It is common within the fields of academia, politics and religion to hear the word “dogmatism” utilized in the pejorative. Many people have heard, used or have been called “dogmatic” with many carelessly hurling the term around for one reason or another. The word “dogmatism” is of particular importance to us, for what we are dealing with here is not “dogmatism” in a specific sense (which can be understood as the valuation of principles above evidence and contrary opinion) but “dogmatism” in an abstract sense that is removed from material analysis. To apply the term in such a way can only serve to muddle and weaken the fields of practice in which it is applied.
Some of the opponents of Marxism-Leninism claim that we are sterile in our outlook, that we refuse to sacrifice our political line for the sake of unity and that our resoluteness resembles the unwavering doctrines advanced by the priests of a medieval church. We will offer a rebuttal to this line of argument and reveal that the term “dogmatism” in political discourse for what it is: an anti-dialectical smear which distracts from sober materialist analysis and is ultimately detrimental to our struggle.
In discussing the application of the smear “dogmatism” to theoretical analysis, we should first set forth to define what we mean by “theory.” The term “theory” has two definitions, one social and one scientific. The first definition holds “theory” as being synonymous with “hypothesis,” and can readily be dismissed because it doesn’t hold a more official sounding name like “fact” or “law.” The scientific definition of theory has it as being a coherent group of propositions used as principles to explain a phenomena as it occurs in reality.
Marxist theory views physical reality in a dialectical way; it perceives a world full of contradictions which move and evolve until reaching synthesis at higher levels of contradiction. It is not an arbitrary guess grounded in the biases of crack-pot theorists, but a science whose principles and analysis are vindicated by past and present events. Using the scientific conception of the term theory pays tribute to this fact, being that within this framework we can understand the motion of society, outside of the static and unmoving proclamations of metaphysics, and how our collective knowledge is constantly being expanded by virtue of the forward motion of events, of technology, of social conditions and material conditions constantly in flux. Marxist theory provides us with the most comprehensive understanding of society’s motion compared to any other social theory or philosophy. Therefore, as a vindicated science for social understanding unparalleled by its peers, Marxism can be understood for being the best grasp at truth we have available to us.
Marxism helps us qualify the development of human history as resulting from the battles fought by contending classes for the distribution and control of society’s forces of production. It explains how wealth has been centralized within the hands of a small concentration of capitalists on one end while those who produce that wealth are ultimately alienated from it. These features of history and our present day society are realities which are demonstrated to us every day that we live in capitalism, despite whatever idealism and ideological subterfuge that is employed to distract us from this essential truth.
Marxism provides us with foresight and concrete tasks adapt to both understanding and changing the course of society and is undoubtedly mankind’s best answer to understanding exploitation and social movement, yet to the “anti-dogmatists” this is a stale religious doctrine which serves ensnare our minds and deprive us of our intellectual freedom. What does this say for the position of the anti-dogmatists? Essentially, it reveals their position as a struggle against scientific understanding itself.
As such, when backed into a corner, the true anti-dogmatist reveals their position as such: Despite your position being backed by evidence it is wrong to cling to it so tightly for it is morally indecent.
There are two things wrong with this perspective. For one, it demands that we turn a blind eye to the truth for the sake of some moral imperative, being that, despite the truth, it would be wrong to be so “closed-minded.” Is this not the cornerstone practice of bourgeois ideology when it comes to those who challenge it? Has it been forgotten that morality is defined by the class structure of society? Would it be at all wise for us to turn a blind eye to gravity and leap from the top of a building because it is morally indecent for us to be “dogmatic” about gravity?
Secondly, the “anti-dogmatic” position reveals itself as “dogmatic” in its perceptions and moral imperatives, in that it is unflinching in its pursuit of the “non-dogmatic” position of eclecticism and ideological opportunism, no matter what evidence is brought forth and argues this point using the same tactics of moralism asserted the actual peddlers of religious dogmas for centuries. Using “dogmatism” in such a way as to denounce those with evidence-supported theories reduces itself to the same sorry state of vapid emotionalist tirades that the “anti-dogmatist” attempts to invoke against their enemies being implemented with no less religious vigor.
