Women Bearing the Brunt of Reaction Lead the Resistance

Here is a presentation given by Terry Moon for International Women’s Day/Women’s History Month.

Women Bearing the Brunt of Reaction Lead the Resistance

Talk for the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees

–Terry Moon
March 27, 2019


Part I: International Women’s Day Worldwide

This talk takes off from the lead in the March-April issue of News & Letters which went to the printers before International Women’s Day on March 8. It is important to see what women did that day and the reaction to it for it tells us a great deal about the world we’re living in now as well as how to transform it. Since the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism tells us that we must begin—but not end—with listening to the thoughts and actions of those struggling for freedom which we see as a form of theory, I’m going to go into some detail about the happenings on March 8.  As for all the state and national sponsored events, none of them catch the real spirit of the day, which is revolt, which is a time to reclaim women’s lost history and to fight for a freedom-filled future.

The insulting absurdity of the corporate response is seen in how the Samuel Adams brewery is releasing a beer dedicated to Ruth Bader Ginsburg titled “When There Are Nine.”  I’m sure Justice Ginsburg was not thrilled, and I’m also sure they didn’t ask her first.  The pronouncements from governments are at best self-serving and at worst a bunch of lies.  An example of the latter is the message supposedly from Donald Trump, but clearly not written by him, which ends with the sentence: “We remain vigilant in our pursuit of equality and opportunity so that all women may blaze new trails, pursue their dreams, and reach their full potential.”  Yes, as long as that doesn’t entail childcare, equal pay, reproductive rights, ending rape and abuse, and as long as you’re not an immigrant, a person of color, or poor—or a woman.

When we see what women really did on March 8, most in opposition to their governments, the real meaning of the day shines forth.  Some examples:

In Pristina, Kosovo, women shouted slogans during a rally for gender equality and against violence; in Indonesia, hundreds of activists marched to the presidential palace in Jakarta with banners and placards calling for more equality; in New Delhi, India, women shouted slogans during the march and carried signs reading: “Women Against War! Invest In Caring—Not Killing!” and “Struggle Against Casteism & Capitalism!”; in Nairobi, Kenya, women protested femicide; in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, women held a banner in a rally to mark International Women’s Day and were practically surrounded by cops; in Rome, Italy, women from the feminist movement “Non Una Meno” (Not One Less) staged a gathering in front of the Labor Ministry protesting male violence against women, gender discrimination, and harassment in the workplace. Some dressed as handmaidens. At a huge demonstration, hundreds of Salvadoran women protested in San Salvador demanding decriminalization of abortion, an end to violence against women and respect for their rights. A National Movement of Nurses staged a “White March” for better working conditions in Lisbon, Portugal.  Women in Sudan, as part of the movement there against Omar al-Bashir, went on a hunger strike in defiance and protest against arbitrary detention. They were teargassed, some were arrested, beaten and denied healthcare. Lastly, in defiance of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte—who revels in his sexism—over 4,000 demonstrators marched in Manila shouting slogans and chants against him. In the Philippines, where a woman or child is raped every hour, Duterte’s misogyny is not a joke but a provocation.

These are just some of the militant demonstrations that took place around the world on March 8.


Part II: Women’s Militancy and the Counter-revolutionary Reaction against It

There are three countries we need to look at closer as they exemplify what the lead brought out: “Women know that the world is becoming more dangerous for us as the first target of neo-fascists is often women.” Those countries are Turkey, Spain and Pakistan.

What becomes clear when you look at the last several years of what women in Turkey did on International Women’s Day, is that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to reveal his fascist ideology, now emboldened by the spread of neo-fascism worldwide and the growing opposition to him at home.

In 2016, Erdoğan banned IWD demonstrations on March 4, supposedly for women’s safety but no one believed it. Thousands of women marched anyway and in further defiance of Erdogan, who has been slaughtering Turkey’s Kurdish population and destroying their homes and cities, the women’s announcements in Ankara were in Kurdish and Arabic as well as Turkish. Chants included: “Woman, life, freedom!” In another direct affront to Erdoğan, the women yelled, “The bans are yours, March 8 is ours!” In addition, they called for the overthrow of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In 2017 Erdoğan did not ban the IWD marches.  If he had, it would not have stopped the tens of thousands of women who took to the street—over 10,000 in Istanbul alone.  They chanted, “End male-perpetrated violence,” and “Tayyip, Tayyip, run, run, we are coming!” Ending male violence is a yearly demand because hundreds of women are killed in Turkey each year by husbands and others who supposedly “love” them.

Last year thousands of women again took Erdoğan to task as they marched in Istanbul. They demanded, as always, an end to violence and chanted: “We won’t shut up, we are not afraid, we won’t obey” and signs read, “When women jump it’s a revolution.”  Erdoğan attacks women’s freedom and the very idea of feminism, pontificating that equality for women “is against human nature,” and that’s one of his milder statements.

But this year had a very different atmosphere as the stench of the police state Turkey is becoming permeated the air on March 8.

First, the IWD demonstrations were banned on March 8—purposefully making it impossible for all the women planning on going to know about it.  Second, the march site was jammed with police in riot gear.  As reported by AFP and globelvillagespace.com, “Thousands of demonstrators were eventually allowed into a small part of the avenue to stage the protest.  They unfurled banners that read ‘feminist revolt against male violence and poverty,’ and “I was born free and I will live free.’…”[1]  Then as reported by al-Monitor: the police “attacked women with tear gas, plastic bullets, batons and police dogs.” A picture shows the police line was five rows thick in places.  A demonstrator said, “The police tried to beat us after the gas attack. They were directing the dogs to attack us as well, but [the gas was so thick that] the dogs had a hard time breathing and seeing.”

Third was the vilification and lies, clearly planned ahead of time. Because a Muslim call to prayer—called “azan”—was broadcast at the same time as the IWD march and not heard by the demonstrators who were blowing whistles, banging drums, chanting and singing, Erdoğan and his minions spread the lie that, to quote Erdoğan: the demonstrators, “under the guise of women’s day…whistled at our azan….They chanted slogans. Their only alliance is the enmity towards azan and the flag.”

Erdoğan wants to be reelected at a time when the economy is tanking and unemployment is rife. A longtime feminist activist who had participated in the last 17 IWD demonstrations said, “Muslim women are disillusioned by the AKP. A headscarf doesn’t protect us from police or male brutality.”  Indeed, hundreds of scarfed Muslim women were at the demonstration and gassed by the cops.  The outcry wrought by Erdoğan’s lies prompted the Diyanet-Sen (the syndicate for employees of the Religious Affairs Directorate) to demand the government officially investigate and that the marchers apologize to the Turkish population.[2]

The use of fundamentalist religion and “our culture,” to demonize feminists, while certainly not new, has never before been used to discredit IWD demonstration participants in such a well-orchestrated manner and coming from the highest levels of government. Yet women in Turkey are not alone in this experience.

The IWD demonstrations in Spain were huge, tens of thousands marched. Feminism is very popular in Spain, so popular, in fact, that the Right is determined to co-opt it and, in the process, destroy it.  While the government and Center-Right party are suggesting mild reforms, the far-Right party, Vox, claims that proposed legislation to fight violence against women, for equality, and for LGBTQ rights discriminates against men.  A Catholic organization, HazteOir (Make yourself heard) charted a bus which they drove around the country painted with the slogan #StopFeminazis and a picture of Hitler with pink lipstick.

There is a group started by Spanish right-wingers called “Women of the World Global Platform,” which aims to bring conservative groups and associations from around the world together. They called for a counterdemonstration in Madrid on March 10.  They claim that IWD is “a day for those who reject femininity as well as masculinity, complementarity [meaning males and females have different essences and have to stick to them for they complement each other and make humanity whole], maternity and dedication to the family. But we celebrate it, confirm it, and reclaim it.”[3]  Ah yes, that old trope: feminists hate men.

They actually managed to pull off a demonstration of about 200 where every one of their signs was printed.  A priest carried one reading “United families are the future of the nation”; other signs read “I am a woman and men are our allies,” “I am a woman: in society, in my family, in my work, in politics,” and one I found hilarious: “I don’t want a confrontational feminism.”  But most startling was the fact that a small group of Transgender people joined this demonstration carrying exactly the same signs everyone else carried that included: “In feminine yes, and in masculine also.” The only sense I could make of this was that this group was so wedded to stereotypical gender roles that they oppose a feminism that challenges them.

Because feminism in Spain has become popular, these actions by the Right are attempts to redefine it and create a “good feminism” and a bad feminism.  The good feminism wants to embed the status quo and the bad feminism wants women’s liberation. And while it is quite transparent, it is also insidious because it is an attempt to destroy a freedom movement while pretending to support it and a way to turn women against each other.

Lastly, we want to look at Pakistan.  The demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad were described by a participant as “groundbreaking celebration[s] of women in a massive march comprised of women from all backgrounds, ages and ethnicity, coming together to raise the banner of women empowerment and making the world feel their presence on a colossal level.”  The range of issues was evidenced by the signs: “Grow a Pair!” “Paratha Rolls not Gender Roles,” “Girls just wanna have FUNdamental Rights,” “My Mind, My Body, My Power,” ‘Women have heads too!,” “End to violence,” “#IPledgeToStopAcidAttacks,” “#IPledgeToStopHonor Killings,” “Arrange marches, not marriages,” “A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen Resistance,” “Towards Social Services for Women,” “It’s Time to Organize,” “A Free Media is a Feminist Media.”[4] “Keep your dick to yourself,” “We are not punching bags,” “We need rights, not marriage proposals.”

In short, Pakistan experienced fantastic marches where the humanism of the tens of thousands of participants was clear, where women’s determination to create a more human world was made explicit. In a country where honor killings are rife, the Aurat (Woman) March issued a manifesto that “demand[ed] the right to autonomy and decision-making over our bodies; …equal access to quality reproductive and sexual health services for women, all genders and sexual minorities.” It demanded “economic justice, implementation of labor rights,” and end to sexual harassment in the workplace, “recognition of women’s unpaid labor, and the provision of maternity leave and daycare centers….[It] also focused on climate change…clean drinking water and air, protection of animals and wildlife…Other demands covered nearly every aspect of social justice.”[5]

The backlash has been brutal. What enraged people the most, besides the March itself, were signs that challenged deeply entrenched sexism and privilege and those about women’s control of our bodies. A well-known Islamic cleric’s video “is making the rounds on social media, in which he is visibly furious over a…sign, ‘My body, my choice.’ He threatened women with rape, saying that if they claim the right to their bodies, men can also claim the right to rape women.  [A week ago] This video ha[d] more than 67,000 views.”[6] The backlash is what you would expect: women have been vilified, planners received rape and death threats and there were calls to the government to investigate them; pictures on social media have been altered to make marchers look bad, to change the signs they were carrying; complaints were made to police; the Prime Minister was asked to investigate the march planners to discover their real agenda; and a group of men announced a Men’s March in Karachi for March 23.

