What is to be Done: II
The essential tasks for the Marxists of today
Political Stance, Campaigns and Theory
We were supposed to be Marxists! And that meant that though we could not ignore the enemy within, the esoteric arguments were simply insufficient to equip us for the many more important fights to come. The main theoretical strategy MUST be, what it has always been - that is to be active present day Marxists, advancing the body of Theory, and continuing to outstrip all major non-Marxist tendencies in interpreting ALL aspects of the World, and on the basis of this, formulating the correct paths to further work.
There was a major disadvantage however.
England had been a major imperialist power for centuries, and, as with present day Americans, this led to an anti-theoretical, and self-confident pragmatism, which really was very impatient with Theory. The idea of locking yourself away in the British Museum Library to crack important theoretical questions was certainly anathema to the British socialists I knew. In addition, it was certainly very difficult to recruit the best minds, and keep them, when our Theory was not trouncing the opposition with its mainline to Truth. It must be admitted, we didn’t have the people for the job! There were many good and committed comrades, but clearly no-one of the intellectual power of a Lenin or a Trotsky to help.
We had, quite correctly, turned to the only potentially revolutionary force within Society – the Working Class, and its vanguard – the Youth, but we won their respect with our energy and activism, and NOT by our penetrating and inspiring Theory. Most members seemed to get by totally without any discernable Theory, requiring only a clear task list to keep them busy. The decline of the organisation was inevitable. It didn’t deliver what it seemed to promise.
In spite of a series of excellent campaigns, such as the support of strikes throughout the country, these never coalesced into anything bigger.
I well remember my own intervention at a factory near Leicester, where most employees were Indians, and could only keep their jobs by paying off the foreman. I got a full report into the paper, and sold it outside from early in the morning till the whistle blew for the end of the shift. Workers were coming out in droves to buy the paper, and all hell had broken loose within the management. The foreman was sacked and the protection racket ended. But, this excellent intervention led to no new recruits or support for our other ventures in the city. Our activism did NOT have an effective transition strategy: it was an end in itself!
The Workers’ Aid campaign, to support the miners of Bosnia-Herzegovina, though conceived of and organised by a Serbian colleague, did not develop into a continuing movement. We seemed to be slipping into single-issue politics like everyone else. The party began to lose its famous members and generally shrink and even split. In the end most of the best people had left, and at the present time, it has effectively ceased to exist.
I was involved actually in political work in and around this organisation from 1959 to 1986, but for the last 10 years of this period I was no longer a member. In Scotland in the 1980’s I set up Youth Training course for unemployed youth in Brigton, Glasgow, with the support and occasional presence of Vanessa Redgrave, then still involved with the Party, but it was a yet another one-man show, and when I left Scotland for another job, it seemed to fade away.
And it had by then been long evident that there had been NO development of my personal grasp (or use) of Marxism. I was even occasionally reprimanded for asking questions at education classes, with the criticism that I obviously hadn’t read the appropriate texts. I had, of course, but they had multiplied the questions, not addressed them – quite as it should be, if you think about it. The conception that you only have to read the words of the Master to completely understand things, is Error Number One, in the process of attempting to understand something. Indeed, I had probably read a great deal more than anyone else in the room. My library at the time was around 600 books, and has expanded at a similar rate ever since. But you don’t learn Marxism as a “given thing”, you must “create” it, day in, day out! Theoretical activity is the most powerful weapon that we can have, and handed down formulae are insufficient. You have to “light up” the problems with constantly replenished Truth. But, such a conception was not evident to me within the organisation, and sadly within any of the other Trotskyist tendences either (for I did read their stuff).
The period of the Thatcherite Reaction more or less put paid to the revolutionary tendencies as a force in Working Class politics. The citadels of working class strength – the Coal Industry, Heavy Engineering and Car Manufacture were dismantled, along with the rights of the organised working class. The power bases of the Class were deliberately dismantled, as long fought for Rights were taken away, and replaced by a “Tory-inspired democracy”, and, finally, the capitalist, globalisation boom of the New Labourites seduced most workers into a frenzy of consumption.
But such periods are not unknown in history. They happened to both Marx and later on to Lenin. And what did they do, when faced with such periods? They used the lull in activity to concentrate on sharpening their essential weapons. They stepped up their theoretical work to being THE all-consuming task!
And, we must do the same!
Now, you might with justice respond with, “Are you doing this? What contributions have you made?” To which I must reply by saying that these are the right questions. And I must respond to them, and justify my position before I go any further.
