Doctrine (7/18/01)

It is important for revolutionaries to understand the distinction between "science" and "doctrine" in the work of Marxists. This paper is an attempt to clarify possible meanings of the term "doctrine", and to argue for a specific usage.

The word "doctrine" has several uses. For example, The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (4th Edition, 2000) lists four usages:

1. A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.

2. A rule or principle of law, especially when established by precedent.

3. A statement of official government policy, especially in foreign affairs and military strategy.

4. Archaic Something taught; a teaching.

Doctrine as principles of belief

Any of these definitions could be applied political work. For example, Lenin uses the first definition ("body pf principles" or perhaps the fourth "a teaching") in his "The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism" article:

The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling "sectarianism" in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.

The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism. (

And later in the same piece:

But Marx did not stop at eighteenth-century materialism: he developed philosophy to a higher level. He enriched it with the achievements of German classical philosophy, especially of Hegel's system, which in its turn had led to the materialism of Feuerbach. The main achievement was dialectics, i.e., the doctrine of development in its fullest, deepest and most comprehensive form, the doctrine of the relativity of the human knowledge that provides us with a reflection of eternally developing matter. The latest discoveries of natural science -- radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements -- have been a remarkable confirmation of Marx 's dialectical materialism despite the teachings of the bourgeois philosophers with their "new" reversions to old and decadent idealism.

Stalin also uses the first definition in his essay "Socialism or Anarchism", in contrasting the "doctrine" of socialism with that of anarchism ("both are trying to present themselves to the proletariat as genuinely socialist doctrines").

For doctrine to be "true", or to describe dialectics as a doctrine, doctrine must be considered a body of teachings or principles, and in this sense, a foundation of the science of society.

This however, is not how we have used the term in the Institute.

Doctrine in the military

When we contrast doctrine to science, we are describing a doctrine that must fit with, and change with conditions. In this sense, we are use the third definition from above: "A statement of official government policy, especially in foreign affairs and military strategy."

In the Institute for the Study of the Science of Society paper "Science and Doctrine", doctrine is defined as "a particular principle or policy. All doctrine – that is to say, all policy and principles – arise upon and utilize some assumption, fact, or scientific achievement." The explanatory examples are military ones ("Let us take military doctrine, which is the most important of all doctrine.")

The usage of the word "doctrine" in the Institute emphasizes the military, so it will be useful to explore that use of the term.

Doctrine is a widely used military term, and there is a lengthy list of bodies within the military (and a lengthy list of publications) that address military doctrine. For example, the U.S. Army "Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate" web page has links to a "U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command" at Fort Monroe, "Armor Doctrine" (at Fort Knox), "Military Intelligence Doctrine" (at Fort Huachuca), etc. Documents on doctrine range from the broad -- "Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States" ("serves as the capstone publication for all US joint doctrine.") -- to the specific: "Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT)" [Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP) 3-35.3] ("provides doctrinal guidance and detailed information on tactics, techniques, and procedures to be employed in MOUT within the operating forces.") and "Basic Doctrine for Army Field Feeding" (Field Manual 10-23).

The "Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms" defines doctrine as "Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application."

In his introduction to "After the trenches: the transformation of U.S. Army doctrine, 1918 - 1939" (Texas A&M University Press, 1999), William O. Odom begins:

Throughout history, military organizations have developed procedures to ensure that subordinate elements efficiently cooperate in order to mass forces and fire at a decisive times and place. These procedures, ranging from small unit drill to instructions for large-unit operations, still exist. Since World War II, the United States has called these procedures _doctrine_. Reference to doctrine exists in earlier documents, but usage of the term _regulations_ was more common. Doctrine comprises the "fundamental principles by which military forces guide their actions in support of national objectives." It is the core statement of an army's view of war and serves as a common guide for the conduct of operations. This shared view facilitates communication, enhances flexibility, and fosters confidence throughout the force, and it provides the basis for supporting doctrine, force structure, training, and education. An army's doctrine must evolve if its forces are to remain effective.

Ideally doctrine is dynamic, changing to incorporate new capabilities and accommodate new missions. History, training experiences, contemporary conflict, technological developments, and emerging threats to national security drive changes in doctrine. (pp. 3 - 4, emphasis in original)

Doctrine, in the military sense, depends on "national objectives"; it must accommodate "new missions."