None of this has stopped the forward move of Pakistani women for a different, freer reality.  One of the Aurat March planners , Shumaila Hussain Shahani, said, “I do not think such petty right-wing tactics will deter the marchers. Marches will continue, our struggle for a gender-just world will continue.”[7]

These attacks against IWD are new in their intensity and size.  They signal a recognition by the Right of the power of women’s thought and actions as well as their determination to crush women’s drive for liberation.  But the objective truth is that women’s struggle for freedom continues to grow globally both in size, in militancy, and in ideas.


Part III: Why We Celebrate International Women’s Day

It is important to remember that the reason we celebrate IWD as we do—worldwide—is because the Women’s Liberation Movement, beginning in the mid-1960s, rediscovered that day and made it our own and made it radical.  While it was started by U.S. garment workers and picked up by Clara Zetkin, who with the German working women declared an International Working Women’s Day, by the 1960s IWD in Russia, East Germany, everywhere it was acknowledged, was celebrated with flowers and candy and thanking women for staying in their place. This day is radical, not because of any leftist party, but because all of a sudden history became important to women in the Women’s Liberation Movement because we realized that we had been left out of it.  When we delved into women’s history, we realized what a loss that had been.

Holly Near’s then popular song, “Imagine My Surprise!” is not about love, it is about women’s history: “Imagine my surprise! I love that I have found you. But I ache all over wanting to know your every dream. Imagine my surprise! To find that I love you. Feeling warm all over knowing that you’ve been alive.”

When the Women’s Marches against the election of Donald Trump erupted worldwide in January of 2017, many on the Left joined the mainstream media in viewing—and dismissing—them as merely fodder for the Democratic Party.  Of course that does describe some of the March’s recognized organizers as well as some of the participants. But even if one stopped with bourgeois elections, what the marches represent to so many is not admiration for the Democratic Party, but a first negation of the horrific vision of the world the Republicans are determined to impose on everyone.  IWD displays the same first negation and Reason implicit in the marches and manifestos.


Part IV: Marxist-Humanism and Women’s Liberation

When Marxist-Humanism looks at these marches, our first thought is not—is not—that all these women need is for us to lead them.  That what they need is us to bring them the consciousness of how important labor is and how we must rid ourselves of capitalism.  Let’s remember that when Russian women started the Russian Revolution by marching against the Tsar on IWD they did it against the advice of the Left parties of their time.

We start from two very different places.  One is making sure we actually find out what is in the movement itself which we comprehend as a form of theory.  This is why I spent so much time talking concretely about IWD.

We start with this movement from practice, listening to it to learn what is in it and then to make that explicit so that not only do we see it, but the participants see it themselves and recognize their own Reason, their own ideas about what needs to change and how, that they recognize their own agency.

The second place we start is with philosophy—a very specific philosophy—Karl Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence deepened and developed in our age by Marxist-Humanism.  Marxist-Humanism reveals a Marx who is far more profound and complex than most post-Marx Marxists have thought.  Raya Dunayevskaya is one of the few Marxist philosophers who demand that we see the whole of Marx.  In her work, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, she makes the point that “the most serious errors of not only bourgeois but of socialist feminists…[is that they] have helped those men who have tried to reduce Marx to a single discipline, be that as economist, philosopher, anthropologist, or ‘political strategist’” (p. 104).

People are taught that Marx was strictly about the proletariat. Of course the proletariat is crucial to Marx and central to his understanding of capitalism and how to abolish it.  If, however, you delve into 1844, the point where Marx broke from bourgeois society and decided to devote his life to revolutionary philosophy and activism, you will find that not only is he talking about alienated labor, but at one and the same time he is talking about the alienation of the relationship between men and women, between those who are supposed to love each other the most.

He says if you look at the relationship between men and women you can measure how free, or not, a society is.  Raya Dunayevskaya took this further and said that looking at that relationship can help you see how deep and total revolution has to be. Marx was specifically talking about what it means to be a human being, saying that we know we are getting to something new “when another human being is needed as a human being.”  Revolution to Marx was not just a question of economic transformation but as well a transformation of human relationships. You will see that is true because when you read Capital you see that even the economic relationships were, in the end, also human relationships and what was so perverse about capitalism is that it made people appear as things.

In telling us in exquisite detail exactly what capitalism is—historically, economically, ideologically, and philosophically—and at the same time tracing the human history of struggle (be that against slavery, the introduction of machines, factories, early automation, or the history of anthropology, “Marx took Hegel’s revolution in philosophy and created a philosophy of revolution.”  Marx took Hegel’s dialectic and saw that one could comprehend history as the history of class struggle, or workers struggling for a better life.  He saw the dialectic as self-development through contradiction, as human beings changing reality through the contradiction in their lives between what life was for them and what they saw it should be.  That is just as true of the slave as the worker or the women.

No one is saying that women, or the proletariat, or the Black dimension, or the youth movements, etc., can change this world by themselves.  The fact that they know it too is clear in how people involved in struggle look outside their own particular fight to find something that can answer their questions of how to move from a critique of what is to a better society.  But the answer can never be “Just follow us, we have the answer.”  That only reproduces the alienated human relations we have under capitalism, especially the division between mental and manual labor.  Rather there needs to be a new relationship between theory and practice, the movements from practice and those who have studied the history and philosophy of revolution and are also determined to change reality.  Without that new relationship, the counter-revolution from within the revolution that has been the bane of our era will win in the end.  Women’s freedom is not a question of singling out women workers, as if that can, alone, answer the question of women’s liberation—although women workers have a hugely important revolutionary contribution to make and, historically, have made.

Women, Blacks and other people of color, youth, and certainly workers are dialectical inseparable aspects of the human liberation that not only groups like us are working for but the movements themselves are working for too.  That is what we’re seeing in the issues raised at the Women’s Marches and at the International Women’s Day demonstrations worldwide.  They are so diverse, so deep-reaching that they can only be satisfied by a total revolution and that needs to be made explicit.

In our age of nuclear bombs increasingly in the hands of neo-fascists, we can’t keep making the same mistakes again and again.  As the Pakistani woman Shahani said, “Marches will continue, our struggle for a gender-just world will continue.”  The question is, will we be able to meet that challenge and help it develop further?

[1] “Istanbul police fire tear gas at banned women’s day rally,” by AFP, globalvillagespace.com/Istanbul-police-fire-tear-gas-at-banned-womens-day-rally, March 8, 2019.

[2] “Has misogyny become the official state policy in Turkey?” by Pinar Tremblay, al-monitor.com, March 20, 2019.

[3] “Feminism is the word in Spain’s electoral campaign,” by AFT, Arab News, March 6, 2019.

[4] “In Pakistan: Breaking the shackles of patriarchy at Aurat March 2019: In pictures,” by Bismah Mughal, The News (thenews.com.pk).

[5] “Pakistan’s Women Marched for Their Rights. Then the Backlash Came.,” by Tehreem Azeem, The Diplomat, March 20, 2019.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Posted in Marxist-Humanism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A poem by Lea Díaz

Here follows an untitled poem by Lea Díaz that I liked so much I translated it into English.  The original is followed by the translation.

A mí me educaron:
la televisión, el asfalto,
la escuela y la iglesia,
ignorante y analfabeta.

Soy incapaz de entender
el lenguaje de las flores,
de las nubes o de las olas.

No comprendo palabra alguna
dicha por la lluvia, la tierra,
el fuego o el viento.

Ignoro lo que platican las arañas
por las esquinas, los pájaros
en el alambre o lo que intentan
decirme los mosquitos al oído.

Si los entendiera,
podría concertar con las arañas
lecciones de tejido,
con los pájaros de vuelo y
con los mosquitos de camuflaje
ante las amenazas.

Si los entendiera,
sabría ser fecunda como la tierra,
lloverme como las nubes
o ser elegante y agraciada
como las flores.

Si los entendiera,
le silbaría al mar
canciones de amor al oído
y danzaría con las barcas
y con las velas.

Si los entendiera,
sabría arder en llamas
y convertir en cenizas,
este dolor, este vacío,
esta impotencia
de no entender nada.

(Lea Díaz)




by the television, the asphalt,
the school and the church
left me
ignorant and illiterate.

Unable to understand
the language of the flowers,
the clouds or the waves.

Comprehending not a single word
spoken by the rain, the earth,
the fire or the wind.

Ignorant of what is being said by the spiders
in the corners, the birds
on the wire or what the mosquitos
are whispering in my ear.

If I could understand them
I would have been able to arrange lessons in spinning
by the spiders
in flight by the birds
and in camouflage in the face of danger
by the mosquitos.

If I could understand them,
I would know how to be fertile like the earth
to rain like the clouds
or to be elegant and graceful
like the flowers.

If I could understand them,
I would whistle love songs
to the sea
and dance with the ships
and the sails.

If I could understand them,
I would know how to ignite into flames
and reduce to ashes
this pain, this emptiness,
this impotence
of understanding nothing.

(Lea Díaz)
(translation by Franklin Dmitryev)


Posted in Marxist-Humanism | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘Down to Earth’ by Bruno Latour: a diversionary political fiction lands in capitulation

Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, by Bruno Latour (Polity Press, 2018).

Review by Franklin Dmitryev

Bruno Latour’s new book Down to Earth (touted in The New York Times as “a brilliantly mind-bending book”) is the latest example of what happens to radicals who give up on social revolution. At its heart is an ambivalent identification of Earth as the agent of change, instead of humanity or more precisely social groups who can act as subjects of revolution. Latour superciliously dismisses the actual history of revolution and counter-revolution along with all modern political history as a one-dimensional back-and-forth along what he calls a “vector” between the Local and the Global.

This abstraction serves to lump revolution together with counter-revolution that dialectically emerges from within it, so that socialism can implicitly be equated to state-capitalist “Communism” and social democracy. Naturally, such a gross oversimplification of history—“our simple-minded schema” (p. 47)—buries all heterodox tendencies that don’t neatly fit his binaries, including Marxist-Humanism, which for decades has challenged the dominant Left that deviated far from Marx’s Marxism in part by accepting state-capitalism as socialism.

