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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News and Letters Committees Call for Plenum 2015

New from News and Letters Committees:



to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2015-2016

March 2, 2015

To All Members of News and Letters Committees

Dear Friends:

The long-simmering outrage of Black masses that has broken out into a movement against this racist society, particularly its pattern of racist killings by the police, has transformed the subjective terrain of the U.S. Not only has that reverberated internationally, it has also made itself felt in the battle of ideas and the sphere of theory, from the messages of support issued by women’s liberation, labor, Gay rights and environmental groups, to essays such as “‘We all can’t breathe’: Reflections on Marx’s Humanism and Fanon” (Jan.-Feb. 2015 N&L).

The new revolt calls not only for ever greater participation in the movement against such brutality but for ideas rooted in the history of freedom struggles past and present. Thus the objectivity of 60 years of News and Letters Committees as Marxist-Humanist organization enters into today not so much by marking an anniversary as by giving voice to the self-determination of the idea of freedom as it speaks to this specific time.

Clearly, the subjective transformation has not overthrown the old order. The police have not stopped killing—as seen by the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Wash. There is no confidence that the killers will suddenly start being convicted, even if one or two examples are made. Quite the contrary. Patrick Lynch, head of New York City’s largest police union, is still yelling fascist rhetoric about blood on the hands of anyone who dares question any action by the police.

There is more than a whiff of fascism pervading local, state, national and international politics. One of the best examples is the fascist theocrat Roy Moore, Chief Justice of Alabama, who, in ordering a ban on same-sex marriage in that state, is defying, not the supposedly “Left” Barack Obama, but rather the most reactionary Supreme Court in decades. This is the Court that enabled plutocrats like the Koch brothers to pervert elections with unlimited money, that gave its blessing to employers denying women access to birth control, that invariably sides with businesses over workers, that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Moreover, Moore’s appeal to the law of God—as determined by him—as trumping the U.S. Constitution managed to rally not just the KKK but, initially, the majority of the state’s probate judges to his defiance, even knowing they would soon be ordered to grant wedding licenses to same-sex couples. Most have now bowed to the federal court’s orders, but several still refuse. That is an indication of fascism’s latent support.

The victory of the “radical Left” party Syriza in Greek elections did not take place in a different world. The economic crisis that struck world capitalism beginning in 2007 unleashed forces of revolt and forces of desperate counter-revolution. Revolt has ranged from the U.S. (prison strikes, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and new labor struggles from fast food and Wal-Mart to nurses to the present oil workers’ strike and dockworkers’ struggle) to the Arab Spring revolutions, to upheavals across Europe. There is no doubt that revolt against austerity fueled Syriza’s electoral showing, yet at the same time the openly fascist Golden Dawn party rose to third place in that same election. Just as worryingly, Syriza’s coalition with an anti-immigrant, theocratic, right-wing party has been met with a slew of apologias from leftists in other countries who want to emulate Syriza’s kind of populist broad Left unity as the path to power—as if history has no lessons for us on precisely this disastrous path! In the 1930s, the spontaneous actions of the masses, including occupations of workplaces, defeated fascism in France and dealt it a severe blow in Spain; however, Popular Front governments stifled those spontaneous actions and ended in the Right’s victory.

A related serious defect endemic to today’s Left is a tendency to side with any state or armed force that presents itself as an opponent of the U.S. Here too the first negation, the need to oppose the overwhelming power of U.S. capitalist imperialism, blocks thought’s urge to negate that negation. That second negation, needed to concretely raise a banner of a society on new human foundations, brooks no accommodation with counter-revolutionary forces, no matter how anti-U.S. Its necessity is clear from the way some on the Left take at face value the revolutionary claims of the “people’s republics” carved out of eastern Ukraine with Russia’s aid, while they disregard the severe repression there, including of independent trade unions, even to the point of murder—whose struggles are not separate from those of workers in western Ukraine against the oligarchs.

It is also clear from the way truly revolutionary voices in Syria are disregarded in favor of dogmatic repetition of “Hands off Syria,” even if that means tacit support for the genocidal Assad regime and/or the genocidal Islamic State (IS). In 2015 U.S. drones are still killing civilians as well as fighters in several countries; war continues to tear apart lives and disrupt society in Afghanistan with U.S. involvement; and the destruction wrought by this country’s war and occupation in Iraq not only has drawn U.S. troops back into the fray after the war’s ostensible end but has bred sectarian conflict and the rise of IS. At such a moment, opposition to imperialism must be based on a concrete understanding of the way the U.S. intervenes only to support capitalist “stability” and at the same time undermine any genuine freedom movements. To do so requires a realistic assessment of the counter-revolutionary forces that pose as anti-imperialist; even more, it requires singling out and listening to the people fighting for freedom. That includes the Kurdish and Syrian revolutionaries who—in spite of the U.S, which all along has hoped for the “stability” of an Assad victory—have fought both the regime and IS and in so doing created the space in which others can fight IS. As in Syria, the disintegration of Yemen and Libya in the wake of the revolts of Arab Spring reflects both the rulers’ desperation to stave off social revolution even at the risk of such disintegration and the lack of a unifying banner of total freedom encompassing new relations in production and women’s liberation.

