What follows is put together from some comments I made in a discussion thread in the facebook group, Group for the Discussion of the Revolutionary Science of Marxism-Leninism, called “the science part of ‘the science of revolution’“. These are my rough thoughts on the subject, not a set of totally worked-out theses. I think this is an interesting topic worth further discussion.
‘When asked whether or not we are Marxists, our position is the same as that of a physicist or a biologist when asked if he is a “Newtonian,” or if he is a “Pasteurian”… One ought to be “Marxist’ with the same naturalness with which one is “Newtonian” in physics, or “Pasteurian” in biology.’
Now, I think to have this discussion it may be helpful to define “science”, and if we are going to do it in a way that includes Marxism as it exists today, I don’t think we can define science in a narrow positivisitic sence.
When the idea of Marxism as a science was first put forward by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, I think the concept “science” probably had a significantly different angle to it than it often does today (thought there certainly isn’t concensus even now), meaning basically a tendency to re-evaluate problems based on reason and analysis, quantifiable data, and a materialist viewpoint. Also it meant to get to a clear understanding of the “natural laws”, in this case meaning first and foremost “laws” of social change. I think Marxism fits those critera just fine.
Marxism as a “science of revolution” means “science” in the sense that it relies on learning from a summation of experience, casting away dogmas, methodical removal of ideological (in the negative sense) thinking.
Mao Zedong put it this way:
“In their social practice, men engage in various kinds of struggle and gain rich experience, both from their successes and from their failures. Countless phenomena of the objective external world are reflected in a man’s brain through his five sense organs – the organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. At first, knowledge is perceptual. The leap to conceptual knowledge, i e., to ideas, occurs when sufficient perceptual knowledge is accumulated. This is one process in cognition. It is the first stage in the whole process of cognition, the stage leading from objective matter to subjective consciousness, from existence to ideas. Whether or not one’s consciousness or ideas (including theories, policies, plans or measures) do correctly reflect the laws of the objective external world is not yet proved at this stage, in which it is not yet possible to ascertain whether they are correct or not. Then comes the second stage in the process of cognition, the stage leading from consciousness back to matter, from ideas back to existence, in which the knowledge gained in the first stage is applied in social practice to ascertain whether the theories, policies, plans or measures meet with the anticipated success. Generally speaking, those that succeed are correct and those that fail are incorrect, and this is especially true of man’s struggle with nature. In social struggle, the forces representing the advanced class sometimes suffer defeat not because their ideas are incorrect but because, in the balance of forces engaged in struggle, they are not as powerful for the time being as the forces of reaction; they are therefore temporarily defeated, but they are bound to triumph sooner or later. Man’s knowledge makes another leap through the test of practice. This leap is more important than the previous one. For it is this leap alone that can prove the correctness or incorrectness of the first leap in cognition, i.e., of the ideas, theories, policies, plans or measures formulated in the course of reflecting the objective external world. There is no other way of testing truth.” (Where do Correct Ideas Come From?)
I understand the texts of Marxism-Leninism as the accumulated experience of more than 160 years of revolution all around the world, developed through a critical and self-critical process of summation, as well as through engagement with other views and theories. Marxism has its own “laws” (same as physics or any other science) and it also involves a constant process of practical application, summation, and development and deepening of theory through practice and summation.
Certainly Marx thought of his work (especially Capital) as scientific, and Lenin referred to this work as opening up a new continent (history) to science in the same way that had been done by Gallileo and Newton in Astronomy and Physics. Engels deals with this in his more philosophical writings like Ludwig Fuerebach, Anti-Duhring and especially in his book Dialectics of Nature and his pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. Stalin elaborates on this Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Mao further develops it in his works Marxist epistemology and dialectical materialism, On Practice and On Contradiction.
This is the main theme in the work of Louis Althusser, especially in his work on the “epistemological break” (for an overview of this, see part II of his introduction to For Marx), examing where Marx begins to move away from idealisitic, Hegelian formulation like “alienation” and “species-being” and toward concepts like “mode of production,” “productive forces” and “relations of production”, “surplus-value”, “superstructure,” and so on.
Mao Zedong says, in “On Practice”
Marxism is the only science that is intended to be used by and for the working class. It is not conducted by people in lab coats in universities, but by workers and oppressed people in factories, fields, and in the trenches. The experimentation involves agitation, strikes, pickets, mass mobilizations, advanced actions, and war, which must be subjected to a careful Marxist criticism, self-criticism, and summation. Its work is organizing, class struggle, national liberation, social revolution. There are no labs, and there are no “controls”. Its lab is the shop floor, the picket line, the ghetto, the barrio, the demonstration. Marxists don’t begin their work after a long training period, after which they have a degree. The “school of Marxism” is in the struggle itself. As Mao has said, we learn how to make revolution by making revolution. It also must deal with the fact that the full force of the existing social order, with all of its economic, political, and social institutions, wants it to fail. It has no corporate funding, but relies of a few dollars here and there from folks who already aren’t making ends meet.
No other science is anything like this. Does this make it less of science? I don’t think so. But it makes its work much more difficult and I think explains to a considerable extent why it could become so theoretically “fractured”.
This lack of resources (including access to knowledges) on the part of the Marxist scientists, along with the considerable opposition of the social order, disadvantages Marxism relative to other sciences. It suffers defeats and setbacks in a way that physics does not, it is infiltrated and sabotaged in ways that chemistry is not.
When was the last time the state used something like COINTELPRO and infiltrated a society of physicists and tried to instigate a split, or jailed or assassinated a top biologist?
What would be the state of chemistry, psychology, or mathematics if they had to work in such conditions?
“The merit of Marx is that he suddenly produces a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamic, predicts the future, but in addition to predicting it (which would satisfy his scientific obligation), he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed. Man ceases to be the slave and tool of his environment and converts himself into the architect of his own destiny. At that moment Marx puts himself in a position where he becomes the necessary target of all who have a special interest in maintaining the old-similar to Democritus before him, whose work was burned by Plato and his disciples, the ideologues of Athenian slave aristocracy. Beginning with the revolutionary Marx, a political group with concrete ideas establishes itself. Basing itself on the giants, Marx and Engels, and developing through successive steps with personalities like Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and the new Soviet and Chinese rulers, it establishes a body of doctrine and, let us say, examples to follow.”