Latour believes he has discovered the magic key to unlock history and escape this vector, by introducing a third “attractor” called the Terrestrial, which differs from the Global because the latter has no material reality, whereas the “stupefying originality” of the Terrestrial is that it is a “new political actor….an agent that participates fully in public life. The current disorientation derives entirely from the emergence of an actor that reacts and will continue to react to human actions” (pp. 40-41; all italics in this review’s quotations are in the original). Latour in his stupefying originality disregards all the Green theorists before him who posited Nature as Subject in place of humanity.

The concept of the Terrestrial is hazy and ambiguous because the author makes it perform a double duty. It is introduced as more or less James Lovelock’s Gaia (p. 40), or the earth as an active planetary ecological/geological system, but later it represents a certain political program and attitudes. It designates a kind of materialism, and an analysis that substitutes a “system of engendering” for “systems of production” and “dependence” for “freedom”:

“Dependency comes in first of all to limit, then to complicate, then to reconsider the project of emancipation, in order finally to amplify it. As if, through a new dialectical pirouette, one were inverting the Hegelian project once again” (p. 83).

In this way his philosophy, his politics, his “conception of ‘nature’” can be passed off as natural law inherent in the Earth as Terrestrial. And it is the limits on emancipation, not any amplification, that dominate his theory, just like every green theory that discards social revolution.

To Latour, history has dramatically entered “the New Climatic Regime.” He insists on the inseparability of climate denial with deregulation and rising inequality, which appeals to the reader because of course all three are symptoms of a failing social system. Yet without any serious argument Latour declares the denial of climate change to be the key to all, which happens to fit his substitution of Earth for the human Subject. All important political trends are “responses…to the powerful reaction of the Earth to what globalization has done to it” (p. 21).

Latour spares himself the difficulty of explaining the difference between agent and Subject by never mentioning the latter. A carbon dioxide molecule emitted from a smokestack, contributing to global warming by reflecting heat back to the earth’s surface, is an agent. But a conscious Subject transforming reality for the purpose of liberation is quite different. Because of this hole in his theory, Latour pictures non-human “terrestrials” as “protestors” and “sources of revolt” (p. 88).

Along the way he smugly contrasts his Terrestrial politics with earlier theories defined by “systems of production,” which supposedly cannot grasp non-human beings as agents. It’s no wonder that he does not identify his target, since Karl Marx made quite clear in Capital that labor is “a process between humanity and nature” and, for instance, took note of “the destructive power of natural processes.”

It pleases the author to lump Marx in with capitalist modernizers. Latour’s abstract Global-Local binary, not to mention his stupefying claim to originality, leaves no room to grasp Marx’s thought as breaking out of that binary, as “a conception of a new society based on expanding human forces, during a century in which the whole cultivated world thought of expanding material forces as the condition, activity, and purpose of all liberation” (Raya Dunayevskaya, Philosophy and Revolution, p. 65). But allow Latour to explain why such distortion is necessary:

“If the goal is to adopt a new orientation in politics, it is probably wise, in order to ensure continuity between past struggles and those to come, not to seek anything more complicated than an opposition between two terms” (p. 49).

This is in keeping with the book’s method, which is from the beginning described as a “political fiction” (pp. 1-2, 17-18, 21): he will invent a hypothesis and it is up to the reader to disprove it. Dates are finessed, facts are distorted, and straw men are set up to be knocked down, relieving Latour of the burden of ever quoting any of those he criticizes and for the most part does not even name.

Thus his thesis is rather slippery about when the New Climatic Regime came to be. Of course, the onset of a new historical period, if it exists, cannot be pinpointed to a certain date. But in Latour’s case, several dates are given in varying decades, which reflects his attempt to squeeze the facts into a theory that they fail to uphold. So this new development began either in the 1980s, the 1990s, in the last 50 years, or with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, depending on the page of the book. (Pages 1-2 have the advantage of pointing to all the first three dates.)

Vastly exaggerating the Paris Agreement’s importance serves his political fiction’s central myth of making Earth the agent. Dec. 12, 2015, was supposedly the day when “all the signatory countries…realized with alarm that, if they all went ahead according to the terms of their respective modernization plans, there would be no planet compatible with their hopes for development….What power then secured the signature of those 175 states, if not a form of sovereignty to which they consented to bow down and that propelled them to reach agreement? If it is not a power that dominates the heads of state…what should it be called?” (pp. 5, 84)

Making the signing of a treaty the decisive turning point shows that, as in past substitutions of nature for a revolutionary human Subject, the real Subject ends up being the rulers. Equally, the thesis dictates that all other political, economic and cultural factors be subordinated to the only real causal factor. So, implausibly, Trump’s withdrawal from Paris “defines the first government totally oriented toward the ecological question” (p. 37). Latour unwittingly discloses the stubborn reality his ruse is avoiding when he lists the three interconnected phenomena on p. 18:

“what since the 1980s has been called ‘deregulation’ or the ‘dismantling of the welfare state’; what since the 2000s is known as ‘climate-change denial’; and above all, what for the last 40 years has been a dizzying extension of inequalities.”

In fact, all three phenomena began in the 1970s, though they really blossomed in the Reagan-Thatcher 1980s. The real turning point, which Latour avoids recognizing since it implicates a “system of production,” was the world capitalist crisis of 1974-75, which the ruling classes responded to with a harsh economic, political, and ideological restructuring. But making that the key would not help Latour’s thesis that the true Subject is Earth and the root of crisis is not the internal contradictions of capitalism but “a certain conception of ‘nature’ [that] has allowed the Moderns to occupy the Earth in such a way that it forbids others to occupy their own territories differently” (p. 64).

All this bombast leads to a most pathetic program, which bears out the limitations placed on emancipation: “What to do? First of all, generate alternative descriptions.” Of what? “centimeter by centimeter, being by being, person by person, the stuff that makes up the Earth….The challenge obviously lies in drawing up such a list” (pp. 94-95).

Even worse, the book’s conclusion, a paean to Europe, reveals the author’s state of denial about its current political situation. In reality, the far right is making strides in the continent and has attained power in some countries. In “political fiction,” Europe has “definitively given up empire,” “knows the fragility of its tenure in global space,” and “is not rushing to impose its own prejudices on everyone else”—so that the European “vision” of “a common world…allows us to consider an initial framework that could enable the relaunching of a diplomatic endeavor….In spite of everything, it is still Europe’s task to redefine the sovereignty of the nation-states” (pp. 100-102).

Posted in Marxist-Humanism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Socialism and Ecology

Socialism and Ecology

A presentation given by Franklin Dmitryev, Chicago, December 5, 2018, as part of a series on “What Is Socialism?”

“Capital…allows its actual movement to be determined as much and as little by the sight of the coming degradation and final depopulation of the human race, as by the probable fall of the earth into the sun….‘After me the flood!’ is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation.”   –Karl Marx

“Experts point out that our [coal] supplies run for another 200 years, and it would be hard not to use them.”   –Polish President Andrzej Duda, in his opening remarks two days ago at the UN’s 24th annual climate change conference

No doubt we’ve all heard the latest reports from large bodies of scientists, one from the UN and one from within the Trump administration, which is twisting and turning every way to try to deny its own report. Unable to derail the report, Trump lackeys tried to bury it by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving when we would all presumably be too stupefied from an orgy of consumerism to notice. When this stratagem backfired, they settled on a line that the report reflected an “extreme” scenario. They did not realize that they were telling the truth for once, to the extent that the reality of the matter is an extreme scenario. As the Lead in the Sept.-Oct. 2018 N&L points out:

“Even many scientists shy away from confronting the extremity of risk faced by humanity, while the extreme risks are unthinkable to leaders of governments, corporations, media, and educational institutions. But unthinkable events keep happening, just as the 2008 economic crisis was unthinkable to most economists, politicians and business leaders.”

Both reports concluded that climate change is already wreaking havoc; that it will get worse and be very damaging to human health and the economy; that we can stop it from reaching a catastrophic level but that will take urgent, drastic action, far more than what governments and companies are taking now.

By the way, the N&L article specifically mentions how the administration of the sainted George H.W. Bush in 1989 sabotaged an international conference that had been intended to come up with a treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Over the last three decades, N&L has covered how, at one international conference after another, from the 1992 Earth Summit to the 2015 Paris Agreement, “key corporations and governments, with the U.S. at their head, downplayed information about a looming catastrophe and blocked any binding action as greenhouse gas emissions keep climbing.”

As the article details, “the current political and economic systems dominating planet earth—all of which are founded on capitalist production—have utterly failed….Over the last 40 years capitalism has again and again shown itself incapable of adequately, or even rationally, confronting climate change.”

This is not just an accident caused by the Supreme Court ordering an end to the recount in Florida in 2000, inconveniently preventing Al Gore from claiming the White House. Rather, real action on the climate has been blocked by the very nature of capitalism, a system of production for production’s sake, accumulation of capital for its own sake, as Marx showed. As our article takes up, this has been manifested in a number of interlinked ways, all of which have been exacerbated by the systemic crisis world capitalism plunged into in the mid-1970s, which has strongly shaped events since then.

Some of those ways include:

  1. Economic and political enslavement to economic growth, without which capitalism falls into recessions, job losses, impoverishment, wars and political instability.
  2. The exigency of focusing on short-term problems, enforced by competition in markets; domestic politics such as elections; wars and international relations.
  3. The overwhelming influence of the fossil fuel industries on politics, and not only of one major party.
  4. The untouchable status of the military, which by some accounts is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
  5. The cult of climate denial, which, as our Lead article showed, well-funded and politically connected organizations and media entities have been cultivating for decades, and which forms an important part of the sabotaging of truth and the push toward fascism in the U.S., Brazil, Russia, and Europe.

The influence of the right wing comes from both ideology and the political might flowing from economic power, and the ideology flows from not only the class structure of society but the alienation inherent in capitalism, in which the machine and the economy are masters of humanity and not the other way around.

It is not only the particular ideology of the Right that poses a barrier. It is the general ideology that flows from the very nature of capitalist society, compounded by the failures and transformation into opposite of so many revolutions. The hopelessness of the many, the reticence of scientists, the denialism of economists and other ideologues—none of this can be separated from the underlying toxic ideology that there is no alternative to capitalism.