There are some on the so-called “left” who all too willing to hurl “dogmatism” against revolutionaries who refuse to surrender the science of Marxism-Leninism as their political line and guide to action despite its theory being vindicated by history. Some groups set out to define themselves by this “anti-dogmatism,” asserting that to lend credence to inherited knowledge from historical figures is sterilizing to the further growth of Marxism and that somehow it cannot be applied to current times.
Essentially, by refusing to abandon the “old dogmas” and “dead horses” of revolutionary science, by refusing to reinvent the wheel in the shape of a square by abandoning tried and true scientific methods of understanding our world and how to change it for arbitrary eclecticism, we are somehow stifling the development of revolution. This absurd and anti-scientific line is completely and utterly useless to revolutionary struggle.
We study history not only to understand the past successes, but to understand past failures so we do not fall into the same issues previous labor struggles faced and be able to deal with them as they arise.
Take for instance, the political struggle in Russia between the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Social-Democratic Labor Party beginning in 1902. The opportunists within the Social-Democratic Labor Party in conjunction with the SR’s, raised the banner of “criticism of Marxism” in which many cried “dogma” at the Marxists who refused to relinquish Marxism’s validity for the sake of unifying with reactionary elements within the Russian labor movement at the time. The reason they did not submit is because throwing away the political line of the revolutionary Social-Democrats for a temporary aim meant precisely to become opportunists, thereby limiting their tactics and direction. Without a consistent political line it becomes inevitable to fall into political bankruptcy which is already much too common in modern politics. Marxist-Leninist theory is extremely important in class struggle, for without its scientific theory to elucidate the real problems that face the working class, there is no way for the working class to develop tangible methods of winning its political and economic freedom.
This stigma of “dogmatism” disillusions those who are not yet equipped to fight through the thick disputes involved with the theoretical development of Marxist-Leninist theory against more backward and reactionary ones. But that is all “dogmatism” is; a stigma.
Those who fail to realize this risk wanting nothing to do with it and eventual outright rejection. “All this” the anti-dogmatists says “to save Marxism from sterilization.” The situation is quite the contrary. By fostering this stigma it allows for the abandonment of any principled stance and thereby further breeds opportunism which is what really sterilizes the labor movement here and around the world, just as the cloak of “anti-dogmatism” always has. Political practice alone is not enough to emancipate the working class; ideological struggle is of high demand, especially in a time where revisionism is pandemic.
To abandon Marxism-Leninism on the grounds that it is dogmatic is outright betrayal of the working class, for it is a deliberate attempt to close ones eyes to the situation at hand. This is exactly what our anti-dogmatists seek to accomplish. When we pose the issue this way, it becomes clear the stigma of dogmatism belongs to that class that does not want the working class to lay its eyes upon the true nature of the society they are enslaved by, that class that does not want to see its privileged position threatened, which is maintained by the sweat of the working class – it belongs to the exploiters of labor.
We would do well to express our opinion for the benefit of the anti-dogmatists, that Marxism-Leninism is not a dogma, nor is it comparable to religion for its pro-scientific nature.
It is comparable to religion insofar that is an ideology in which people believe, spread the word about and organize around, but this is true of any ideology. We could reproach the anti-dogmatists with the same accusation: “Your fetishism for ideological liquidation is similar behavior to religious preachers!” and it would carry the same weight (or lack thereof).
The difference between us and religious ideologues (coincidentally the anti-dogmatists as well) is that religious organizations function entirely on turning peoples attention away from the real conditions that plague them. One of the most basic principles of Marxism-Leninism, on the other hand, is that change is everywhere and inevitable, so we are compelled to be mindful of developments and their specifics, to look at the real conditions.
We are more than willing to adapt our ideology if we are to find in the course of struggle that we have misjudged the situation – only then can we say our application of our guiding theory is erroneous. This does not mean we will debase it so far as to adopt backwards ideas and methods that have already proven themselves to be infertile considering the international and historical experience. Unless the anti-dogmatists can disprove the ideology, we must cast aside the bogey of “dogma” in the abstract and boldly claim as we did in our article on Myths about Marxism-Leninism:
“At this juncture, we must confess that we are dogmatic, in that we insist on world communist revolution, we insist on the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat, and we intend to follow Marxism-Leninism, the revolutionary method which has been tried and proven as the proletariat’s theoretical mainstay against the forces of capitalism, imperialism, and revisionism. In short, we are dogmatic in our intention to win, and the whole of our ideology and activity conforms to the demands of such an intention.”