Impetus to change doctrine in peacetime originates from a change of mission or capabilities. Mission changes usually reflect shifts in threats to national security. New missions redefine army roles in support of a national strategy to counter a particular threat. Radical change to doctrine may be necessary if the new threat is considerably different from the old one. Doctrine appropriate for the small, frontier constabulary army found slight application in the war waged by the million-man American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in World War I. Similarly, doctrine for combating the Vietnamese insurgency could draw little from the U.S. experience in World War II or Korea. In both cases, the army revised doctrine to guide combat against a different foe. (Odom p. 4)

The scope of doctrine

Consider the following quotes:

Following World War I, the U.S. Army was charged with several tasks:

[I]solationism and protective ocean barriers no longer guaranteed peace nor time to mobilize in the event of war. Modern war required rapid, total mobilization of manpower and industry. In addition, the United States required a standing army to secure its borders and overseas possessions. Protection of interests in the Philippines, at the Panama Canal, in Hawaii, in China, in the Caribbean, and along the Mexican border demanded military presence. NDA 1920 [the National Defense Act of 1920] addressed both of these concerns. It authorized a small Regular Army for immediate, short-term, small-scale military action and a large citizen reserve that the nation could mobilize for major commitments. (Odom)

Part of meeting this challenge was a "doctrinal review", in large part "to incorporate the lessons of the war" and to "align doctrine with new missions and organizational changes" (p. 23) as dictated by the 1920 National Defense Act.

Army planners ... faced the problem of developing forces capable of participating in mobile, open warfare, such as that anticipated in the southwestern United States or Mexico, and with the ability to penetrate deep, organized defensive potions, such as that faced on the western front. (Odom p. 14)

U.S. army doctrine had several fundamental characteristics: "emphasis on combat principles" including "destruction of the enemy, offensive action, the human element in war, and the decisive role of the infantry." (p. 37). For example, the "principal principle" of combat was the "principle of the objective."

The principle of objective figured prominently in the American doctrine before and after the (first world) war. The war had reinforced American belief in an "unlimited" objective, one that targeted the opposing force, not a terrain feature or trench line... The attainment of such an objective demanded offensive action... World War I only reinforced belief in this fundamental tenet of American doctrine. Pershing [the general in charge of the U.S. forces during WWI - jd] had thought of no other form of combat. 'The ultimate purpose of the American army,' he wrote, 'is the decisive defeat of the enemy and not the mere passive result of the pure defensive. To realize this purpose it is essential that every officer and soldier of these forces be imbued with the offensive spirit.' (Odom, p. 39)

Or, "When we fight, we fight to win." (Joint Doctrine Capstone and Keystone Primer, 1997)

Finally, the preface to the Field Service Regulations of 1923 (the principle statement of doctrine for the U.S. Army until 1939) includes this paragraph:

The Field Service Regulations are drafted from the viewpoint of a war against an opponent organized for war on modern principles and equipped with all the means of modern warfare. An army capable of waging successful war under these conditions will prove adequate to any less grave emergency with which it may be confronted. The character of the opponent is a decisive factor in the selection of the means and methods of war. The nature of the theater of opera- tions, particularly the facilities which it offers in respect to road and railroad communications, also exercises a material influence on the conduct of operations and the means employed. (p. 3)

The above quotes highlight two different aspects of doctrine: First, doctrine is designed to achieve a task, or mission. The mission is not specifically part of doctrine, but dictates what doctrine needs to accomplish (or doctrine must be "aligned" to mission). Second, doctrine includes certain assumptions or tenets (principles), based on theory, as to how to operate. Doctrine is derived from science, but is not science. Doctrine is based on theory, and incorporates theory, but is not theory. Doctrine is not mission, but is tailored to mission, and seeks to accomplish mission.

The military's doctrine documents describe where doctrine begins and ends.

Science helps us to determine conditions, where we are at in the line of march -- in the words of the military, "the strategic environment within which operations take place". (Joint Pub 3-0, 1997) Science helps us to determine mission. Doctrine spells out the operating principles by which that mission will be achieved.

Doctrine exists at every organizational level; or, we can say that doctrine "scales" to mission. Doctrine at a general level may indicate the mission at a specific level. That specific mission then is implemented by a more specific doctrine. For example , the "Joint Doctrine Capstone and Keystone Primer describes how "joint campaigns" will be carried out. The doctrinal specifics of intelligence operations or logistics are specified in separate manuals.

Doctrine is different from strategy. "The levels of war are doctrinal perspectives that clarify the links between strategic objectives and tactical actions. Although there are no finite limits or boundaries between them, the three levels are strategic, operational, and tactical." Doctrine describes "how we fight". Strategy describes the broad way an objective will be achieved. Here is a military definition of strategy: "The art and science of developing and using political, economic, psychological, and military forces as necessary during peace and war, to afford the maximum support to policies, in order to increase the probabilities and favorable consequences of victory and to lessen the chances of defeat." ( Strategy covers how the various tools are deployed to ensure victory; doctrine covers how the fight is waged.

For example, the German strategy in World War II against, say, the Soviet Union, included three broad offensives, against the industrial and moral center of Leningrad, the political center of Moscow, and the resource rich Ukraine and Don Basin, and later, the oil fields of the Caspian Sea. The doctrine of the Wehrmacht was blitzkrieg -- the "lightning war", the use of mobile armor and aircraft to overwhelm enemy defenses and quickly sieze territory or surround the enemy, backed up by mobile infantry to hold territory.

