Contemplative materialism and your own relationship to Marx's writings This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Maoist Internationalist Movement

Stages of scientific development:

Contemplative materialism and your own relationship to Marx's writings

There are three stages of development that we often see in a communist: 1) visionary pre-scientific; 2) contemplative materialist; 3) Marxist materialist.

There is so much muck thrown at communism by the bourgeois propaganda machine that even in 2005 many find out with great shock that they agree with the vision of communism. As a result of the shock of discovering what the communist idea is actually, there is very often an overreaction that follows. At this stage a lot of friendships are lost and the communist movement goes through an unconscious setback.

In the visionary pre-scientific stage, ultra-leftism follows as if a law of nature. In this stage, we've had people lash out as if the existing communists are to blame for their previous lassitude. In the visionary pre-scientific stage we've seen all of the following in the new converts with zeal: the ultra-leftist is liable to launch into unprepared battles against police (on a one-on-one basis), suicide attempts, attacks on previously existing communists for their overly conservative tactical advice, denunciations of Stalin from a holier-than-thou position and demands for communism in persynal life now. The whole stage is characterized by the attitude: "How could I and the whole species be so stupid as not to see the merit of communism?" It may have all the impatience of "are we there yet?"

The truth is that the majority of communists in the world never leave the pre-scientific stage. They only know that they like the vision of no classes, no states, no borders, no racism, no national chauvinism and peaceful humyn harmony. Because every year a fraction of the international proletariat comes to pre-scientific communist consciousness, Stalin said that the international proletariat would row the boat to shore of socialism eventually even without a vanguard party. Today we have to add in the proviso that the species may not survive long enough to see that.

With the exception of Christian communist organizations recruiting people to pick through the garbage to redistribute perfectly good food thrown away by decadent people, most organizations calling themselves communists have contemplative materialist leaders calling themselves Marxist. It is the idealists and contemplative materialists who account for the great variety in organizations calling themselves communist.

Contemplative materialists are actually still stuck on the question of "is" and "ought." They can be hard to tell apart from regular idealists. Substitute "communism" or "Trotsky" for God and these contemplative materialists may end up as idealists for most purposes.

Marx went into the subject of contemplative materialism at length in the "Theses on Feuerbach." Marx noticed that the political thinkers of recent centuries were starting to reason not so much from what the Bible said but from new abstractions including civil society.

Marx said, "the chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism (that of Feuerbach included) is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice."(1) Humyn action itself came under the "ought" question that plagues idealism, and we might as well point out, the work of 20th century sociologist Max Weber too. In other words, even for highly intelligent people of more recent times, what Marx said was not a slam-dunk. The intellectual world moved in a general direction satisfactory to Marx, but it could still be true even today that the majority of intellectuals are idealists or contemplative materialists, whether they recognize it or not.

So Marx sought to remedy the old "is" vs. "ought" question and merely pointed out that humyn action and change is part of what "is"--hence dialectical materialism. When Marx spoke of a revolutionary proletariat as a case in point, he was talking about people who fought with all they had in the streets of France and Germany. These revolutionaries put up barricades in 1848 for example. Such battles went on throughout Marx's life. It was not a case where Marx commanded the masses like Moses with the tablets and something happened. It was not Marx's vision that caused the barricades to pop up. The barricades were already happening before Marx came around. The raw material for revolution, a fighting class already existed. Marx hoped to assist with revolutionary science. The European proletariat's actions were part of what Marx called "sensuous" activity.

Young Mao had a very similar experience with investigation as Marx did. He said he encountered peasant rebellions and had to go back and forth scientifically about whether to call them "terrible" or "fine." That is true materialism. We do not judge things by some eternal moral or pre-scientific truth. Mao was sure that by predisposition he and others would call the rebellions "terrible." He ended up calling them "fine." He saw the raw material of socialist revolution.

When Marx refers to "sensuous," he does not refer to sex or that aspect of the body; although sex is a small part of sensuous activity. It just means "concrete." Also when Marx says "practice," we have to stress over and over again he is not referring to individual practice exclusive to putting up posters or wielding a gun. He is referring to the actions of whole classes of people.

In Marx's day there was a revolutionary proletariat in Western Europe--not just some tiny parties. This historical knowledge is completely lacking in today's dogmatists and white worker utopians. The European proletariat lost bloody battle after battle for revolution in the 1800s, but it won reforms and today the same proletariat is proletariat no more, because it was so successful in its reforms at the expense of the rest of the world's proletariat. Those drawing any kind of comparison to so-called workers in the United $tates, Japan and Western Europe of today do a real disservice to the proletarian struggles that did happen in Western Europe in the 1800s. It's the worst kind of slander to heap on the revolutionary proletariat of those days, a class still inspiring most of the world. It goes without saying that we cannot advance if we encourage slandering of thousands and millions of revolutionary people. We cannot take a cavalier approach to the past in the name of the future.

