LEFT DOGMATISM AS LOGIC OF POWERLESS
150 years since the release of the first volume of Capital is an occasion not only to return to the study of this fundamental work, but also to look back at what has happened with the left theory and the resulting left practice over the past century and a half.
To begin with, let’s think about this huge figure – 150 years – and how many historical events have happened since that moment. But, despite this, Capital remains one of the most relevant books of our era. This is confirmed by the growth of Capital sales in Latvia, Great Britain, Germany and other countries. It is in this that the greatness of Marx’s research and at the same time tragedy lie. Remaining one of the most important works for the left movement, Karl Marx’s Capital created the ground not only for the development of communist theory and the upsurge of the labor movement, but also for raising the Marxist theory to a dogma that, according to left dogmatists, is supposedly not subject to rethinking and critical assessment.
Dogmatism is characteristic not only of Marxist leftists, but also of other representatives of leftist thought, including those who call themselves “anti-authoritarian leftists” and, it would seem, should not be susceptible to dogmatism.
In order to analyze in detail and comprehensively the problem of left dogmatism, first you need to understand what we mean by the very concept of “dogmatism”.
A sufficiently accurate definition, which was later perceived by dialectical materialism, gave Hegel dogmatism as one-sided rational thinking, which dogmatically accepts only one side of the dialectical contradiction and, as such, is opposed to dialectics. But all definitions of dogmatism agree on one thing – the presence of supposedly immutable truths, which, according to dogmatists, are unshakable and should not be criticized. A dogmatist is not necessarily always uncritical of his views and may even criticize dogmatism. For example, one of the classics of Marxism, Engels, fearing the transformation of Marxist teachings into dogma, in his letter to the German Social Democrat Friedrich Sorge for the first time voiced a phrase that became winged thanks to Lenin’s reading of this phrase: “Marxism is not a dogma, but a guide to action.”
But dogmas have put this phrase in their service. Recognizing the need for the creative development of the theory, the dogmatist will certainly refute one supposedly indisputable truth with another supposedly indisputable truth, he will “creatively develop” the words of one great theoretician of the past using the words of another great theorist. In other words, creative development in his understanding will look like a refutation of one dogma by another dogma.
In order to understand why left dogmatism is so rapidly mastering the minds, it is enough to look at the state of the left movement in which it is today.
First, memorization of some postulates of Marxism, at first glance, explains all aspects of reality and gives a comprehensive picture of what is happening, without leaving a person the need for any independent mental activity. In other words, dogmatism is simply easy to grasp and puts its bearer only one requirement – to learn Marxism by heart, which, of course, is difficult, but much easier than to understand.
The memorization of immutable postulates eliminates the need for constant political practice, and any failures of “traditional” activist practices are easily justified by the fact that the supposedly necessary objective premises are not ripe and therefore subjective can be left aside.
Secondly, memorization of immutable postulates eliminates the need for constant political practice, and any failures of “traditional” activist practices are easily justified by the fact that the supposedly necessary objective prerequisites are not ripe and therefore subjective can be left aside. And when there is an obvious discrepancy between theory and practice, any convenient quotation from the works of the classics reduces the cognitive dissonance in the minds of dogmatists.
Thirdly, left dogmatism inevitably creates an image of the enemy and divides the entire left movement into “right” and “wrong” left. Thus, instead of fulfilling their program goals and objectives, left-wing dogmas endlessly criticize each other. Erich Fromm described something similar when an attempt to overcome his own estrangement translates into a desire to merge with the group, categorically contrasting himself with the other group, abandoning his feelings and thoughts. This kind of conformism is static, not periodic and convenient for dogmatic consciousness in that it establishes a mandatory pattern. In this case, ideological and theoretical.
Fourth, dogmatism often arises in an attempt to find the ideal of a successful practical implementation of one’s theory and to believe that it took place without taking it critically, ignoring the changing historical circumstances and the obvious roughness of the social application. This reason, like any myth construction, is directly related to the fear of the slightest possibility that the usual ideological cliches may not work. In part, this “social nostalgia”, suggesting a return to the supposedly “ideal” past, which may never have been, resembles the biblical myth of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. And in order to prove that such a standard has ever existed, the theory is bent at an angle convenient for perception and frozen in this state forever, reinforced by relevant arguments from the works of famous Marxists and other left theorists, often mutually exclusive, but necessarily mutually excluding theory and practice . That is, misconceptions about theory justify misconceptions about practice and vice versa.
