23 August, 2016

Marxist Theory Today I

Marxist Theory Today?

Descriptive, Retroactive 

and both 

Activity-Based & Implemented

Initial Steps upon a Very Long Road

NO! This isn't going to be about the necessary return to seriously studying the Classic Works!

It is crucially about both understanding and using the powerful Dialectical Materialist Method, which is the revealing heart of Marx's contributions to Philosophy, and in producing all those Classic Works too. And, as it is both the most profound Philosophical Stance and Method, it is genuinely applicable to literally all serious disciplines.

It certainly isn't just a guide to political activity!

For example, did you realise that it can be effectively and successfully applied to transcending the many impasses in Modern Sub-Atomic Physics?

Do you think Karl Marx spent decades in the British Museum tackling day-to-day questions in political tactics, and the most appropriate activities to undertake?

He didn't. He was a serious, professional Philosopher.

And, via his studies, he also became a serious professional Economist: no time-saving, short-cuts were available then, just as they are not available now!

But, neither does that mean that we all have to follow the full, demanding path as Marx.

But, quite certainly, a significant number of us, as well as being fully integrated with the activities of their comrades, must in return be respected for, the essential contributions that they will be making NOW, and continually thereafter: Marxism is not a finished Philosophy, nor is it a Religion to be followed unquestioningly!

They must both safeguard and develop our crucial Theory, as well as constantly developing both its range and its depth!

I have just commenced reading a book contributed to, and edited by, my first Marxist hero, Cliff Slaughter. 

I originally came across him in the late 1950's, when I went to Leeds University to study Modern Physics. It was Cliff's exceptional intervention in a Students' Union Debate, which made it clear to me that I too should become a Marxist. No one had got even close to his serious position and informed arguments: he, quite clearly, had the theoretical means, and had acquired the necessary knowledge, to trounce the opposition.

I was young and relatively uninformed, and my decision was to join the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) - as the elected leader of the whole student body, at that time, was an able member of that organisation, and he had invited me to my first political discussion group.

But, for several very important reasons, it was not what I needed at that time.

A couple of years later, I joined the SLL/WRP, and was active for many years, and committed for the rest of my life to a Revolutionary Socialist stance. But, in spite of an initial success among Working Class youth, not only myself, but the whole Party, despite some significant achievements, got lost.

Achieving a Daily Paper, became an end in itself, and the theoretical level declined, just when and where it had to be at its best. So, in spite of many well conceived of campaigns, such as Youth Training for unemployed Working Class youth ,and later Workers' Aid in Bosnia for the miners of Tuzla during the war there in the 1990s, the organisation was on the wane.

But, in spite, of personally being involved for a very long period, the level of Marxist Theory was poor, and its development woeful.

The scandal of the long-time leader Gerry Healy was enough to dissociate the whole organisation, into rival ineffectual groups.

But, unusually it seems, I had initially actually joined the fray for purely philosophical and theoretical reasons. Though a Working Class youth from the Victorian slums of industrial Manchester, I wasn't at all political until I got to University.

I was there to study what I believed might be the key to understanding the World - Science, and particularly Physics.

But, sadly, in my first year at University, I immediately found myself disagreeing with my lecturers on almost everything they had to deliver! In spite of being too young and inexperienced to present any coherent alternative, I, nevertheless, knew immediately that what they were peddling was rubbish.

For, early in my career at Grammar School I had thought the key would surely be Mathematics, and was particularly good at it.

But, interesting and stimulating as it was, it was only abstract description, and causally-explained absolutely nothing. Physics, on the other hand, offered a great deal more, so in spite of my exceptional abilities in Mathematics, I determined upon Science, as being the best bet for developing a real understanding of the World around me.

And later on, when at University, I was greatly stimulated by socialist ideas and became politically active, and I happened upon Lenin's book Materialism and Empirio Criticism, in which he severely criticised the philosophical stance of the then leading physicists Henri Poincaré and Ernst Mach, who clearly were the forerunners of the very stuff I was being force-fed in my then present-day Physics course. 

Clearly, this Marxism was, indeed, as universal in applicability as I required.

I had probably found the route to a countering of the pernicious Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory, that currently dominated Modern Sub Atomic Physics. My decided objective was to pursue this philosophy, and its political practice, as the means to address all my perceived problems.

But, whenever I tried to talk about Science to my new comrades, not a single one thought that my concerns were the least bit relevant to what were their, and should be my, crucial political tasks. Indeed, I was often told that it was a diversion, or even an excuse, for avoiding the real day-to-day activities that just had to come first.

It didn't convince me!

I not only built an impressive personal Marxist library of the Classic works, but ran a bookstall in the Students' Union, selling a wide variety of left books of all kinds (most of which were provided upon a sale or return basis by the Communist Party Librarian in that city, who, by the way, had fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War).

Indeed, my stall was popular with literally the whole of the Left in the student body, and discussions took place around it, every time it occurred, so that it grew in size and influence, and as I had read many of the books on offer, I was able to explain what they were about to enquiries from potential customers.

I even pushed books which were not rated by some of my political colleagues, such as John Berger's brilliant critical works and his novel A Painter of our Time about a Hungarian Painter who abandons his life in the U.K. to return home at the time of the Hungarian Revolution.

I also pushed excellent archaeological works by V. Gordon Childe, such as What Happened in History and Man Makes Himself

And, I finally pressed customers to obtain from libraries the few precious works by Christopher Caudwell such as Studies in a Dying Culture and The Crisis in Physics. I also argued for the more accessible classic pamphlets to one and all, such as the brilliant The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man.

Perhaps surprisingly, the takers were not the most politically active, but, on the contrary, were mostly from the interested penumbra around Left politics.

It, clearly, wasn't what I was supposed to be doing, but, no-one could tell me why it wasn't important. Clearly, I thought Theory was absolutely paramount!

I took my "peculiar" ideas in still other directions too!

I took my interest and practical involvement in Painting further, by joining the Art Society in the Students' Union, and, somehow, became its organising secretary for a couple of years.

"Another diversion! He wont be much use politically!" seemed to be the consensus among my closest political colleagues.

To be continued...

This post is part of new five-part series entitled Marxist Theory Today, which is turn, forms part of our grand series on Marxism & Physics.

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