Capitalism’s abject failure to confront climate change makes urgent the sense that another world is possible. A world where workers’ control of production halts the built-in destructive direction of capitalism—and overthrows its seemingly unbreakable law of value—can in fact be built by transformative movements from below. Now we see only the tip of that transformative iceberg but its potential to erupt is fermenting. Only that sense can merge with the inevitable eruptions from below and set the stage for a unity of philosophy and revolution that can set afoot a whole new society with a new direction away from the self-destruction of humanity and toward total liberation.

What kind of socialism could set that new direction? Clearly, it must be based on the self-activity of the individuals, including the workers, Black masses and other people of color, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities. And that can truly happen only on the basis of a revolutionary change in which that very self-activity is the driving force, and in its very nature drives to break down the division between mental and manual labor. Only that can halt the direction toward ever more accumulation of capital, ever more alienation, ever more destruction of the environment and people, and endless manipulation of policies and misinformation by vested interests.

The history of so-called Communist or socialist or social-democratic states shows clearly that that cannot be accomplished by means of market strategies, state planning, or nationalization, including “public ownership” or “democratic control” of corporations. There is scope within the existing system to shift toward renewable energy and environmentally sound land use and away from greenhouse gas emissions. And those kinds of steps are urgent and necessary. But none of that can reverse the fundamental direction of capitalism’s production for production’s sake.

Let’s dig into this more by looking at Marx’s analysis, as comprehended by Marxist-Humanism. (See the analysis in Marxism and Freedom by Raya Dunayevskaya.) The character of the labor process is crucial. In the capitalist factory, the machine dominates the worker, and the worker acts as an appendage to the mechanism. Marx calls it the dialectical inversion of subject and object, where the object dominates the subject.

This dialectical inversion is inscribed in a hidden form in the phenomenon of value. We are not talking about value in a moral or psychological sense but in the capitalist economic sense. Under capitalism, the driving motive of decisions about production, its speed, its technology, even its location, is maximizing production of value–or, to be more precise, maximizing the procurement of surplus value.

Marx shows that value is the form of appearance of objectified labor under the capitalist mode of production. It is the objectification of alienated abstract labor, pounded down to one quantitative dimension of socially necessary labor time, and abstracted from all other aspects, including material aspects. It is not a theoretical construct but rather the actual basis of capitalism’s functioning. Value takes on a life of its own as the driving force of society and stands in opposition to workers, the subjects of labor.

Industry’s output of waste, including greenhouse gases, is determined by its process of production, where the needs of the subject, the worker, are subsumed by the drive of value to expand itself. The trajectory of this historical period is determined, not by humanity’s growing productive powers as such, but rather by human power in an alienated form that stifles human development as much as it creates the potential for development by expanding productivity.

The “Communist” USSR of the past and China even today have had some of the worst environmental records and by no accident subordinated themselves to the law of value. Social-democratic Norway has long been a major oil exporter. The “21st century socialism” of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador never turned away from reliance on extraction and export of fossil fuels as a path to capitalist development, as a substitute for real human development.

The fact that these countries, especially the USSR, were passed off and widely accepted as “socialist” economies led to serious illusions and deformations of theory. Green theory in general proceeds from the assumption that socialism is just as guilty as capitalism and therefore the blame lies with “industrialism,” which is abstracted from the social relations of production. In the same move it abstracts from the counter-revolution that came from within the revolution, and its transformation into opposite into state-capitalism.

Contemporary radical theory is shaped by an overwhelming consciousness of defeat, and a loss of confidence in the human power of transformation of society. That theory is grounded in the actual history of revolutions that have failed or transformed into opposite, as in Russia, China, Iran, Egypt, and so forth. However, those failures are theorized as the universal essence of human nature, so that the radical agenda becomes defined less by the need for human development than by the need to limit human activity. This retreat from revolution is developed in theory as the impossibility of any transformation that results in true liberation.

This departure from Marx is the basis of attempts like the theoretician Ted Benton’s to “green” Marxism as well as the current trend that calls itself degrowth. Whether this view is held in green theory or in ecosocialism, it is based on an uncritical identification of human power with the alienated, capitalist form of human power, as manifested in capitalist industry–and again that is reinforced by the fetishism of industry and science promulgated by official Soviet theory and echoed by theoreticians like Louis Althusser.

From this vantage point, Ted Benton argues that Marx’s philosophy adequately theorizes natural limits to human powers but that his economic theory does not. Benton is correct in seeing “transformative, productive powers of associated human beings” as central to Marx. But why pose them as the cause, rather than the solution, of social ecological problems? To Marx, the reappropriation of human powers is “the true solution of the strife between humanity and nature,” but to Benton it is just another form of “domination of nature.”

Radical theory thus places itself in stark opposition to Marx’s concept of “the development of human power as an end in itself” as the very definition of “the true realm of freedom.”

The fallacy at the heart of Benton’s concept of human powers–a concept shared by many activists and theorists–is the recognition of those powers only in an alienated shape, that is, as powers embodied in capital, as a “hostile force.” Such a theoretical concept skips over the contradiction within human power itself: human beings struggling against their domination by their own products and by the process of making these products.

Therefore, the domination of object over subject is posited as natural and eternal, rather than a social form of a specific historical stage, capitalism. What Benton has achieved is the articulation of that theoretic principle. That makes his theory represent far more than just one individual’s misinterpretation of Marx.

Paradoxically, the reaction against the destructive effects of human power out of control would only doom us to be unable to halt that destructive trajectory. That is so because the only way to take control of the consequences of human production is to wrest it from its subordination to the drive of value to reproduce itself in the rampage of production for production’s sake. That can only be accomplished by the most daring and thorough act of social revolution and abolition of capital. In this society, we do not freely control our actions, and renouncing the expansiveness of human power in its unalienated development would block the way for achieving such control. So we need to recapture Marx’s philosophy of revolution with its focus on freedom as the opposite of today’s social reality.

Crucially, as Raya Dunayevskaya pointed out, Marx had “…a conception of a new society based on expanding human forces, during a century in which the whole cultivated world thought of expanding material forces as the condition, activity, and purpose of all liberation.” (Philosophy and Revolution, p. 65.)

All this must be kept in mind when we look at the “green new deal” that has been talked about for over a decade. Now the self-described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is its standard-bearer in Congress and Naomi Klein is one of its biggest cheerleaders. More and more people, especially young people looking at a possible nightmare future in their own lifetimes, understand the urgent need for radical action both to mitigate emissions and to adapt to climate change in a human way that is not oriented toward sacrificing many people’s well-being in favor of the rich and powerful. Their demands are reflected in the fact that the green new deal project can now get a hearing.

On the other hand, let’s recall what the original New Deal really was: an alternative to revolution. Just when the system was threatened by the unrest of workers and their disbelief in the rationality of the system, the New Deal was put forward to ameliorate the people’s suffering through state intervention and planning without changing the relations in production. The green new deal represents exactly that kind of diversion from the needed revolution.

The ideology of “no alternative to capitalism” can trap even some who intend to reject it, such as Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Many of today’s socialists reject revolution and put forward a “democratic socialism” that is really a wish to democratize capitalism. Klein writes with an ambiguity that appears to oppose capitalism but in reality opposes neoliberalism, as if that had been a contingent political choice, and accepts the fundamental relationships of capitalism.

Just look at her Nov. 27 article in The Intercept titled, “The Game-Changing Promise of a Green New Deal.” It is a paean to the “leadership” of newly elected members of Congress, “a critical mass of politicians in power” who have supposedly created a “clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety” based on the proposal for a Congressional committee to put out draft legislation in early 2020 to influence that year’s elections.

Similarly, this week The Nation posted an article touting the green new deal as the way to capture the youth vote. It was written by one of the young organizers of the Sunrise Movement, which held the Nov. 13 sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office demanding that Democratic Party leadership back the green new deal committee and pledge not to accept campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries. The piece makes very clear how much Sunrise has tied its hopes to the Democratic Party’s elected officials.

As long as we are stuck trying to tinker with the capitalist system from within, we will always run up against problems like its need for never-ending economic growth, and the way capitalists use threats to jobs to blackmail workers and communities who would try to organize against them or even regulate them. Look at how Trump exploited coal miners’ unemployment. Never mind that automation and competition from cheaper energy sources like natural gas, wind, and solar are the main reasons for the slashing of coal jobs, and environmental regulation is a relatively small factor.

Obviously Trump does not have the power to bring back coal jobs. He only has the power, amplified by the media and the social network of reactionary lies, to pretend that he will and to fool some of the miners. The absolute opposite to this manipulation is seen in the elicitation of the profoundest thoughts of coal miners in revolt against automation, in the events in West Virginia that led to the birth of Marxist-Humanism.

When automation in the form of the continuous miner was introduced in coal mines in 1949, it became one of the central issues for miners in their 1949-50 strike. (You can read all about it in The Coal Miners’ General Strike of 1949-50 and the Birth of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. Dunayevskaya’s essay in this pamphlet is included in the new book, Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day.)

In that battle, the miners themselves raised the totally new question: “What kind of labor should a human being do?” With that question, according to Dunayevskaya, a new stage of cognition appeared in the economic sphere. She writes in the new book:

“…by being concerned not just with the unemployment that is always caused by new machinery, but with the unbridgeable gulf between manual and mental labor, which the continuous miner widened, they were pointing to new directions. I had for some years been developing the theory of state-capitalism, and to me the Miners’ General Strike seemed to touch, at one and the same time, a concept Marx had designated as alienated labor and the absolute opposite to it, which Marx had spelled out as the end of the division between mental and manual labor.”

What is needed today is that kind of elicitation from and listening to the workers, not just selling them a green agenda. The movement needs activity in both theory and practice that recognizes the movement from practice that is itself a form of theory and that has the vision of a totally new human society in view at all times.

The fact is that the normal functioning of capitalism involves what its ideologues call “creative destruction,” or today’s self-promoting Silicon Valley moguls call “disruption.” Jobs are destroyed as a matter of course; whole industries and communities, even regions, are devastated. Scapegoats are targeted: immigrants, other countries, unions, environmentalists. But that is how capitalism normally works, and if we allow it, its destructiveness will be turned, not against capitalism, but against those who aim to overcome it, against those who raise the question of what kind of labor human beings should do.

Consider the “gilets jaunes” or yellow vest movement in France. It was sparked by the way France’s inadequate efforts to combat climate change are basically on the backs of working people—in the first instance by raising the gasoline tax, which hurts most the people who live in rural areas or who have been forced out of the cities by high housing prices and have to commute in from the exurbs. That is, it’s being done the usual way.

