#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?

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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.

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From Trump’s trashing of women to #MeToo: Which way forward for women’s liberation?

Here is a presentation given by Terry Moon to the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees on Dec. 11, 2017.

From Trump’s trashing of women to #MeToo:
Which way forward for women’s liberation?

–Terry Moon


The story in The New York Times (“‘The Silence Breakers’ Named Time’s Person of the Year for 2017,” Dec. 6. 2017) about how Time magazine’s person of the year is who they dub “the silence breakers” begins by saying “First it was a story. Then a moment. Now, two months after women began to come forward in droves to accuse powerful men of sexual harassment and assault, it is a movement.” Well, no, Jonah Engel (that is the name of the man who wrote the article). First there was a movement, then there was decades of retrogression and reaction topped off by the election of the Abuser in Chief, then there was a moment—it was called the Women’s March and it was almost a year ago on Jan. 21. As part of that revitalized movement, given impetus by the Women’s March, women started speaking up and men began to fall.

When that movement first began in the mid-1960s, the Marxist-Humanist revolutionary philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya caught its essence in the category she created then: “The Women’s Liberation Movement as revolutionary force and Reason.” In her works that followed she made explicit that force and Reason in different periods, always also making explicit its relationship to Marx’s revolution in permanence. She caught the humanism that runs through over 50 years of the movement—a red thread of a different kind of revolution than had been articulated by the Left. In “The New Voices” section of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution,” in showing how what was then the new Women’s Liberation Movement had transcended even the great organizing of the German Socialist Women’s Movement, she wrote that Clara Zetkin’s “superiority in organizing women on class lines left hidden many aspects of the ‘Woman Question,’ most of all how very deep the uprooting of the old must be” (p. 100).

The latest length of that revolutionary red thread, #MeToo, shows this truth in a different visceral way again, that revolution must deepen at every point in order to finally make the relationships we have with each other actually human relationships. Because if #MeToo shows us anything, it is that men are certainly not treating women as if they are human beings.

There is no doubt that in some ways the explosion of women coming forward with their reports of rape, sexual abuse and harassment has made an impact—first of all in the U.S., and now spreading worldwide. The clamor has exposed how many powerful men—concentrated in high-end businesses, government, and the entertainment industry—are rapists and abusers. It has revealed how so many of these men who have power over women view women and abuse that power.

But we need to keep in mind that who this information is revelatory to is not so much women—that is after all what #MeToo means—but men. That certainly includes many of those powerful men who run the media, who have kept women underrepresented as reporters, underrepresented as those who are interviewed, as those considered experts, as those whose voices have a right to be heard, as those who actually have a viewpoint that is important, an expertise that can throw light on objective events.

These media men have always been part of the problem, so much so that women staffers sat in at the so-called “radical paper” Rat in 1970 and took it over. That same year in March, over 50 women sat in at the Ladies Home Journal for 11 hours, forcing the editor to give them a section in the next issue. Our WL group in Detroit refused to talk to male reporters, forcing news stations to find a woman to interview us—often a woman who had been confined to reporting the weather. (I think of this often when watching those horrible anti-women racists women anchors on Fox News who have no idea that they owe their jobs to the Women’s Liberation Movement.) Then women began starting our own papers so we could finally have a voice. Remember: then there were no women anchors; Helen Thomas was the only woman reporter people knew; if you heard a woman’s voice on the news, she was talking about the weather.

And by the way, Time is so out of line by calling the women on the cover “the silence breakers.” Women have always been speaking out, struggling to break the silence! We have fought; we have gone to the police, who for decades treated domestic violence as nuisance calls, taking the abuser for a walk around the block to “cool off.” We have reported rapes, put up with the invasive procedure needed to collect evidence from our battered bodies and then had those rape kits pile up by the tens of thousands in police basements and storage rooms, forgotten, leaving serial rapists free to strike again and again. Women have spoken up at work against their abusers and been demoted and fired. Women in non-traditional jobs spoke out against brutal harassment by their co-workers, often to no avail. There certainly has been a “silence,” but it is not because we’ve had to wait for women to speak out.

Everything about this Time front cover pisses me off. First, they leave off the cover a picture of Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo. Then Time’s editor in chief, Edward Felsenthal, claims, according to The New York Times, that “the #MeToo movement represented the ‘fastest-moving social change we’ve seen in decades…’” That is only true, of course, if you ignore Black Lives Matter—another movement begun by women; or the Arab Spring for that matter.

I. From the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, to #MeToo

Let’s remember for a moment that fantastic march on Jan. 21 as the country faced a future ruled by the inhuman insanity that is Trumpism. We wrote then:

It meant something that the women’s marches caught fire. It wasn’t explicit that it was a humanism that brought people out, but it was implicit in all the signs calling out Trump for hate, in the insistence that we were there because we welcome immigrants and refugees, that we know in our bones that Black Lives Matter and police killings must stop and that we want justice for LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and others.

It was a beautiful day and not only because of the weather, but because of the comradeship. The march projected the kind of America Trump aims to destroy—multi-racial; multi-ethnic; tens of thousands of spirited feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ people being who they are and proud. We were united because we oppose Trump’s inhuman plans for the U.S., but also in what we were fighting for—and the “for” was also what the demonstration itself embodied: the desire for a country that is committed to the well-being of its citizens, the world’s citizens and the planet. (“Democracy in the streets votes Trump out! In Chicago,” Jan.-Feb. 2017 News & Letters)

The Women’s March was not explicitly revolutionary, but we saw that red thread within it and tried to make it explicit. Those who are misleading this country saw it too, which is why we could write in the editorial in the current issue that what “we are faced with [is] a blatant attempt to not just control women’s bodies and lives, but to crush a movement” (“Abuser-in-chief trashes women,” Editorial, Nov.-Dec. 2017 News & Letters).

While it is certainly not just the women’s movement that is under attack but all freedom movements—and especially the movement for Black liberation as seen in the demonization of the Black Lives Matter coalition—almost all of Trump’s anti-human actions affect women more and Black, poor, and minority women more than white women: from the attack on immigrants—most whom are now women and children, especially if they are from Mexico or South and Central America—to the gutting of the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, the crippling of ACA, the elimination of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), to the planned cutting of Medicaid and Medicare, both of which serve more women than men. There is as well the appointing of rabidly racist anti-gay and anti-abortion fanatics to positions of power in agencies that have been transformed into their opposites—from entities meant to better the lives of the poor, women, people of color, LGBTQ people, children and the disabled, into agencies now dedicated to destroying any rights these people have fought for in the last 200 years and, in the process, destroying the people themselves. Furthermore, Trump et al are making sure their people-destroying polices will last for decades with the ramped up installing of dozens of Right-wing judges—some woefully unqualified but all Right-Wing fanatics of one stripe or another. To show the lengths Trump will go in order to kowtow to every whim of his racist, sexist, capitalistic base, one of his latest outrages is that his (anti-)Labor Department proposed rescinding another Obama-era rule mandating that tips belong to the servers and the owners of the restaurants cannot steal them. Of course most servers are women, many who make less than $10/hr—partly because the rationale has always been that they get tips! But since the National Restaurant Association lobbied for this takeaway from the poor, Trump wants to deliver.

It is the outrageousness of the current objective situation that has given impetus to the movement, pulling in women from several walks of life. Thus in the last few weeks we’ve heard from:

  • Women lobbyists who are in a bind because they are being raped and harassed by those who they are trying to convince to vote in a certain way and who, if they alienate, will not vote their way, and the women will also lose their jobs. As one lobbyist for NARAL said, who would care that a NARAL lobbyist had been sexually attacked?
  • In 24 hours more than 125 women artists signed an open letter condemning the publisher of an important art journal for harassment and misuse of power. When the letter was published, over 1,800 had signed, including Trans women and gender-nonconforming artists from around the world.
  • Close to 200 California women who work in local government signed a letter “denouncing a culture of rampant sexual misconduct in and around the state government…in Sacramento.” The letter complained “of male lawmakers groping them, of male staff members threatening them and of a human resources system so broken that it is unable to give serious grievances a fair hearing” (“Sexual Misconduct in California’s Capitol is Difficult to Escape,” The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2017).
  • The president of Emily’s List “said that in the 10 months before the election in 2016, about 1,000 women contacted her organization about running for office or getting involved in other ways. Since the election, she said, the number has exploded to more than 22,000.”   (“Women Line Up to Run for Office, Harnessing Their Outrage at Trump,” The New York Times, Dec. 4, 2017.)

As the movement expands, it is clear that sexual abuse is not limited to what happens on the job. #MeToo has given new life to the movements to stop childhood sexual assault. For example those struggling for 11 years to pass the Child Victims Act in New York—a Bill which would lengthen the time victims of childhood sexual assault would have to sue their attackers as well as the institution where the abuse happened, has taken on new life and urgency. As one of the Bill’s advocates, who herself had been abused as a child, said, “The people who are speaking up are famous people, with fortunes and legal teams and PR teams.” And yet for years “They were too scared to talk. So how do you expect a child to do it?” (“A New Push to Expand New York’s Childhood Sexual Assault Law,” The New York Times, Dec. 6, 2017.) Soon #MeToo will include people speaking out about incest.

#MeToo is just getting started, which is a good thing because it needs to continue to deepen.

II. #MeToo needs to also be #YesAllWomen

There is a reason that so far most of the men who have had to leave their jobs or positions of authority are clustered in the entertainment industry, politics or the academic world. It is at least partly because the women accusing them can afford lawyers. Another reason may be that, like the women artists, women who’ve been able to for once actually be heard have a network so that they can more easily organize and speak out loudly in one voice.

But what we’ve seen and read is just the tip of a huge iceberg. #MeToo has to also be for waitresses or women who work in kitchens, for house cleaners and those who work in people’s homes, migrant women jailed—for that’s what it is—in detention centers as well as women in recognized jails and prisons; and for any number of low-paid, low-status jobs that put women or men too in contact with those who have power over them.

The jobs of women who work in the fields is dependent on the overseer. If he rapes or harasses them, fighting back means you get fired or worse. Living this reality, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization of women farmworkers and women from farmworker families who represent 700,000 women field workers, wrote an open letter to their “Dear Sisters,” “actors, models and other individuals” “who have come forward to speak out about the gender based violence they’ve experienced.” They wrote in part:

Sadly, we’re not surprised because it’s a reality we know far too well. Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work. We do not work under bright stage lights or on the big screen. We work in the shadows of society in isolated fields and packinghouses that are out of sight and out of mind for most people in this country….

Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security. Like you, there are few positions available to us and reporting any kind of harm or injustice committed against us doesn’t seem like a viable option. Complaining about anything—even sexual harassment—seems unthinkable because too much is at risk, including the ability to feed our families and preserve our reputations” (“700,000 Female Farmworkers Say They Stand With Hollywood Actors Against Sexual Assault,” Time, Time Staff, Nov. 10, 2017).