The Trotskyists and other white worker utopians are in the position of saying "could have" and "should have" and "will some day." MIM tends to refer to them as pure idealists. The "white worker will come," "Allah is coming," "the master race will fix everything" and "Jesus is coming" are all on the same level, and by now we should know that. Struggle for advance is much more difficult and untidy. There is evidence in his own writings that Trotsky knew his own followers were of the utopian sort. MIM is intolerant of these sorts of followers, because they muck up Marxism and lead us into the exploiter camp. In the Third World, we should take an approach opposite to MIM's.

Marx wanted to give some credit to someone who would make a prediction if that prediction had basis on a secular understanding of society, civil society; even though, he himself opposed predictions on important subjects. So Marx called some of these people "contemplative materialists." For the same reason, we do have to give credit to people worshipping Kim Il Sung when he was alive instead of Jesus. Kim Il Sung could have actually done something for somebody. Jesus was dead and gone.

According to Marx, the problem with the contemplative materialists is that "the dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question." We are not going to understand this sentence correctly if we interpret "practice" in the Anglo-Saxon sense of persynal commitment. Marx made it clear he did not mean that: "the highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals." Understand it: Marx did not like ideas focussed on the individual. He repeats himself over and over on that point.

So if we conceive of "practice" as persynal commitment, we are again making the contemplative materialist error--obscuring science with bourgeois ideology. Practice is much more than that in the view of Marx.

An example of a "dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking" would be anything about the conditions under which revolution in the future happens. If one is having an argument over whether to have faith in white workers in the year 2006 (one year from now) or 2040, one is indulging a contemplative materialist argument, because it is clear there is no actively revolutionary oppressor nation proletariat in the majority-exploiter countries right now. We Marxist materialists are not supposed to have disputes about mere ideas. Instead we're supposed to dispute history, life in the concrete.

Here Marx is giving some credit to people like Hobbes, Locke and especially Feuerbach. We have to be able to understand this for our day too. In Marx's day, the bourgeois revolutionaries crushed feudalism armed with ideas about individual rights not restricted by family background. Marx wanted to go beyond individuals to classes and the structure of humyn society as a whole.

In our day, anyone who gives a massive prediction about the future is liable to contemplative materialism. MIM has found that it can address most of this problem in a rather succinct essay about materialism. When Marxist materialists make predictions about the future, they do so based on what they have seen. MIM's theory of the "joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations" is not based on especially talented science-fiction writing. It's something we've seen already, with the Red Army composed of many nations marching into Berlin. We've seen some of its rudiments of form in the United Nations, though obscured by bourgeois diplomatic dominance. At the party level, we've seen it with the formation of the Black Panther Party and its allies. The joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations reflects the class struggle as it is happening now and has happened in recent decades. The revolutionary struggles have gone on in the Third World, much as they did in Marx's day on the streets of Western Europe.

When we say we want to go from bourgeois dictatorship to the joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations (JDPON), we are also correctly orienting the study of history. JDPON is based on history as it has actually happened and JDPON is a concept that helps us succinctly stay on track in the spreading of class consciousness on history.

The difficulty with both contemplative materialism and religion is that an infinite division of ideas is possible. The religions provided the original idea of "sects." Each sect comes up with its own unique version of how to reach God or Heaven or whatever intangible goal. This causes splintering and much passionate discussion based on something no single persyn can perfectly communicate to another. The impossibility of true religious communication is the fundamental reason religion is immoral, an obstacle for humyn harmony.

In contemplative materialism predictions can play the same role as God. Too many predictions can be the same thing as each individual's declaring him or herself a Protestant church. This is also the reason bourgeois academia is inclined to idealism, contemplative materialism and individualism.

It's one thing to say as Marx did "a specter is haunting Europe" when workers are actually at the barricades and fighting in the streets. It's another thing to say the same thing today when the German workers passed on a chance to overthrow Hitler in 1945 and the May, 1968 French demonstrations ended up closer to being parades for a double-digit raise than revolutionary activity despite the temporary abdication of the government in the midst of fighting. That's not to mention nothing comparable to either of those two events has happened among oppressor nation so-called workers in the majority-exploiter countries in the 37 years since 1968. Given the physical opportunity for revolution, the oppressor nation so-called workers of the majority-exploiter countries of our times showed no desire for it. That's in direct contrast to the 1800s when the proletariat fought whatever its physical chances.

