academic Marxist. mobile. We must never let go of this idea…. They were and are not a magnet for communism and a platform from which to move forward. will reduce to issues of terminology and definition and I don’t mean to exaggerate them. In life.h.

and appreciating those revolutionary impulses. September 16. the politics of communism. I’d like to draw attention to the following from Don’s comment above: My position is that we should see the content of any practical discourse in which the masses (proletariat) emerge as a revolutionary subject as communism. And this body of theory can serve as revolutionary reference point better than can say. and not only by Mao but also those forces grouped around the Gang of Four to analyze socialist society and to look at the basis within the structure of socialist society itself that mark the nature of class anatagonism and struggle within that said society. I think this class analysis of socialism and the orientation of continuing the class struggle (revolution) under the dictatorship of 14 of 16 . but it is also not simply an ideology and even less a worldview. Rather. and Mao. Reply Nat W. and ideas that deserve to be called communist – although they may not choose to be – that have not and may not ever embrace any specifically Marxist approach to communism and revolution. what I’m saying is that are strains of thinking in the thought of Mao. I think that there was a real attempt there. First the latter. I hope the point is clear. but above all with “their questions rather than their outcomes. 153). recognizing that far more people will be revolutionaries before they are Marxists than the reverse. The first is Bosteels’ summation of of UCFML thinking. it is a politics. in Badiou’s very apt phrase. I would like to associate my thinking with what’s sketched in these two quotes. In other words. with reference to the Cultural Revolution and May ’68: These referents are today without power of their own. the different stages of which form an internal history that can at most be concentrated in the theories of Marx and Engels.” I’d also note that this is a very Maoist attitude — referencing here.” Finally. there is a particular orientation and method as well as particular strategic and even tactical points that still carry weight and can generally be adopted in our times. but the rebellious extreme complicated Mao. The following are from or relate to two pamphlets by the UCFML (Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes de France Marxistes Léninists). and I may judge the GPCR differently. Lenin. whether economical or philosophical.) Also while. and ideas that deserve to be called communist – although they may not choose to be – that have not and may not ever embrace any specifically Marxist approach to communism and revolution. Their relevance to our discussion here will be obvious. this practical discourse of the proletariat as subject is what Marxist praxis should be.that far more people will be revolutionaries before they are Marxists than the reverse. and appreciating those revolutionary impulses. beginning from an orientation based around focoism. and Marx (but certainly not only them) that should be developed from where they left off. Hamerquist. but there is quite a distance to travel before it is what it actually is. However. For instance understanding Mao’s military theories postulating people as principle over technolgy (I don’t feel the need to layout details) and all that means for waging revolutionary war can serve as a base for developing strategies of defeating today’s current rulers on the battlefield even while understanding that the terrain we fight on and particular circumstances have very much changed. Don Hamerquist 9/14 Reply John Steele September 16. quoted above by Don. instead. (I am have yet to study the work of Abraham Guillen which have been brought to my attention throught the comments in previous discussion by D. I think that D. The second is a UCFML statement from 1981. this is becoming self indulgently long and I will wait for another opportunity. “not the Mao of the state. is central to this discussion. and to a qualitatively greater degree than when it was written: The great leaps and stretches of past emancipatory practice do not present us with “achievements” on which we can build. as translated in Bosteels’ new book on Badiou (p. We carry their questions rather than their outcomes. I would qualify the first in certain ways. I agree. especially the second. in terms of an approach that is of particular relevance today. While one may argue that the GPCR (particularly Mao himself and those forces most closley associated with him) did not go far enough. 2011 at 9:07 am I don’t necessarily feel what I am arguing for is “standing on achievements” or “keeping the positive and discarding the negative” of our past revolutionary practice and theory (praxis). While there are specifics of this theory that may have become outdated. this practical discourse of the proletariat as subject is what Marxist praxis should be. who also exists. the group in France of which Badiou was a leader until its dissolution in the early 1980s. but there is quite a distance to travel before it is what it actually is. extended to all the great events and furthest reaches of revolutionary practice. 2011 at 7:00 am A short comment and a sidelight. but the second is exactly on the mark. tendencies. In other words. but…? I have a number of additional points concerning the issue of revolutionary practice which. tendencies. and Badiou’s writings to this regard have influenced my thinking on this. in a pamphlet circulated by the group after the death of Mao in 1976: Marxism is not a body of doctrine.H. Lenin.

