[lbo-talk] Theories of surplus value

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sun Jul 18 15:32:22 PDT 2010

Doug Henwood wrote:
> On Jul 18, 2010, at 5:40 PM, Julio Huato wrote:
> >[clip[ In other words, revolutionary
> > practice does not need revolutionary theory.

Let's clarify a bit. This comes in a much wider context, in which "Theory" is narrowly circumscribed as only a special sub-section of thought. (I learned it first from the Chinese, for whom the distinction between Mao THOUGHT and "MarxISM-LeninISM" was highly significant. In the posts Julio seems to be referring to I made "Theory" (as Jerry Monaco did a few years ago) nearly synonymous with "Scientific Theory" -- e.g., e=mc*2. In other words for the Chinese (at least while their revolution was alive and Mao was not senile) there was no such thing as Maoism -- i.e., there was no such thing as Revolutionary Theory by only revolutionary thought emerging from specific practice under specific conditions. (I disagree now with the idea that there is a valid Marxism-Leninism, but that's another matter.) Just as e=mc*2 is intended to be true throughout time and space, so Revolutionary Theory, if one existed and was valid, would dictate practice in all revolutions in all nations at all times. Lou Proyect has often cited a fine example of this faith in Revolutiona;ry Theory: Trotsky in Mexico cabling his comrades in Spain giving them instructins on tactics to follow. Theory doesn't need to check on local conditions.

(I probably am limiting "Thoery" too much, but I think the distinction in some form remains vital.)

In the anti-capitalist tradition of the last century Revolutionary Theory has always referred to a fateful sentence in Lenin's WITBD. Lou and others have pretty well established that _Lenin_ himself did not take this quite as, after 1917, it came to be taken by followers of Stalin & Trotsky. That is, Lenin was NOT using the word "theory" (or the Russian equivalent) in the 'heavy' sense I've been giving it here, and by no means was arguing that there existed a Revolutionary Theory and a Revolutionary Party grounded in it separate from and superior to concrete conditions of a given place and time. This belief in a Revolutionary Theory (or perhaps one should write REVOLUTIONARY THEORY) is reflectec for example on the Platypus web site where one of them squeaks out about "the defeat" of "the left" of the 1930s and the 1960s, and proceeds to ascribing those "defeasts" to the failure of those movements to have the Correct Revolutionary Theory, which Platypus (Sparticists with degrees) in their supreme wisdom have now achieved.

No language has a separate word for everything, and as suggested in my parenthetical comment above, we need to keep the word "theory" for other uses than the one isisted on in this post, but we do need to be very conscious of the 'level' of abstract validity of the "theory" we are talking about in any given instance. (Albritton, referring to critique, speaks of "Middle Level Theory.") The "Marxology" we were debating this last week is at a very high level of theory and (as Angelus and I have both insisted at various times) simply cannot control or organize concrete political thinking, any more than e=mc*2 can be of much help in deciding the oven temperature for roast lamb. Even the low level theory of the cookbook is apt to be screwed up: conditions of a given leg of lamb and a given overn may vary too much.

One needs to theorize, for example, the present political standing of left activity. I don't knwo any other English word to use for that. We just have to be clear in what precises sense of Theory we are working with in a given context. Julio was a bit sloppy in the passage quoted above in noting the contexts in which I had made such a statement.


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