To give a sense of what military doctrine looks like, one can review any of the number of doctrine documents available on the Internet.

For example, The U.S. Army's "Field Service Regulations" of 1923, the capstone doctrine statement for the period, includes two parts, on "operations" and "administration". The "operations" part includes sections with titles like "Organization", "Command and staff", "Orders", "Combatant arms", "Information", "Transmission of orders". Each section includes numbered topics, and range from the general to relatively specific. E.g.:

48. Infantry has two general means of action: Fire and movement. Infantry fights by combining these two means of action. Fire constitutes its principal means of destruction. Fire is also one of its principal means of neutralization. Through the destructive and neutralizing effects of its fire, infantry assists in creating the conditions that facilitate its own movement and check the movement of the enemy.

Through movement, infantry increases the destructive power inherent in its tie by gaining such a position relative to the enemy as will permit of the development of a fire superior to that of the enemy, either by virtue of its range, its direction (flanking or from the rear), or its volume (enveloping action).


142. Sole reliance can not be placed upon the technical means of signal communication, and their absence or failure to function does not relieve a commander of his responsibility of keeping superiors and adjacent units informed as to the situation. Independently of the technical means, each commander provides for the transmission of orders, information, and reports by means of messengers.

143. In transmission by messengers, the most efficient means of movement available is employed. Depending on the situation, the state of the roads, and traffic conditions, messengers are transported by automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, or horses, or the message is sent by runner. In hostile territory it may be advantageous to use armored cars or to provide an armed escort.

Here is a contemporary example, from the U.S. Marine Corps doctrine on urban warfare:

2103. Phases of the Attack. Attacks are categorized as either hasty or deliberate. Both hasty and deliberate attacks should take advantage of as much planning, reconnaissance, and coordination as time and the situation permit. Regardless of the size of the attacking force or of the objective to be secured, the phases of the attack (i.e. reconnoiter, isolate, secure foothold, and control the objective) remain constant.

a. Deliberate Attack. A deliberate attack is a type of offensive action characterized by preplanned coordinated employment of firepower and maneuver to close with and destroy or capture the enemy (Jt Pub 1-02). It is a fully coordinated operation that employs the MAGTF’s combined arms team against the enemy’s defense. It is used when enemy positions are well prepared, when the built-up area is large or severely congested, or when the element of surprise is lost. Given the nature of urbanized terrain, the deliberate attack of a built-up area is similar to the assault of a strongpoint (see MCWP 3-1, Ground Combat Operations [under development]). The deliberate attack of a built-up area is conducted in the following phases...

The section continues to describe each phase in some detail: "reconnoiter the objective", "isolate the objective", "secure a foothold", "seize the objective." In addition, there is a brief discussion on "hasty attack".

The doctrine documents are training documents for the military, and ensure a common approach to carrying out war.

Marxist doctrine

"Marxist doctrine" in the military sense describes how Marxist revolutionaries will accomplish the task of revolutionaries at a given stage of the revolution. Since conditions change, and processes advance and mature, and new tasks emerge, doctrine should change as well.

A discussion in "Against Sectarianism -- for a Leninist Style of Work" (Workers Press, 1984, a reprint of the CLP's Rally, Comrades! article from 1982(?)) on science, doctrine and art indicates this sense of doctrine: "Development is the process of passing through stages... In our work as communists we deal with three definite, related but separate categories. These categories are science, doctrine and art." The article defines doctrine as "a body of principles in a given branch of knowledge". The examples that follow clarify the the term through the use of military examples:

In warfare each major advance of science -- each quantitative stage of development -- demands a new doctrine of war. The development of the tank put an end to the doctrine of trench warfare. Rapid-fire weapons out an end to the doctrine of massed infantry assaults.... The various quantitative stages of the development of the class struggle require corresponding doctrines.

"Against Sectarianism" includes some examples of political doctrines:

[A]s political conditions changed in Europe, Engels developed a doctrine that included the use of the ballot. This doctrine was appropriate in the period of maturing imperialism with all its military and social consequences. As imperialism entered its moribund stage a new doctrine was developed. This doctrine is an aspect of Leninism. (p. 21)

If Marxists "theoretically ... have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement", we can describe a mission for Marxists that is somewhat broad, to cover the general sweep of the revolutionary process; or narrow to cover the tasks required to complete a particular stage of the revolution. That is, the doctrine of class struggle also scales up or down, depending on the scope of the discussion.

For example, the discussion on doctrine, "Against Sectarianism" quotes Stalin: "Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular." "Theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution" can be considered as synonymous with doctrine here.

