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Why So Much "Anti-Dogmatic" Dogmatism?

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I've often harped on the problem of dogmatism in the left.  Sometimes I've tried to categorize the various forms of dogmatism that afflict the mainstream left, specifically at the centres of world capitalism, even discussing those dogmatisms that like to imagine they are anti-dogmatic.  Other times I have complained specifically about the most obvious forms of dogmatism, annoyed by what can only be understood as marxist missionary cults.  An interest that has been a common thread throughout all of these discussions on dogmatism, and that I probably need to address very specifically in the near future (though I've mentioned it more places than I can recall), is about maintaining the distinction between adopting a principled politics and adhering to some form of dogmatism: that is, I think it is very important to understand that accepting a principled and specific political perspective is not synonymous with dogmatism and I feel that it is rather problematic (and, indeed, sometimes dogmatic) to assume otherwise––otherwise, by the same logic and as I've often pointed out, one could argue that any endorsement of anti-capitalist politics is "dogmatic" and "sectarian" because it is not being open-minded and tolerant enough to accept capitalist ideologues into some big-tent of supposedly "anti-dogmatic" political friendship.  This misunderstanding of dogmatism (and sectarianism) is, I believe, an abdication of political rationality just as it is ultimately an abdication of political responsibility.

sausages, apparently, can also be guilty of dogmatism

In any case, what I want to discuss here is, again, that category of dogmatism that imagines it is anti-dogmatic and, by the very logic of its "anti-dogmatism", commits itself to a sectarian politics in essence if not in form.  In one of the aforementioned posts I wrote:
This type of dogmatism is dangerous because its adherents often treat every other approach as "dogmatic" […] when, in truth, it is close-minded to the critiques and facts that have proved it erroneous.  Misunderstanding its heterogeneity, it fails to understand that it possesses its own exclusionary doctrine.  And those heretics who question this doctrine are falsely deemed "religious" and "dogmatic" when, in so many cases, the opposite is the case.  And all appeals to past revolutionary successes, no matter how critical these appeals,  that the movementist ideology deems complete failures are rejected and misunderstood as religious because the actual religious mindset of this type of dogmatist cannot conceive of revolutionary success and maybe does not want to conceive of revolutionary success.
I stand by this claim and I feel it is still a significant problem amongst a very specific (and, let's be clear, a predominantly university, trade-unionist, intelligentsia, and ultimately petty-bourgeois) population of the left, especially at the centres of global capitalism.  It is a mindset that intersects with the default opportunism that is one of the unquestioned (and therefore sacred, dogmatic) beliefs of the imperialist left.  My problem in this post, however, is how the sublimated dogmatism of this attitude, produced perhaps by that default opportunism, sometimes plays out in theoretical-ideological practice.  In other words, I am interested in why so many committed leftists who really do care about the end of capitalism, and who have been active and sometimes even inspirational in the activist arena, are utterly dogmatic when it comes to a broader understanding or revolutionary theory.  Indeed, they even disguise their own dogmatic rejection of this or that theory in the costume of anti-dogmatism.

So what I find very upsetting and dogmatic is the unwillingness of people who ascribe to this mindset to investigate the theoretical foundations of revolutionary theory.  To put it in a question: why is it that people [in the "academic left"] who claim to be critical leftists refuse to critically engage with the theoretical developments of Leninism and Maoism, let alone critically investigating the histories of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, but feel they still have the right to dismiss these theories and histories?  Once again: without investigation there should be no right to speak… and yet, there is so much speaking without even the minimum of investigation.  Look: my problem is not specifically that certain theoretical developments (developments that I have referred to as a "living communism") are rejected, but they are a priori rejected without any understanding of what they mean!  This is, I would argue and I think that my argument is not without basis, the precise definition of dogmatism.

I am getting tired of people who say that they don't have to read Lenin to reject Leninism, or they don't have to read Mao to reject Maoism, thinking they have any intellectual credibility.  So what if you adopt the most mainstream, and often most reactionary, historical understandings of the revolutionary periods that produced these theories?  So what if you abide by the most uncritical and predictable understanding of these moments?  Reactionaries and liberals have similar interpretations and yet they're honest enough to embrace capitalism––but you are not a member of their club and so more is expected of you.

When I recall the early and high period of the Peoples War in Nepal––back when it was still, even at its controversial moments, pursuing the revolution––I can also recall speaking with people who didn't give a shit about what was happening in this small country and telling me they didn't care about anything that defined itself as "Maoist" and they would never read anything "Maoist" in any case.  And yet, at least for me, the initiation of the Peoples War in Nepal, regardless of how it has currently degenerated, was very important because it caused me to take Maoism seriously.  Already, after an early activist period of anarchism years before, I was moving away from autonomist marxism and into Leninism––and from there a Marxism-Leninism that was inspired by Fanonism and third world revolutions (thank-you Samir Amin!) which meant, at least in a crude sense, "maoism"––and the early moments of that Peoples War caused me to take this theory seriously.