They are saying that in many ways, as hard as it was for the women attacked by Harvey Weinstein and so many others like him to speak out, these women have a harder row to hoe.

Tarana Burke spoke directly to the problem the day Time announced their “Silence Breakers” cover:

Today’s announcement should be an opportunity to ask ourselves: are we really committed to the hard work of ending sexual violence.

What about young people having to break bread with their abuser at a family gathering year after year, in silence and solitude? What about women of color and transgender people, who struggle to be believed by friends, families, and those in power? What about those regularly assaulted by officers of the law, on our streets and in our jails—do they get to say #MeToo as well? Will we listen when they do?”

Burke calls for “a complete cultural transformation…build our families differently, engage our communities and confront some of our long-held assumptions about ourselves,” and actress Alyssa Milano, who brought Burke’s #MeToo to the world’s attention when she confronted her harasser, said, “I want companies to take on a code of conduct, I want companies to hire more women, I want to teach our children better. These are all things that we have to set in motion, and as women we have to support each other and stand together and say that’s it, we’re done, no more” (“‘The Silence Breakers’ Named Time’s Person of the Year for 2017,” The New York Times, Dec. 6. 2017).

But what that red thread we’ve been tracing, which is the dialectic of revolution, tells us is that we need something more total for women and others to be free. One reason that is so is because rape and sexual abuse and harassment are institutionalized, just as racism is, so it will never be enough to raise our children differently or have companies hire more women. And with Trump in office it is getting worse by the minute.

III. The institutionalization of rape, sexual abuse, harassment and so much more

There is so much that can be said here, but we can’t talk all night, so let’s just pick three things. First and briefly, is what Harvey Weinstein was able to do. The facts by now are pretty well known. He had power and money, could make or break people’s careers, and he did that whenever he felt like it. When there was actually a chance to at least bring his despicable, criminal behavior to light, the system protected him.

Despite what police who worked on the case that actress Ambra Battilana brought said, including: “We brought them a very good case,” nothing was done. Knowing that Weinstein was a serial harasser, he could have at least been arrested on third-degree sexual abuse. That might have cramped his style. But Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. would not press charges. Some prosecutors thought Vance should have prosecuted as, “‘The idea that Weinstein’s criminal intent was unprovable because of his stated “professional need” to personally inspect [Battilana’s] breasts doesn’t pass the laugh test.’” Supposedly his “professional need” to see if she wore breast implants made it OK for him to lunge forward and grab her breasts and when she protested and pushed his hands away, to persistently put his hand up her skirt and ask to kiss her, according to the police report. (“For Weinstein, a Brush With the Police, Then No Charges,” The New York Times, Oct. 15, 2017.)

Weinstein was not only protected by his money but also by his aides and his contacts, who enabled him to savage woman after woman, ruining careers and lives, changing women in ways that no one should be changed, creating events they could never forget or forgive—unfortunately often including themselves—for the rest of their lives. He is an example of someone using the institutionalization of sexism for his own ends.

The second example is different. Trump reversed an Obama order that “forbade federal contractors from keeping secret, sexual harassment and discrimination cases.” The “rule prohibited these companies, which employ about 26 million people, from forcing workers to resolve complaints through arbitration…” (“Trump Is Quietly Making It Even Harder To Report Sexual Harassement And Discrimination,” Portside, Nov. 26, 2017).

Lastly this institutionalization of rape culture, of abuse and harassment of women is clearly seen in what Trump, et al, are doing to Title IX, specifically the gutting of protection for women who have been raped and/or sexually harassed on college campuses.

The white nationalist Candice Jackson, who now heads the Education Department Office for Civil Rights, blurted out her true belief to The New York Times “that in most sexual assault investigations, there’s ‘not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman. Rather, the accusations—90% of them—fall into the category of “we were both drunk,” “we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right”’” (“Education Dept. Civil Rights Head: 90% of Campus Sexual Assaults Amount to ‘We Were Both Drunk,’” Time, July 12, 2017). The truth is that women don’t lie about this, false reports of rape and assault are between 2% and 10%.

The greater truth is that the Obama 2011 Dear Colleague letter was only issued because women’s decades-long battle on campuses grew large and militant enough to force some changes. Without going into details—which we can take up in the discussion—moving from a “preponderance of evidence” criterion, which the Obama letter called for, to a “clear and convincing” criterion, which is what De Vos will do, means that once again, men who rape on campus get a free pass. When women accuse a man of rape, it is often, but not always, a she said he said, and if you believe, as De Vos and Jackson do, that he is telling the truth and she is 90% of the time lying, then he gets off at least 90% of the time.

Remember the Brock Turner case? This was not a case of she said he said because two students caught Turner raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He got a slap on the wrist sentence of six months in jail and three years’ probation. He could have been sentenced to 14 years in prison. Now—long out of jail—he’s appealing his conviction claiming he did not get a fair trial because character witnesses who would have talked of his swimming career, his school performance and honesty were excluded. Most telling is that over a third of his 172-page brief is devoted to raking his victim over the coals; concentrating on how drunk she was on the night he raped her. You would think that should give a man pause, if a woman is falling down drunk perhaps he shouldn’t try to have sex with her, but in our rape culture he is freed of responsibility while she is condemned. (“Brock Turner Is Appealing His Sexual Assault Conviction,” The New York Times, Dec. 2, 2017.)

After decades of struggle by young women—because no one else was doing a damn thing to help them—and after Obama’s Dear Colleagues letter, here is what women are still facing on some campuses.

Six women are suing Howard University for ignoring their own policy of following a 60-day timeline to address sexual assault. (The reason Howard is having so much trouble is they lack funds. That is part of why the blowback: enforcing Title IX cost money.) Jane Doe 2 first reported her rape in October 2015 and was concerned because her rapist was a resident assistant in her dormitory who had keys to her room and had stalked her for months. Howard’s Title IX coordinator, Candi N. Smiley, informed her that nothing could be done until the investigation was finished. At that time Doe 2 had sent Smiley email and text messages that backed up her claim of harassment and rape. She heard nothing from Smiley until December when Smiley asked her to resend her the emails and texts. At the end of the fall 2015 semester, after hearing nothing, she tried to drop out; was on the brink of losing her scholarship, depressed and afraid. She moved out of her dormitory to get away from her rapist, but was charged for it when the administration had told her she would not be. They also removed her Pell grant and need-based scholarship from her transcript and charged her for it, sending “her multiple notices threatening to send her to collections.” She heard nothing from them until March 2016, which was not until Doe 2 contacted Doe 1, “who had gone on a ‘storm’ on Twitter [about] how the university had similarly botched her report of rape—against the same man.” And get this, “He had transferred from the University of California…after being accused of sexual misconduct there…” It was then that the idiot Smiley asked for the third time that Doe 2 resend the text and email messages!

Finally, in April 2016, Smiley told Doe 2 that Howard had suspended her rapist for two years but, unbelievably, they didn’t tell this to Doe 1. She had reported her rape in February 2016, but didn’t hear anything from Smiley until the end of March “except for Smiley contacting Doe 1 to ask if she had been discussing the rape in text messages with her friends… Doe 1 called Smiley four times during that period with no response. Doe 1 ended up being fired from her resident assistant position “based on a report her [rapist] gave to residence life. No one ever told Doe 1 that her rapist was kicked off campus” (“Lawsuit alleges Howard University kept serial rapists on campus,” Insidehighered.com, Dec. 7, 2017.) This is what life can be like for women who are raped on campus. Who is being punished here? And remember, the worst thing that a university or college can do to a rapist is expel them. And when they do, they do what Doe’s 1 and 2’s rapist did, go to another school. That is rape culture; that is what it means to say that sexism is institutionalized. At least in part. While this sounds fantastically horrible, before women started the campus movement against rape and abuse, this kind of thing was actually very common.

IV. Where do we go from here?

The red thread we saw in the Women’s March in January has certainly not been obscured by Trumpism, only strengthened. That can be seen by the over 4,000 who found their way to Detroit to attend the Women’s Convention. That strength was seen, not so much in the leaders, or the women politicians who spoke from the dais, but in the issues women insisted on taking up, issues that reflected those addressed in the Women’s March: healthcare, global warming and environmental justice, mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter meaning police gunning down unarmed Black people, women’s right to control our own bodies, discrimination in work and in life, children and childcare, immigrants’ rights and the rights of LGBTQ people, and of course, sexual assault and harassment. Every time Betsy De Vos’ name was mentioned, everyone booed.

So on the one hand you have this red thread of humanism emerging again at the Women’s Conference; and on the other hand there is the same impulse coming from the leaders, coming from the press and also, in a way, coming from the Left, to tie this thread into a knot that is either electoral politics or vanguard partyism. The New York Times reported in a gush of wishful thinking, “Yet for all the disparate topics at this meeting, one thread ran through them all: opposition to the Trump administration and a pointed focus on elections next year” (“At Women’s Convention in Detroit, a Test of Momentum and Focus,” The New York Times, Oct. 28, 2017).

No one can be blamed for hoping that elections will throw the racist, sexist, money-hungry, anti-human Republicans out the door. Elections got us into this, so the hope is that elections may get us out. But what else is evident by leaders of the March and Convention and certainly by the elected officials who spoke at both is their drive to narrow the scope of this movement into electoral politics. What they fear is revolution. The Trump administration fears it too, thus their unrelenting attack on forces fighting for a better world, especially women.

So where we go from here, as we have done so many times before, is to fight against the narrowing of this passionate movement for a more human world, including making that fight explicit to those engaged in it. I can write this in one sentence, but it takes a philosophy of freedom and an organization of people willing to take responsibility for the idea of freedom, to make it a reality.

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Censorship: China and Facebook

China extended its pervasive state censorship, which already blocks numerous websites of foreign news organizations, social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and Google’s search engine. It ordered Cambridge University Press to sanitize its academic journal China Quarterly by excising 300 articles on issues like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and ongoing revolts in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The Press complied in mid-August but reversed course after an international outcry from anti-censorship academics, including a threatened boycott.

Capitalist corporations have great difficulty resisting China’s market of over 1.3 billion people. Many tech companies have bowed to government demands to help suppress dissent. Apple removed apps from its App Store in China that help people evade censors and monitoring. Facebook, still blocked in China, is wooing the government and has created a tool to allow a third party to block specific Facebook posts in a given country.

Facebook may itself have become the world’s biggest censor. A ProPublica report (https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-hate-speech-censorship-internal-documents-algorithms) concluded that “at least in some instances, the company’s hate-speech rules tend to favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities.”

While the corporate press reported with much fanfare the banning of some far right accounts from Facebook, Twitter and certain other platforms, none mentioned the years-long history of post deletions and account suspensions of left-wingers.

A Congressman posted “Kill them all” on Facebook about “radicalized” Muslims—no action taken. The neo-Nazi “Alt-Reich Nation,” one of whose members murdered Black college student Richard Collins III, is not banned.

