Hồ Chí Minh
Original publication: archive.org

Why Do We Have To Study Theory? (1957)

11 minutes | English

This is a summary of excerpts from “Speech Opening the First Theoretical Course of Nguyen Ai Quoc School,” found in Ho Chi Minh on Revolution: Selected Writings 1920-1966 (1968).

This text has been compressed to about half length to avoid some repetition (important in a speech but less useful in text when one can easily wind back), and subheadings have been added for ease of navigation.
 — R. D.


Why do we have to study theory?

Our Party has established the theoretical school for cadres to raise the level of their understanding in order to meet the requirements of its revolutionary tasks.

Because of its many strong points, our Party has led the Revolution to great and fundamental successes. But on the other hand, due to the low level of its ideological understanding, when facing new and more complicated revolutionary tasks, perplexity and errors are inevitable in our Party leadership. For example, we have committed errors in the carrying out of land reform and the readjustment of organization and economic management.

What are the revolutionary tasks of our Party?

On the national level, we have not yet completed the task of a national people’s democratic revolution. As for the North alone, since the restoration of peace it has been liberated completely and has stepped into the transitional period to socialism.

In the South, we are carrying on the task of a national people’s democratic revolution and are struggling for national unity. Socialism has become a powerful world system; the movement for peace, democracy, and national liberation is on the upgrade; the liberated North is being built up and consolidated; our people in the South have been tempered in the Resistance War and in these three years of struggle by peaceful means. Nevertheless, these tasks also have many difficult and complicated aspects; for example, changes in international and home situations require from us the proper line, principle, and method of action; our enemy is very wicked; our cadres and people have not thoroughly understood that the struggle for national reunification by peaceful means is a long and hard struggle. This demands that our Party raise its ideological understanding; to do so, Marxist-Leninist studies must be conducted in the whole Party, first of all among high-ranking cadres.

The North is in the transitional stage to socialism. The socialist revolution is the most difficult and far-reaching change. We have to build up a completely new society unknown in our history. We have to radically change thousand-year-old customs and habits, ways of thinking, and prejudices. We have to change old relationships in production, abolish the exploiting classes, and establish new relationships without exploitation and oppression. Therefore, we have gradually to turn our country from a backward agricultural country into an industrial one. Step-by-step collectivization of agriculture has to be implemented. Private industry, commerce, and handicrafts must go through socialist transformation. Our ignorant and poverty-ridden country must be turned into one with an advanced culture and a happy and merry life.

These tasks must be undertaken in the particular conditions of our country — that is, on the basis of a very backward country, newly freed from colonialist and feudal rule and divided into two zones.

What is the importance of theory to our Party?

Lenin, our great teacher, summarized the importance of theory in the following sentences: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” and “The role of an advanced fighter can only be fulfilled by a Party guided by an advanced theory.” [1] The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the first Party which blazed the trail of liberation for mankind, has always paid attention to theory because it has realized that theory shows it the correct path to Communism.

The Communist Party of China, which is the model of the Communist Party in a semicolonial and semifeudal country, has long paid great attention to theory. Mao Zedong said that if among the leading Party cadres there were one or two hundred who succeeded in making a systematic and practical study of Marxism-Leninism, then it could be considered that they were able to defeat the Japanese imperialists. [2] When summing up experiences, the Eighth Party Congress concluded that good or bad Party leadership depended first of all on whether training in Marxism-Leninism of high-ranking cadres was good and that the carrying on of Marxist-Leninist studies for Party cadres and members was the key to better work thenceforward.

Through the experience of brother countries, we all the more see the pressing need and importance of theoretical study for the Party, in the first place in high-ranking cadres.

What is our cadres’ attitude to theoretical study?

It can be said that our Party has never been confronted with so many complicated, big, and difficult problems as at the present time. In this situation, our cadres, in general, have felt that their weakness lies in lack of theory, and consequently they have understood the need for theoretical study and have asked the Party to organize theoretical study for them. This is a very good sign. We must promote this yearning for study and for progress in order to step up the movement for theoretical study in our Party.