The grand master of contemplative materialism and the leader of idealists calling themselves Marxist has turned out to be Trotsky. Trotsky made countless wrong predictions. These sorts of predictions based on objects (not gods, so in this sense Trotsky is an advance over the purest idealism) called Western workers have created endless division. That is why there are more Trotskyist parties than parties rooted in actual history claiming Stalin and Mao.

When we allow contemplative materialist prediction, we allow division along the same lines as academia, division that would make Max Weber proud for example. Contemplative materialism fits in with bourgeois Liberalism nicely, because for the Liberals, liberation is individuality. If each individual comes up with a separate prediction about the future, secular or religious, the end result is still good according to the Liberals.

The same is true of Marxism, if we allow it to be taken over by bourgeois Liberals. People who stick with the idea that the workers of 1848 barricades in Europe are still with us are predicting a cataclysm by the white workers to do in imperialism. The idealism comes in when in the name of a cataclysm that has not happened and is not happening, we criticize other humyn actions by Stalin, Mao, Huey Newton and the KPD in 1945.

If we stick to division over history (a.k.a. practice) instead of allowing secular visions to compete with religious visions, there can only be so many splits. There will be those who say the anarchist movement in Spain in the 1930s surpassed everything else in the world. OK, that is one division. There will be those who say Stalin was the pinnacle. That is another division. As we can see however, by proceeding with regard to history as it has happened, we reduce the possibilities for splits. Now there is another split. There are those who say May, 1968 shows oppressor nations of the imperialist countries the road forward. Had the KPD not existed and assisted the Red Army in 1945 and everything ever done by oppressor nation workers was a failure, we would have to pick the least of the failures as the most advanced experience to learn from--and in that circumstance, May, 1968 in France would be a consideration. As it stands, the German "collective responsibility" movement was not a failure and it resonates more and more with time. It is especially relevant since 9/11 and the Ward Churchill witch-hunt.

There are a lot of objects in this secular world called Earth to contemplate. If guised in phraseology about "objectively revolutionary workers," we allow people to fantasize about what objects might pull off the demise of imperialism and we base parties or so-called Marxism on that, we will allow Liberal division.

Looking Marx in the eye in a manner of speaking

Catharine MacKinnon and Ward Churchill are two positive examples of how to relate to Marxism. Even though both are not Marxists we say they are a good example, because they did engage Marxism and then decide where they stood relative to it. In contrast, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China are red no more, but still most people calling themselves "Marxist" in the imperialist countries are no such thing. It's not surprising, because whatever revisionism problem China and the USSR had, we can be sure it was 100 times worse inside the borders of the united $tates.

And so it is that today the battle against revisionism in China and ex-USSR is on favorable ground with the advent of capitalism in those places, but no parallel historical event has happened in the majority-exploiter countries: we are still mired deep in revisionism. We are receiving considerable aid from the outside world that is now seeing through what happened in China and the USSR and starting new People's Wars. Nonetheless, when it comes to our principal responsibilities regarding our own conditions, the fact is that so-called Marxism remains deeply mired in revisionism in the majority-exploiter countries. Despite MIM's widespread influence in the majority-exploiter countries and its lead inside u.$. borders, there is no question that the combined revisionists outnumber MIM in all aspects. The Berlin Wall fell, but the revisionist wall is intact in the majority-exploiter countries.

We're not entirely certain why J. Sakai is not a Marxist, but such cases of anarchists such as Berkman and Kropotkin on the border of Marxism are extremely rare. The much greater danger is people wrongly calling themselves Marxist. We may lose some people who should be Marxist to anarchism, but right now we have too many people who do not realize they are not Marxist.

Khruschev wrote in his memoirs about his resentment of Stalin who considered him a "country boy" not really prepared for leadership of the USSR.(2) That's it, not much depth to the thought. In contrast, Molotov held that from his own perspective and Stalin's no one in Stalin's circles had sufficient training in political economy to lead the USSR when he died, and that is why Stalin took to writing the books that he did just before he died.