Within the broad sweep of "the proletarian revolution" we can see doctrinal differences at different stages -- consistent with the overall mission of proletarian revolution, but also consistent with conditions and the stage of development of the process.

The Institute paper on science and doctrine (ibid) provides two examples of Marxist doctrines from different times and conditions:

Now, what was the doctrine of Marxism and under what conditions was it developed? The process was the social revolution from agriculture to industry. The development of industry had created new classes and a new economy. The big and petty bourgeoisie as well as the working class were in revolutionary struggle with the feudal political structure. In his "Address to the Communist League," Marx spelled out the principal doctrine of the working class revolutionaries as:

The relation of the revolutionary workers' party to the petty-bourgeois democrats is this: it marches together with them against the faction which it aims at overthrowing, it opposes them in everything whereby they seek to consolidate their position in their own interest.

This tactic was in line with the doctrine of the time which was, "For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation, not the smoothing over of class antagonisms but the abolition of classes, not the improvement of existing society but the foundation of a new one."

[Note: the second use of "doctrine" above, "the doctrine of the time", being the "annihilation of private property" and "the abolition of classes" and the "foundation of a new society" suggests a mission, not unlike that of Marxists today, so I will focus on the first use of "doctrine", in the spirit of relations with the petty-bourgeois democrats. - jd] The paper continues:

Lenin could easily adopt not only Marxism as a science, but also the doctrine of Marxism because Russia was going through the same historic transformation from agriculture to industry that western Europe went through a hundred years before. That doctrine had to change but little to be compatible to the specifics of the Russian revolution. Lenin writes:

A social Democrat must never for a moment forget that the proletariat will inevitably have to wage a class struggle for socialism even against the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. Hence, the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party of Social Democracy. Hence, the temporary nature of our tactics of "striking a joint blow with the bourgeoisie" and the duty of keeping a strict watch "over our ally, as over an enemy."

These two general statements of doctrine do not elaborate the mission of Marxists, but rather, how do Marxists fight at a specific stage of the revolutionary process. In both cases, in the broad sweep, the doctrine dictates the independence of the proletarian movement. (These statements are echoed in the line from Godfather II, when Frankie "Five Angels" Pentangeli warns Michael Corleone: "Your father did business with Hyman Roth. Your father respected Hyman Roth. But your father never trusted Hyman Roth.") However, in the shorter scale of the distinct stages of the revolution, the doctrine of the Bolsheviks would change some fifteen years later as the possibility of the seizure of power emerged.

In Lenin's April Theses, issued shortly after Lenin returned to Petrograd in April, 1917, he assessed the situation and the mission of the Bolsheviks:

The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution -- which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie -- to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.

The science of society enabled the Bolsheviks to correctly assess the stage of the revolution that spring. Doctrine needed to be adjusted to ensure that the new mission -- to "place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants" could be attained. The theses outline some principles for making this happen. No more "striking a joint blow with the bourgeoisie" advocated in 1902 (?), but rather, "no support for the Provisional Government" of the bourgeoisie.

This peculiar situation demands of us an ability to adapt ourselves to the special conditions of Party work among unprecedentedly large masses of proletarians who have just awakened to political life.

and later

As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience. (April Theses)

Although there is no organization of Marxists today that articulates a mission and is organized to accomplish that mission (nor should there be, since that would contradict what we understand to be correct Marxist doctrine, see below), we can review documents from prior periods and summarize discussions in and around the Institute.

In "The Path to Power and the role of the Party", from the CLP (Rally, Comrades, 1982?, reprinted in "Path to Power", 1984), Marxists noted that historically, two paths to power have been used. "Soviet experience regarding the revolutionary process could be summed up as a detailed preparation of the masses for an uprising as the path to power... Since the Soviet revolution of 1917 another path to power has emerged .... This path was the path of civil war," for example, in China and Cuba. Neither is better than the other; the question is which is appropriate for a given situation. The article argues that the "mass uprising", a path similar to that followed by the Bolsheviks, most closely corresponds to the conditions and history of the United States. "We want to indicate the proper path to be followed by our cadre in the form of a minute and detailed, careful preparation of the masses for the inevitable uprising in our country."

This describes a mission for Marxists. In addition, this process takes place within the context of the leap from electro-mechanical productive forces to electronic productive forces, a leap in quality not unlike the leap that Marx observed in his lifetime (from manual to electro-mechanical) or Lenin in his (the same "content of the time" albeit fifty years later). The mission of Marxists is to ensure that each stage of the revolution, of the "careful preparation of the masses" is successfully completed.

This mission is further complicated by the fact that it is happening in the context of a leap from one mode of production to another. A new class is emerging. We recognize that the challenge for Marxists is abandon sectarian programs and to take up the program of the new class. Our doctrine -- how we carefully prepare the masses in the context of this profoundly new situation -- must change.