Friday, August 15, 2008

Theoretical education

One overall striking feature of my experience with the SEP, is the party's attitude toward answering theoretical questions. In terms of my own situation, how much conflict could have been avoided if the party took the approach of patiently explaining theory, answering every question as it arises, and carefully and thoughtfully pointing out mistakes? While the process might be time consuming, it is necessary for the education of not only the individual but the party as whole. Just because these questions do not arise in the normal course of party life does not mean that party as a whole has a common or adequate understanding of such questions. In fact, I know that comrades in the ISSE did not have an understanding of the issues that I raised and probably still do not. When the party instead treats every theoretical question or criticism as if it were an act of treachery, how many members are going to come forward with their own questions? I don't believe that either Cannon or Trotsky would take such an approach. I think they would, as I do, look at every question as an opportunity for the education of cadre.

The hostility toward my own questions and positions comes from the fact that the party is utterly incapable of thinking through theoretical issues. On questions of theory, the party is thoroughly scholastic. Individual members can quote from Trotsky or Lenin, but they have failed to assimilate the full meaning of those quotes and the theoretical understanding that formed the basis for those quotes. Therefore any question that falls outside the sphere addressed by quotations can not be answered. To appreciate Trotsky or Lenin, and to really embody the spirit of their practice, you need a deep appreciation of Marx. Trotsky's In Defense of Marxism can only be fully understood and appreciated once one has an adequate understanding of Marxism itself.

The lack of theoretical understanding is not just confined to the younger members, leading members of the party, ones with over thirty years of experience, show an inadequate understanding of basic concepts such as dialectics. Some of the older members simply defer to David North, or worse, Joe Kay, for answers to theoretical questions. While the former is simply inaccessible to most members, the latter actively works to suppress discussion.

Theory should not be the exclusive province of one or two members in the party, a basic theoretical education should be a part of every member's training. Questions should be encouraged, and the party should work to patiently and thoughtfully address the questions of newer members. Theory does affect practice. I plan on publishing a new article soon which should explain the importance of dialectics for revolutionary practice, something the party was simply incapable of explaining to me.