When Khruschev met with Zhou Enlai and engaged Mao, Khruschev stressed his persynal class background as his credentials and how he "deserved" to be party leader. He believed he had a leg up especially over Zhou Enlai but also Mao on this score. It seems that there were more educated alternatives in the Soviet Union (maybe Malenkov) to Khruschev, but he pushed himself forward in the party as the "salt of the earth" and Malenkov did not really fight it from what little we know. While we agree formal education should not be the reason to pick a leader, neither should Khruschev's invention of labor aristocracy identity politics. Both Molotov and Khruschev admitted to not knowing much of political economy, so the whole question of what basis the Soviet Politburo and Central Committee used to pick a leader is really needing an answer.

Khruschev described something very interesting along these lines about why he did not join the Bolsheviks till 1918: "When people asked me why I did not join earlier I explained that in those days joining the party was not the same as it is now. No one campaigned or tried to convince you to join. There were many different movements and groups, and it was difficult to keep them all straight."(3) We're in no way excusing Khruschev for not joining the Bolsheviks earlier, but at the same time, we do not want to deny that is probably how it looked to him and many other people at the time, or as fascist ex-Maoist Limonov said recently, Lenin was in 42nd place until mid-way through 1917.

Recently, the leader of another organization falsely calling itself Marxist found himself asked if he has more in common with Kant than Marx. His answer was not convincing. Meanwhile this same persyn has said the question of whether there are enough white proletarians to form a class is "academic." Yet the big emphasis with that organization is who the leader is in the party. As we have seen with contemplative materialism and the example of Khruschev, we cannot be surprised. There are many saying they more or less cannot tell the difference among the contemplative materialist lines, so they ask for some weird persynal quirk to pick based on--"a strong leader" as the fascists would also say.

The point is that there are many who know they and others do not really make the effort to understand the major questions of the day in their own right. So the question becomes how to relate to such people. Khruschev described his own case and provided his own answer how to handle that.

MIM is here to say that in the majority-exploiter countries, where there is no day-to-day armed struggle just to survive, we cannot be counting as Marxists people who are going to choose based on leadership persynalities. We're not going to put up today's equivalent of Malenkov, Khruschev and Huey Newton and ask people to pick based on persynality. That would encourage people to fall for Khruschev-style reasoning, a form of identity politics. And it is clear that the original identity politics was white male identity politics, so it is not just oppressed nationality individuals who should face such charges. The point is to come up with a method not to go there.

The easier part is to pick among historical experiences for our most advanced proletarian experiences. After that, there are also many who should realize as Catharine MacKinnon and Ward Churchill did that they are not Marxist. That is the harder part. People should argue the history first and then also figure out how they fit with Marx methodologically.

In MIM's first contact with Catharine MacKinnon's work in the early 1980s and mid-1980s, we bought into the argument that she was siding with Jerry Falwell to ban pornography. It seems that without exception, Western communists come to a consistent Liberalism on gender issues as a first line of defense. At that time, people were calling MacKinnon "Stalinist" as well.

MIM still holds that this state cannot ban pornography, only create more problems, but we have a much greater appreciation of MacKinnon today. It is evident that in MacKinnon's intellectual development she went through a phase of studying Marx. At about the same time in 1985 and 1986 that MacKinnon was trudging through Marxism and coming up with her own theories, MIM had three irritating questions in mind: 1) why a certain organization would carry out the Wang Ming line and Trotskyism when it had been so exactly exposed before; 2) why artists seem to hang about MIM and even put its work in elite places without taking up Maoism; 3) why wimmin seemed to have a lesser role and participation in organizations calling themselves Marxist and instead seemed to float around in a manner similar to artists, like moths to the Marxist flame.

Meanwhile at that time, not everything was an irritating question like "what is the Matrix." MIM had a positive experience like Mao's regarding "terrible" and "fine" with the prison struggle in the united $tates. From reading books, there was no way MIM had of knowing that the prison struggle would become such a disproportionate share of MIM work. The full presence and practice of the lumpen made itself known to MIM. MIM did not call forth the lumpen as if we were Jesus. That's not how it happened.

To return to the irritating questions of the mid-1980s, J. Sakai and H.W. Edwards helped MIM out on our Wang Ming problem in the united $tates. There needed to be a choice based on an understanding of concrete conditions whether the main thrust needed to be on the exploitation of the Third World by the labor aristocracy going on or the exploitation of white workers. Sakai and Edwards gave us the concrete information we needed to tip the scale on a question where we had some petty-bourgeois vacillation or plain blankness on before. Ever since then, MIM has had no problem detailing problems concretely on the class situation in the united $tates.

MacKinnon had started publishing articles about Marxism and feminism in 1983. There was no one in MIM who saw it as his/her job to lead far into the depth of the gender issues and this was an irritating question too--why not? Why is there no one to nail down this question with the depth and detail that the party needed? Underlying this irritation was an egalitarian error that led to spontaneity. We might assume such theorists and party activists exist and MIM must just not know how to find them, but actually they just do not exist in a widespread fashion.

