Communism and Philosophy:
Contemporary Dogmas and Revisions of Marxism

Maurice Cornforth


Part Three: Contemporary Revisions of Marxism
Chapter 7: Criteria for the Revision of Marxist Theory

Section 6: The revision of Marxist philosophy

The study of social affairs which the revision of Marxist theory requires is not philosophy but, in the broadest sense, sociology. But for both projecting its undertaking and undertaking it, philosophy is crucial in the contemporary revision of Marxist theory.

Scientific philosophy poses questions about the operations of our thinking in their functions of informing our social practice. By such philosophical inquiry Marxists may at least hope to be able to get down to fundamentals methodically and scientifically.

Philosophical theory is not, indeed, itself the “fundamental” or “basic” theory of Marxism. But the systematic consideration of questions of philosophy is necessary if we are first to sort out the fundamentals and recognise their significance, and then to make progress in the sociological studies which socialist politics requires. Studies in scientific philosophy are imperative, to contribute towards the solution of the problems of contemporary capitalism and socialism which have engendered the revisionist confusion in contemporary Marxism.

It is not a matter of trying to refurbish a materialist metaphysic of matter and motion, and of history and the laws of history, as the true doctrine at the foundation of all true doctrine. For such a metaphysic does not go with trying to solve problems by scientifically-controlled study of situations in which they arise. It does not go with trying to make general theory scientific corresponding to the conditions of the scientific and technological revolution. And for the sort of sociological studies that come onto the agenda, it is a total irrelevancy. What is crucial is, rather, the philosophical criticism of metaphysic in the light of what is already scientifically established about nature and society, and the development of correspondingly scientific discipline in philosophical inquiry.

If one surveys the contemporary revision of Marxism, it will appear that much of its theorising is decidedly slapdash if judged by even very relaxed scientific standards. But its philosophical theorising is often the most slapdash of all—without even a clue as to its subject-matter (indeed, Althusser has said that it has no subject-matter but is just “class struggle in theory”). And this is a situation which requires remedy. If the main problems of revision in Marxist theory concentrate around questions of class and political power, philosophy is crucial because a new work-out of the philosophy of communism is crucial for posing and seeking answers to these questions on the road to communism. There is need for studies in the philosophy of communism more systematic and detailed than have been customarily devoted to it; and not so much critical studies of Marxist theory and its development to date (of which there are plenty) as the premise for them in the systematic inquiry into “thought and its laws” which Engels already in his introductory chapter to Anti-Dühring proposed (but never undertook) as proper to modern philosophy.


SOURCE: Cornforth, Maurice. Communism and Philosophy: Contemporary Dogmas and Revisions of Marxism (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980), Part Three: Contemporary Revisions of Marxism; Chapter 7: Criteria for the Revision of Marxist Theory; section 6: The revision of Marxist philosophy; pp. 267-278.


Communism and Philosophy: Contemporary Dogmas and Revisions of Marxism
(Table of Contents) by Maurice Cornforth

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Offsite links:

Dialectical Materialism: An Introduction:

Volume 1: Materialism and the Dialectical Method

Volume 2: Historical Materialism

Volume 3: The Theory of Knowledge

Dialectical Materialism: READ THIS BOOK!!!! (YouTube video link)

Partisanship and Objectivity in Theoretical Work by Maurice Cornforth

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On Reappraising Maurice Cornforth” by Edwin A. Roberts

Origins of the Private Language Argument by Jan Dejnozka

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