Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Theory and Practice

The conservative pictures society as growing like a tree and just as twigs and leaves cannot affect the growth of the main trunk, so individuals cannot affect changes in society. This conservative theory reappears in various forms in the labor movement. It appears, for example, in the appeals so often made by right-wing British Labour Party leaders to be "realistic". What "realism" means for them is usually the acceptance of the limitations imposed by existing circumstances. Behind such an acceptance there lies a conviction, which is often never made explicit, that circumstances cannot be changed, or at best very, very slowly. This belief in the domination of man by environment is also reproduced in Stalinism. Revolutionary failure and collaboration with class enemies are always excused on the grounds that the so-called objective conditions have not yet ripened, that we must wait until circumstances become favorable. This inner link between social democracy and Stalinism is illustrated by their attitudes to the future development of British capitalism. The Stalinists believe that the inner mechanism of capitalism is such that in the long run it must automatically break down. The social democrats believe that the devices used by modern capitalists ensure that the machine will keep going. Both speak from the standpoint of passive observers outside the system who ask: "Will it keep going or not?" But the Marxist standpoint starts from the view that this question is not a question about a system outside us, but about a system of which we are a part. What happens to it is not a matter of natural growth or mechanical change which we cannot affect. We do not have to sit and wait for the right objective conditions for revolutionary action. Unless we act now such conditions will never arise. For one of the aims of contemporary capitalism is to have its crises by installments, with a dislocation in this industry or in that, which will avoid any total breakdown.
Alasdair MacIntyre (1960) "What is Marxist Theory For?"

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