What is the point of 'theory'?

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Joined: 12-07-04
Jul 17 2004 10:01
What is the point of 'theory'?

What is the point of 'theory'?

So, I'm not saying there's no point, i'd just like some examples as to how theory at a high level of abstraction (e.g. concerning 'revolution' or 'class struggle') might alter our action in our daily lives - or even redirect the course of the movement...

Clearly it's useful to have discussion of issues which practically effect us, about what we're going to do - and this is the kind of theory you might find in Do or Die, for example - but a lot of discussion on these boards is, IMHO, very abstract. This is what I mean by 'theory'.

People made the point that the AYN failed partly due to a lack of theory. I agree that it was a weakness that there was some (as someone put it) 'I like dancing therefore I am an Anarchist' sentiment. But the answer to this, I would have thought, is not people accepting a particular ideology, but just engaging more sincerely in commited discussions about what to do, as individuals and a group. If I were to accept a 'class struggle analysis' (and i'm not saying i don't), how would that determine what I do tomomrrow? how do you actually go about being a revolutionary? And if there aren't any good suggestions on how to do it, isn't the issue (if not totaly irrelevant), at least not very important right now? Maybe I'm questioning, ideology, rather than theory, i'm not sure about the language here.

(some of this carries over from comments on the AYN board, not necessarily as criticism, but as curiosity...)

Also, I suspect that some people find it quite alienating. (Just from having spoken to a couple of people, though clearly others do welcome the chance to have such discussions).

other random thought: am not convinced that all claims within Anarchism are equally strong. For example, I don't *know* to what extent it's possible to hold together a large scale industrial society with *absolutely no* hierarchy. I'm not saying it's not, I just don't know, but I do suspect that no-one else knows either. Because surely it rests on being able to make particular claims about human nature and people's reaction to post-(r)evolutionary conditions. And even if you are persuaded by the *evidence* for this, that's not to say that there's *proof* for it. My reason for saying this is that when i have conversations with non-anarcho people about anarchism, they seem to think/feel something like that.

on the other hand, claims about how people should act (as opposed to macro-level claims) seem to be a lot more definite - and, as I suggested above - more important. For example, I can't be sure that 'class-led revolution is the only possible way that an anarchist society could emerge', but can say to any given person that they should, in daily life, resist such hierarchies as they find, see whatever direct action as they can get away with as an appropriate political tool, act on the basis of mutual aid and solidarity and try to take collective, democratic decisions in their community. And then we can talk about how best to do those things, as a practical issue.

perhaps i'm just taking certain bits of theory for granted - mutual aid etc. But why have a go at primitivists? what's the point? i accept that primitivism sounds quite weird, but surely the point is that all decisions about industrialisation and the environment that are taken if/when the people are in control, will be taken on the basis of demcoracy and consensus among the people who it will effect? so primitivism or anti-primitism aren't issues of anarchist ideology (or shouldn't be), just personal beliefs about what kind of society you think sounds good and the exact correlation beween hierarchy and technoology in civilisation. personally, I've found that a few primitivists have been great on actions i've been a part of, and as members of working groups - which is enough for me. i.e. i suggest we focus on the practical...

maybe we could have a 'tactics' or whatever forum section? where people could talk about what *the movement* could benefit from tactically - there's discussions to be had about social centres, practice in public order situations, styles of direct action, which issues are best to camapign around (assuming that some single issue campaigning is inevitable...)

this is surely the kind of community buildng we need - ways to build consensus that we can take action on? anyway, the above is not my *Considered Position*, but things i'm currently thinking about. help welcome.

PaulMarsh's picture
Joined: 26-09-03
Jul 17 2004 10:17

Theory is, or should be, the basis of practice.

That applies whether it is a 15 year old Palestinian kid throwing a stone at an Israeli army vehicle, or a well read Anarchist considering what to do next.

You get groups that are all theory (Aufheben are probably the clearest UK example) and others more wedded to practice - AYN being one example.

You can present an argument that no one does anything without some theory. The palestinian kid throwing a stone may not have read Chomsky on the middle east, but he knows enough to know which side he is on.

One point on the AYN - it was doomed to failure anyway. Rather obviously any group based around a set age group (15-30 for example) people will leave that age group, and the group will either fold or have to rely on a new set of activists - we can't, yet, beat nature!

Joined: 12-07-04
Jul 18 2004 11:13

ok, so theory that informs our practice is important and relevant, everything else is a waste of time - except from an academic interest POV.

so let's shift our focus from talking about abstract stuff to practical discussion on what to do next...?

and more generally, did what i wrote above make sense to anyone, or does it just read like bollocks? (1 repy...)

Joined: 28-10-03
Jul 23 2004 09:40

The purpose of theory is to give you some sort of tool to evaluate questions like is it "possible to hold together a large scale industrial society with *absolutely no* hierarchy"

There are two ways you can try and answer this question

1. Through experiment but thats a difficult one as you need a succesful revolution and they don't sell those down at Tescos

2. By theoretically looking at how industrial society functions, what anarchist has to say about this and how well if at all have anarchist revolutions worked in such societies.

It's worth noting that those who say they see no value in abstract theory are very often the same people who will insist that there is only one possible answer to the above (and similar) questions.

Joined: 21-02-04
Jul 23 2004 19:26

The theory is everything, what is the revolutionary but a nihillist when they have no theory?

And when you have faith in a theory, that gives you faith in actions.

Jul 25 2004 17:07

Theories can be a good way of ordering your mental processes. I'm working on a theory myself at the moment. However, if you know many Marxists, you will probably have met the theory-fetishist who just loves to read other people's theories and then spout on as if they did it themselves. A problem with theories is that people can have a tendency to believe they are true. Unfortunately, they are just the latest attempts to understand things and are necessarily incomplete. Marxism again seems like a theory of economics which more or less ignores the process required to raise the consciousness of the masses so they can unshackle themselves. To hear Marxists talk, you would think that Marx had given us they keys to Utopia and, if you just batter on about it for long enough in small meetings of like-minded people and internet forums, then the great day will come along sometime automatically. What's holding us back may be that we let others do out thinking for us.