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#OtMA: Was George Washington a Maoist?

In my Occupy the Marxist Academy commentary for today, I want to throw out some ideas about the role of theory in the social revolution. This is a very sensitive topic that has, on several occasions, thrown the entire movement into chaos. Nothing I say will be profound, or epoch changing. Instead it will consist of some observations.

My first observation is theory is not all that it is cracked up to be. Theory as THEORY is not a necessity for the social revolution. No social revolution failed for lack of theory, although many failed for lack of other things. Even if we disagree with the results of the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, or even the American Revolution they were successful — and their success is an empirically verifiable historical fact. But, success or failure of a social revolution is neither proof of a theory nor does its failure disprove a particular theory.

Social revolutions are empirical events which bring out masses of people for any number of empirically determined reason. Theory plays no more role in such events than it does in the far larger and more significant market events of every day life. In social revolutions, as in daily market activities, people are motivated primarily by their empirically perceived interests. What changes in a social revolution is not these empirically perceived interests, but material conditions themselves.

Let me give an example: the birth of the labor movement in the 19th Century was expressed in a general social demand by working people for freedom from work — for a shortening of the social work day. Marx, in fact, called the struggle over hours of work the Magna Charta of the the labor movement.

Yet, by 1941, on the eve of United States entry into World War II, Roosevelt was proposing the so-called Four Freedoms, among which freedoms included “the freedom” of working people to work longer and harder to create a massive armaments industry:

Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being’ directly assailed in every part of the world… The need of the moment is that our actions and our policy should be devoted primarily—almost exclusively—to meeting this foreign peril. … [T]he immediate need is a swift and driving increase in our armament production. … I also ask this Congress for authority and for funds sufficient to manufacture additional munitions and war supplies of many kinds, to be turned over to those nations which are now in actual war with aggressor nations. … Let us say to the democracies: ‘…We shall send you, in ever-increasing numbers, ships, planes, tanks, guns . …’

We go from Freedom FROM work, to freedom TO work in the space of 100 years. How the fuck did that happen? Clearly there was a massive transformation of the material relations in society, such that separation from wage labor — unemployment — became the general social enemy. While theory did not cause this separation in any case, it might help us to explain what happened.

So, given the above, what is the role of theory? And, why does theory remain a problem for all variants of communist thought?

I think this can best be shown by the split in the International Workingmen’s Association between Marxists and anarchists in the 19th Century. The role of theory is very limited in relation to the social revolution, but it can throw light on the possibilities of that revolution. The split in the IWMA was not about the social revolution itself, but what various theories proposed as the possibilities or limitations for it in the late 19th Century.

We should be clear on this: theory did not have any impact on the social revolution itself, but on how we perceived its possibilities and limitations at a particular point in history.

The point in contention between Marx and Bakunin in the late 19th Century was not whether the state must be abolished, but whether this was immediately possible in those specific conditions. Now, it is possible to make this difference more profound than that — stretch it beyond such particularities and propose that different views had to lead to different strategies.
However, we still have to face the facts that these different strategies themselves had no impact on the success or failure of the social revolution per above.

To make this point perfectly clear: the American Revolution was not successful because George Washington was guided by brilliance of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

And, the differences between Marx and Bakunin do not explain how society gets from “freedom FROM work“, to “freedom TO work“. Marx’s theory did not get us here, nor did Bakunin’s theory. The conclusions Marx drew were conflict with the conclusions Bakunin drew regarding the possibilities in the late 19th Century and nothing more. At its best — “right” or “wrong” — all any theory can tell us is what the possibilities are for the social revolution now.

Let me rephrase that: No theory can tell us anything except what we can realistically hope to accomplish now! Theory can’t accomplish the social revolution “for us“, or “despite us“, or “on our behalf“, or “in our best interests“. Theory is not the cause of a social revolution’s success or failure.

Theory is nothing more than a tool, like a toilet bowl scrubber or a jack hammer — all the skill and art is in the hands of those who use it, not the instrument itself.

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