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Theological Applications of Marxist Theory

In 1918 Anatoly Lunacharsky, in his assessment of Russian revolutionaries, wrote that Trotsky, despite being a great revolutionary leader, was "incomparably more orthodox than Lenin… he takes revolutionary Marxism and draws from it the conclusions applicable to a given situation.  He is as bold as can be in opposing liberalism and semi-socialism, but he is no innovator."  The lack of a creative application of revolutionary theory––taking universal concepts and applying them, dialectically, to a concrete and particular situation––was something, according to Lunacharsky, that escaped Trotsky whose theoretical offerings, unlike those of Lenin, were destined to remain rote and perhaps dogmatic formulations of the science of revolution begun by Marx and Engels.  Thus it is perhaps not entirely surprising that, if Lunacharsky was correct about Trotsky, the most loyal Trotskyist grouplets––those who never tire of repeating the words of their prophet and assessing Lenin through Trotsky's rigid patterns of thought––possess the same simplistic orthodoxy and inability to understanding theoretical innovation.  As I noted in a previous post, these "marxist missionaries" tend to imagine "that there is some sort of pure communism outside of time and space, and that they are the elect capable of reflecting and understanding this perfect theory."

Generally, because interacting with people who have a religious mindset is extremely frustrating, I try to avoid interactions with members of these dogmatic cabals.  Since they have not grown in decades, and are acting in the same way they acted fifty years ago, and have failed to do any significant practical work aside from coming up with "correct" slogans, I really don't see the point of wasting my time in their company.  Although I have friends and comrades with whom I have ongoing debates over differences of revolutionary theory––and who I still count as comrades because ultra-sectarianism leads to close-minded dogmatism––I feel there is nothing worthwhile in arguing with cultish marxists who use the words of Marx and Lenin, through the filter of their great prophet Trotsky, in the way that priests use words from the Bible.  This betrayal of the historical and dialectical materialist method, this inability to grasp the dialectical union between the universal and the particular, is extremely frustrating.  When you argue with dogmatists, rational and historical arguments mean nothing: they have already dismissed your points ahead of time, sometimes before they even know what they are, because they have no intention of considering critical intervention.

Take, for example, the dogmatic Trotskyite assessment of the revolution in Nepal.  Due to the current and extremely disappointing degeneration of the UCPN(Maoist), where Prachanda has seemingly capitulated to the party's opportunistic, certain Trotskyite cabals are gleefully castigating those communists who have been supporting the Nepal Revolution.  And now when those same communists, who once published supportive articles and assessments, are beginning to express their disappointment, the Trotskyites see this as some sort of massive contradiction.  "If only you could have had our theoretical understanding of the revolution in Nepal," they argue self-righteously, "then you would have known from the get-go that this failure was pre-ordained."

What this demonstrates, of course, is a dogmatic ignorance of history and revolution––a purist and nineteenth century way of seeing the world.  For one thing, these groups argue that every revolution that does not resemble precisely the Bolshevik party under Lenin is destined to fail.  Before they even engage with the concrete circumstances of Nepal, for example, they will make ahistorical pronouncements that are no more than a crude attempt to fit history into orthodox patterns of thought––and they will make it fit by hammering as hard as they can, distorting the original object of their thought.  So while I agree that is necessary to grasp the universal developments of revolutionary theory, these developments must always be grasped within concrete social and historical insights.  Just as Lenin understood that the Russia of his time was not the France of the Paris Commune (and yet at the same time knew how to make sense of the universal insights gleaned from the Commune's successes and failures), we have to understand that other revolutionary situations are not Russia in 1917.

While Trotskyite dogmatists dismissed the Nepal Revolution from the very beginning because it was not identical to Lenin's Russia in 1917, there were those of us who had the principled position that the revolutionary process was not immediately flawed.  And why should we ascribe some telos on a revolutionary process, imagining for whatever vague reason, that it would be destined to fail?  Why should we not endorse the maxim "dare to struggle, dare to win"?  There was no good reason to reject the Nepalese Revolution, despite all its failures and setbacks, until it was clear that it was moving towards the point of degeneration.  Nor can revolutionary degenerations be grasped so easily: all revolutions are fragile, and it is always harder to succeed because of the difficulties of winning, but according to the very puritanical worldview of religious communists, there is no point in even trying.  Nor do these groups like the idea of revolutionary movements that try to think creatively and heterodoxically––applying the universal insights of revolutionary theory to their reality in order to produce a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.

Let us be clear: all revolutions that have succeeded, especially those world historical communist revolutions, have not succeeded by religious and formulaic repetition.  All attempts to produce a revolution by dogmatically applying the method of the Bolsheviks in 1917 have failed.  Of course those who attempt to preserve this tradition through the rigid and unscientific categories of the Great Prophet Trotsky will never fail because, due to a theory that results in the paralysis of praxis, they will never come close to trying.  Failures happen because people try to make revolution, after all, and success is always extremely difficult to achieve; those who never try, who do not "dare to struggle, dare to win", will never have to fail.  Better yet, because they will never be close to testing their theories in practice, they can always imagine they stand upon the revolutionary high ground.  The fact that no ortho-Trotskyist group has ever led a revolution, despite all the crowing about a perfect theory, is apparently not treated as a failure in and of itself.