There is no path to a new society or away from climate chaos as long as countering climate change is planned at the expense of working people, instead of posing the liberation of working people from capitalist exploitation and the release of full human development as the way to break the anti-environmental direction of modern society. And more than “not at the expense” of workers but, as with the coal miners’ general strike and the birth of Marxist-Humanism, with workers as thinking and acting subjects of revolt, with the full recognition of the movement from practice that is itself a form of theory and on that basis a totally new relationship of theory and practice.

Nothing less can solve the problem, and nothing less should satisfy us. We need a vision of liberation and climate justice that grasps human development and real unalienated wealth as the absolute opposite of the inhuman law of motion of capitalist accumulation. Or, as Marx put it:

“[In] the modern world…production appears as the aim of humanity and wealth as the aim of production. In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces, etc., created through universal exchange?…the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick?….[Where the human being] Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?”

Posted in Marxist-Humanism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Green New Deal

After living through a year of climate disasters and redoubled scientific alarms, more and more people, especially young people looking at a possible nightmare future in their own lifetimes, understand the urgent need for radical action. The deadly Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, Calif., and killed 86 people dramatically illustrated the new year-round California wildfire season. Hurricane Michael not only caused flooding in Central America and devastated part of Florida, it highlighted how Puerto Rico and Texas are far from full recovery from the previous year’s hurricanes.

The IPCC, the world’s leading body of climate scientists, stressed in its October 2018 report the need for “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems….unprecedented in terms of scale.”

What is clearer than ever is the urgent need both to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to climate change in a human way that is not oriented toward sacrificing many people’s well-being in favor of the rich and powerful. These demands are reflected in the fact that the green new deal project can now get a hearing.

And so the phrase “green new deal” has become a litmus test for “progressive” politicians. It centers on creating a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” combined with forceful state intervention into the economy to drive a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. At the same time it is marketed as a jobs program, including extensive infrastructure redevelopment, job training and maybe even a “job guarantee program.” It also became a convenient umbrella to enfold long-sought reforms like universal healthcare and guaranteed basic income.

That sounds a lot better than what we’re suffering under now, doesn’t it? Better than the cruel doubling down on exploitation of workers and attacks on social benefits for the working poor and unemployed, denying healthcare to women, and abandoning the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria while threatening to shift funds from those real emergency situations to the manufactured “emergency” of building a wall to stop immigrants partly driven by climate change.

But the green new deal is the kind of program that co-opts movements into the state bureaucracy and waters them down. The original New Deal was supposed to be socially transformative, according to its Left supporters, but ended up de-radicalizing and bureaucratizing labor unions, throwing African Americans under the bus, and ushering in American state-capitalism. (See pp. 74-75 of Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement, by Robert Gottlieb, Island Press, 1993, for more.) The Tennessee Valley Authority displaced thousands of families, mainly poor ones, to build dams, hitting Blacks hardest. It ended up as one of the biggest boosters of nuclear energy and poisoned communities with coal-burning power plants, including the biggest coal ash slurry spill in U.S. history.

What will be left of the green new deal by the time the political process gets through with it? And how much transformative energy from below will have been diverted into something far from adequate for averting catastrophic climate change, while allowing the social system at its root, capitalism, another extension at the very time it is turning increasingly to fascism to continue its deathly grip on society?

The pivotal idea goes back decades, at least to capitalism’s crisis of the mid-1970s. The resulting mass unemployment handed capital the weapon of jobs blackmail to attack the provisional coalition between labor and environmentalists, which had formed around the harm polluting industries do to their own workers. In response, activists advocated the job-creation potential of industries like solar power and pollution control.

The same idea emerges spontaneously, over and over, from the environmentalism of the poor. In the mid-1990s, I heard an environmental justice activist from the Black Chicago neighborhood of Altgeld Gardens question the idea that there aren’t enough jobs. All he had to do was look outside his door to see all kinds of work that needed to be done, from stripping toxic lead paint to fixing up deteriorating housing.

But the idea also keeps getting appropriated by people with an administrative mentality. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a habitual booster of neoliberal globalization, reminded the world in January that he had called for a “Green New Deal” in a 2007 column. He presents it as a technological revolution driven by government regulation, taxes and “the market,” adding, “I am a green capitalist….I wanted to recast green as geostrategic, capitalistic, economical, innovative and patriotic.”

The phrase was quickly picked up by Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as well as the 2008 book The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones, who later became President Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs. Like Friedman, Jones conceived it as a government initiative in partnership with “the market.”

While the idea went nowhere in the Obama administration, the state-capitalist treatment did not kill it forever. Hundreds of young people with the Sunrise Movement held sit-ins at about-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office in November and December calling for a green new deal. Many of them were high school students. Self-described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stopped by to support the sit-ins and maintain her position as the green new deal’s standard-bearer in Congress. The age-old illusion that the Democratic Party can be pulled toward socialism once again gave that capitalist party the opportunity to co-opt it.

Consider Naomi Klein’s Nov. 27 article in The Intercept titled, “The Game-Changing Promise of a Green New Deal.” It is a paean to the “leadership” of newly elected members of Congress, “a critical mass of politicians in power” who have supposedly created a “clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety” based on the proposal for a Congressional committee to put out draft legislation in early 2020 to influence that year’s elections. That’s right: a committee! Draft legislation that won’t be passed! To provide a campaign issue!

Even that was too much for the party, led by Pelosi. She substituted a revived committee to “study” climate change instead of a green new deal, with reduced powers. And she rejected the demand by the movement, echoed by Ocasio-Cortez, to exclude members who had received donations from the fossil fuel industry. Having received $73,000 in such donations, the new committee head, Kathy Castor, parroted the industry line that such exclusion would violate “free speech,” meaning the freedom of corporations to buy the government.

However, posing the transition to a new economy as a green new deal already contains the seeds of co-optation. Whether touted by a capitalist booster (Friedman), a social democrat (Ocasio-Cortez and Klein), or a former “revolutionary” (Van Jones had earlier belonged to the Maoist-tinged group Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement), the idea remains a state-driven revolution from above that substitutes for true social revolution from below.

Van Jones’s call for a green new deal centered on “eco-capitalism” and class collaboration. His book relies on the state as the only force that can bring in a “green New Deal.” What remained from his Maoist past was the vanguardist attitude. His view of the Subject was not the masses in motion but “the movement” as he knows it, a small group of Maoists and anarchists, or foundation-funded “social justice” and environmental groups plus entrepreneurs. That easily leads to the “eco-populist” illusion that it is possible to reconcile “green capital and ordinary people” so that “the new, green economy has the principles of diversity and inclusion baked in from the beginning” and thus reforming capitalism could “resolve the economic, ecological and social crises.”

It is no accident that the model chosen was the 1930s New Deal. (Other state-directed technology-based models have also been used: the Apollo program or moon shot, the nuclear-weapons-centered Manhattan Project; and the 1940s U.S. war economy.) Let’s correct the rewriting of history about what the original New Deal really was: an alternative to revolution. Just when the system was threatened by the unrest of workers and their disbelief in the rationality of the system, the New Deal was put forward to ameliorate the people’s suffering through state intervention and planning without changing the relations in production.

The green new deal represents exactly that kind of diversion from the needed social revolution. Instead of trying to unleash the revolutionary potential latent in revolts and movements from labor to environmental justice, those movements are channeled into collaborating with a state-capitalist project.

Consider what its proponents say. Ocasio-Cortez: “This is going to be the Great Society, the moon shot, the Civil Rights Movement of our generation.”

Evan Weber of the Sunrise Movement: “It’s also changing our conception of what government is and who it’s for.”

Liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz: “The grassroots movement behind the Green New Deal offers a ray of hope to the badly battered establishment: they should embrace it, flesh it out, and make it part of the progressive agenda.”

Labor historian Jeremy Brecher: “A Green New Deal can become a common program unifying the environmental and labor constituencies of the Democratic Party.”

Or consider how Democratic Socialists of America member Richard Smith wants to appropriate it for “ecosocialism.” In “An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°,” published by System Change Not Climate Change, he proposes “a monumental mobilization around this Green New Deal and around fossil fuel nationalization” to carry out

“a strategy of rationally planned, democratically managed, wind-down and phase-out of fossil fuels and a coordinated transition to renewable energy that avoids economic collapse and guarantees reemployment for the affected workers….The only way to effect the phase-out of fossil fuels without precipitating economic collapse is for the government to nationalize the companies so we can dismantle them and redeploy their capital and labor with as little economic pain as possible….We do not call for expropriation. We propose a government buyout at fair value….”

The points on employment, economic collapse, and redeploying capital indicate that the vision remains within capitalism. If that’s not clear enough, he continues by calling for “a state-directed crash program.” What he keeps coming back to is State Plan, State Plan, State Plan, plus nationalization, as if that is what socialism means. As if we have learned nothing from the never-mentioned state-capitalist regimes calling themselves Communist, other than adding the phrase “democratically managed” to “planning.” And that democracy is so feeble that he touts the existing U.S. “regulation of public utilities” as “a working prototype”!

The fetishism of planning reaches such a fevered pitch that Smith makes a mishmash of history, putting revolutions from below and capitalist state projects on the same level as examples of plans:

“We have plenty of examples from the Paris Commune to Polish Solidarity in 1980. We have the example of FDR’s National Resources Planning Board—established by an elected president and congress.”

Just as the green new deal’s proponents glide over the history of the New Deal as a diversion from revolution, they fail to ask why the New Deal, and the whole Keynesian project, were tossed out by capitalism after its global economic crisis of the mid-1970s. They mention neoliberalism, or Reagan and Thatcher, as if they were simply an ideology that mysteriously took over by some sort of battle of wills. There is no thought that capitalism turned to this restructuring because it became mired in a deep, prolonged crisis from which Keynesianism could not rescue it.

And here we are again today, with fascism on the rise because post-Keynesian economic interventions also failed to rescue capitalism. It’s time to learn history’s actual lesson, that capitalism will throw all of humanity down into the pit of war, fascism and climate chaos if we don’t abolish it instead of trying to revitalize it with new deals and plans.

Posted in Marxist-Humanism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

#MeToo, Women’s Marches, International Women’s Day: Where do we go from here?

Here is a presentation given by Terry Moon to the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees on March 19, 2018.

#MeToo, Women’s Marches, International Women’s Day:
Where do we go from here?