Finishing to consider the reasons for the spread of dogmatism, it should be said that it has not only a subjective basis, but also an objective one. Almost all leftists, regardless of the tradition they represent, agree that capitalism does not work and requires replacement by a more perfect system. Almost all leftists agree on how this new, more perfect structure of society will look. The most striking example is the almost two-century conflict between Marxists and anarchists, where the difference lies only in the question of the withering away of the state, or its abolition here and now. The problem lies in looking at the way the left project is implemented. Between the recognition of the imperfection of the capitalist system and the transition to a new, more perfect one, lies a whole chasm, whose name is practice. The view on how to fill this gulf is very different for various left tendencies and, unfortunately, in a number of European countries (especially in the post-Soviet space) the radical left movement is, in many respects, in a rather deplorable state precisely due to the fact that the most the general laws of objective reality are considered without taking into account political practice and without doing it, since this practice is often considered “opportunistic” or vice versa “sectarian” and, therefore, supposedly does not deserve any attention .
Although Marx, whom some leftists still strive to elevate to the unchanging and lifeless Absolute, at one time, reproaching the Paris workers for the “stupidity of despair”, nevertheless ardently supported them when the proletarian uprising of the Paris Commune became a fait accompli.
Also, at one time, Marx, the very Marx whom they are trying to elevate to dogma, openly expressed his sympathies for the Narodnaya Volya organization, which violated left dogma in every conceivable and inconceivable way, and was rather skeptical of the refined Marxist Plekhanov.
Ultimately, in the debate about the primacy of the revolutionary movement and revolutionary theory, we have neither one nor the other. But instead, we have a huge number of spontaneous reasonings, torn away not only from reality, common sense and only interested in their carriers, but also divorced from what is meant by Marxist theory, which should not only explain, but also transform the world.
It may seem that I’m trying to equate the concept of “dogmatist” with the concept of “left radical”. But nothing of the kind is available. The scholastic struggle of terms flavored with reformist rhetoric is no better than the same kind of “ultra-revolutionary phrases”. Due to the excessive dogmatization of the left movement, we have neither left radicals nor left reformists. But pseudo-radicals and pseudo-reformists, who, in fact, are no different from each other, but who are waging an implacable theoretical war of all against all, are in abundance. The postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard would call it a simulacrum of the third order, i.e. distortion of reality and hiding the immediate absence of this reality.
It goes without saying that stitching together all the fragments of the left movement is not possible if it seemed to someone that this was the essence of the report. The process of dividing the left currents began in 1872 and continues to this day. Trying to stop him is tantamount to trying to abolish weightlessness. There are tendencies for unification in the left movement, but today we are not talking about this, and this unification is possible, rather, on the basis of situational unity of action, and not on a single theoretical platform.
The fact is that the whole historical experience of the class struggle, the construction of a just society (which objectively are still the only laboratories for finding the right recipes) and the work of the classics must not only be studied, critically reevaluated, but also applied, abandoning everything that is not contributes to the realization of those goals that we call programmatic.
At one time, 19th-century Marxism was adapted to the beginning of the 20th century, and later was revised in the 1960s, not at all due to the fact that the previous formulations seemed irrelevant and were not quite convenient for disputes at international congresses. Great progress for all left-wing forces will be the rejection of disputes about the primacy or secondary nature of theory and practice and the recognition of their unconditional mutual influence.
“Practice is the criterion of truth” is one of the favorite sayings of those who call themselves Marxists and leftists in general. But after all, any practice originates in a theory that justifies its application, and theory, in turn, originates in objective reality and real circumstances. It is worth recognizing and accepting if we don’t want to engage in book-keeping, which is the case for the diverse left-wing dogmas.
I will allow myself a small allegory. Imagine that we need to knock down a box using a hammer and nails. And if we think dialectically, in a Marxist way, then we just take and collect this box. We study the instructions and do everything. A dogmatic radical will sit, look at the hammer and tell how this beautiful revolutionary hammer we will ever collect this box. The dogmatic reformist will pay attention to the lack of a hammer and will think how to do it all without a hammer, instead of going under the hammer. And the neo-Marxist will sit and rewrite the instruction.
The philosophy of Marxism has always been shaped by criticism of previous philosophy, and criticism of our own worldview gives unity to our ideology. In no case do I urge to completely abandon Marxism. Since dogmatism often arises from ignorance of Marxism, when a person thinks exclusively with quotes. The most striking example is the Soviet nomenclature, which absolutely did not know either the works of Marx or the works of Lenin, but very skillfully used quotes and endlessly produced dogmatism.
All I want to say is that the left needs to argue less about the theory, and only those theoretical disputes that focus on the practical application of this theory are useful.
Now I will express one seditious thought. One English bourgeois politician who is not related to the left movement, of course, very well characterized Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as a politician: “Lenin’s weapon is logic, and his logic is opportunism.” And the left, probably, should do more opportunism. And both practice and theory should depend on external circumstances. For example, radical times require radical solutions, but if I come right now and start telling the workers about the revolution, they may simply not understand me. But even the most progressive leftist theory runs the risk of being dogmatized.
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