And speaking of failure, what about the Russian Revolution that is used dogmatically by these missionaries?  Why should a revolution elsewhere in the world look precisely like the Bolshevik Revolution if, and this is an historical fact, the Bolshevik Revolution failed.  These trot cabals would never (and nor should they) accept the autonomist argument that the Russian Revolution failed because its failure was predetermined from its origins (i.e. because of a vanguard that seized state power), and clearly they believe in upholding the initial success of this revolution despite its failure.  The problem, however, is that they are giving the wrong questions to the right answers: the revolution failed but not, as they simplistically declare, because Stalin outmaneuvered Trotsky.  We maoists have our own assessment of this situation, after all, that comes through the theoretical insights gained through the world-historical revolution of China: the revolution fell because of an inability to grasp the line struggle that takes place within the Communist Party itself.

(Maybe we're wrong, but at least this leads to a more nuanced and non-mindless attempt to critically assess failures and successes.  And if a scientific theory is defined by its ability to make sense of reality, in its universal applicability, then the theory of line struggle does far more to explain failure than "well it only failed because of a bad person and the people who surrounded this person" which is more spurious than scientific––and rather bourgeois, for that matter, because it reduces historical procession to the acts of individuals rather than class struggle.  After all, it makes far more rational sense to understand failure, even the failure of the Chinese Revolution, through the concept of line struggle rather than turning the figure of Stalin into a universal principle of "Stalinism" and then trying to argue, very simplistically and embarrassingly, that this or that person is like Stalin.  Again: this is nothing more than transforming people into universal and historical principles, a thoroughly bourgeois way of assessing reality.)

Due to an inability to understand the concept of line struggle, these Trotskyite groups cannot grasp why so many of us could support the revolution in Nepal for a long period of time until, once a certain conjuncture was reached, we could no longer make the same supportive claims.  For we understood, from the beginning, that this revolution's victory was not preordained but we supported it, as any principled revolutionary should, because we grasped the circumstances of its success or failure.  To no longer support the revolution is not to change our position, and is far from a contradiction, but simply an assessment based on what was happening with the Nepal Revolution: a revolutionary process can change at any given moment; it is important to grasp the reasons behind this change rather than thoughtlessly apply categories.

And due to this thoughtlessness, this lack of understanding of even the debates and exchanges of polemics that were happening amongst parties throughout the world who were international comrades with the Nepalese, those Trotskyite cabals who predicted failure from the beginning, and who imagine that those of us who are now less supportive of the Nepalese situation are suddenly "changing our tune", cannot help but be puzzlingly ignorant.  One would think that, before throwing accusations around, they would investigate the critiques delivered to the Nepalese––back when these Trotskyist grouplets had no idea that a Peoples War was happening in Nepal––by the sister parties in the Revolutionary International Movement.  Indeed, when the Nepalese originally decided to use the parliamentary method as a tactic, a lot of groups, who also continued to support them with qualification, delivered very pointed critiques and warnings.  If these Trotskyist self-righteous groups in my city had even bothered, several years ago, to come out to an event where Hisila Yami [Comrade Parvati] was speaking, they would have witnessed many of us, those they now see as having been blinded by poor understandings of history, delivering similar warnings about the possible revisionism that this tactic might produce.

The reason we continued to support the revolution for as long as we did, however, was because we initially grasped the point that the Nepalese were arguing that the use of the elections process (far from being a "Menshevik" strategy) was simply a tactic to buy them the time necessary to get into the cities.  So originally, when sister groups still supported the UCPN(Maoist), it was because we accepted (which was only principled) that they were speaking truthfully about elections as a tactic, a temporary moment in a larger chain of the PPW.  Indeed, at that time the political line that was dominant in the UCPN(Maoist) held that the elections process was nothing more than a tactical necessity––and there were actually good reasons for this that had nothing to do with some "Menshevik" notion of uniting with bourgeois liberals. For example, the PLA was in danger of being crushed, the Indians were backing the Royal Army, and the inability to break into the cities was vastly becoming a weak-point in the PPW.  The elections process, at its outset in fact, allowed for the UCPN(Maoist) to break into the cities and found some significant and revolutionary organizations.

Unfortunately, as those of us who understood the danger of the process grasped, there was also the possibility that the opportunist line in the party would gain the upperhand and reject the initial reasons for tactically using the parliamentary process.  So throughout this process, sister parties continued to issue warnings to the Nepalese about the possible revisionism if what was once understood as a tactic was turned into an overall strategy.  Even still, because these parties and all of us who supported the revolution in Nepal, we knew that as long as the line struggle continued there was always a chance that the party's revisionism was not preordained.  We understood how it become revisionist, which is why we are now losing our hope, but it would be unprincipled to ascribe failure to something that still had so much revolutionary potential.  We knew the ingredients that would lead to revisionism, however, which is why we have supposedly "changed our tune" in our assessment of the revolution.  But, as I argued earlier, if this is a contradiction in thought then it is also a contradiction for Trotskyites to uphold the Bolshevik Revolution despite its eventual failures.

Of course, one never expects people whose understanding of revolutionary theory and history is so dogmatically simplistic, to grasp a nuanced and principled assessment of a revolutionary process.  If they cannot find passages in their sacred texts that speak specifically about realities that the authors of these texts were unable to assess, then these realities do not exist.  And if arguing with these pitiful assessments are reduced to searching for passages, and throwing quotes back and forth, then all in which we are engaging is theology.  I am one of those, however, who does not believe that revolutionary theory should be reduced to a mindless appreciation of doctrine.