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Against Anti-Intellectualism

theory is important. reading complex and difficult books is important. it is true that quite a few people are physically and mentally disabled from accessing and understanding complex texts. this does not render engaging with complex texts any less important.

my comrade is creating an audiobook out of an important book on rojava. this is one way to deliver an indispensible text to someone who may have dyslexia or ADHD.

it is not ableist to train yourself to engage with complex theoretical work. it would be a nice thing if as many people as possible were as educated as perfectly as possible.

paolo freire talked about the capitalist concept of education, the “banking” theory of education. many people in our movement still refer to education in this way. education is a dialectical process where both the teacher and student are interdependent and are both transformed by their education. this is the relationship that theory has to practice.

when i talk about the importance of philosophy and theory, i do not do it in a way which pictures me as the wise person who has to impart magical science into the heads of lesser beings.

the amazing this about philosophy is that it teaches you skills which you can use to go out and interrogate the world. this is exactly what marxism is. marxism is a complex science which enables us to cut through illusions and see what reality actually is. this is what marx and engels talk about when they talk about the only science being the science of history in the german ideology.

it is true that new ideas and new theories will be generated by struggle. but the development of new communist theory does not issue in a one-way direction out of material practice. does this mean that i am saying activists need to shut up and listen to grand master genius blair with his magical theories? absolutely not.

theory and practice form what gramsci called the “philosophy of praxis”, his code-phrase for marxism. marxism does not see a division in our movement between mental and physical activism. theory and practice do not stand apart. praxis is the identity of theory and concrete practice in marxism.

in a letter to Ruge, the young marx talks about the young hegelians imagining themselves as creating roasted pigeons for the mouth of the world to just open up and have them fly in. i feel like many people in our movement still have the same picture of theory today. this picture of theory as hostile to concrete practice and dangerous for the overall future of the movement is misplaced.

the fact is, marx spent years and years studying dialectics and writing complex scientific theories about how the world worked, ALONGSIDE practically developing the first international and engaging in concrete debates with communist and workers parties all over the world.

a lot of people talk about theory and practice as if there needs to be a balance within the communist movement. this is wrong-headed because it goes back to the “banking” theory of education. you have to spend the appropriate amount of time being concrete as being theoretical, on this account. this idea of “balance” and “moderation” for someone to be wise is an very old idea that exists just as much in western philosophy as it does eastern.

but it is a misreading of how praxis is meant to be achieved. the idea of “moderation” is supposed to come from aristotle. but this was not aristotle’s point in his writing – hegel discovered that aristotle was really trying to say this: we need to transcend the discussion around how theory and practice are activities which are in competition. theory and practice are equally important.

give up theory, gyorgy lukacs said, and you become a voluntarist. you are ready to do anything without a good reason. give up practice, and you become too contemplative. you completely ignore Thesis 11 – “the point is to change it”.

the theory of praxis unifies theory and practice. to cut a long story short, it does it like this: the masses have natural needs which are being ignored. theory is supposed to rigorously explain what those needs are, as they develop and become apparent out of concrete practice. the point of concrete practice is to take the science developed from practice and use it to GIVE the masses those needs through revolution.

this is what i mean when i say we should all be doing the most we can to educate ourselves and prepare ourselves for education. we need BOTH practical and theoretical education.

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