And yet, so many committed leftists raised in this default opportunist context could have cared less about Nepal, didn't know it was happening, and maybe were incapable of pointing at Nepal on a map.  But now, when that revolution's two-line struggle has most probably swung to the right and the Peoples War has been over for a long time, all these leftists who told me that they would never care about Leninism or Maoism are pretending that they knew about it all along and are making late and unsophisticated assessments of something that has already been assessed and criticized by the international maoist movement.  Perhaps this is the reason, the frustration, behind this post: reading one too many anarchist posts about the situation in Nepal (especially the one that babbles about the "red bourgeoisie", imagines it is in anyways intelligent or that any of its half-way decent points weren't already said by other Maoist organizations three years ago, and pats itself on the back for dogmatically rejecting communist "dogmatism"––and no, I will not link this unprincipled analysis here) and almost tearing my hair out at their stupidity.

In November 2011, I complained about the dogmato-revisionist trotsykist critiques of Nepal that pretended to be aware of the vicissitudes of that failing revolution despite never caring about it until 2011; the anarchist critiques are almost identical to the trotskyist critiques, ideological language diverging here and there, because the end message is the same: there is no point in daring to struggle and daring to win––we don't have to study your history and the concrete basis of your mistakes to decide where you went wrong.  Those of us who are maoists believe that the living science of marxism-leninism-maoism can explain the why revolutions fail (this is, indeed, the insight of maoism), just as the revolutions emerging through this line are still going further than the [lack of] revolutionary movements on the part of those who seem to be more than happy that the most advanced revolutions in the past twenty years are failing.  Pat yourselves on the back: the bourgeoisie and imperialists are just as happy as you.

Back to the original problem: why is it that certain sectors of the left at the centres of the imperialism are unwilling to investigate the theory and history that they are already and ideologically primed to reject?  Why this dogmatic (because there really is no other word for it, considering that the rejection is often not based on any critical investigation) refusal?  I'm tempted to reply with a single word answer: opportunism, but I'm not sure if it's that simple.  To be sure: a large portion of this rejection comes from this historical conjuncture's default opportunism.  At the same time, however, some of those doing the rejection, though maybe influenced by this malaise, are not people I would ever classify as opportunists.  

So, dear readers, if you at all agree that what I've discussed here is a problem (and I know that some of you do), then what is your assessment?  Why do you think that there is so much dogmatism disguised as anti-dogmatism and that, at the end of the day, is anti-investigation on a theoretical level?


  1. Petit-bourgeois and labour aristocrat "leftists" at the heart of imperialism will never accept or listen to anything that truly threatens imperialism in my view. As a Marxist in Britain, I have noticed how really only two groups even uphold Lenin's theories relating to imperialism- these being the Revolutionary Communist Group/Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and the CPGB-ML, though the RCG on the whole has a better analysis. The rest of the British "left" rejects openly some of Lenin's writings, as the ISO started openly rejecting Lenin's theories in the 1960's and even today "leftists" have told me that it isn't 1916 when I'm re-reading 'Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism'. And why do I suspect this sort of dogmatism? Because of the fact that they are predominantly petit-bourgeois and benefit from the bloodshed of British imperialism.

    The anti-dogmatism I've experienced is similar and from similar people. There are those who try telling me that an anti-imperialist worldview is too narrow and try to use Zizek's construction of Mao or the Frankfurt School to suggest that the world is now much more complex and thus for those reasons I should have supported Yugoslavia being bombed in the 90's or Libya being bombed now. Or instead they raise things about how things have changed so greatly that a lot of Lenin's writings may not be applicable, as we now live in a far more globalised economy and the whole thing about post-industrial economies etc. All the time I get told this shit by relatively well-off university students in fine clothes with iPhones, iPads, iCars, iHouses and iRealities. Their dogmatic fake anti-dogmatism is just a reflection of their desire to protect their slice of the pie of imperialism and maybe to expand the amount they get.

    This is why I'm glad that there still exists in Britain groups like the RCG to discuss real Leninist politics.

    1. It is very strange how many mainstream marxist groups at the centres of capitalism reject Lenin's theory of imperialism (as well as its corollary, the theory of the labour aristocracy) and I think this speaks generally to an unwillingness to be critical of their own global position. At the same time, it's a bizarre contradiction that some of the big name theorists/academics in these groups still endorse Lenin's theory of imperialism as a starting point to any analysis of contemporary imperialism. Alex Callinicos, for example, who is an SWP member, accepts Lenin's analysis of imperialism. As does China Mieville (also SWP) in his "Between Equal Rights" book on international law and imperialism...

      I do not have a problem with examining other marxist theorists outside of the broad brushstroke tradition of scientific revolutionary theory, and I think it does contribute to a more critical understanding, just as long as they are filtered through what has been established by the world historical communist revolutions –– that is, held to account by praxis. I think the Frankfurt School, for example, has a lot to teach us but only if they're read within an understanding of Lenin's theory of imperialism (i.e. the theory of the culture industry, as one of my comrades who does her work on this area reminds me, is actually a theory that explains the capitalism of the labour aristocracy but the Frankfurt School lacked a proper analysis of imperialism).

      Otherwise, I do agree that there is a type of hipster marxism that does not resemble any form of communism and is more the result of petty bourgeois lifestyle politics. And this existed even in Lenin's period of time which is why he complained about it at the beginning of S&R.


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