[Marxism] Partisanship and Objectivity in Theoretical Work
cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Wed Mar 15 09:56:27 MST 2006
My sentiments exactly.
Australian Marxist Review No. 37 April 1997
Partisanship and Objectivity in Theoretical Work
by Maurice Cornforth
This article is the text of a lecture given to the Philosophy Section of the
Communist University of London in July 1973. It was later published in
Marxism Today, January 1974.
1. The false antithesis of partisanship and objectivity
There is no such thing as "a theory" in the abstract.
Theory is made by people, used by people and kept going by people. Without
people active in a society there is no theory. So the actual circumstances
and interests of people and in particular of people socially related in
classes determine how theories are worked out, what questions they deal with
and what they say.
Marxism, then, is not just a set of propositions about the world and human
society. It is the guiding theory, or ideology, of the world-wide
revolutionary movement of communism. And as ideology, it took shape under
the same social pressures of material circumstances as provoked the
formation of a revolutionary movement.
In these circumstances, the development of Marxist theory has been
formative of the revolutionary movement itself - by bringing to it the
consciousness of the conditions, methods of organisation and struggle, and
aims, without which there could be only sporadic protest and revolt but no
effective comprehensive movement.
In this sense Marxism is very definitely partisan. It is a
party theory - the theory of a movement, for a movement; the theory
of revolutionary struggle for socialism and communism; the theory of the
working class vanguard of that struggle; a class-biased and class-interested
Marxism is ideology. And its opposition to other theory is not just that of
a "disinterested" debate about theoretical problems.
Against the theory of the revolutionary movement, which informs that
movement, we see, and oppose, the theories of the existing establishment
which has to be overthrown.
If this partisanship is lost sight of, and not deliberately espoused, then
whatever theoretical activity and theory-building is done is not Marxism. On
the contrary, in that case Marxism is being watered down, weakened, opposed
Does then this partisanship place Marxists in some sort of dilemma?
Do we have to choose between partisanship and objectivity in
If we chose objectivity, are we then opting out of the class struggle or
even taking the other side, and so giving up Marxism? And if we choose
partisanship, are we then deciding only to make propaganda instead of
seeking the truth?
These questions are the way bourgeois theorists put it. They say one should
put objectivity above everything, and that we Marxists are merely partisans
- and as such outside the pale of scientific theory and discussion.
One should never be taken in by such bourgeois attempts to put social theory
into a dilemma. Like many antitheses posed by bourgeois theory and by
bourgeois ideologists, that of partisanship versus objectivity is a quite
To be partisan of working class struggle one does not have to ditch
objectivity. No, one has always to be as objective as one can in theory.
And we can explain why this is so.
Class struggle is an objective fact, the existence of which is evident in
experience and can be demonstrated by science.
Exploitation of man by man is objective fact.
The fetters now placed by capitalist production relations on the
development of production to satisfy human needs are a fact.
The necessity to overthrow capitalism, establish the dictatorship of the
proletariat and advance through socialism to communism is a fact.
In stating these facts we are being objective, not disregarding the need for
objectivity. At the same time, in stating them we are being partisans of the
On the other hand, those who theorise in such a way as to cover up these
facts are not being objective. They are objectively partisans of the
bourgeoisie. And in their case, their partisanship shows itself by a
disregard for objectivity.
It is an objective fact that all social theories are partisan.
Our partisanship consists in recognising this objective fact.
Their partisanship consists in denying it and trying to cover it up.
>From the very nature of their class position, exploiting classes always
have, in theory, to try to cover up the fact of exploitation and class
struggle. They cannot recognise the fact of their own way of life, which
consists in exploiting and oppressing others. They have to conceal this fact
from the exploited. And they have to express their own class interests and
aims in a way to make them appear other than what they are - class interests
and class aims.
They are thus partisan in theory in ways that depart from objectivity. But
they practice this partisanship by trying to make out that they espouse
objectivity and not partisanship in theory.
This is indeed very cunning of them. It is our job always to expose this
cunning deception - as the objective fact it is.
The working-class interest in theory is a different one. And this
difference comes from the very nature of the case as a necessary
consequence of the development of the working class and of working-class
We are in no way interested in covering up, distorting and falsifying social
reality. On the contrary, we are interested in understanding it as it is, in
order to be able to change it.
Evading the recognition of fact, distorting it, does not help the
working-class struggle at all. On the contrary, the interest is as
scientifically as possible to recognise the facts and understand
So working-class partisanship demands objectivity.
And socialism becomes a science - to grasp and understand
the objective conditions, the possibilities and necessities contained in
them, and to work out, on that basis of scientific understanding of
objective fact, what is to be done.
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