Terry Moon, Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees


Women of action marching in Washington, D.C., at the Women’s March on Jan. 20, 2018. Photo: Victoria Pickering, victoriapickering.com/2018/01/womens-march-d-c/.

In the lead article in the latest issue, we wrote that during this “International Women’s Day (IWD)…women will, no doubt…increase their demands and their movement.” That was an easy prediction to make since every year since the mid-1960s—when women rediscovered their revolutionary past in that time of extraordinary confidence in the possibility of a new, truly human world—women have done exactly that every IWD since.

This year women marched the world over, in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, everywhere. In many of these marches, abortion rights were a demand, for example as in Italy, where “As thousands of students marched in Milan…one group broke off to chant slogans in front of a hospital, protesting the majority of Italian doctors who refuse to preform abortions, even though it is legal” (NYT March 8, 2018). Tonight there is only time to single out a few examples, because, in reality, we could spend the evening discussing what women did just on March 8.

In Spain over 5.3 million women joined a 24-hour strike, with hundreds of thousand joining in protests in the streets in 200 locations across the country, including blocking main roads in Barcelona and bringing traffic to a standstill. The feminist group Huelga Feminista’s manifesto, released for IWD, proclaimed: “Today we claim a society free of oppression, exploitation and sexual violence. We call for rebellion and the struggle against the alliance between patriarchy and capitalism that wants us to be docile, submissive and silent.”

Women in Turkey have for several years used the day to rage against the reactionary policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This year was no exception as thousands marched in Istanbul. They were demanding an end to violence and chanted: “We won’t shut up, we are not afraid, we won’t obey” and their signs read, “When women jump it’s a revolution.” Since Erdoğan took power he has attacked women’s freedom and the very idea of feminism, pontificating that equality for women “is against human nature,” and that’s only one of his milder statements.

Philippine women came out for their rights and against President Rodrigo Duterte, making clear they consider him a fascist and a sexist. Thousands marched with signs reading “#NeverAgain to a fascist dictatorship.”

In China women students at Tsinghua University celebrated IWD with banners making fun of President Xi Jinping’s proposed constitutional amendment to scrap term limits to allow him to stay in power indefinitely. Their banners, which they did manage to get on social media sites, were quickly removed.

Women in Afghanistan rallied in Kabul, where Sima Samar spoke, saying, “Your safety represents the safety of all Afghan women,” while women in Saudi Arabia and Iraq went jogging through the streets making the point that the streets also belong to women.

In Colombia, where at least three cases of sexual abuse happen every hour, and few of the victims report it, Afro-Colombian women decided to make IWD their own. They are demanding to be recognized for their role in making peace. In Tumaco, where Afro-Colombian women marched for justice, Charo Mina-Rojas of Proceso de Comunidades Negras put it this way: “Black women in Colombia have been at the center of the struggle for Black people’s self-determination and they are today significantly leading this process. That is why Black women have been directly targeted in the last decade by violent forces looking to take or maintain control of their territories and bodies, to halt the resistance and the power that comes from that leadership.”

Poland had IWD demonstrations in several cities. The largest, over 2,000, was in Warsaw, where women distinguished themselves from their fascist-leaning government. They erected a temporary monument to Polish women fighters as a symbol of women who fought for “independence, solidarity and sisterhood.” A speaker said: “We dedicate it to Polish women, Ukrainian women, American women, Syrian women, Iranian women, refugee women, migrant women, and all women fighters.” She read from their manifesto, which demanded the right to abortion, sexual education for children, government-subsidized contraception, a ban on doctors and pharmacists denying services due to their personal beliefs, for pay equality, and for measures against domestic violence. (“Demonstrators protest in Poland on Women’s Day,” Radio Poland, March 9, 2018. http://thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/353041,Demonstrators-protest-in-Poland-on-Womens-Day)

Lastly, the UN treats the Catholic Church as a country and Catholic women were basically expelled from it when the IWD conference of Catholic Women was thrown out of Vatican City because former Irish President May McAleese would be speaking. And speak she did: “The Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny. Its leadership has never sought a cure for that virus, though the cure is freely available: Its name is equality.”



Just this brief look at IWD reveals the greatness of what women have done in profoundly changing the world through an incredible and sustained activism based on a humanism that runs like a revolutionary red thread through an amazing array of actions, demonstrations and statements. New this IWD was the explicitness of demonstrations challenging several countries’ leaders’ move to fascism, as in Poland, Turkey, China, Philippines and other countries including calling out the Catholic Church hierarchy. That is also what we have seen in the Women’s Marches, which were not limited to the U.S. but spread across the entire world.

The Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, was the launch of the “resistance” to racist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist, and xenophobic fascism made so much worse by the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. One year later, the January 20, 2018, Women’s Marches proved that the struggle continues undiminished.

The Women’s Marches, the #MeToo movement as well, and women’s creative demonstrations on IWD show how these are, in some respects, the best of recent times. The best because they show a rising, militant and multi-dimensional movement from practice that is itself a form of theory—a movement that is still growing, gaining strength and confidence. But, as we know, the dialectic can be described as self-development through contradiction, and we are seeing that self-development and we are certainly feeling and comprehending the contradictions.

In trying to figure out how to discuss those contradictions, it is clear that anyone who came to a meeting like this is aware of what is going on in this world that needs to be fought. Rather than go into depth on several of the pressing issues facing us, simply reading a few of the many, many headlines from papers and articles from just the last month, should make clear the kind of world we are facing and what women in particular are fighting against.

I’m starting with abortion, because so many of the IWD demonstrations were explicitly for women’s right to control our own bodies and because the attacks on that right are so fast and furious and completely out of control. These headlines do not take up all the attacks against women, just a selection of a little that has happened over the last month:

“Mississippi Lawmakers pass the nation’s most restrictive abortion law,” which turns out to be prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, no exception for rape or incest. “Arizona GOP ‘Trying to Make It impossible’ to Provide Abortion Care With New Rules” (TRAP rules), “Arizona Law Would Require Women to Disclose Why They Want an Abortion,” “Kentucky lawmakers want to ban a common type of abortion after 11 weeks” (D&C), “HHS Secretary Backs Trump Official Who Tried to Block Immigrant Teens From Abortion Care,” “Man Crashes Truck Into New Jersey Planned Parenthood, Injuring 3, Police Say,” “Anti-Choice Clinics Claim Their Deceptive Business Practices Are Free Speech. Will Justice Kennedy Agree?” From abortion we move to birth control: “The Trump Administration’s Backward Attitude Toward Birth Control,” “Four Big Threats To The Title X Family Planning Program: Examining The Administration’s New Funding Opportunity Announcement,” “Abstinence [only] advocate gets final say on family planning dollars.” And here are some other headlines to give a range of what is happening to women in one month’s time: “The Silence of Abused Women in Colombia,” “In Yemen, women bear the brunt of a merciless war,” “Outspoken Rio councilwoman who fought for the marginalized is shot to death; thousands mourn,” “Thousands of women, men, children raped in Syria’s war: U.N. report,” “Education Department, DeVos says false reports of sexual assault are rare.” This last one needs some explanation. She actually said that she didn’t know which was greater—the number of false accusations of sexual assault on campus or the number of campus rapes. The outrage of such ignorance from the Education Secretary is what caused her to admit the truth—which I’m sure she still does not believe despite numerous studies—that false reports of rape on campuses (and off for that matter) are rare.



Many on the Left join the mainstream media in viewing—and dismissing—the Women’s Marches as merely fodder for the Democratic Party, and that does describe some of the March’s recognized organizers. But even if one stopped with bourgeois elections, what the marches represent to so many is not admiration for the Democratic Party, but a first negation of the horrific vision of the world the Republicans are determined to impose on everyone. The lead went into what those marches and the #MeToo movement actually represented. Here we want to linger at the critiques and what they reveal, not about the women in the resistance, but about those who consider themselves revolutionaries.

I’m starting, however, not with the self-identified revolutionaries, but with the French brouhaha stirred up by Catherine Deneuve. That was hardly a serious critique of either the Women’s Marches or the MeToo movement. Rather it was more of an ignorant swipe at what some French feminists perceived to be “victim feminism,” which they see as rampant in the U.S. They charged that #MeToo “serves the interests of ‘the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries,’ and of those who believe that women are ‘separate beings, children with the appearance of adults, demanding to be protected.’” (“Catherine Deneuve and Others Denounce the #MeToo Movement,” by Valeriya Safronova, The New York Times, Jan. 9, 2018.) All anyone really needs to know what nonsense this is, is that anti-feminist-posing-as-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers—who coined the term “victim feminism”—loved the French pseudo-feminist critique. They were taken care of by women in France who are creating their own #MeToo movement there.

The American version was an opinion piece by Daphne Merkin in The New York Times of Jan. 5, who also fell into whining about “victim feminism,” writing: “even more troubling is that we seem to be returning to a victimology paradigm for young women in particular, in which they are perceived to be—and perceive themselves to be—as frail as Victorian housewives.” It seems to have passed her notice that these young women are the ones who created the #MeToo movement—especially young Black women—and who, on college campuses, created a decades-long movement that finally lighted a fire bright enough to reach the Obama presidency. Obama’s few efforts to give some backbone to Title IX are now being destroyed by Trump’s appointees, Betsy DeVos and others. But no movement is waged by women who perceive themselves as frail. Merkin’s real gripe is that some of her favorite liberal men friends turned out to be sexual harassers or worse. It is fair to make sure that those accused have some “due process,” but exactly where was the due process for women who were harassed, abused and raped? Even in court it is the woman who was raped who is put on trial.