But people who post criticisms of racism and police brutality are frequently blocked.

When journalism professor Stacey Patton asked on Facebook why “it’s not a crime when White freelance vigilantes and agents of ‘the state’ are serial killers of unarmed Black people, but when Black people kill each other then we are ‘animals’ or ‘criminals,’” the post was deleted and her account disabled for three days. When Leslie Mac posted, “White folks. When racism happens in public—YOUR SILENCE IS VIOLENCE,” her account was disabled until she got publicity.

Despite thousands of accurate complaints that user Donald Trump’s posts on Twitter and Facebook violate their policies, no action is forthcoming.

But Ukrainians, Western Saharans, and Kashmiris protesting occupations by Russia, Morocco, and India, respectively, have found themselves blocked. Palestinian groups created the hashtag #FbCensorsPalestine to show how routinely they are blocked—not only in the Middle East but in the U.S.

Despite such heavy-handed censorship, tech companies have utterly failed in their highly publicized efforts to rein in sexist, racist cyberbullying, which has excluded women and people of color from many corners of the web that by no coincidence have incubated the far right culture that expressed itself so clearly in Charlottesville, Va.

Like all technology, the web, hailed 25 years ago by some on the Left as the tool that would democratize culture and bring liberation, is a product of the society in which it was created. What happened in the Arab Spring was no “Twitter revolution” but the creativity of the masses seizing on whatever means were available to aid revolt. What gives voice to liberation is not technology but the self-activity of masses in motion and organizations based not on profit but on the philosophy of liberation.

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After the election: How do we oppose Trump’s fascism and move forward?


This is a talk I gave last week at the 12/7/2016 meeting of Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees

“It is the totality of the present world crisis which compels us to turn to Hegel and his Absolutes….Today we live in an age of absolutes, that is to say, in an age where the contradictions are so total that the counter-revolution is in the very innards of the revolution. In seeking to overcome this total, this absolute contradiction, we are on the threshold of true freedom and therefore can understand better than any previous age Hegel’s most abstract concepts.”

– Raya Dunayevskaya


I hope everyone has read or will soon read the Lead-Editorial in the new issue of N&L. I don’t want to repeat too much of it since most here have read it. It begins with the protests that began immediately after Trump’s victory in an election where his opponent got 2.5 million votes more than he did. The protests broke out all over the U.S. and in several other countries. And the resistance continues. Last Saturday, hundreds of people came from across North and South Carolina to defeat a Trump victory rally called by the KKK in Pelham, N.C. The Klan had to cancel the rally and slink home.

At the same time, the hate crimes that have spiked since the election continue to expose what Trump’s ascent is really about. Trump supporters keep painting “Make America white again,” swastikas, etc. on walls and sidewalks. Many mosques have received hate mail with exactly the same line in the hate message N&L received on our website: “Trump is going to do to the Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”

Internationally, what Bob McGuire called a grand world coalition of reactionaries continues to gather, with Trump and Putin vying to lead it even as they embrace each other and both lend their support to far right groups in multiple countries. Meanwhile, Francois Fillon positioned his establishment right-wing party in France to outflank the National Front by spouting just as much hate and threats toward immigrants and Muslims, and being anti-LGBTQ and pro-Putin while claiming to stand up to American imperialism.

Trump signaled his opposition to allowing human rights to have any influence on foreign policy by viewing Syria as nothing more than a platform for fighting “terrorists” hand in hand with Putin and Assad, who is busy carrying out genocide with Putin’s help. Trump reinforced this stance on human rights by warmly giving his blessing to kindred spirit President Duterte of the Philippines and his thousands of assassinations outside of the law.

We meet under the whip of counter-revolution. As the Lead says, “This election deepened counter-revolution at home and globally. There can be no doubt that it is a very serious setback for all the oppressed and for all freedom movements. What Trump represents above all is counter-revolution, and, more specifically, fascism, which is the excrescence of capitalism under threat. His rise is the index of this system’s crisis and bankruptcy of thought, which the Left has hardly met with a truly revolutionary perspective.”

Because this counter-revolution threatens the very future of humanity—and the dangers of climate chaos should be enough to make that point clear—and because its very depth and the way it has metastasized into the entire political system show that nothing short of revolution abolishing this system can break us free from this descent, Dunayevskaya’s dictum that the Absolute determines all perspectives gains new urgency.

The Lead takes up how fascism is the excrescence of capitalism under threat. The strengthening of the state is a sign of the weakness of the system, both from its internal crisis, which began in 2007 and still afflicts it; and from the unrest running the gamut from people uncertain of what kind of future their children will have economically to people gathered to block the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is no coincidence that fascism is rising at the very time that more and more people have been coming out against capitalism and speaking of socialism.

What I want to stress tonight is that fascism is a transformation into opposite of liberal democracy—a transformation coming from within its very being. It happened in Germany with the Nazis, who started out as the German Workers Party and tried to co-opt socialist workers in their rise to power. It happened in Italy with Mussolini, who started out as a socialist but turned to nationalism.

Most of the Left and liberals are so steeped in empiricism that they tend to get lost in the continuity between this administration and the next. Any Leftist who before the election was saying there was no difference between Democrats and Republicans, can say that Obama opened the door for all that Trump is going to do. They can point to many facts that show it is so, but they lose sight of how extreme the change can be. I’ve seen some confirmation bias, where those who said before that Hillary Clinton was just as bad as Trump, today point to his appointments of Wall Street fat cats and smugly say she would have done the same. Or take Chris Cutrone of the Platypus Society, in his article titled, “Why Not Trump?” He wrote:

“Trump promises to govern ‘for everyone’….There is no reason not to believe him. Everything Trump calls for exists already….Finding Trump acceptable is not outrageous. But the outrageous anti-Trump-ism — the relentless spinning and lying of the status quo defending itself — is actually not acceptable….Why not Trump? For which the only answer is: To preserve the status quo. Not against ‘worse’ — that might be beyond any U.S. President’s control anyway — but simply for things as they already are. We should not accept that.”

Besides that, some of the criticism of Clinton from the Left reveals a bizarre attitude: she is tarred with the imperialist policies of the Obama administration, as if imperialism is merely a personal attribute or a policy choice. It reminds me of what Dunayevskaya wrote in her Political-Philosophic Letter on “Lebanon: The Test not only of the PLO but the Whole Left”:

“…the New Left, born in the 1960s, so disdainful of theory (which it forever thinks it can pick up ‘en route’), has a strange attitude toward imperialism. It is as if imperialism were not the natural outgrowth of monopoly capitalism, but was a conspiracy, organized by a single imaginary center, rather as the Nazis used to refer to the Judeo-Catholic-Masonic Alliance, or Communists under Stalin to the conspiracy of the Trotskyists and Rightists in league with the imperialist secret service.

“It is such an attitude to imperialism, along with the theoretic void that has pervaded the Movement since the death of Lenin, that has led revolutionaries to collude with narrow nationalism on the ground that it is ‘anti-imperialist’ though purely nationalist. Evidently nationalism of the so-called Third World is of itself revolutionary even when it is under the banner of a king, a shah, or the emirates. Thereby they canonize nationalism, even when it is void of working class character, as national liberation.”

Today that seems to have degenerated to the point of supporting the genocidal dictator Assad, baptized a legitimately elected anti-imperialist. That viewpoint is shared by much of the Left and the far Right, as they swap conspiracy theories and erase the subjectivity of the masses whose revolts created the Arab Spring. Instead these converging elements of the Left and Right cherish the myth that the CIA started Arab Spring in order to depose Assad.

All that shows is that a portion of the Left has succumbed to this decaying system’s deterioration of thought. The system’s mental rot has led to the appointment of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as Trump’s National Security Adviser—that is, the person who is supposed to make sense of intelligence reports is a hysterical believer and spreader of absurd conspiracy theories and fake news stories. That includes the claim that chemical weapons attacks conducted by the Assad regime were actually “false flag” operations by the opposition. He claims that the Obama administration “willfully” allowed ISIS to form in order to overthrow Assad, and he claims that jihadists drive the opposition in Syria. He opposes Assad’s downfall and advocates “constructive cooperation” with Putin, whose propaganda outlet RT Flynn has worked for. This is not just about foreign policy. It is about subordinating objective facts and conditions to ideology in all spheres.

In relation to Trump, who also spreads many lies and has a tenuous relationship to reality, consider what Dunayevskaya wrote about Charles De Gaulle in March 1963: “If this is madness, as it is, it is not, however, the madness of an individual egomaniac. It is the madness of the state-capitalist age that has exuded a Mussolini and a Hitler….”

The Lead describes how the KKK-endorsed billionaire took over what used to be called “anti-globalization” by the Left, how he exploited fears of white middle-class and working-class voters that were partly about economic prospects threatened by capitalism’s unending crisis, but he played up fear and hatred of the Other—immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, women, anybody but the straight white male.

The rural-urban divide has been exacerbated by the economic deterioration of many rural areas, but it has to do as well with the fact that they are whiter, and it’s not all about rural areas because we can’t overlook the role of the white suburban vote in pushing Trump over the top in states like Pennsylvania.

The Lead mentions how Clinton failed in challenging this. She “adopted some of Bernie Sanders’s specific proposals but remained a neoliberal ‘New Democrat,’ like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama before her. Her message that the economic crisis is past and things are getting better rang hollow for too many people, some of whom fell for Trump’s siren song on trade.

“What neither Clinton, nor Trump, nor even the socialist Sanders acknowledged is that capitalism itself, by its very nature, is always decimating existing jobs, businesses, industries, and even regions. Boosters tout this as ‘creative destruction.’ Today, parts of the middle class are falling into the working class, and previously better off workers are ending up in low-paid service jobs, the ‘gig economy,’ or unemployment.

“Being in that situation can spur someone to look to the future, to a new human society beyond capitalism, or to the past. If the power of the idea of freedom is muted, and an emancipatory vision of the future is not being articulated and heard, then a void is opened for a con man like Donald Trump to fill with a fabricated mythic past.

…Too many were willing to overlook, or were positively attracted to, a vision of the past that rolls back all the gains made by people of color, women and workers in the last century and a half—as long as its stench was perfumed by Trump’s fake promises of prosperity, such as bringing back the jobs lost in the coal and steel regions of the ‘Rust Belt’ and Appalachia.”

The Carrier deal speaks volumes. While most workers will certainly not get even this amount of attention, it’s astonishing that Trump admitted in a speech that he had forgotten about his promise to prevent Carrier from moving 2,000 jobs to Mexico until he saw on TV a recording of himself making the promise! He had also said that any company that moves jobs abroad would have to pay. After the deal, Carrier is still moving 1,000 jobs to Mexico and not paying but getting $7 million in tax breaks. The other 1,000 jobs can be moved at a later date when Trump has forgotten again. [Since I wrote this, it has become clear that Trump was lying when he claimed the deal would save 1,100 jobs in Indiana.] When it comes to coal and steel jobs, just forget it altogether.