Well, I wasn’t well trained in this endeavour. I was aware of its necessity, but you always assume that others are much more able and qualified to take on such important tasks. So, my initial contributions were fragmentary.
Then, slowly at first in the 1990s, and thereafter, beginning to accelerate over the next decade, the tempo increased until today I work on theoretical questions 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. It is now all I do, and I have been working at this level now for over three years (by 2005 ed.).
Though my initial contributions were limited to my specialist areas, the experiences of the last couple of decades have forced a widening of my accepted remit, such that my work today is clearly interdisciplinary, and has led to some significant contributions.
Now, the activist will certainly still admonish me with, “So, you haven’t been active in politics for twenty years, and yet STILL presume to be able to make a contribution to Marxism? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Are you not just a classical bourgeois philosopher, criticising the World from the comfort of your “armchair-and-slippers” retirement?”
Perhaps I have missed out a few things in the trajectory of my life, which are perhaps relevant to this discussion. First, I have been a teacher, lecturer and finally a professor in London University, in a career spanning 32 years. I was a qualified physicist, but went on to teach Mathematics, then Biology, then Computer Science at levels ranging from Primary schools to Universities, in cities such as Leicester, Hong Kong, Glasgow, Bedford and London.
If you know about computer software, it may interest you to know that I wrote a Machine-independent Fortran compiler in the 1970’s. In that same decade I built the first Community Computer Centre at a Further Education College in Leicester, which ended up teaching ONE THIRD of the city’s Secondary Schools pupils for FREE, via Link Courses. I also in the same period set up the organisation CURE, which acquired and delivered (all for FREE) 25 mainframe computers to educational establishments throughout the UK. Meanwhile, I was also pursuing mathematical researches into Re-entrant tilings, and invented an infinite 3D strand, with re-entrant faces, which stacked together to completely fill space. This strand also was shown to possess great similarities with the general double helix for of DNA, and could be used as a former to replicate itself.
This work was appreciated enough for me to finally make the leap to Higher Education, when I secured a job at Hong Kong Polytechnic, and within a year had been promoted to Senior Lecturer. On my return to the UK in the 1980s, I secured a post in what is now Glasgow Caledonian University, where once again within 2 years I was promoted to Principal Lecturer and proceeded to set up a support arrangement for researchers, which supplied tailor-made software for their research objectives, and which transformed the use of computers in control in research at that institution. My computerisation of a Gas, Liquid Chromatograph elicited requests for reprints from over 60 countries across the World. I also set up a dedicated educational system on a new mainframe computer, which facilitated submission, correction and return of written work by students, made possible by a secure system on the mainframe and the straight-forward access of innumerable PC computers to the shared mainframe. To those who in 2008 consider this commonplace, may I point out that this work was completed by 1986.
On moving to Bedford, this time as Computer Manager for the institution which included Teacher Training, Degree level courses and Further Education within a single College. I started working with Jackie Smith (now Dr. Jacqueline Smith-Autard) to develop and publish Multimedia Resources for the Teaching of Dance, for which we received a BIVA award in 1989, and which has since led to 12 separate products, sold all over the world to all sorts of institutions ranging from Primary Schools to Universities. On moving to London University, where I was the Director of Information Technology (a professorial level post) at a College world famous for its teaching of the Arts, I was immediately in charge of, and commissioned, the first Campus-Wide Fibre-Optic Network anywhere in the University. This was up and running by 1992.
Now, this has been my academic grounding. You may baulk at my long gone 27 years in active politics, and you may also feel somewhat hostile to my obviously purely academic career, but I know what I can do and have done it to the best of my ability throughout that career. I make NO apologies for the 46 years I have spent in teaching and research.
For we must remember that Marxism was never merely a series of recipes for political action. It was, and still is, a world embracing philosophy, absolutely necessary for addressing ALL issues in every sphere of human endeavour. Indeed, it was exactly that aspect of Marxism which conquered the World towards the end of the 19th century. It recruited minds of the very top quality into its ranks – because it delivered. Can we honestly say that it still does this today? It SHOULD! There is nothing to stop it, but it doesn’t happen because Theory on the Global and multi-discipline scale is no longer addressed by those who profess to be Marxists. All work is put into the overtly political areas, and the rest of our energy is consumed in political activism.
The final realisation of this crucial lesson was generated out of the problems that I encountered in a whole series of my non political researches. Let me show how what might be seen as totally irrelevant areas were lit up and made available for solution via the Philosophy of Marxism – or to put it more generally by Dialectical Materialism.