[Marxism] Partisanship and Objectivity in Theoretical Work

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Thu Mar 16 13:54:27 MST 2006

 2. Misunderstandings about science and ideology

At this point a comment may be made on certain misunderstandings which have 
been introduced into this topic, especially by Louis Althusser.

These misunderstandings concern "science" and "ideology". They come from 
posing an antithesis between science and ideology. And when this antithesis 
is posed, it is said that science, one the one side, is objective, and 
ideology, on the other side, is partisan.

But the antithesis is a false one. For Marxist-socialist ideology is in 
fact scientific - and in this case we find that science is partisan.

Following up this pretended antithesis, Althusser proceeds to divide 
philosophy from science. Philosophy, he says, is class struggle, and so it 
is not science. Science, on the other hand, is not class struggle, and so 
it is not partisan.

It is quite true that natural science is not class struggle and is 
not partisan. And whenever class-ideology and partisanship is brought into 
natural science (as happens sometimes in scientific controversies) it is by 
way of an importation of philosophical preconceptions into science which 
have subsequently to be expelled in the development of science.

But the class struggle does come into science, in social 

Althusser does not, in fact, sufficiently consider the relationships and 
differences in science between natural science and social science. But 
these are important.

Marx waged working-class struggle in his scientific work of establishing 
the scientific theory of historical materialism, and in writing 
Capital. In this scientific work it is evident that, as Lenin 
insisted, "science is partisan". Class struggle enters into the development 
of science.

Turning to natural sciences, we then find that one is not partisan on 
physics, say, in investigating elementary particles and quantum-mechanical 
interactions. But one is partisan in considering both the social use 
of physics and the social organisation of physical research through the 
management of scientific institutions. And physics as a science cannot 
develop without partisanship in the organisation of research and of its 

>From the very nature of the case, the effort to achieve rigorous scientific 
objectivity about social affairs is partisan. Such effort is a form of 
working-class struggle, or at least is in aid of it, in opposition to 
theorising which covers up or distorts the social facts.

And this effort to achieve rigorous scientific objectivity about social 
affairs is the basis for scientific objectivity - ideology based on 
scientific understanding of objective fact, about nature, about mankind, 
and about the relationship of man and nature.

Marxism is scientific ideology.

3. Partisan bans and proscriptions

One main way - perhaps the main way - in which partisanship is 
expressed in theoretical work is by imposing bans and proscriptions, on the 
one side, and fighting to lift them, on the other.

Theory is often presented simply as a set of propositions, as though rival 
theories simply presented contradictory sets of propositions.

But essentially, theory is theorising. And this does not consist just in 
stating propositions. Propositions answer questions. Theory and theorising 
is a process of asking questions and proposing answers. And the content of 
theory is largely determined by the questions asked.

To understand a theory one always needs to understand what questions it is 
meant to answer.

A very basic feature of the ideology of exploiting classes in general, and 
of bourgeois ideology in particular, is that, effectively, a ban is 
placed against certain questions. Namely, a ban is imposed on all 
questions that tend to the questioning of the real basis of class 
exploitation on which the exploiting class' way of life depends, and of the 
real, as distinct from the pretended, interests and aims of the class.

This is evident, for example, in bourgeois economics.

It is not so much that false propositions are asserted. For quite a lot of 
the propositions put forward are true, as far as they go.

The basic criticism that Marx always made of bourgeois economists was that 
they took capitalist relations for granted, did not analyse them, did not 
consider the nature of capitalist exploitation and its consequences, and so 
took no cognisance of what Marx called "the law of motion of capitalist 

This means that any searching questioning on these matters is banned 
in bourgeois economics. Such questions are simply prohibited. They 
are not asked. The bourgeois economists are those whose whole way of 
social thinking contains a built-in inhibition concerning these 
questions, and an attitude of shock, rejection and 
disapproval towards the asking of them.

It is the same in philosophy. The bourgeois philosophers nowadays are 
concerned only with certain questions - especially, as it has worked out 
in their class ideology, certain questions about language. On these they 
have in fact done and continue to do quite good work. Not everything they 
teach is false, or even useless. Some of it is true and useful. But they 
simply rule out questions which we, Marxists, are concerned to ask. We 
Marxists who ask them are severely disapproved of, and dismissed as 
unphilosophical people with a political axe to grind.

An essential - perhaps the essential - thing about "an ideology" 
is not to be found in what it positively teaches but in what it bans and 
proscribes - the questioning it forbids, the inhibitions characteristic of 

That is why the criticism of an ideology always come from a less 
constrictive ideology - one that is more free and more "open", in that 
it concerns itself with questions formerly prohibited and perhaps not even 
thought of at all.

Marxism is such a more "open" ideology, in relation to and in comparison 
with bourgeois ideology.

The point about Marxist partisanship in theoretical work is that, on behalf 
of the working class, we insist on the forbidden questioning. We open up 
forbidden ground.

And in doing that, our partisanship is equally our objectivity in 
opposition to bourgeois partisanship.

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