What he will do for workers is to try to dismantle or sabotage Obamacare, Medicare, and Social Security, gut labor laws and regulations, cut taxes for the rich and social services for everyone else, and wipe out access to reproductive health services. Some wishful thinkers believe that Trump voters will automatically become disillusioned when they realize he lied to them. In contrast, the Lead argues that he will try to distract them “by attacking scapegoats, in the first instance with more mass deportations and giving the police a free hand under the cry of ‘law and order.’”

The Lead takes up how the opposite to this bankruptcy of thought can be seen in movements like Black Lives Matter—where most recently the outcry forced the Sheriff of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana to charge the killer of Joe McKnight—and the largest national prison strike in U.S. history, women’s struggles for new human relations, and Indigenous resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Though only a partial victory, it was an important victory when the movement forced the Obama administration to deny permission to build that pipeline under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation—which apparently the company is still doing illegally. This is not over. The ideas underlying this movement have been powerful enough to inspire thousands of veterans to head to the Standing Rock area to protect the water protectors from the police forces who serve and protect the exploiters. Some of those veterans are planning to head to Flint to revive attention to the poisoning of the largely Black population there.

And now the Fight for 15 movement has just held protests nationwide calling for a living wage. Internationally, there is mass opposition to Trump, who scares people around the world.

Trump’s accession to power has been hailed as the end of neoliberalism. Let’s consider it more closely. The mid-1970s economic crisis, as analyzed by Dunayevskaya, was a structural change brought about by the fall in the rate of profit. The crisis led the ruling class to turn away from the Keynesian form of state-capitalism and replace it with the economic, political, and ideological restructuring that people now generally call neoliberalism, headed by Reagan-Thatcher. By the way, Pat Buchanan, an important racist demagogic precursor of Trump and rehabilitator of Nazism, was in the Reagan administration. Far from being the end of the era of state-capitalism, neoliberalism partially destroyed the welfare state, labor unions, and taxes and regulations on corporations in a successful effort to shore up the rate of profit. But large-scale state intervention in the economy never ended, as seen for example in gargantuan military spending, massive subsidies for industries such as fossil fuel, nuclear power, and agribusiness, and the vast expansion of the prison industrial complex, followed in 2008 by the bailout of Wall Street, auto companies, etc.

Trump comes in the wake of the end of neoliberalism’s temporary bolstering of the profit rate. It plunged again in 2007 and remains low historically. He represents very little change in any of the features of neoliberalism I just mentioned, except a turn toward protectionism and away from free trade. By the way, the trade agreements of the neoliberal era were about a lot more than free trade, and there is little evidence that Trump opposes the empowerment of corporations involved in them.

Just as ideology was central to Reagan-Thatcher, who famously tried to chain the masses’ minds with the dogma that “there is no alternative” to capitalism, so for Trump a never-ending priority is pushing his inchoate ideology, which he does not understand in any reasoned way but only understands in his gut. What the bourgeois press and its fact-checkers don’t get is that fascism doesn’t care about facts, science, history, reasoned arguments. What matters is the manipulative appeal to irrationality, emotions and prejudice. The Republican Party has been acting that out for years. Not only have they deliberately defunded areas of research ranging from global warming (and now Trump wants to defund NASA’s climate research) to tracking right-wing domestic terrorism, at the state and local level, most prominently the Texas Board of Education, they have mandated the teaching of lies in school to whitewash the history of racism and erase freedom movements, and they have dictated lies that doctors must tell women seeking abortion. Now Trump is going to exploit the hell out of the bully pulpit of the White House as a platform for ideology.

A little example of how he knows how to manipulate is the spectacle of reporters debating how they should report on his tweets. They are missing the point: He doesn’t care. He is bypassing the press. Twitter is his direct line to the people, as you can see from his followers repeating his lie that millions of people illegally voted for Clinton. They won’t be reading the reports debunking that lie.

The stress on ideology underscores our role in responding. I’m heartened to see people who have dropped out of politics for several years coming back because they are not going to stand for this. But ideas, philosophy, are the crucial element that would help activism achieve historic continuity, coalesce into a transformative movement, coming face to face with that enemy ideology and not just with the political moves.

In the process, we have to see how much of what the “alt-right” does is copied from the Left, as well as the decades of work that the Right has put into ideology with billions of dollars behind it and its think tanks, which were expressly founded to battle the Left in ideas, not just to lobby for corporate economic interests.

There is a tremendous temptation to get lost in first negation, opposing the terrible new reality. Part of our analysis of this situation and how it came to be is how the Left, Marxist and otherwise has, in Dunayevskaya’s words, “let the movement from practice suffocate for lack of any comprehensive revolutionary theory with which to combat” the new fascist Right.

The most prominent example of how far the movement has drifted from serious theory is a supposedly Left critique of the Democratic Party that they got caught up in “identity” rather than inequality. Bernie Sanders has articulated a version of this. Why counterpose class or economy against race, gender, sexuality? But in fact that counterposition has been around for a long time, as so much of the Left has given up on the working class in favor of “new social movements,” or stuck to a Debsian position that class is everything, while none of them actually conceive of workers as potentially self-developing Subject. Rather, the idea that the masses are backward is a dogma that is still being clung to. Only Marxist-Humanism has a concept of four forces of revolution, forces as Reason interacting in a dialectic of revolution, even if the people who make up those forces are not at every moment revolutionary. Counterposing “identity” with “inequality” is a capitulation to ideological pollution.

The fact that so many people voted for Trump is chilling, yet let’s not forget that he failed to get a majority. Even if you disregard the fact that nearly half of eligible voters did not vote, the millions of people denied the vote because of past felony convictions, the racially biased procedures used to eliminate registrations and make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, Trump still only won because of the Electoral College, which dilutes the urban vote and was invented by the Founding Fathers to inhibit democracy and protect the institution of slavery.

The reality is that Trump lost by 2.5 million votes [2.84 million votes at latest count]. Total votes for Republican candidates for the House of Representatives are perennially millions less than those for Democrats. If Senate seats were apportioned by population, Republicans would have only 45% of them after this election. And yet, once Trump’s Supreme Court pick is rubber-stamped, the minority party will have single-party control of the federal government and about half the states. That is exactly what they have been aiming for since the Tea Party wave of 2010, including their gambit of slamming the door in Merrick Garland’s face and their government shutdowns. Now that they have succeeded, they will work to cement that single-party rule by attacking voting rights, among other measures.

One aspect of it is how the power of the state can be expected to be brought to bear to repress dissent. Trump and some of his key appointments favor mass surveillance, and more powers and impunity for the police. Outside the state, the wave of hate crimes is a taste of the extralegal means that will be used.

The Lead took up some of Trump’s nominees, but New York Times columnist Charles Blow captured it with his label, “a team of billionaires and bigots.” By far the richest cabinet in history, they are Wall Street friendly and anti-Gay; anti-woman and Islamophobic; pro-racist, anti-labor and anti-immigrant. To top it off, Trump’s family and business interests will be intertwined with government like a tapeworm, heralding a new era of corruption and plutocracy, which he claimed to be campaigning against, and was described by all too many observers as a “populist.”

The shining example of Populism in U.S. history is the movement that took on the industrialists and plantation owners in the 1880s and 1890s, as described in American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard. It brought together workers and farmers, Black and white, in what one of its leaders described this way:

“This is not a political fight and politicians cannot lead or direct it. It is a movement of the masses, an uprising of the people, and they, and not the politicians, will direct it. The people need spokesmen, not leaders, men in the front who will obey, not command.”

Since that movement’s defeat, only fake populism gets that label, that is, demagoguery. One of the greatest examples aside from Trump is his so-called chief strategist and self-styled populist Steve Bannon. Deeply racist and sexist, he panders to white supremacists, homophobes and misogynists and has pushed many lying stories as head of Breitbart News Network. Though he is working for the biggest crony capitalist of all, this former Goldman Sachs banker believes in a dual crusade, both against crony capitalism and in what he calls “a global war against Islamic fascism.”

He claims to be leading a “revolution” for the middle class against “crony capitalism,” by which he means both state-capitalism and monopoly capitalism. (To that end, he touts “economic nationalism,” and grandiosely speaks of a “trillion-dollar infrastructure plan.” But the actual plan proposed by Trump is not a New Deal-type spending plan. Instead it would give deregulation and tax breaks to businesses to privatize infrastructure and allow them to levy fees for toll roads, water and sewage service, etc., without addressing the country’s real infrastructure needs.)

His grand illusion is that capitalism can be returned to some mythic entrepreneurial capitalism from before the Fall, when the capitalists in charge were “enlightened…Judeo-Christians.” (Without the religious element, the same delusion is held by Green reformers from the Left like Paul Hawkin.)

In order to get to that imaginary goal, any lie, any manipulation, any alliance with racists or other fanatics, is acceptable. I don’t know how he reconciles in his head that the new administration-in-waiting is filling up with corporate fat cats that he supposedly opposes as a “populist” who denounces the 2008 bailout of Wall Street. In addition to actual Wall Street tycoons, those fat cats include a number of associates of the billionaire Koch brothers, who have fought feverishly against labor unions and laws regulating wages and working conditions, against any regulation of corporations, against any action on climate change, against any restrictions on campaign funding, and so forth. (Check out George Monbiot’s Nov. 30 column, “Frightened by Donald Trump? You don’t know the half of it.”) It appears that, once again, ideology trumps facts. And no doubt Bannon and Trump share the feeling that their own grasp of power is the most important thing of all.

You can see why the Lead ends with these four paragraphs:

This must be stopped. To wait four years for another election would be to give up. That nothing short of revolution can suffice is clearer than ever, as unprecedented reaction is entrenching itself in all three branches of the government with a fascist at its head, doubling down on climate change denial and nuclear-armed militarism. Civilization’s survival is called into question unless this rotten political and economic system and its ideology are abolished.

We must fight this backward movement here and now and in doing so not disarm ourselves by failing to project the need for social transformation fundamental enough to pull out fascism’s roots in capitalism, which is intertwined with racism, sexism, heterosexism and imperialism. Let us not limit ourselves to being against this new form of fascism, or even against capitalism, but release the power of the freedom movements by aiding their unity with the philosophy of freedom for the reconstruction of society on totally new beginnings.

What Raya Dunayevskaya declared has never been more urgent: “The totality of the world crisis today, and the need for a total change, compels philosophy, a total outlook.” This is the missing link for projecting a truly revolutionary perspective.

Many in various movements are stating their resolve to keep fighting. Confidence in the power of the idea, which is at the same time confidence in the masses, is what will allow us not only to keep fighting, but to keep working at the needed rethinking, the unity of theory and practice, so that revolution can succeed and bring forth a new human society.