But these critics are hardly revolutionary. How about the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who have elevated Bob Avakian to god status? Their contribution, “The #MeToo Movement: Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize,” begins hopefully: “A very righteous mass upsurge has broke out around a key fault-line issue of this, and all prior, class societies. Sexual harassment and sexual assault is a problem going back millennia, and a problem which is totally pervasive, including on a global scale.” Like me, are you waiting for the “but”?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the RCP sounds like the liberals. They are very worried that there are “few distinctions being drawn between different kinds of instances of sexual harassment and assault”; and that it’s not understood that those who engage in “Al Franken-like sexist pranks or even drunken groping at a party in front of other people are not on the same level as the behavior of someone who uses his position of power over livelihoods and careers…” They make the widespread claim that “any and all allegations and accusations (are) being automatically treated as proven fact…” This is, of course, not true. What is being treated as fact—at least by some and except, it seems, when it comes to Trump—is when two, three, four and more women are coming forward with claims of sexual harassment or worse against the same man. That many men are immediately leaving jobs, sometimes even before they are named, is because the truth is finally being articulated and actually heard. But again, one has to ask, where was all this concern for truth, for due process, for women? You know, those who had to sign non-disclosure agreements, etc.? The RCP asks along with the bourgeoisie: “Then there are all the questions of due process and protecting the rights of the individuals who may be falsely accused.” Then here comes the “buts”: after saying that in any “righteous mass upsurge…there will be excesses and wrong things on the part of the masses…But that doesn’t mean that ‘excesses’ and wrong persecutions or denials of individual rights are somehow OK. It’s not OK…” And even though the RCP admits that “a mass upsurge and mass revulsion against all this is much needed…But,” they must say, “this should be done correctly, with the right standards and the right methods and the right epistemology.”

They never quite spell that out except to say in Maoist language: “This contradiction (sexual harassment and sexual assault)—which truly stems from the workings of this system—nevertheless often, or even typically, manifests as a contradiction among the people.” So we’re back to the usual leftist task for women. Don’t fight sexism, don’t fight men. No matter how “righteous” that may appear. The real righteousness is against the “system,” that is capitalism.

Another pontificating leftist is Amir Khafagy, who published his piece in Counterpunch, but also publishes in The Socialist, the official publication of the Socialist Party USA. He “self-describes” himself as an “Arab-Rican… activist… writer…[and] spoken word artist.” He wrote a piece titled, “Marching into the Arms of the Democrats” (Counterpunch.org, Jan. 23, 2018). He too has to start out admitting that the Women’s March “was unprecedented and incredible…that amounted to the largest single day of protest in American history.”

And here we only have to wait until the second paragraph for the “But.” “Yet for all its admirable achievements this year’s women’s march, like last years, will probably end up, at best, selling us a bag full of hollow symbolism and at worst selling us out to the Democratic Party.” Mimicking the bourgeois critique of the Occupy movement and other mass outpourings, Khafagy whines of the 2017 Marches that “there was little in the way of providing concrete demands or even long term coordinated actions.” But he doesn’t like the plans made this year for “initiating a national voter registration drive.” It is too “vague and symbolic. Actually,” he opines, “it’s downright passive and inept.” Why? Because, “Nowhere on their website do they mention any criticism of the role of the two-party system in maintaining a capitalist economic and political system that thrives from oppression and exploitation.” In other words, they don’t take our position. They didn’t let us lead them. He goes on a tear against the leaders of the March for ignoring class and almost ignoring race while he can’t be bothered in his three-page article to mention sex or sexism or any of the issues that the leaders of the March have mentioned—not to mention the fantastic issues raised by the marchers themselves.

His elitism is throughout and his vanguard party politics becomes even more explicit in the middle of page two: “Voting itself is not powerless. It can be an effective revolutionary tool, if radical and progressive minded people were to unite and form a revolutionary peoples party or even just back third parties that already exist like the Green Party, it would radically upend the statues quo” [Sic]. The whole rest of his tirade is an attempt to tar not only the leaders but the entire March by bringing up a few real mistakes—and here I agree it was a mistake—like having anti-Palestinian speakers at two venues, which caused the Palestinian American Women’s Association to pull out of the Los Angeles March; to the ridiculous: critiquing the mammoth marches for coordinating with police, which somehow means—according to a local Philadelphia activist Khafagy approvingly quotes: March organizers “are ignoring local struggles against police terrorism, and choosing to center the bourgeoisie aspirations of white feminism.”

While marchers were majority white, those who blather that the Women’s Marches are a “white women’s march,” erase the strong and vibrant participation by women of color, disabled women, and Gay, Lesbian and Trans women. Those who participated in the marches, who talked to people there, who read the signs and who experienced the solidarity, anger and determination of those there, know firsthand the power of this movement. They are the best answer to those who aim to limit it, who disregard it or belittle it. (By the way, Khafagy lets on that he didn’t even bother to go to the 2017 March, but just watched it with his Bernie Bro while wondering “out loud to a friend that if Clinton would have won would be seeing a Woman’s March?”)

These are only two examples, but there are plenty more. If one wants to make themselves ill, read Trotskyist William Kaufman’s disgusting piece in Counterpunch titled, “The Great American Sex Panic of 2017.”



It’s not that these critiques of the Women’s Marches and the #MeToo movement don’t have grains of truth within them—sometimes really tiny grains—but they mostly reveal what is wrong with many in the Left. They learned nothing from their ridiculous idea that voting for Clinton was the same as voting for Trump, or that it makes no difference who is elected. They simply do not comprehend what is great about these marches and the movement. All they see is that the marches are large, the movement is vibrant, and the marchers are not following them. They take no responsibility, have no self-critique, for what is a fact—much of the March, and particularly the leaders of the March, want to channel all that energy into Democratic Party politics. Despite that truth, what should not be missed, but too often is, is the vision of a new society implicit in what marchers express in words, chants and signs. An important task is to make that vision explicit. The same holds true of the #MeToo movement.

I cannot see condemning people who want to get involved in Democratic politics because they see that as an opening to stop the horrifying and deadly direction that Trump et al are moving the most powerful country in the world. What is incumbent on us is to project a different vision of the future, not one that comes out of the heads of Leftists, but begins from what is expressed by the marchers themselves and those involved in the #MeToo movement as well.

The lead ended by saying: “When something so profound as the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement emerge from below, from the movement from practice, it is incumbent on those whose vision is to create a new human world to actually hear—and make explicit—the theory, the Reason implicit in that mass outpouring. What is clear is that the demands women are making are for a very different world than the one we now inhabit. It is one where human beings are valued as human beings and that is a world it will take a revolution in permanence to create.”

Why a revolution in permanence? Partly, at least, because capitalism is not only an economic system, it generates as well a set of ideas and a vision of the world that the richest people on the globe are doing their best to make everyone’s future. Within that capitalist vision of the future is an inhuman view of what it means to be human. Dunayevskaya made explicit that Marx’s deep critique of capitalism was as well an equally deep critique of the human relationships that capitalism has wrought, of people reduced to their labor power, of an incredible alienation from the everyday acts of living and creating our world that has penetrated every aspect of life.

The Left has reduced itself to telling women to vote for the Green Party and Jill Stein, or for their Party if they want a different world; or to make sure that what they do “should be done correctly, with the right standards and the right methods and the right epistemology.” How is that a vision of the future one can get behind? Vanguardism and elitism simply recreate the alienated human relationships that exist now. Dunayevskaya made explicit Marx’s vision of becoming and recreated it for our age:

“This reality is stifling. The transformation of reality has a dialectic all its own. It demands a unity of the struggles for freedom with a philosophy of liberation. Only then does the elemental revolt release new sensibilities, new passions, and new forces—a whole new human dimension.

“Ours is the age that can meet the challenge of the times when we work out so new a relationship of theory to practice that the proof of the unity is in the Subject’s own self-development. Philosophy and revolution will first then liberate the innate talents of men and women who will become whole. Whether or not we recognize that this is the task history has ‘assigned’ to our epoch, it is a task that remains to be done.”

The Women’s Marches and the #MeToo movement have shown the world the maturity of the movement from practice. It remains for us to work out that unity of the struggle for freedom with a philosophy of liberation. We do not offer those involved in struggle the option to vote for us, to make someone our leader, or to give them the “right epistemology.” What we offer, what a philosophy of revolution offers, is a continuation of that self-development that they have already begun to experience in the throes of the movement. For what else is freedom than the experience of self-development and the movement of becoming whole human beings?

Posted in Marxist-Humanism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution

The 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution
Talk for the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees
By Franklin Dmitryev, November 13, 2017

Rewriting history is one of the rulers’ most potent weapons. That rewriting goes on constantly, every day, to fit our experience into the ruling ideology—above all, that there is no alternative to capitalism.

The Russian Revolution has been subject to the most strenuous rewriting, both by the ideologues attached to the ruling class and by various tendencies on the Left, both reformist and revolutionary.

From the proof that revolution can succeed and the working class can attain power, the magnificent events of 1917 have been turned into a fable of a straight line from Lenin to Stalin. The fable’s moral is that revolution must fail, that any attempt to overthrow capitalism necessarily ends in tyranny, that a class dictatorship of the proletariat necessarily turns into the dictatorship of one party or one person against the working masses.

I want to highlight as prime determinants of the revolution the self-activity of the masses, revolutionary organization, and Marx’s philosophy of revolution, and to highlight the transformation into opposite with the dialectic of counter-revolution coming from within the revolution.

We need to understand that the February revolution (I’m using the old Julian calendar dates; to much of the world the opening date of the revolution was March 8, International Women’s Day) was made solely by the historic initiative of the masses, first of all by the women workers on International Women’s Day. As Megan Trudell put it in “The Women of 1917”:

“Women workers were firmly in the forefront of the February Revolution that culminated in the destruction of tsarism. They were not merely its ‘spark,’ but the motor that drove it forward — despite the initial misgivings of many male workers and revolutionaries….

“In the dual power situation following the February Revolution, women’s protests did not disappear but became part of the process that saw workers’ support flow from the government to the Soviet and, within the Soviet, from the moderate socialist Menshevik-Social Revolutionary leadership to the Bolsheviks by September….

“By May, antiwar protests had forced the dissolution of the first Provisional Government and Menshevik-SR Soviet leaders had formed a coalition government with liberals — still dedicated to the war. Workers’ disillusionment led to further strikes, again led by women. Some forty thousand women laundry workers, members of a union led by the Bolshevik Sofia Goncharskaia, struck for more pay, an eight-hour day, and improved working conditions: better hygiene at work, maternity benefits (it was common for women workers to hide pregnancies until they gave birth on the factory floor), and an end to sexual harassment….

“In August, faced with General Kornilov’s attempts to crush the revolution, women rallied to the defense of Petrograd, building barricades and organizing medical aid; in October, women in the Bolshevik party were involved in the provision of medical aid and crucial communications between localities, some had responsibility for coordinating the rising in different areas of Petrograd, and there were women members of the Red Guard. Jane McDermid and Anna Hillyer describe another Bolshevik woman’s involvement in October:

“ ‘The tram conductor, A.E. Rodionova, had hidden 42 rifles and other weapons in her depot when the Provisional government had tried to disarm the workers after the July days. In October, she was responsible for making sure that two trams with machine guns left the depot for the storming of the Winter Palace. She had to ensure that the tram service operated during the night of 25 to 26 October, to assist the seizure of power, and to check the Red Guard posts throughout the city.’ ”

In the midst of the February Revolution, the soviets began to form. They became an organizational expression of the masses in revolutionary motion. They countermanded orders from the provisional government, and thus a situation of dual power arose. At the same time, a number of other forms of organization like factory committees arose from below.

