[Marxism] Partisanship and Objectivity in Theoretical Work
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
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
And in doing that, our partisanship is equally our objectivity in
opposition to bourgeois partisanship.
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