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Marx on directly social labor

[I am posting this piece I wrote in 2005 because I believe it sheds light on current debates on interpreting Marx and Marxist-Humanism. It was originally published in Interim Discussion Bulletin #1, January 2006, News and Letters Committees. I will be posting a series of articles from 2004-2007 that were part of the debate then, which my opponents never answered except with serious misrepresentations.  Some points refer implicitly or explicitly to these misrepresentations.]

Marx on directly social labor

by Franklin, Memphis, December 2005

Let’s ground our discussion of “directly social labor” in an exploration of what Karl Marx wrote about it. Let’s examine first of all how he used the term in Capital, Vol. I, his most important theoretical work. Other texts should be considered in relationship to how Marx wrote about it in Capital.[1]

To begin, let’s consider that “directly social labor” is not some transhistorical concept. It is not a fixed form to which we can compare the labor in any given society. Rather, to every society there pertains a directly (or “immediately”) social form of labor specific to that society. In the section on fetishism, in seeking to illuminate the mystery of commodities by comparing their production to other forms of production, Marx writes about feudalism:

The natural form of labor, its particularity–and not, as in a society based on commodity production, its universality–is here its immediate social form. [What is translated here as “immediate social form” is exactly the same German phrase that is translated elsewhere as “directly social form.”] (Vintage ed., p. 170; Kerr ed., p. 89)

Or, as Marx wrote in the first edition of Capital:

The yardstick for “socialness” must be taken from the nature of the relations peculiar to each mode of production, not from conceptions alien to it.[2]

With this in mind, let’s turn to the “third peculiarity,” which has caused so much confusion among Marxists. In the section on the elementary form of value, Marx digs into the dialectic of the value-form, showing that all the contradictions that would develop with the money-form and with capitalist production exist in embryo in the simple value-form and therefore in the commodity-form. He outlines three “peculiarities” of the equivalent form. In each of these peculiarities, whose analysis paves the way for the analysis of the fetish character of commodities, Marx reveals something becoming the form of its opposite.

The first peculiarity is that use-value becomes the form of manifestation of value. The second peculiarity expresses alienated labor: concrete labor–instead of standing on its own as self-realizing human activity (human power) that (a) is a direct expression of human needs, which becomes at a higher development (b) human power that is its own end–becomes only the form of manifestation of alienated abstract labor, which appears as a force external to the subject.

The third peculiarity is a corollary of the second. Private labor becomes the form of its opposite, labor in directly (or immediately) social form:

Since, however, this concrete labor, tailoring, counts as merely the expression of undifferentiated human labor, it possesses the form of equality with another labor, the labor contained in the linen. Therefore, although it, like all other commodity-producing labor, is private labor, it is nevertheless labor in directly social form. That is why it presents itself in a product that is directly exchangeable with another commodity. It is thus a third peculiarity of the equivalent form that private labor becomes the form of its opposite, labor in directly social form.[3]

But what is “labor in directly social form”? From the above one understands that, in commodity production, the form of equality with another labor is the directly social form, and it results in its product being directly exchangeable with another commodity. Marx expands on this when he gets to the general form of value, where he uses linen as the example of the general equivalent (which is a precursor to the money-form, so if you find it confusing, think of money as the universal form of appearance of abstract labor, and therefore of equality of all kinds of labor):

The physical form of the linen counts as the visible incarnation, the social chrysalis state, of all human labor. Weaving, the private labor which produces linen, acquires as a result a general social form, the form of equality with all other kinds of labor…the general form of appearance of undifferentiated human labor….In this manner the labor objectified in the values of commodities [is presented as] … the reduction of all kinds of actual labor to their common character of being human labor in general, of being the expenditure of human labor-power. (Vintage ed., pp. 159-60; Kerr ed., p. 77)

What was defined in the elementary form of value as the directly social form of labor, “the form of equality with another labor,” has developed in the general form into “the form of equality with all other kinds of labor,” which, Marx points out, is the form of appearance of abstract labor. (Therefore, in the elementary form of value, any commodity that served as equivalent–that is, every commodity that was exchanged–embodied labor in its directly social form; but in the general form of value this is only true of the general equivalent.)

And when we get to money, we see that money’s “natural form” is “the directly social incarnation of all human labor,” “the directly social form of realization of human labor in the abstract” (Vintage ed., pp. 230, 241; Kerr ed., pp. 149, 159).

A quick look at the first edition of Capital may shed some light on this, since it goes into more detail on “directly social form” of commodities.[4] Here Marx writes of the general form of value:

As the directly social materialization of labor, linen, the general equivalent, is the materialization of directly social labor, while the other commodity bodies…are the materializations of indirectly social labors.[5]

Thus the private labor that went into producing the commodity that is the general equivalent “becomes the immediate and general form of appearance of abstract human labor, and thus labor in directly social form.”[6] This is true because, as Marx wrote in later editions, “within this world the general human character of labor forms its specific social character” (Vintage, p. 160; Kerr, p. 78).

The “directly social labor” in these passages is directly social precisely because it is the socially objective form of manifestation of abstract labor. In it abstract labor, which pertains to the sphere of essence of commodity production, appears. (Another reason why the study of directly social labor cries out to be brought to the level of the Notion.)

This directly social labor is social in the sense corresponding to what has sometimes been referred to as “indirectly social labor” (vs. “directly”)–that is, it is mediated by the functioning of value in the value-form of exchange. This type of direct sociality is specific to commodity production; it is not a natural term. It is that sort of value-mediated sociality of which private labor becomes a form in the third peculiarity.[7] Why, then, is it “directly (immediately) social”? Marx writes that it is because it “possesses the form of equality with another labor.” Within the value-form, the equality is immediate, and the mediation by value is submerged within this immediacy–it was hard labor for the classical political economists to discover that it was mediated by value, a form taken by labor. As Hegel insists, everything is both mediated and immediate, so we must be careful not to counterpose the mediacy and immediacy in undialectical fashion. In the section on fetishism, Marx’s primary critique of the classical political economists is that they never got to the question of WHY labor assumed this form of value. They recognized this form of equality (as a reality, unlike Aristotle) and understood that it was an immediately social relationship (even if a relationship between things), and they discovered that the equality was at bottom an equality of labor.

Thus, it would seem necessary to follow the development on to what Marx had in the first edition as the fourth peculiarity, i.e., the fetish character of commodities: (1) social relations between humans appear in the form of social relations between things and material relations between persons; (2) concrete individual human activity, labor, appears as value, a (social) property of a physical object, or a social objectivity with a physical objective body (a commodity). It is there that Marx develops the sociality of labor in a new way that can only come to be in the new society: freely associated labor, which is the absolute opposite of the fetish character of commodities, whose directly social form of labor conceals the alienated objectification of individual labor. Here is where Marx explicitly presents the whole of which private vs. social labor is part.

This passage from the section on fetishism suggests that it further develops the contradiction expressed in the third peculiarity:

…the labor of the private individual manifests itself as an element of the total labor of society only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products, and, through their mediation, between the producers. To the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labors appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material [dinglich] relations between persons and social relations between things. (Vintage ed., pp. 165-66; Kerr ed., p. 84)

But, according to Marx, there is another sense in which directly social labor exists in capitalist society, in which relations between individual workers’ labor really do “appear as direct social relations between persons in their work” on an increasing scale.[8] An undialectical approach would assume that this is as an inconsistent or arbitrary use of terminology, and thereby justify separating Marx’s use of the phrase “directly social labor” from his alleged concept of directly social labor (which concept is only discovered in passages that do not use the phrase). Let’s consider the matter more closely.

The two senses in which labor becomes social in capitalist society are not in separate compartments. They are in contradiction with each other. Marx explains how capital does not immediately change the mode of production when it first subordinates labor (the formal subsumption of labor under capital). But then it increasingly alters the organization and technology of the labor process, bringing about constant revolutions in production as it develops the real subsumption of labor under capital. One key aspect of this is the socialization of labor, which begins with what Marx analyzes in Chapter 13 of Capital, Vol. I, “Cooperation.” Labor is being socialized in the direct process of production. In several places Marx calls this “directly social labor.” (In Chapter 13 he refers to it as “directly social or communal labor”–Vintage ed., p. 448; Kerr ed., p. 363.)

The dual use of the phrase is not a question of two completely different issues. Rather, it reflects the dual, contradictory nature of the sociality of labor in capitalist society. In other words, the duality does not come from the terminology but from reality. On the one hand, the ongoing socialization of labor develops “the productive powers of directly social, socialized (i.e., collective) labor”[9] which Dunayevskaya grasps as “a new power, namely, the collective power of masses” (Marxism and Freedom, p. 109)–and she relates this power to the experience of the Paris Commune and the questions of fetishism and freely associated labor. (Recall how the “third peculiarity” is a step on the way to the full development of the analysis of the fetish character of commodities.) On the other hand, this new power of socialized labor is confined within the value-form, under which labor is transformed into social labor whose only specific feature is that it is abstract human labor; and this transformation is accomplished through the labor process that has been reshaped to make real the subsumption of living labor under dead labor–which gives impetus to the worker’s quest for universality. The contradiction between the two sides of labor’s sociality under capitalism is expressed in the way the function of this “power of social labor”

is confined to the production of value. It cannot release its new, social, human energies so long as the old mode of production continues. Thus the nature of the cooperative form of labor power is in opposition to the capitalist integument, the value-form. (Marxism and Freedom, p. 93)

This duality, as comprehended by Dunayevskaya, points to both the material basis for the new society and the subjective force (the new power) without which the new society cannot be realized. Breaking down the duality is not a question that will wait until the “first phase,” but rather, is a perspective for what happens beginning immediately after the conquest of power.[10]

Marx’s critique of Gray’s “labor money” explicitly poses a relationship between the two senses of directly social labor:

[Gray] assumed that commodities could be directly compared with one another as products of social labor. But they are only comparable as the things they are….But as Gray presupposes that the labor time contained in commodities is immediately social labor time, he presupposes that it is communal labor time or labor time of directly associated individuals. (Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, MECW 29:321)

In the slightly different language of Capital: because Gray assumed that commodities could all be directly exchangeable, he presupposed that they contained labor in directly social form. According to Marx, this is not possible in bourgeois production, where only the labor contained in the general equivalent is directly social, in that its product is directly exchangeable. For all labor to take a directly social form, none of it can take the directly social form found in commodity production; it has to take a different directly social form. This has to be founded on “communal labor-time or labor-time of directly associated individuals”–or what Marx expresses in Capital as “directly socialized labor,” “directly social or communal labor.” That is to say, it depends on the freeing of socialized labor from its value-integument.

