Reply to Rangnar V. Røed, tjen-folket.no

tjen-folket.no has published a criticism of my article “Gonzalo and left-wing deviation” by Rangnar V. Røed (RVR). There is a need for some clarifications in this regard.

This article has an Norwegian version

RVR writes:

Furthermore, I disagree with the phrase “adapt Marxism” to describe how classics applied the ideology of the proletariat in their countries. As I see it, Marxism consists of universal laws. For example, the law of added value that Marx demonstrated. Can or must the law of added value be adapted to a particular country? Or the law of the class struggle as the main driving force for the development of society? Or subdivision of society into base and superstructure?

Marxism is a science of action. It consists of universal laws, but also distinctive theories for the application and adaptation of the universal laws to the concrete reality.

This also applies to the law on added value. The universal law of value added briefly (and slightly simplified) that the workers work free of charge for the capitalist a few hours each working day on average. The capitalist pays the workers salaries. The workers create value through their work. Part of this value-creating work is enough to cover the wages of the workers, but the workers work several hours after this. This extra free work is the work that creates added value.

This is the general law. Based on this general law, we can create customized theories to understand how this law works in a concrete country, or in a specific company. How much value is created in Norway, for example? This question can only be answered by specific investigations of the concrete reality in Norway, and by using the general law in this concrete reality.

The general laws of Marxism only has any value when they are used to create distinctive theories for the concrete reality, which in turn leads to changes in practice. So the theories are the means and not the goal. If our theories are right or wrong, we find the answer in practical experience.

In Norwegian translation of Mao, the term “apply” is used. This is synonymous with my term “adapt”. Mao writes about this:

Many comrades seem to study Marxism-Leninism not to meet the needs of revolutionary practice, but purely for the sake of study. Consequently, though they read, they cannot digest. They can only cite odd quotations from Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin in a one-sided manner, but are unable to apply the stand, viewpoint and method of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin to the concrete study of China’s present conditions and her history or to the concrete analysis and solution of the problems of the Chinese revolution. Such an attitude towards Marxism-Leninism does a great deal of harm, particularly among cadres of the middle and higher ranks.

Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_02.htm

I agree with Mao that we here see a serious mistake in the thoughts that RVR here puts for the day. Such thinking as Mao writes can do a lot of harm, which is my most significant point in the article RVR here argues against.

Marxist philosophy holds that the most important problem does not lie in understanding the laws of the objective world and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world.

Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_16.htm

RVR writes:

But Marxism was not Marxism, if it consisted of laws and discoveries that must constantly be reviewed and adapted.

Marxism is the theories of reality. It is not a static set of unchangeable laws – such view would be a mechanical view. There are laws for the development of eg. capitalism, and Marxism will describe these laws. But Marxism is a theory written by humans, and is therefore not without errors and omissions. Large parts of Marxism have proved their validity in practice, while other parts have been proven only under given conditions and must therefore be adapted to the actual reality in which we live in line with the actual reality it is applied to. Mao writes:

The active function of knowledge manifests itself not only in the active leap from perceptual to rational knowledge, but–and this is more important–it must manifest itself in the leap from rational knowledge to revolutionary practice. The knowledge which grasps the laws of the world, must be redirected to the practice of changing the world, must be applied anew in the practice of production, in the practice of revolutionary class struggle and revolutionary national struggle and in the practice of scientific experiment. This is the process of testing and developing theory, the continuation of the whole process of cognition. The problem of whether theory corresponds to objective reality is not, and cannot be, completely solved in the movement of knowledge from the perceptual to the rational, mentioned above. The only way to solve this problem completely is to redirect rational knowledge to social practice, apply theory to practice and see whether it can achieve the objectives one has in mind.

Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_16.htm

It is precisely this assessment of the theory against the goals that dogmatists and puritists are skipping. The consequence of this is that they do not learn from their mistakes, but continue to make mistakes. What is the goal of the communists in Norway today? Isn’t the first goal to build a strong communist party? How is this going? Is the communist organization getting bigger and stronger, or fewer and weaker? Such questions must be asked. If we have a decline we must find the cause and change the practice. Theory is a guide to practice, so derived from this we must also correct any theory that stands in the way of correct practice.

RVR writes:

Adapting Marxism is in its essence revising it, and it is a hallmark of opportunism that it will adapt to the prevailing conditions and to what other people think, rather than attempting to change these conditions and peoples.

This is a dogmatic way of dealing with Marxism, as we have seen, Mao has criticized this, among other things in the article “About Practice” and “Improve Our Studies”. Every revision of Marxism is not necessarily revisionism. It becomes Revisionism when the revolutionary truth is removed from marxism. When, for example, Mao and the CCP adapted to Marxism by having a focus on poor farmers and on encircling the cities – this was in practice a revision of the Marxist theory that is based on the working class in the cities. This was an adaptation and further development of Marxism which made it more true and hence not revisionism. Mao’s contribution in this area has been proven true through practice. But all the theories Mao wrote that are proven true for China are not true for Norway today. Here we must again adapt these contributions to our reality.

RVR asks the following questions:

If Marx’s genius was his application of the theory of 19th-century Western Europe, then not all Social Democrats and auditors right if they say he is outdated?

I have not said, nor do I think what the quote above suggests. I see that I wrote in my article “The Most Brilliant with Lenin and Mao was their ability to apply and adapt Marxism to the reality they lived under.” Here I should have written “some of the most brilliant”. It is difficult to rank between general texts and texts for the specific reality. Some of the texts written for the actual reality play back on and change the general theories of Marxism.

RVR continues:

The author believes, however, that the Maoist thesis of living with, working with and fighting with the masses does not apply to communists in imperialist countries.

This is not true. RVR presumably misunderstood which part of one quote I was arguing against. The part I argued against was the following: “Communists should have a personal production in the sector where they must develop their respective mass work.”

Communists should not rely on a utopia, but the actual reality in which they live, and they must critically assess whether they are getting results from the work they do. I agree with Lenin when he writes in “What to do”:

we must have a committee of professional revolutionaries, and it is immaterial whether a student or a worker is capable of becoming a professional revolutionary.

Lenin: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/ch04.htm

Mass work is one means on the road to the revolution. Absolutely crucial for this is the ability to build a strong Communist Party. If we are unable to recruit to the party or the party-building organization through the mass work, then we must change that practice. Organizations run by Puritans and dogmatists die out because they do not understand that this is important.

If we are able to build a communist party through mass work in the workplaces, then it is excellent, but this is not the case in Norway today. We cannot cling on to a very revolutionary and leftist theory, when we sees that in practice it does not work – then it is the theory that must change.

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