An Interview with Daniel Rubin
Published on political affairs pa, June 01, 2009.
(An excerpt of the end, scroll down):
… PA: One of the things you do in your book is to refer to Marxism as “Marxist methodology.” By that term you are distinguishing, I think, between a traditional view of Marxism as a set of rules or a set of beliefs, a system that has to be followed step-by-step, otherwise you are not a Marxist. Could you talk a little about that?
RUBIN: Well, I think that a sound understanding of Marxism has always been that it is, on the one hand, a system that can embrace all of human activity and knowledge, but yet is an open system. It was never a system that was put to use as perfected, as final. Lenin’s concept, of course, was that our knowledge of the real world around us is absolute in the sense that it is knowledge of something that exists. It is not just a matter of sense perceptions or something given to us by a non-understandable higher authority.
On the other hand, his conception was that it was all relative as well, that we are constantly able to gain greater and greater knowledge of that reality, without any limit whatsoever, and that we can therefore learn that earlier propositions were false and did not correspond to objective reality. So we can make corrections, as well as take in all kinds of new developments and new discoveries, and so on.
I think that in many hands Marxism got distorted and was defined actually as being a science. All of Marxism was viewed as a science. Of course, Engels sometimes used that phraseology, a “science of society,” but also he used the phrase a “guide to action,” which is not a rigid thing, and he used that phrase repeatedly. So we have objective reality and objective processes, such as in the laws of social development as a whole, and we do claim that the political economy of capitalism contains laws. But when you come to the theory of socialist revolution, how you go about actually making a revolution, and strategy and tactics, you have the problem of Stalin and others having defined all of Marxism as being a science, and then whatever the “greatest scientist,” namely Stalin, said was correct.
We now need to talk about strategy and tactics, which guides the policies of the Communists and Marxists for moving forward. I would also say that other democratic forces have their own strategies. They have a different approach to what strategy and tactics are, but these things do have flexibility, especially tactics. It is not a science, where if you know the right answer everybody should accept that and understand it. There is a lot of experimentation in tactics, and there is a lot that is gained from experience. It is not a matter of scientific law. In this way, I think that Marxism today is much more of an open system that has to be creative in its essence and reject rigid formulas.
PA: That leads me to my final question. Toward the end of the book you discuss the Communist Party and its role. Could you synthesize that a little bit for us. What is the role of the Communist Party and why is it needed?
RUBIN: There have been changes, as I have indicated, in defining what Marxism is. Today we see it as a system of ideas and ideology that corresponds to the interests of the working class. There are aspects to it that do contain laws of social development and political economy. But there is also much more to it that is theory, and the theory of socialist revolution contains two areas especially. One is strategy and tactics, which contain principles drawn from experience as well as communist theory.
The need for a Communist Party starts from the party’s experience in struggle and the theoretical work that has been done. The masses of workers, in the struggle for their needs and in the spontaneous class struggle, can and do learn a lot. They become more trade-union conscious, and trade-union consciousness is the beginning of class consciousness. They can also become more class conscious. But from that experience alone, they cannot learn the laws of social development. That is why we need a Communist Party, because it embodies these things. And when the Communist Party has a close relationship with the working class movement it can play a very big role in influencing and helping it move forward without any big difficulties, detours or defeats.
Then there is the question of what has happened in life, in practice. I would argue that Marxist theory has been confirmed in life, which includes the changes Marxism itself has undergone. This suggests that there is a sound theory, and that you do need a Communist Party, a mass Communist Party, to help win socialism. Once having established working class power, led by the working class in alliance with other class and social forces, you are then able to go forward and not make any big mistakes, because you know something about the economy and the laws of social development that you cannot just simply learn from daily life and daily experience.
I would argue that life has confirmed this theory and that there are no examples yet of Marxist theory of the need for and role of the Communist Party being violated. I also think that developments in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, where there is now a renewed study of Marxism within the left-wing movements, will result in the merger of parties or development into a Communist Party that plays a leading role in these countries as well. (full long text).
Link: Capitalism’s Misty Secrets: Marx and the Fetishism of Commodities, by Thomas Riggins, June 1, 2009.