Take a look at how Marx reformulates this argument in Capital. He cites this very passage in the first footnote in Chapter 3, “Money”:

The question why money does not itself directly represent labor-time…is the question[11] why private labor cannot be treated as its opposite, directly social labor. I have elsewhere discussed exhaustively the shallow utopianism of the idea of “labor money” in a society founded on the production of commodities. [Here Marx cites CCPE, MECW 29:320ff.] On this point I will only say further that Owen’s “labor money,” for instance, is no more “money” than a theater ticket is. Owen presupposes directly socialized labor, a form of production diametrically opposite to the production of commodities. (Vintage ed., p. 188n1; Kerr ed., p. 106n1)

Note the two different phrases, “directly social labor” (unmittelbar gesellschaftliche Arbeit) and “directly socialized labor” (unmittelbar vergesellschaftete Arbeit–translated in the Kerr edition as “directly associated labor”). The first is clearly a reference to the directly social form discussed in the third peculiarity. The second undoubtedly is a new formulation of the earlier statement, “he presupposes that it is communal labor-time or labor-time of directly associated individuals.” The word vergesellschaftete and its variant vergesellschaftung are the words Marx uses for socialization of labor in Chapters 15, 16, and 32 of Capital–that is, the second sense of directly social labor as outlined above. They are also used in the section on Fetishism, referring to pre-capitalist “directly associated labor” (unmittelbar vergesellschafteter Arbeit, p. 171; Kerr, p. 89) and [post-capitalist] freely associated people (frei vergesellschafteter Menschen, p. 173; Kerr p. 92)–bringing us back once again to the close connection of the two senses of directly social labor, the fetish character of commodities, and freely associated labor.

Formal logic, which rejects contradictions generally, would insist that the two senses must be separated, because of the following question: If “directly socialized labor,” as a form of production, is “diametrically opposite to the production of commodities,” then how can it be that “socialization of labor” proceeds apace in capitalist society? First, to say that the latter exists, operates, and is developing within a society is obviously not the same as to say that it is the form of production within that society. Second, Marx’s great emphasis in Chapter 32, “Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation,” is on the contradiction of the socialization of labor and centralization of the means of production with their capitalist integument, together with the revolt of the working class, begetting the negation of the negation–the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the foundation of a new society. What is the basis of the new form of directly social labor, if not the socialization of labor and the self-activity of workers taking control of the labor process, starting the day after the conquest of power–or earlier, as we learned from the Spanish Revolution?

That does involve freely associated labor, which is Marx’s most precise development of what would liberate directly social labor from its capitalist integument.  It is fruitless to dismiss that as “political alone,” and then treat the directly social labor of the new society as if it were not an aspect of freely associated labor. Why cut ourselves off from what has been developed in the Marxist-Humanist body of ideas, which shows freely associated labor (not directly social labor as such) to be how Chapter 1 enters the dialectic of the Notion, which to Dunayevskaya is the sphere of the objective and subjective paths to freedom? In Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, she writes that Marx recreated Notion with his section on fetishism and its absolute opposite, freely associated labor (p. 189), which she characterizes as “a look forward at what will follow capitalism” (p. 140). She adds that humanity

enters the realm of freedom after the overthrow of capitalism when ‘freely associated men’ take destiny into their own hands, and it is not only the fetishism of commodities which vanishes but the whole perverse system. Having leaped into that absolute opposite of capitalist society–that is to say, having projected a society of new human relations–it is clear that…we are, indeed, dealing with notional concepts. (p. 145)

It is here that Dunayevskaya refers to the genuine aufhebung of capitalist society and its myriad contradictions, including that between private labor and labor in (bourgeois) directly social form. The stress on the dialectic of the Notion reminds us that, as Marxist-Humanists, we are not only looking for and projecting the need for technical, political, and economic changes, but philosophic new beginnings, without which the new society will never get the chance to be born in the first place.


[1] The Grundrisse, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, and other writings on the way to Capital have to be considered, at least provisionally, as not being as precisely developed as Capital, and thus must be considered in relationship to what is in the latter. As for the Critique of the Gotha Program, the term “directly social labor” never occurs there.

[2] “Der Maßstab der ‘Gesellschaftlichkeit’ muß aus der Natur der jeder Produktionsweise eigenthümlichen Verhältnisse, nicht aus ihr fremden Vorstellungen entlehnt werden.”

[3] Because of the defects in both the Fowkes and the Moore-Aveling translations, I’ve done my own from the 4th German edition, checked against the French. See Kerr edition, p. 68, and Vintage edition, pp. 150-51. Note that “unmittelbar,” the word translated as “direct” or “directly,” also means “immediate” or “immediately,” as it is generally rendered in translations of Hegel’s writings.

[4] The post-Paris Commune editions have a shorter discussion of the “directly social form,” but more of an emphasis within that part on abstract vs. concrete labor–without separating “directly social form” from abstract labor in any edition–and, as Raya Dunayevskaya showed, a much more developed discussion of the fetish character of commodities. Thus it would seem essential to develop any discussion of “directly social labor” in strict relationship to the dual character of labor and to the fetish character of commodities and its absolute opposite, freely associated labor. Those have always been, of course, categories of the utmost importance to Marxist-Humanism. Too many Marxists have assumed that private vs. directly social labor is the most important contradiction, the ground, whereas Marxist-Humanism takes seriously Marx’s statement that the dual character of labor, abstract and concrete, was his original contribution and the pivot upon which a clear comprehension of political economy turns.

[5] “Als unmittelbar gesellschaftliche Materiatur der Arbeit ist die Leinwand, das alllgemeine Aequivalent, Materiatur unmittelbar gesellschaftlicher Arbeit, während die andern Waarenkörper, welche ihren Werth in Leinwand darstellen, Materiaturen nicht unmittelbar gesellschaftlicher Arbeiten sind.”

[6] “Dadurch wird letztere [einer ausschließlichen Art Privatarbeit, hier der Leineweberei] die unmittelbare und allgemeine Erscheinungsform abstrakter menschlicher Arbeit und so Arbeit in unmittelbar gesellschaftlicher Form.”

[7] This helps explain the translation error in both Fowkes and Moore-Aveling. Both have it as private labor “takes” rather than “becomes” the form of labor in directly social form. Unlike concrete labor and use-value, “private labor” appears to be something to be abolished in post-capitalist society, whereas “social labor” always had a nice ring to socialists. Even when it is translated correctly, there is a temptation for socialists to line up private labor along with abstract labor and value as the things that will be eliminated with private property, while directly social labor pertains to “an organized economy,” in the words of I.I. Rubin (for example), an economist at Russia’s Marx-Engels Institute who was killed in Stalin’s purges. See Chapters 11 and 13 of Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value, where he equates directly social labor with “direct social organization of labor,” and sees as “the central problem of [Marx’s] economic theory, the opposition between private and social labor.” Like Bukharin, Rubin unfortunately did not break with the Second International’s fetishization of “organized” economy as the opposite of capitalism, which, under Stalin, was transformed into fetishism of the Plan. The fact that some form of social organization would planfully allocate and distribute concrete labor seems to be decisive to Rubin, while the participation of workers in not only labor but decision-making seems to be entirely unspoken in his concept.

These aspects of Rubin’s writings underscore the importance of Urszula [Wislanka]’s point at the Plenum that the abolition of private labor, like the abolition of private property, is no guarantee of the new society. The Plan of state-capitalist Poland embodied Rubin’s “direct social organization of labor.” We may note that, while others mentioned “directly social labor” in passing, Urszula’s was the only extended discussion of it at the Plenum. Thus, it is a matter of astonishment to read in [comments by Peter Hudis in] the 10/2/2005 REB minutes in what is presented as if it is a discussion of the Plenum:

“When we began our in-depth study of [Marx’s] Critique of the Gotha Program in 2004, its content was so ‘new’ to many of us that some argued that Marx never used the concept of ‘directly social labor’ and that the phrase had been invented by members of News and Letters Committees. No one argues that today, however.”

Considering that the fictitious argument about the phrase being invented is a mere straw-person deployed to sidestep the actual arguments challenging a particular interpretation of the phrase, it should be no surprise that “no one argues today” by repeating the words that others tried to shove into their mouths. (The reference to “‘new'” content as the alleged reason for disagreeing is also a way to sidestep the issues by instead impugning the motives of those who differ, implying that it is an irrational, emotional response–much like [Hudis’s] now dropped accusation of “formalism.”) The attempt to present the challenged interpretation as if no one any longer argues with it flies in the face of both the record of discussion at the Plenum, and the appearance in a July 2005 pre-Plenum bulletin of my piece, “A Note on Directly Social Labor and Freely Associated Labor.” [to be posted here soon]

[8] This is explored in more depth in my July 2005 pre-Plenum bulletin article, “A Note on Directly Social Labor and Freely Associated Labor.” [to be posted here soon]

[9] Vintage ed. of Vol. I of Capital, p. 1024. This is from a draft of Capital.

[10] Workers’ control of production is not the entirety of social revolution, but it is indispensable, both as a qualitative advance in the socialization of labor and as a heavy blow to the value-form, as Dunayevskaya repeatedly pointed out, as in Philosophy and Revolution, p. 237:

The crucial element, then, was the masses’ confidence that they, and not dead things, whether machines or lack of machines, shape the course of history. The spontaneity of their united action did indeed deliver blows to the law of value, that is, took decision-making concerning production out of the hands of the rulers. Precisely because the African masses did, at the start, feel they were not only muscle but reason, holding destiny in their own hands, there emerged what Marx in his day called a new energizing principle.

Recall the main point of Charles Denby’s response to Angela Terrano in Workers Battle Automation:

No doubt the new society will create other ways to produce. But the road to that new society can begin in no other way than by changing the conditions of labor, which means, in the first place, control of production.

Workers’ control of production means workers themselves decide what they produce, how much they produce, the conditions under which they work. They decide all questions. [emphasis in the original]

As these passages highlight, the question of workers making decisions is crucial. That is one indispensable aspect of the process of breaking down the division between mental and manual labor, before, during, and after the revolution (See Bosnia-Herzegovina: Achilles Heel of Western ‘Civilization’, p. 107). [This footnote responds to Andrew Kliman’s dismissive attitude to workers’ control of production and decision-making, and his absurd claim that speaking of breaking down the division between mental and manual labor before, during, and after the revolution meant conflating the “before” and the “after.”]

[11] I had to tweak Fowkes’s translation here, because it does not convey the sense that “it is (or comes down to) the same question,” which comes across clearly in the German and French and in the Kerr edition.

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Reading Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program

[I am posting this piece I wrote in 2006 because I believe it sheds light on current debates on interpreting Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program and broader debates about Marxist-Humanism. It was originally published in Pre-Convention Discussion Bulletin #2, August 2006, News and Letters Committees. I will be posting a series of articles from 2004-2007 that were part of the debate then, which my opponents never answered except with serious misrepresentations.  Some points refer implicitly or explicitly to these misrepresentations.]