MIM surely knew there were shelves of wimmin's fiction books. There was all kinds of activism to help the Democratic Party. People who wanted to read the precursors to post-modernism in today's form could find them. Finally, one day, a feminist pinned this down for MIM. She correctly divined our Marxist discontent and pegged us: "you'll probably like MacKinnon." She gave us an article and said it would be structuralist and not so mushy-subjectivist.

Indeed, relative to what we had seen, MacKinnon's article seemed clear-headed. Now we had to go through a realignment of thinking, putting MacKinnon as theorist in the forefront and MacKinnon as ally of Jerry Falwell into the background.

In fact, in 1987 MacKinnon finally unclogged the brain for MIM on a set of irritating questions when Feminism Unmodified came out. At this stage of MacKinnon's development, there was enough reference to both Marxism and gender as gender for MIM to see how to relate. Prior to MacKinnon, it seemed to MIM that people did one of two things in Western writing on feminism: 1) bait-and-switch where they start talking about wimmin and end up in class only; 2) talk subjectivism that has no possibility of uniting an oppressed group. MacKinnon walked the tightrope in such a way that was provocative for MIM, though we are Leninist revolutionaries and she is a reformist.

On the way to solving her own quandaries, MacKinnon contributed to solving MIM's. Yet, MacKinnon did not claim Marxism in Feminism Unmodified. In fact, soon after Feminism Unmodified MacKinnon was to come to terms with Marxism rather thoroughly. She realized she was more or less what Marxists call "subjectivist." MacKinnon is "post-Marxist."

The funny thing is that MacKinnon's line on gender is more Marxist than 95% of those calling themselves "communist" in the majority-exploiter countries, mainly because MacKinnon knows what Liberalism is and how it is different than Marxism. That takes her a long, long way. We wish we could say the same of any party calling itself Trotskyist. We have to understand power as it is in the hands of rich white men and its relationship to Liberalism. Then we have to understand how Marx separated from that not just platform-wise but methodologically.

Regardless, we believe MacKinnon metaphorically looked Marx in the eye and said, "I'm sorry. I'm not Marxist." It should go without saying that if MacKinnon is not Marxist, then there are no Trotskyist parties in England or the United $tates that are Marxist either. Alas, such is not known, because of the deep revisionist mire the majority-exploiter countries are still in even as the rest of the world exits revisionism.

Ward Churchill is another example. He co-wrote a book about the Black Panther Party, Maoists of the 1960s. However, it is well-known that Ward Churchill is not a Marxist.

Of recent people, Ward Churchill has done as much as anyone to promote knowledge of the Black Panthers. Yet, Ward Churchill wrote and debated on the subject. Then he decided Marxism is no good. It goes to show we do not have to call ourselves Marxist to expose the state repression of the Black Panthers; hence, calling oneself Marxist is not necessary for a wide range of activities.

Since Stalin, Mao and Huey Newton led the way against national oppression and Ward Churchill does not claim them, then who should claim them becomes the question. The trouble is that the intellectuals tend to go into this, but activists and cult-followers do not. Intellectuals these days tend to realize that they are post-modernists and not Marxists. Their counterparts among activists are slow to pick up on that. There are cult followers and activists with the same basic underlying view as non-Marxist intellectuals, but they do not realize it.

If we took everyone inside u.$. borders and made them stand on an imaginary political grid with beacons for Sakai, Ward Churchill and Catharine MacKinnon saying "not Marxist," then it should be clear that as few calling themselves Marxist as there are, there should be 95% fewer. It's not that we are saying Marxism should not have more defenders, but we are saying that in the main, those calling themselves Marxist as of now are not.

In the midst of division not based on principled struggle over history, it is inevitable that people will become tired and choose as Khruschev did and as Khruschev wanted Russians and Chinese to--based on identity politics concerning individual leaders. Marx already told us this 150 years ago. Contemplative materialism leads inevitably to individualism and today's expression of individualism and bourgeois Liberalism is post-modernist identity politics. Instead, what we need to do in the majority-exploiter countries is write off people engaged in evasion of history and conditions of classes. Let us distinguish between those really talking about history as it has happened and those of us inventing intellectual reasons for division of the proletariat and worship of the petty-bourgeoisie.

1. Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach"
2. N. Khruschev, Khruschev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1990), p. 39.
3. Ibid., p. 11.