[The Importance of Having a Scientific Approach to Revolution]
[This is an excerpt (consisting of the first two sections) of a much longer, but unfinished, essay entitled “Principles of Revolutionary Marxism” that I was working on in August 1998. At that time there was a little dispute within a small group of friends and I over the question of whether Marxism-Leninism-Maoism should be considered a science. The second section of this excerpt briefly addresses that issue, and was designed to at least begin to break down the resistance to viewing MLM as a science. —Scott H.]
1. Our first and most basic principle: What is good and right and correct is that which is in the genuine interests of the people.
The most basic guiding principle of revolutionary Marxism is simply this: A program, or line, or policy, or action, is only truly right and correct if it is in accordance with the real interests of the masses. This is true for both politics and morality, and in every social sphere–including economics and the basic socio-economic organization of society.
By ‘interests’ we mean those things that benefit an individual or a group. Thus to be correct, all political lines, policies and actions must actually benefit the masses of the people. If they don’t truly benefit them (at least in the long run), they are not right, not correct, no matter how good they sound. The determiner of whether something is right and correct is not the claims or declarations of any political party or group, not even their motives and subjective desires. All that really counts in the end is whether they are actually working for the interests of the people.
All of our further principles discussed below are subordinate to this one basic principle. All such further principles must be completely consistent with this basic principle; and that is the way that we mean and understand them.
We are revolutionaries because there are overwhelming and conclusive reasons for believing that only through social revolution can the interests of the people be satisfied.
Our use of words and phrases such as ‘interests’ and ‘the people’ is explained in an accompanying glossary. Major topics such as the nature of politics and morality, how to determine what the interests of the people really are, how to lead the people in fighting for their interests, and so forth, will be discussed later in this document.
2. Our basic methodological principle: A scientific approach to society, and to the changing of society.
Marxism has always claimed to be scientific, but there have been many–even some people who consider themselves Marxists–who deny this, or at least feel uncomfortable with this claim. So bear with us while we carefully discuss the matter (both in this section and in more depth later on), and clarify both what is being claimed for Marxism, and what is not being claimed.
First of all, we readily admit that individual Marxists and specific Marxist parties (not only all the phony ones, but also the genuine ones) have not always been scientific in their approach. We are not saying that someone becomes “scientific” just because they call themselves a Marxist, nor even that genuine Marxists are always scientific (or, in other words, that they invariably work in accordance with the scientific method). This is our goal, but of course we are well aware that in the real world such lofty goals are rarely achieved without deviations and missteps.
Moreover, we must stress that you can be scientific in your approach even if you make mistakes from time to time. Using the scientific method does not always prevent you from making mistakes! Every scientist and every science makes mistakes. But to the extent that they really follow the scientific method, these mistakes are corrected later on. That is really the point of science–to use a method that allows you to identify and correct your mistakes, progressively improve your understanding, and your ability to control and modify the world. We revolutionary Marxists are consciously trying to do all of these things too, especially with respect to the social world.
By scientific method we mean such standard principles as:
Careful empirical investigation of the facts of the situation. This should be done as objectively as possible. Lenin wrote that “what is most important, that which constitutes the very gist, the living soul, of Marxism–[is] a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.”1
The formulation of hypotheses (theories), and the testing of these hypotheses through practice in the real world. In the physical sciences this is usually done through formal experiments. In Marxist politics it is done by formulating policies and political lines (using such methods as the “mass line”), attempting to put them into practice, and seeing if the results are positive or negative–from the point of view of the interests of the masses.
The modification or abandonment of theories (lines) when experiment (or political practice) shows they are incorrect. A line or “social experiment” is incorrect when it fails to advance the interests of the masses–assuming it has been given a fair trial.
A coherent and logical approach. I.e., theories must be consistent with each other and, more importantly, consistent with overall or broader theories. When there are inconsistencies, something has got to give. Often “thought experiments” are of value here, both in physical science and in Marxism.
Some people think that Marxism can’t be a science because it isn’t very much like physics, which is the paradigm science for most people. But many other sciences (e.g., evolutionary biology, linguistics, and psychology) are also very unlike physics. All of these sciences, and Marxism too, are like physics in the ways that really matter–those mentioned above under scientific method. And they are also like physics in that they result in a systematic body of knowledge, a branch of human knowledge.
Some people think that Marxism can’t be a science because it doesn’t use much mathematics. But many other sciences also use mathematics in very limited ways and in isolated areas.
Still others think that Marxism can’t be a science because “there is so much disagreement about it”. But, again, there is disagreement about other sciences too, especially when they relate to people’s interests and heartfelt beliefs, such as religion. Thus fundamentalist Christians reject evolutionary biology as a science–which only proves that they are ignorant and anti-scientific.
The ruling capitalist class for the most part rejects the very idea that there can be any such thing as a science of society. They portray their system as eternal, existing ever since human beings originated, and lasting as long as human beings do. They portray their system as being based on human nature–a human nature which has never changed in the past, and which can never change in the future. It is in their interests to believe that there cannot be any fundamental social change, and thus that there cannot possibly be any science of social change. So that is what they believe, and that is what they try to indoctrinate everyone else to believe.
But an examination of history shows that society has changed in very fundamental ways, and that people have changed along with it. A scientific analysis of how these changes have occurred, generalized to predict how future changes may occur, is one of the foundation stones of Marxism. (Hence the term “historical materialism”.)
In this document we will be continually showing how Marxism is indeed a science. But if you are not yet convinced about this, at least consider this point: Anything whatsoever that people do–regardless of whether it is considered to be engaging in a science or not–can be approached in a scientific manner, and by using the scientific method. Suppose for example that a lamp in your bedroom won’t turn on. You can refuse to deal with, throw the lamp out, or let someone else try to fix it. Or you can investigate it. You can investigate it carefully, thoroughly and systemically, or you can do so haphazardly. You can formulate hypotheses about what the problem is, and test them one by one, or you can jump to one conclusion, and if that doesn’t prove to be right, then just give up. A rational, scientific approach might be to first make sure the light is plugged in (especially if sometimes you unplug it). Then check to see if the bulb is burned out (by replacing it). Then check the fuse or circuit breaker. Then check to see if power is on to the house as a whole. If none of these hypotheses pan out, you may have to take apart the lamp and replace some part, perhaps the switch. But if you were to just to stop this investigation, and formulation and testing of hypotheses, after one or two steps and give up on the lamp, then you would not be following a rational, scientific course.
Lamp-fixing is not really “science”–because it does not result in a major body of principles and knowledge. But full-fledged science or not, the scientific method can and should be used in fixing lamps (and just about everywhere else).
If you really feel that Marxism should not be called a science either, at least grant us for now that we all ought to approach society in a scientific manner, and use the scientific method to try to understand it and change it for the betterment of humanity. That is really our most essential point here.
[Note]1 Lenin, “Kommunismus” (June 12, 1920), LCW 31:166.
[End of Excerpt]
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