Reading Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program

by Franklin, Memphis, August 2006

These new revolutionary moments of human development became ground for organization. So integral were organizational forms and revolutionary principles that, as we have seen, [Marx] concluded that the form of the First International which he had headed was “no longer realizable in its first historical form after the fall of the Paris Commune.” The point was not to “bargain about principles.” Only the “all-around development of the individual” would prove that humanity reached the end of the division between mental and manual labor. Then the new society could operate on the new principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” In a word, both the destruction of the State and the end of the division between mental and manual labor must be achieved for the principle of “the absolute movement of becoming” to become reality—when practiced as the “all-around development of the individual.” Nothing less than that could be called Communism.

—Raya Dunayevskaya, “Marxist-Humanism: The Summation That Is a New Beginning, Subjectively and Objectively,” The Power of Negativity, p. 263


Hegel’s philosophy is a philosophy of the self-developing subject, according to Raya Dunayevskaya. Her comment that Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (CGP) expresses a theory of human development cannot be understood apart from the centrality of the self-developing subject. Any theory of a determinate negation of capitalist society needs to revolve around that; otherwise, it is not a determinate negation of the dialectical inversion of subject and object that Marx theorized in capitalism, based on reified, alienated abstract labor, split not only from concrete labor but from the Subject, the worker.

From the vantage point of such a dialectical philosophy, let’s examine the section of the CGP that refers to a “first phase” and “a higher phase of communist society”—beginning with a closer look at Marx’s immanent critique of the draft Gotha Program’s (GP) uncritical posing of “fair distribution.” Marx states his purpose at the outset: “To understand what is implied in this connection by the phrase ‘fair distribution.’” He adds: “The kernel consists in this, that in this communist society every worker must receive the ‘undiminished’ Lassallean ‘proceeds of labor.’” At the end of the analysis, he restates his purpose:

I have dealt more at length with the “undiminished” proceeds of labor, on the one hand, and with “equal right” and “fair distribution,” on the other, in order to show what a crime it is to attempt, on the one hand, to force on our Party again, as dogmas, ideas which in a certain period had some meaning but have now become obsolete verbal rubbish, while again perverting, on the other, the realistic outlook, which it cost so much effort to instill into the Party but which has now taken root in it, by means of ideological nonsense about right and other trash so common among the democrats and French socialists.

Quite apart from the analysis so far given, it was in general a mistake to make a fuss about so-called distribution and put the principal stress on it.

In the process Marx shows that, even if made more rigorous, the loose Lassallean phrases turn into opposite, so that “undiminished proceeds” become diminished, “proceeds of labor” is ambiguous in capitalist society and loses meaning in socialist society, and “equal right” shows itself as unequal.

Marx begins the immanent critique simply: “What is ‘a fair distribution’?” He points out that the then-prevailing distribution was the only “fair” one given the existing mode of production. Then he goes on:

To understand what is implied in this connection by the phrase “fair distribution,” we must take the first paragraph and this one together. The latter presupposes a society wherein the instruments of labor are common property and the total labor is co-operatively regulated, and from the first paragraph we learn that “the proceeds of labor belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society.”

Marx makes clear that he is about to write a critical analysis of “fair distribution,” “undiminished proceeds of labor,” and “equal right.” First he dispenses with the illusion of “undiminished” proceeds of labor, indicating that, before labor’s products are distributed to individuals, they must become diminished by deductions to cover renewal (replacement, expansion) of means of production and reserve funds, all of which “are in no way calculable by equity.” The proceeds are further diminished by social expenditures including for “schools, health services, etc. [which, from] the outset…grows considerably in comparison with present-day society, and it grows in proportion as the new society develops.” Then he arrives at just how narrow and partial is that which falls under “equal” distribution:

Only now do we come to the “distribution” which the program, under Lassallean influence, alone has in view in its narrow fashion—namely, to that part of the means of consumption which is divided among the individual producers of the co-operative society.[1]

Next Marx dismisses the phrase “proceeds of labor” as meaningful for a society in which commodity-value is not operative. In place of this loose phrase he refers to “the social stock of means of consumption” and analyzes what its “fair distribution” could mean:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society—after the deductions have been made—exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it.

Given a society still stamped in every respect with the birthmarks of capitalist society, what could possibly be considered a “fair distribution” with “equal right”? Each individual producer receiving back the equivalent of their contribution (after deductions). This reading is borne out as Marx goes on to show that this supposed “equal right” is actually unequal, so what is supposedly “fair” is unfair.[2] That is the whole point of this argument.

Another reading of this text has long been common in the Marxist movement. The pull to stagify Marx’s thought, to provide the appealing simplicity of formulas for the new society, is strong. So the passage about distributing the means of consumption according to labor-time has often been read as a proposal for the new society.[3] The problem with this interpretation is that Marx makes no argument for the necessity of the individual receiving back the diminished equivalent of their contribution.[4] Can anybody explain why it must be so, other than saying, “Marx says so”? How about, “otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair”?[5] This reading is further undermined by putting the CGP’s text in the context of Marx’s Capital:

The mode of this distribution [of the means of subsistence] will vary with the productive organization of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labor-time. (Kerr edition, p. 90; Penguin ed., p. 172)

If the assumption is merely for the sake of a parallel, and the mode will vary, then clearly Marx is posing no necessity for shares to be allocated on the basis of labor-time. [Curiously, Hudis writes in his 3/20/2005 class presentation “Directly and Indirectly Social Labor”: “Marx doesn’t say he is discussing this as an example….Marx says there is a parallel with the old society since there is an exchange of equivalents; he does not say the exchange itself will not really take place.” Since Marx does not say there is a parallel but rather that he will make an assumption for the sake of making a parallel for the understanding of his readers who live in capitalist society, Hudis’s interpretation is astonishingly wrong-headed. He sticks to this misinterpretation in his book Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, pp. 157-59, 198.] It seems unlikely that the CGP represents a revision of Marx’s position, given that his cover letter to Bracke mentions the French edition of Capital (whose text in this passage is in complete accord with the Kerr and Penguin editions), and Marx did not write a “correction,” then or later.

So if Marx is not saying what the new society must be like, then why does he make this argument? He is saying, here is your “fair distribution” and “equal right.” Even if we attempt to make your loose phrases rigorous, it still falls apart. Far from making a proposal, Marx is attacking the idea of putting the ideas of “fair distribution” and “undiminished proceeds of labor” in a party program.

As in Capital, the CGP notes that the assumption of a bourgeois right of equality yields a parallel with commodity-producing society:

Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form.

Hence, equal right here is still—in principle—bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.

In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation.

Marx calls this an advance because it assumes an actual exchange of (diminished) equivalents, rather than labor-time being averaged out. The word “advance” does not refer to what determines a change in the mode of production or the form of labor, but only that the exchange is really an exchange of equivalents, when viewed from the limited standpoint of labor-time as the standard. Certainly Marx does not claim that “It is an advance that brings crashing to a halt the very basis of capitalist society….”[6] How could a change in the form of distribution of the means of consumption be the advance that changes the form of labor? In truth, Marx’s point here is that this limited advance is not sufficient to transcend bourgeois right, let alone be the determinant that abolishes value production. (Remember, in this passage Marx is presupposing that value production has already been abolished.) In Dunayevskaya’s interpretation, it shows the need for revolution to be total from the start.

We have come to the part where, far from inscribing “equal remuneration” on a banner of the new society,[7] Marx negates it, or rather, lets it negate itself:

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right.

The heart of the matter is this: “This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor.” There is no statement here that “different labors [must be] actually equal.”[8] On the contrary, the point is that even if they are counted as equal for distribution purposes, it is still “unequal right for unequal labor.” When Marx wrote about equalization of labor, it was in reference to abstract labor operating in the production of value. Here it is clear that he is referring to the application of an “equal standard” to “unequal labor” for the determination of distribution of means of consumption—and nothing more.

Besides equal right turning into inequality, there is another defect—individuals being regarded only as workers and nothing more, all other dimensions being ignored:

Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals…are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only—for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on.

Marx is not saying that post-capitalist society at its beginnings must only regard individuals as workers. That would be completely unacceptable, certainly in our day of multiple subjects of revolution as Reason, of the movement from practice that is itself a form of theory, of profound questions arising about “what kind of labor” and the recognition by Dunayevskaya of Marx’s concept of the Man/Woman relationship being pivotal and fundamental. Not only would it be unacceptable, but it would go against the dialectic of revolution upsurging from masses in motion. Our reading shows that Marx (1) is discussing the application of this equal standard only in determining distribution, and (2) is not proposing it as a prescription for the new society but rather showing in detail why the Lassallean conception is incoherent, and why the principal stress should not be on distribution. The problem comes if one assumes that it is a prescription for the new society and that this equal standard of distribution somehow defines the essence of the determinate negation of value production. In that case one would be forced to enshrine, as the primary principle, a principle that necessarily regards everyone as a worker and nothing more.

Only now do we come to the two paragraphs that Dunayevskaya labeled “key” in her marginalia. First:

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

“Inevitable defects” refers not to the alleged necessity of distribution according to labor-time, but the defects that equal right is unequal, and that right can only view individuals from a single dimension.[9] This does not mean that no other form of distribution would be possible, but that any other form would also inevitably suffer from defects and “unfairness” so long as the economic, cultural, and individual human development had not reached a sufficient level. What is crucial is the subject’s self-development, measured in the self-activity of masses taking control of production and administration, breaking down the division between mental and manual labor—which Dunayevskaya kept stressing had to begin even before the revolution, far from being put off to the future for fear of supposedly jumping to the absolute like a shot from a pistol. [This refers to polemics from Hudis and Kliman, who were justifying their complete omission of discussing the need to abolish of the division between mental and manual labor.]

With this in mind let’s return to an earlier paragraph in the CGP:

Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase “proceeds of labor,” objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

The main point here is the meaninglessness of the phrase “proceeds of labor.” Far from offering a new definition of the mode of production of the new society, Marx simply recapitulates here the one he finds in the GP, although he makes it more precise. Earlier, he quoted the GP:

The emancipation of labor demands the promotion of the instruments of labor to the common property of society and the co-operative regulation of the total labor….

and then mentioned that the GP “presupposes a society wherein the instruments of labor are common property and the total labor is co-operatively regulated.” In this paragraph, he refers to the mode of production this way:

the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production…

At the end of this discussion he recapitulates it:

If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one.

