“I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.”
Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677)
We are very proud to announce the publication of the first issue of our bi-monthly magazine of Marxist political theory, the Marxist International Review. In its pages we intend to deal with a wide variety of subjects: national, international, historical, and philosophical from the scientific standpoint of Marxism. This will be done in close collaboration with our highly successful Marxist daily website, In Defence of Marxism. We hope that the MIR will politically stimulate its readership and encourage them to delve more deeply into the great classics of Marxism. After all, Marxism is a science and needs to be studied as is the case with all sciences. “Without revolutionary theory,” explained Lenin, “there can be no revolutionary movement.”
There has never been such a vital time for Marxist theory and understanding. World capitalism is in a profound impasse, with one contradiction piling up upon another, politically, economically, socially and militarily. The collapse of Stalinism did not usher in a new period of peace and tranquillity for the world capitalist system, or the end of history for that matter, but a new convulsive period for capitalism nationally and internationally. The never-ending crisis in Iraq, following on from the deepening crisis in Afghanistan and the region as a whole, has had profound repercussions everywhere, not least in the United States. The easy imperialist “victory” eighteen months ago for the “Coalition of the Willing” has turned into a nightmare. The unfolding revolution in Latin America, beginning in Ecuador, then spreading to Argentina, Bolivia, and now Venezuela, is a reflection of the decay of the capitalist system on a world scale. The developing Venezuelan revolution, which originally was only recognised by our tendency, has become the key to the world situation. The world situation has never been so volatile or convulsive. This is an epoch of war, revolution and counterrevolution. The capitalist crisis, which manifests itself in various ways, is forcing the working class onto the road of struggle in one country after another. The need to build the forces of Marxism nationally and internationally – the subjective factor – has, with every passing event, become even more paramount.
We hope, in a modest fashion, that this theoretical magazine will assist in this regard. We also hope that it will be of special relevance to those in Britain and the United States, where the Marxist tradition from its very beginning has suffered from a poor theoretical legacy. The philosophical traditions within the Anglo-Saxon or English-speaking countries have been based primarily on empiricism and pragmatism, which has served to impregnate and school the labour movement, particularly its reformist leadership. The empirical method of the trade union and Labour leaders is the basis of present-day opportunism and reformism, the attempt to get the “best” out of an existing situation. In fact, empiricism can be described as the philosophy of opportunism. In this case, everything is based upon the “facts” and “realism”. Incapable of understanding the underlying processes – the essence and not simply the appearance of things – the empirical-minded reformists are mesmerised by the surface of events. This approach has given rise to contempt for theory and bold generalisations. In its reformist guise, such an outlook even affected the most advanced sections of the working class. In the words of Trotsky: “pragmatism, so characteristic of Anglo-Saxon thinking, is least of all useful for understanding revolutionary crises.”
In opposition to this erroneous outlook, Marxists have put forward the method of dialectical materialism to comprehend the contradictory processes unfolding at all levels and in all fields. In place of formal logic, we have dialectical logic, the only method that can understand the processes of change and contradiction, indispensable in a world of sharp and sudden transformations. “Dialectical training of the mind, as necessary to a revolutionary fighter as finger exercises to a pianist, demands approaching all problems as processes and not as motionless categories”, wrote Trotsky.
In Britain, the early revolutionary socialist movement was bereft of theory. The old Social Democratic Federation under Hyndman’s leadership, the original Marxist party in Britain, was based on a unique mixture of Marxist phraseology and economic determinism. Its rigid, mechanical, anti-dialectical approach to the problems faced by the workers’ movement was the very opposite of genuine Marxism. Instead, it reduced Marxism to a sterile sectarian dogma, incapable of connecting to the real movement of the working class. It was this that was to doom it to isolation and impotence.
“The Social Democratic Federation here shares with your German-American Socialists the distinction of being the only parties who have contrived to reduce the Marxist theory of development to a rigid orthodoxy”, stated Engels. “This theory is to be forced down the throats of the workers at once and without development as articles of faith, instead of making the workers raise themselves to its level by dint of their own class instinct. That is why both remain mere sects and, as Hegel says, come from nothing through nothing to nothing.” (Engels to Sorge, Correspondence, p.474) Marx had nothing but contempt for these sectarians, commenting that if they be “Marxists”, “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.”
The “Marxism” of the SDF was formalistic, dogmatic, mechanical, sterile and lifeless. It contained not an ounce of dialectics. In the same tradition, it became the “Marxism” of the Plebs League and the National Council of Labour Colleges. Unfortunately, it was in large measure carried over into the British Communist Party and dominated much of British Marxist understanding for decades. Even to this day, there exists an Anglo-Saxon aversion towards dialectical thinking and a serious study of Marxist philosophy. It is the function of this theoretical magazine to combat this mechanical tradition and reinforce the need to study and master the outlook of genuine Marxism.
The working class, existing under capitalism, is subjected constantly to the pressures of capitalism and its ideology. This is particularly so of its leading layer. One of the fundamental duties of this Marxist journal is to continually combat alien bourgeois ideas, which attempt to hide the real nature of society and deceive the working class. As Engels explained, we must be engaged not only in the struggles on the economic and political fronts, but also on the theoretical front.
“In particular, it will be the duty of the leaders to gain an ever clearer insight into all theoretical questions, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the old world outlook, and constantly to keep in mind that socialism, since it has become a science, demands that it be pursued as a science, i.e., that it be studied.”
Marxism can be defined as the generalised historical experience of the working class. We need to learn from the experiences of the working class, its victories and defeats, to enrich our understanding. In reality, those who have contempt for theory, are unconsciously displaying a contempt for the working class and those who have suffered because of past mistakes. Theory is vital as it represents the distilled experience of the working class. That is why Marxism has also been described as the memory of the proletariat.
Of course, Marxist theory cannot be divorced from practice. On the contrary, there exists a dialectical unity between theory and practice. One is inseparable from the other, or it is baseless. Theory is a guide to action, is a compass, and allows us to intervene correctly in events. That is the essence of Marxism. “Philosophers have interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it”, wrote Karl Marx. A prerequisite for this, however, is for the cadres of Marxism to master the great classics and prepare themselves theoretically and politically for the great evens that lie ahead.
History does not unfold in a straight line. We have to learn to separate out the essential from the non-essential, and not be mesmerised by the ephemeral moods that exist from time to time. We must learn to look beyond the immediate and understand the broader historical processes that are unfolding, unseen and unsuspected. In other words, we need to concentrate on the fundamentals. To the degree that we educate our supporters and those coming towards the ideas of socialism, concentrating on theory and the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, we can succeed in inoculating them against the pressures created by the temporary ebbs and flows of the movement.
We are confident that the MIR will provide the theoretical ammunition for the great struggles that impend. We appeal to you to help us make the magazine a success.