The Defense of Theory

Many will say that they are not “interested” in reading about socialist theory and that they would rather just “take action.” Many of these people forsake political education in order to express themselves solely through direct action. But direct action without purpose or analysis is not direct action, it is masturbation.

The argument against theoretical discussion is usually one revolving around the premise that organizing from “lived experiences” and “action” are more revolutionary than reading.

This reasoning is not only flawed, it is right wing and a symptom of capitalism.

Let me begin by saying that direct action for the sake of direct action is a waste of everyone’s time. Symbolic gestures and protests have their place but any protest, be it symbolic or insurrectionary, must have a clear and achieveable demand. (Close the Camps! Pass a Green New Deal! Fire Racist Killer Cops! Contracts Now! Divest from GeoGroup! etc.)

Direct action that is purely “symbolic” and ideological with no clear, achievable material demand is not to the benefit of the working class, but a way for do nothing ultra-lefts and over privileged liberals to validate themselves and their own identities. Protests that are done for the sake of doing them are insults to the working class. Protest that is done with an objective goal gets the goods. Protest for the sake of protest is not protest, period.

Further, the reasoning that “lived experiences” are more important than reading or discussing theory is inherently nearsighted because it differentiates learning as something to not be considered a lived experience.

Is reading not a lived experience? Is learning not an experience? Have lives not been changed because of conversations, forums, and thoughts? The act of reading and discussing theory IS a lived experience and should be considered just as important to organizing as is blocking an intersection or arranging a picket.

I also maintain that if you want to organize your community and build alternatives to capitalism, you need to read and learn from past attempts. Past revolutions, the Paris Commune, the creation and collapse of the Internationales, the Occupy Movement, the Black Panthers and so much more, we need to look at the movements, trends, and organizations of the past and present and study them so that we may better study ourselves!

One cannot spend all their time merely discussing how to organize, it is true that some get caught up more in the theoretical than the practical but that is not an excuse to never bother to learn or discuss theory. One must also not make the mistake in thinking that showing up for every single protest is actual organizing. One must never put street theatrics ahead of the pursuit of material gains but rather must always utilize them for the sole purpose of making gains.

It is true that the best organizing comes through lived experience, and I maintain that reading and learning is a form of lived experience. Leftists who decry theory perpetuate the anti intellecutalism perpetuated by the right wing. Leftists who just want to act and not process that action are perpetuating the reactionary nature of a capitalist society. We cannot build alternatives to capitalism if we are constantly stopping everything we do to react to it. Theory is the analysis of action, it always has been and always will be.

Reading theory is just as much of a lived experience as anything else and is therefore integral to organizing.

Reading is a lived experience, to say it is not is to be anti intellectual, to be anti intellectual is to be reactionary, to be ractionary is to be capitalist. Therefore if you are anti theory, you are in fact pro capitalist.