If one were looking to the CGP for a definition of the new society’s mode of production, it would have to be this latter statement, the sense of which Marx repeats three times. “Directly social labor,” far from being the ultimate definition of this mode of production, flows from it.[10]

Nevertheless, let’s explore what has been interpreted as a definition of “directly social labor”: “…individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor.” What Marx says here is that in the new society the concrete laboring activity of each worker functions directly as a component part of society’s total laboring activity. A passage from the Fetishism of Commodities section of Capital touches on this same idea:

Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free individuals, working with the means of production held in common, and self-consciously expending their many individual labor-powers as a single social labor-power. (Capital, Vol. I, Kerr edition, p. 90; Penguin edition, p. 171; my translation)

Neither passage mentions labor-time, amount, or any quantitative relationship. However, Peter [Hudis] interprets the partial sentence from the CGP this way:

What does Marx mean by “individual labor no longer exists as an indirectly but as a directly constituent part of the total labor”? By “total labor” Marx means the sum total of the actual amount of labor performed in society. By “individual labor” he means a specific component part of the amount of that total labor. In the initial phase of a new society labor is “directly social” insofar as living labor is a specific component part of the total amount of labor performed in society. Labor is not characterized by a dual form of individual working time versus the amount of social labor that it represents. (Peter’s 3/20/2005 Class 3 presentation, p. 4)

This introduces the word “amount” four times in a sentence where it did not belong. The emphasis in Marx was the relationship of the individual’s activity to the self-consciously unified totality of social labor. The individual’s activity is part of a social whole—a freely associated whole, as we see from the Capital passage. Peter’s interpretation reduces it to a quantitative relationship.[11] But why? Recall the conclusion Andrew had given the year before:

Yet I think that there is an important sense in which [Marx] theorized this emergence [of the new society] as an absolute liberation rather than as a transition. I refer to his notion that people will be remunerated in accordance with the amount of work they do, from the very start. (Andrew’s 2004 Convention report, p. 9)

In this 2004 discussion, what was singled out as most important was that distribution of the means of consumption would be determined “equally” by labor-time, rather than averaged. That is the only characteristic of “directly social labor” mentioned in Andrew’s presentation. Peter’s argument translates Andrew’s entirely quantitative discussion, defined by distribution relationships,[12] into a definition of directly social labor, and reinterprets Marx’s half-sentence accordingly. Whereas Marx’s discussion centers on self-conscious subjects acting as a social unity, this new interpretation leaves labor at the level of a quantifiable object.

The central concept in this new interpretation is that the determinate negation of socially necessary labor-time is unaveraged, equally measured labor-time. This is portrayed as flowing from Raya Dunayevskaya’s ideas, and yet she never drew this conclusion in all her many writings. She did often project the opposite of socially necessary labor-time this way:

Contrast this view of time by factory clock and world market to Marx’s concept, quoted at the top of my commentary, which maintains that time is the “place of human development.” The same totally different world relates to all the criticisms piled on “immiseration” as against Marx’s insistence that, be the worker’s payment “high or low,” capital (“value big with value”) “vampire-like” sucks him dry of “free individuality.” (“Marx and Critical Thought”; this is one of the pieces proposed for the new collection.)

This coincides with Marx’s concept of the opposite, expressed in a draft of Capital:

What distinguishes the factory system is the fact that in it the true nature of surplus value emerges. Surplus labor, and therefore the question of labor time, becomes decisive here. But time is in fact the active existence of the human being. It is not only the measure of human life. It is the space for its development. (Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 33, p. 493)

In the quotation at the beginning of this article, this is expressed in terms of the principles Dunayevskaya singled out from the CGP: “…both the destruction of the State and the end of the division between mental and manual labor must be achieved for the principle of ‘the absolute movement of becoming’ to become reality—when practiced as the ‘all-around development of the individual.’” She is referring here to the second paragraph of the CGP that she labeled “key” in her marginalia—on ending the antithesis between mental and physical labor, labor becoming life’s first necessity, etc. This is the one she kept returning to in the 1980s as “what would be required to make that real” (Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, pp. 156-57)—where “that” refers to Marx’s perspective of a totally classless society.[13] She never linked “what would be required” to distribution by labor-time.[14] She had five years to do so in the many times she returned to explore the CGP after writing Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, so it could not have been what she meant by “what would be required.” Nor, in all that time, did she discover the new interpretation of “directly social labor,” which supposedly is the pivot of capitalist society. Rather, she kept stressing Marx’s insistence that the dual character of labor—abstract and concrete, not directly and indirectly social—is the pivot upon which all comprehension of political economy turns.

What Dunayevskaya’s philosophic comprehension of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program does show is that revolutionary organization must be grounded in the Marxist-Humanist conception of the revolutionary uprooting being total from the start, allowing the release of new humanist forms and continuing the breaking down of the division between mental and manual labor until the achievement of a new human society where the free development of the individual is the condition for the free development of all.

As Dunayevskaya put it herself:

Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program is the finest critique in the sense of seeing that the revolution in permanence has to continue after the overthrow. Yes, there’s the idea that there’s a transition period, and the state will wither away—but in our age we know that we’ve seen an awful lot not of withering away but the state getting totally totalitarian. So the point is the recognition of what Marx meant by revolution in permanence, that it has to continue afterwards, that it encompasses the criticism that’s necessary, the self-criticism that’s necessary, and the fact that you have to be very conscious that until we end the division between mental and manual labor—and every single society has been characterized by that…even in primitive communism—we will not really have a new man, a new woman, a new child, a new society. (Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution, p. 181)

[1] Marx makes it very clear that he is not referring to distribution of the means of production. The ensuing discussion refers only to distribution of means of consumption, and does not define the mode of production.

[2] Thus, a “fair distribution” can’t exist, period. “From each according to ability, to each according to need,” is beyond the narrow question of “right” and is not about “fairness.” “Fair distribution” cannot be “made real” through “a revolution, in permanence, in the mode of production,” as is asserted in the July 16 [2006] REB minutes, p. 9. [The reference is to Andrew Kliman’s statement: “Consequently, the ‘fair distribution’ that the GP called for is [sic] simply cannot be made real without a revolution in permanence in the mode of production–that is to say, a revolution that, in its lower phase, makes labor directly social….”]

[3] “He is apparently suggesting that Marx didn’t literally propose distribution according to labor time….”—Peter’s 3/20/2005 class presentation. Peter [Hudis] goes on to argue that Marx was making such a proposal in the CGP.

[4] In the July 16 REB minutes, p. 17, Peter writes: “Marx clearly states in the CGP the necessity for such shares to be allocated on the basis of actual labor time.” But there is no such statement in the CGP. This view is further put in question by Marx’s use of the phrase “For example” in this paragraph, as well as the text in chapter 1 of Volume I of Capital, which we will consider in a moment.

[5] In the July 2006 Pre-Convention Discussion Bulletin #1, “Confessions of a Fundamentalist,” p. 4, Mitch [Weerth]’s argument assumes what is to be proven: “If what characterizes production in the early phase is that ‘no one can give anything except his labor,’ and the natural measure of labor is time, then distribution will be according to the time one contributes. It just flows, logically.” Actually, it doesn’t, because the unstated assumption—that individuals must receive back the equivalent of the labor they contributed—has not been shown to be necessary. Besides which, why would Mitch’s argument not apply to “the higher phase”? Is time the natural measure in “the early phase,” but not “the higher phase”? Or is there some mysterious new element besides labor that individuals contribute to production in “the higher phase” that they didn’t in “the early phase”? Marx’s statement, “no one can give anything except his labor,” contrasts society where the means of production are cooperatively controlled vs. society where one class monopolizes them. It does not imply a contrast to “the higher phase.”

[6] Quoted from Tom More, “The place of the ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ in the 1987 ‘Presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy,’” Discussion Bulletin #1, July 2006. This interpretation assumes that Marx’s “first phase” discussion is an outline of the positive “determinate negation” of capitalist value production.

[7] Far from calling on the party program to advocate equal remuneration, Marx states: “What, therefore, had to be done here, instead of setting down general phrases about ‘labor’ and ‘society,’ was to prove concretely how in present capitalist society the material, etc., conditions have at last been created which enable and compel the workers to lift this social curse.”

[8] “If the economic relations are such that different labors aren’t actually equal, ‘counting’ them as equal will be a principle at loggerheads with practice.”—Andrew Kliman’s draft report, July 16 REB minutes, p. 12. This reading has little to do with what Marx actually writes in the CGP. It results from the mistaken assumption that “directly social labor” is defined by equality of hours of labor. As Andrew expressed it at the very end of his 2004 Convention report: “So one of the most fundamental tasks we face today, I believe, is to work out how to create the social conditions such that each hour of labor will really count as equal – beginning on the day after the revolution.”

[9] Mitch [Weerth]’s “Confessions of a Fundamentalist,” p. 2, claims, “The ‘inevitable [here Mitch inserts in brackets the phrase “not just ‘necessary’”] defect’ is that distribution in the early phase is regulated by the exchange of equivalents….” Note the change of “defects” to “defect.”

[10] Why should we think that the definitive expression of Marx’s concept of “directly social labor” comes where he not only does not use the term but only in passing refers to labor being directly a component part of society’s total labor—and then think, on the other hand, that, in passages where Marx uses the term “directly social labor,” he does not mean his concept of it? This attitude only proves that one’s concept is not Marx’s. [This refers to polemics from Hudis and Kliman, who dismissed several of Marx’s references to directly social labor as not really being about the concept of directly social labor. See my January 2006 piece “Marx on directly social labor.”]

[11] Tom More’s “The Place of the CGP, etc.,” in the July 2006 Discussion Bulletin #1, p. 8, quotes without citation an unnamed comrade’s questioning of “‘directly social labor,’ interpreted in a primarily quantitative way….” Tom writes as if what is being questioned is Marx’s own discussion in the CGP (“If there is a ‘substitution’ here, clearly it is Marx’s”). But the actual debate is over whether what Marx wrote there is primarily quantitative.

[12] In the July 16 REB minutes, Peter states that “equal remuneration…does not ‘make’ labor directly social; it rather expresses the fact that it is already directly social because production relations have been transformed. Some have failed to take note of this distinction in our earlier discussions of the CGP.” The truth is that the only content that these discussions specified for production relations was stated in terms of “equal remuneration,” that is, relations of distribution.

[13] This has sometimes been read as referring to the “slogan” of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” As I have shown repeatedly, this reading is incorrect. For a fuller discussion of “a higher phase,” see “What is concrete for today in the Critique of the Gotha Programme?” in July 2005 Discussion Bulletin as well as my 2005 Plenum subreport [both to be posted here soon]. But note that in this passage from RLWLMPR, far from pointing us to any discussion of “the first phase,” Dunayevskaya skips over it and says just the opposite: “Marx says that to reach the communist stage, there would have to be an end to the ‘enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor…’ …[Marx] is now saying that we will reach communism only when ‘labor from a mere means of life, has itself become the prime necessity of life….’” This is also seen in the quotation at the top of this article.

[14] Pointing to instances in the 1940s where Dunayevskaya mentioned distribution by labor-time in arguments against Stalinist claims that the law of value operates in socialism, only underscores the absence of such references after 1953. To say “there is no divide” between her pre-1953 and post-1953 writings does nothing to explain what their relationship and movement of development is and why “equal remuneration” isn’t part of her 1980s discussions on the CGP. Since Dunayevskaya herself insisted that her 1940s writings on state-capitalism should not be studied apart from Marxism and Freedom, it doesn’t make sense to pick out pieces of those 1940s writings and uncritically transfer them to the 1980s context. Or does the philosophic moment of 1953 suddenly not mean a new concept of the new society?

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