How to Study, How to Think

“People for the most part (99 percent of the bourgeoisie, 98 percent of the liquidators, about 60‑70 percent of the Bolsheviks) don’t know how to think, they only learn words by heart.” – VI Lenin, writing to Inessa Armand

Every successful revolutionary movement has been based on a revolutionary theory produced through a dialectical process of both continuity and rupture with previous orthodoxy.  Learning theory is not just a matter of reading “the classics” and then applying the per-existing theory to current conditions.  We must be willing and able to subject previous theory and revolutionary movements to a ruthless interrogation, to “divide one into two” to determine what are universal principals that can be particularized to our current conditions and what is to be left behind.

What we wish to avoid are the related errors of dogmatism and eclecticism.

One version of “the history of shaving”

Dogmatism does not see theory as a creative and scientific endeavor, but as truths that are already known, need only to be justified with the correct quotation and then applied.  Dogmatism ignores the rupture aspect of the dialectic and sees each new generation of theory as neatly following the previous one and then stopping with whatever figure they view as the final one in their “history of shaving”.  Should they ever change their minds as to which one that is they will then loudly proclaim their break with dogmatism as they swap one form of dogmatism for another.

Eclecticism on the other hand sees rupture and continuity but not the dialectical relationship between the two.  Within an organization, eclecticism stands for everyone “doing their own thing” when it comes to theory.  Incorrect ideas are not replaced with correct ideas and what at first seems to be an exciting mix of ideas settles into a collection of scattered and contradictory dogmas.

This study guide is intended to give revolutionaries the necessary skill-set to forge ahead in learning from previous and contemporary movements to order to improve our strengths and overcome our weaknesses.

Spotting Bullshit and Breaking with Pseudo-Science

Can’t argue with that.

Brian Dunning of Skeptiod (podcasts and transcripts):

Exercise: Write out each logical fallacy and reasoning error.  Try to come up with political examples for each one, either from your own direct political experience or historically from previous movements.

Michael Shermer: Baloney Detection Kit

How science works: The flowchart

Approaching Marxism

Marxism is not a Layer Cake – Mike Ely, Kasama Project

Marxism Is More Like a Bush in an Ecosystem – Mike Ely, Kasama Project

Marxism Beyond Marx, Leninism Beyond Lenin, Maoism Beyond Mao – JMP, MLM Mayhem

Oppose Book Worship – Mao Zedong

The Dialectical Method

Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. -  Georg Lukacs, What is Orthodox Marxism?

Still from Godard’s La Chinoise

Theses On Feuerbach – Karl Marx

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy Preface – Karl Marx

On Practice – Mao Zedong

On Contradiction – Mao Zedong

The Theory of “Combine Two Into One” is a Reactionary Philosophy for Restoring Capitalism – Revolutionary Mass Criticism Writing Group of the Party School Under the CC of the Chinese Communist Party

Contradiction and Overdetermination – Louis Althusser

4 thoughts on “How to Study, How to Think

  1. A note of warning: the Althusser piece is long and rather challenging, especially if you don’t have any background knowledge of Hegel. The most important parts of the article are his use of the concepts of conjuncture, overdetermination, and the relative autonomy of contradictions.

  2. Pingback: A Single Spark Can Light a Candle: Maoism in Canada Today « Revolutionary Initiative / Initiative Révolutionnaire (Canada)

  3. What ever happened to that long reference guide you used to have posted to this part of your website, the book from the CPI-Maoist on the history of the ICM? While that overview goes against the spirit of the approach to revolutionary theory discussed by M. Ely and JMP in the articles cited above, it was a decent overview document. Can you please repost?

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