However, this does not mean that all our cadres have understood this need. For example, at present, there are many cadres who bury themselves all day long in routine work without being aware of the importance of theory. Hence there are signs of slighting study or lacking determination to find ways and means to combine work with study. After a period of study on the job, there are some cadres — chiefly those with low education who are not used to reading and meditation — who grumble when encountering difficulties inherent in reading documents, in going deeply into and pondering over them. Having fruitlessly replicated a number of examples without creativity, we lack conviction in the need to learn from the experiences of brother countries.

These are manifestations of empiricism to be overcome. [3] These are also expressions of a revisionist character to be watched in order to step up the present movement for theoretical study.

How is theory integrated with practice?

Your theoretical study does not aim at turning you into mere theoreticians, but at enabling you to work well. We study theory in order to apply it, not for its own sake and not to make capital for ourselves later to bargain with the Party — such attitudes should be extirpated. We do not carry on studies to learn by heart every sentence and every word and apply the experience of brother countries in a mechanical way. We must learn Marxism-Leninism to analyze and solve the actual issues of the revolution in our country according to its particular conditions.

While applying theory, we must improve and enrich it with new conclusions drawn from our revolutionary practice. Theory is the summing up of the experiences of mankind, the synthesis of knowledge of nature and society in the course of history. Marxist-Leninist theory is the summing up of experiences of workers’ movements of all countries down to the present time. Stalin said that theory is the science of laws governing the development of nature and society, the science of revolution of the oppressed and exploited masses, the science of success of socialism in all countries, the science of Communist construction. [4]

A correct attitude to study

To put into practice the principle of integration of theory with practice and to reach the aim of your study — that is, highlighting theory, ideological transformation, and strengthening Party spirit — it is necessary to have a correct attitude to study:

  1. To be modest and frank. The level of ideological understanding of our Party is rather low; nobody can boast about being good at it. Therefore modesty and frankness are to be emphasized: to go deep into and ponder over Marxist-Leninist works and the lectures given by the professors from friendly countries, modestly to learn from them, recognizing what one knows and what one does not know. Conceit, self-assumption, and self-complacency are the number-one enemies of study.
  2. Voluntarily and consciously to consider study as a task to be completed at all costs by a revolutionary cadre, thereby actively and on one’s own initiative to fulfill the plan for study, highlighting industriousness and unflinching efforts when confronted with difficulties in study.
  3. To stress independent and free thinking. To go deep into and thoroughly understand the documents without having blind faith in every word and phrase of the documents, boldly to put forth for discussion the questions one has not thoroughly understood until one fully grasps them. To ask “Why?” when faced with any question and to consider carefully whether it is in conformity with real life and reason, to refrain absolutely from obeying the book blindly. There must be mature thinking.
  4. To defend truth and stick to principle; indiscriminate “yes-es” and compromise are not allowed.
  5. To help each other in study, to conduct bold criticism and sincere self-criticism from a desire for solidarity, with the aim of building new solidarity on a new basis.

This attitude toward study must become a habit. Only in this way can you realize the principle of integration of theory with practice and enable your study to reach its aim: to train cadres capable of applying the Marxist-Leninist stand, viewpoint, and method in solving concrete revolutionary issues.

[1] V. I. Lenin, What Is to Be Done?, Chapter 1 (1902). [web] 

[2] Mao Zedong, speech made at the Sixth Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee of the Party, “The Role of the Communist Party of China in the National War” (October 1938). [web] 

[3] “Empiricism,” hailing back to Hegel and far beyond, could be paraphrased as the philosophical tendency (whether acknowledged or not) to “trust only what one can see,” expressing defiant skepticism of any conclusions reached by extrapolating from direct observation by way of logical syllogism. — R. D. 

[4] J. V. Stalin, Conclusion to History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1939). [web]