The October revolution (again, that is old style, corresponding to Nov. 7-8 by our calendar) was not spontaneous. It was spearheaded by the Military Revolutionary Committee, really guided by a party, and led by Trotsky. However, the insurrection was made possible by the self-activity of the masses, supported by masses, participated in by masses, and carried out with the explicit aim of transferring power to the soviets, which were democratic organizations spontaneously created by and controlled by the masses of workers, peasants, soldiers, and sailors.

What is crucial to understand is that, nevertheless, the way was paved for the success of the October revolution by Lenin’s return to Hegel’s dialectic and his break with the Second International, the international grouping of socialists, not only politically but philosophically. The most serious analysis of this is in the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, as seen in Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution and in Marxism and Freedom and Philosophy and Revolution.

At the same time we need to understand what happened to that moment of liberation, the dialectic of transformation into opposite through the counter-revolution coming from within revolution. This too is most seriously dealt with in Dunayevskaya’s works, including those just mentioned and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. The soviets and other mass organizations were taken over and turned into organs of the state from above, first partially due to the exigencies of the civil war started by the old ruling classes and the imperialist countries, but with Stalin’s rise after Lenin’s death they were permanently and totally statified. The direction of economic development was turned around, away from improvement of the conditions of life and labor and the involvement of the toiling masses in the management of production and the state, and toward capitalist industrialization and forced collectivization of the peasants, with no freedom and no real voice for the workers and peasants. The workers’ state was transformed into a state-capitalist society.

It is not only the rulers who bury this transformation into opposite. The rulers and reformists want to discredit revolution altogether. But they have been helped by Stalinists who portrayed the resulting totalitarian state-capitalist system as if it were socialism, as if that monstrosity were the goal we should aim for. And no solution to that rewriting could be found in the Trotskyist formula that the USSR remained a workers’ state because of nationalized property and state planning. In truth, that approach evades confronting the dialectic of counter-revolution coming from within revolution. So does the doctrine of some anarchists and council communists that Russia was immediately state-capitalist the day after the October revolution, and so does the doctrine of council communists like Pannekoek that echoes the Mensheviks by claiming that Russia at that stage could only accomplish a bourgeois revolution.

Let’s take a closer look at what the October revolution was. The point was to get rid of the provisional government and put state power in the hands of the soviets. The provisional government was inhibiting the revolution, it had enabled Kornilov’s August military coup, and if left in place it would certainly have gone down the road toward outright counter-revolution. The October action was necessary to prevent a bloody counter-revolution. The provisional government’s overthrow was not proclaimed in the name of the Bolsheviks but in the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee on behalf of the Petrograd Soviet and the Congress of Soviets that was opening on that very day. In subsequent years, the soviet government became more and more entangled with the Bolshevik Party, later renamed the Communist Party, and that became problematic. It raises the thorny question of the relationship between party, workers’ state, masses, theory, and philosophy, which to this day has not been answered satisfactorily. I’ll return to this briefly later. But I want to make the point right now that the aim of the October insurrection was to put state power in the hands of the soviets, not of a party.

Much rewriting of history portrays it instead as a party coup behind the backs of the masses. To see through this falsification, it helps to keep in mind that very often Lenin and/or the Bolsheviks and/or the October revolution are stand-ins for social revolution itself. That is, to portray it as a coup is a way to discredit the very idea of revolution, or at least of social revolution that aims at a fundamental transformation of society, as against a merely political revolution. We are supposed to think revolution is illegitimate unless it is strictly self-limited, as if the sham freedoms of bourgeois republican institutions are the best we could hope for. Lenin must be criticized seriously, but only on a historically and philosophically accurate basis, and certainly not as a way to reinforce the ideology that there is no alternative to capitalism.

The failure to confront the dialectic of transformation into opposite, that fundamental contradiction—and together with it, the failure to confront the vital question of what happens after the conquest of power—has undermined Left attempts to grasp the full meaning of the revolution, and so has the disregard of the role of philosophy.

What is needed is to recover that legacy as ground for revolution today—as ground for revolution succeeding as a fundamental transformation of all social relations, establishing new relations between the sexes, breaking down racism, sexism, and heterosexism, and putting the working class in power so as to begin breaking down all class divisions, and immediately beginning to break down the division between mental and manual labor, between thinking and decision-making by part of society and doing by another part. But also as ground for what happens after revolution so that it is not transformed into opposite with a new bureaucracy taking power out of the hands of the masses and reinforcing the division between mental and manual labor.

Recovering that legacy requires fighting the rewriting of history. That is not only a question of correcting the facts, as we should understand from the past two years. It is not only to establish that I’m right and someone else is wrong, but to establish a new human society. It requires setting the truly revolutionary ground of liberation as the ground for thought and activity, and that entails being grounded in a total view, that is, philosophy.

Since we need philosophy not in an academic sense but as a guide to action in changing the world, we need a philosophy of revolution.

Recovering that legacy for today crucially includes the role of philosophy, and not just in general. You cannot understand the Russian Revolution without grappling in detail with Lenin’s philosophical preparation for it, his rethinking and break with his own philosophical past through his return to Marx’s roots in Hegel. Here again, the most serious work on this is by Dunayevskaya.

When World War I broke out, the Second International collapsed because most of its member parties supported the war, siding with their ruling classes. Lenin was so shocked that he thought it was fake news at first. But then, while the war was raging, and while he was struggling from exile in Switzerland to rally real revolutionaries around implacable opposition to the socialist betrayers and around his call to “turn the imperialist war into civil war,” at that very moment he spent days on end, for months, in the library studying Hegel. He found the revolutionary dialectic in Hegel, the transformation of reality as well as thought. It set the stage for a new approach in both theory and practice, which is seen in his subsequent major works such as Imperialism and State and Revolution and in his very approach to revolution from April 1917 onward.

Lenin’s “April Theses” revealed a fundamental clash about how to proceed. In April 1917 even most of the Bolsheviks wanted to take part in the provisional government formed after the Tsar was ousted in the year’s first revolution. That provisional government was in reality an organ of bourgeois rule continuing oppression and even the war. Lenin, in contrast, urged the party to demand all power to the soviets as a “commune state,” a new revolutionary socialist International and an end to World War I. Otherwise he threatened to quit and “go to the sailors.” Note that he acknowledged that the Bolsheviks were a minority in the soviets, but he had confidence that if the masses had power then they would learn through experience and come around to a fully revolutionary approach.

This was more than a repetition of the old split shown before the 1905 revolution between those socialists who claimed that Russia could have only a bourgeois democratic revolution, although the working class would have to carry it out, and those who viewed any such upheaval as only the first phase of what could immediately go on to socialist revolution. Before we return to 1917, I want to point out that, as against post-Marx Marxist doctrines tying revolutionary possibilities tightly to the material conditions in a society, Marx himself had a multilinear approach that rejected that kind of stagifying. One place he made that very clear is in the Preface by Marx and Engels to the 1882 Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto, which indicated that the revolution could come first in Russia, and could arise on the basis of the communal peasant social forms there, but would need to be complemented by proletarian revolution in the West.

In April 1917, on one side was Lenin, with the Bolsheviks he could persuade, demanding all power to the soviets as rule of the masses from below, vs. the rest of the Bolsheviks and other parties looking to the provisional government’s rule from above. This was immediately made very concrete as the Bolshevik slogan of “Land, Bread, and Peace” articulated the urgent demands from the masses, and the provisional government was stalling those demands. Immediately upon the October revolution, the new soviet government took concrete steps to make “Land, Bread, and Peace” real.

And yet it was only as late as August 1917, during a counter-revolutionary phase when Lenin was forced to hide, that he theoretically elaborated the thoughts in his April Theses in his State and Revolution, as guide for smashing the state and taking power.

Lenin never worked out his philosophical break as a rethinking of the vanguard party concept he inherited from the Second International, which was Lassallean rather than Marxian. And he never worked out his new findings in State and Revolution as a new concept of the party. This theoretical lacuna plus the fact that the rest of the party, including its leadership, never absorbed Lenin’s philosophical reorganization set the stage for the Trade Union Debate of 1920-21, which we can grasp in retrospect as a manifestation of the problem of what happens after the revolutionary conquest of power. This is taken up in Marxism and Freedom and in Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution. We can get into it more in discussion if anyone wants to, but for now let me point out that Lenin had to bring up the concrete nature of the workers’ state as one with bureaucratic distortions, and functioning in a country with a peasant majority. He had to bring up this concreteness in battling undialectical abstractions about the workers’ state from opposite sides—Trotsky and Bukharin not recognizing why workers would need strikes and unions to protect themselves from their own workers’ state, and Shlyapnikov, Kollontai, and the Workers Opposition wanting to turn everything over to a “producers’ congress” with no substantive role for the revolutionary party. It seems to me that an additional complication is that among all strains in the party, even among the Workers Opposition, there was a tendency to assume that the party was really the organ of the proletariat, and was really the vanguard of the class. There are times in revolution when that is true of a certain form of organization, but one cannot make a fixed particular out of it and assume that it remains so. That makes it impossible to catch the transformation into opposite as it is happening.

One major obstacle to comprehending the legacy of Lenin 1917 and after is what Dunayevskaya called his “philosophic ambivalence.” Lenin’s philosophical reorganization was crucial to his leadership in the revolution, and yet his projection of the centrality of philosophy was muted at best and did not reveal the depth of his break with his own past.

What he did not rethink was the vanguard party concept, so that it remained a doctrine for all who called themselves Leninists and even became a fetish that is nothing but a barrier to revolution today. Supposedly its necessity is proved by the fact that October could not have happened without the action of the Bolshevik Party. But does that really prove the indispensability of philosophy as well as organization?

And it is today that demands our attention and action, to make real the potentiality of revolution as an act of the self-activity of the masses in motion from below and at the same time demanding the intervention of philosophy of revolution as what gives action its direction. The point is to abolish the capitalist system that is suicidally driving us toward climate chaos, nuclear war, fascism, and economic depression.

Posted in Marxist-Humanism, Personal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment