Why Practice Needs to Follow from Theory–and the Importance of Getting Theory Right

This paper will briefly review a few of the theories advanced over the past three years as to the causes of the economic crisis, in particular, the tendency of many thinkers to “decouple” causes such as financialization from the underlying health of the productive economy. I will critique the “decoupling” argument from the perspective of Marx’s theories, including his concepts of value and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

The paper will go on argue that the Left needs to resolve its theoretical debates over the crisis. Some Leftists seem to think that conflicting theories do not matter to practice: we can proceed to debate what the Left and workers’ practice should be in the face of economic conditions, without theory. I will argue, to the contrary, that one’s practice flows from one’s theory, and that those who now supposedly sidestep theory are actually basing their advocacy of particular practices upon particular theories. To skip over articulating and debating theory does not result in practical plans for fighting capitalism, I will try to show, but instead leads to dead ends. If capitalism in fact cannot be reformed to the substantial and lasting benefit of the working class, then I will give reasons why we should not advocate attempts to reform it.

While the Left should of course fight alongside the working class to save their homes, jobs, and incomes, I will explain why it should do so without deluding people that capitalism can be reformed through campaigns for nationalization or regulation of certain industries, formation of cooperatives, redistribution of wealth, etc. Marxist-Humanist Initiative sees a very different contribution that the Left could make at this moment in history: to demonstrate theoretically that another, non-capitalist world is possible. We are encouraged to learn that people all over the world are studying Marx again because we think his theory is vital to this task, but developing an effective response to the economic crisis and its effects on the basis of his theories is a huge challenge. I will argue that this challenge should not be skipped over, and urge that an international dialogue begin around theory and not only around resistance to what exists. To this end, Marxist-Humanist Initiative proposes to establish an international “network for the circulation of theoretical struggle.” MHI is taking the initiative to help organize it, and invites others to join in.

Anne Jaclard is National Secretary of Marxist-Humanist Initiative, a writer for its publication With Sober Senses, and a long-time activist in U.S. radical movements and international women’s, national liberation, and other solidarity movements.

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October 19, 2010