through which our new theory will develop” despite “… flaws and limitations”. This happened with string theory for instance even though the insights developed by this theory could not be verified through experiment. 2011 at 9:37 am I’m thinking that discussion of some of these questions concerning change. but then we would have to specify some criteria – and would have to be careful to avoid assuming the very principles that we look to discover and validate. That is what I am trying to argue. it could only unite its theory around three of the four forces of nature. proving many of its assertions through experiment over many several decades.the proletariat (or whatever you might want to call the transitional stage/s between capitalism and communism have merit and that thinking along this strain in the future can yield important results and new breakthroughs in the future. period.” What do you mean by the “most advanced experiences”. that yes it had become as exhausted as a theory that was able to further our understanding of the forces of nature and the universe. will ultimately serve as the basis. that new breakthroughs and ruptures in science are usually based on the problems posed by previous theories or on questions posed that the dominant thinking of a particular period of could not effectivley answer. continuity. with all its flaws and limitations. I disagree with you that it’s the “most advanced experiences” that will provide the “…basis. Reply John Steele September 18. It proved what it could through its own practice and could not go further. quantum field theory had advanced to a certain point. “Our ruptures are ruptures from something which previously existed…” Right. This laid the ground for a new theory or theories to take root and capture the focus and attention of the new generations of physicists. through which our new theory will develop. Further. both theoretical and political. Again. From this reasoning. I continue to maintain that the most advanced experience. The theory and overall praxis that emerges cannot take shape. I agree with the last two paragraphs and particularly the final one. both theoretical and political. You might disagree. That rupture or discontinuity develops or emergers out of continuity. I continue to maintain that the most advanced experiences. will ultimately serve as the basis. will not adequately be able to develop a viable revolutionary praxis without reference to or understanding of the questions thrown up by the development of the revolutionary process (our revolutionary history) up to this point. “flaws and limitations” that will prove more useful for revolutionary politics. the foundation. On the contrary it is understanding those. In that sense. but I recognize that is more debatable. I would agrue that all revolutionaries Marxist or not. 2011 at 10:15 pm Nat. through which our new theory will develop. Don H. In this sense it seems as a theory. and how do you determine which experiences they are? Perhaps you use Vern’s “furthest along the road to socialism” criterion that raises serious logical and historical questions. But quantum field theory had runs it course. yes. with all its flaws and limitations. could be more fruitfully pursued in relation to my more recent post on 15 of 16 . the foundation. It had to speak to questions posed by the contradictions posed by quantum theory and relativity theory. In regard to Don H’s comment quoted by Steele. I can unite with the quotes from Bosteels in Steele’s comments. Precisely it had to develop potential answers to the questions that had been posed by the development of physics through the course of the twentieth century. In my opinion his theoretical contributions belong there as well. This is what I mean when I say that we stand on the shoulders of those who became for us. and breaks. to run ahead of experimentation. Reply Don Hamerquist September 16. which I have been trying to understand with greater clarity. For example. yes. outside of the problems posed by our past history. It could not incorporate the laws effecting gravity into its theoretical framework. What is the import of your distinction between ‘theoretical’ and ‘political’ experiences? I ask in part because you seem to view Althusser as providing a ‘most advanced’ reference. discontinuity develops out of continuity. but the important thing is that they are ruptures. the foundation. but I can’t see how they follow from your earlier statement: “In that sense. but Althusser’s politics clearly fell on the wrong side of the political questions that were central during his political life. For instance. where does the Spanish revolutionary anti/fascist experience of the 30s fit on the list of “advanced experiences”? I would regard it as one of the most important and see it raising issues and problems that are closer to those we currently confront than the critical episodes in Russian and Chinese revolutionary history. So theory was allowed. Our ruptures are ruptures from something which previously existed. due to that exhaustion of practical effect to run ahead of practice. even if what the rupture produces is radically new and cannot really be considered a definable part of the structure that was ruptured from. But this theory was not divorced from what came before it. the ideas around super symmetry and all those questions that arose from the discoveries and practice that proceeded it. Not to reduce Maoism or any other strain of Marxist thought down to a science but I will state the example in physics. At a certain point its explanatory power had become exhausted.

2011 at 1:27 pm My repsonse to Don H. Reply 16 of 16 . is in John Steele’s recent post. and which represents an attempt to make a more clear and comprehensive statement around these issues.the “detachability” of revolutionary theory. Reply Nat W. September 18.