The vantage point of liberation is needed for all the many crises besetting the globe, from attacks on labor and the poor by reactionary U.S. state governments to the lingering economic crisis, especially in Europe and China; from the new stage of revolt in Mexico to labor unrest and revolt by the Black poor in South Africa; from Boko Haram’s push into four nations to the way imperialism and capitalist “development” set the stage for the ebola epidemic in West Africa; from militarism in Japan and the U.S. to capitalism’s inexorable momentum toward climate chaos.

This simultaneity of revolutionary ferment and many-faceted counter-revolution makes imperative the activity of the philosophy of revolution, which is not so feeble as merely to have a right or obligation to exist without actually existing, and proving its existence by influencing events. Therefore our observance of 60 years of News & Letters and News and Letters Committees is not simply a celebration looking back—a retrospective—but a new return to Archives as perspective, as action and as organization. It is a return to the category that Marxist-Humanism made of the post-World War II era as a new stage of production, a new stage of cognition, a new kind of organization whose objectivity is rooted in that new stage of cognition. That is, this newspaper and organization express the fact that this era is characterized by a movement from practice that is itself a form of theory and that that essential aspect of the new stage of cognition is complemented by the self-determination of the Idea of Marxist-Humanism. That is an objective need for today’s swirling revolt, revolution, and counter-revolution.

What is needed from an organization of the type of a small group like us is what Raya Dunayevskaya described as “leadership, not as ‘party to lead’ but as revolutionary philosophy to raise new banners of freedom that meet the challenge of the movement from practice.” In bringing together members and invited co-thinkers and co-activists, this year’s national gathering will aim to collectively work out our Marxist-Humanist perspectives in such a way that analysis of the meaning of events and activity in mass movements lead to organizational growth as well as the self-development of masses as Reason as well as Force.

The Plenum this year, which is the meeting of the National Editorial Board members of News and Letters Committees, opens in Executive Session Friday evening, May 22. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 23, and running through Sunday, May 24, all other sessions of the Plenum will be open to all members and to invited friends, who are given the same privileges to the floor for discussion.

We are asking the Chicago local to host the Plenum and to be responsible for a Saturday evening party to greet out-of-towners. All locals and members at large are asked to let the Center know at least two weeks in advancewho will be attending the Plenum, in order for the host local to plan meals and arrange for housing.

Pre-Plenum discussion begins with the issuing of this Call. A draft Perspectives Thesis will be published in the May-June issue of News & Letters so that it can be discussed by members and friends, correspondents and critics, before the Plenum. Articles for pre-Plenum Discussion Bulletins must be submitted to the Center by Monday, April 27. Any articles after that date must be copied and brought to the Plenum to be distributed there. Central to working out our perspectives are concrete discussions from all of us about how we will project the need for philosophy of revolution in permanence and how we will bring that philosophy to bear on the different movements and events. Discussion within our local committees and with all those we can reach becomes a measure of the inseparability for us between preparation for our Plenum and all our activities throughout the pre-Plenum period.

The Resident Editorial Board

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Los Zapatistas y los padres y estudiantes de Ayotzinapa: Una unión decisiva

Un nuevo momento en la dialéctica de la lucha


Eugene Gogol

Desde el asesinato de tres estudiantes y la desaparición de otros 43 de la Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos en Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, el 26 y 27 de septiembre pasados, México ha estado en protesta continua. Tal movimiento en ascenso —literalmente, un nuevo momento histórico— ha sido encabezado por los padres de los estudiantes de Ayotzinapa, quienes han recorrido todo el país, compartiendo su “dolor y su rabia”, en busca de sus hijos. Más aún: han desafiado al gobierno en todos sus niveles, incluyendo al ejército y a la policía, al cuestionarles hasta qué punto estuvieron involucrados en los eventos de Ayotzinapa; siempre y en todo lugar han gritado: vivos se los llevaron; vivos los queremos. Sin embargo, ha habido otros focos de protesta: el cuasi levantamiento armado que se está llevando a cabo en Guerrero; el crecimiento y desarrollo de un movimiento estudiantil, particularmente en la ciudad de México; la participación de sectores sociales masivos en las manifestaciones en la capital del país y otros estados, etc. Esta dialéctica de la lucha es fundamental para la transformación social-revolucionaria en México.

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Özgecan Aslan: Sexual assault and murder in Turkey spark widespread outrage, demonstrations

Check out this preview of a portion of the lead article for the upcoming March-April 2015 issue of News & Letters.  Comment now so that your thoughts can be taken into account in the finished article, which, for International Women’s Day/Women’s History Month, will take up women’s oppression and freedom struggles worldwide.  

Just as in late 2012 when the brutal rape and murder of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey galvanized women throughout India (see “Rape protests in India,” Jan.-Feb. 2013 News & Letters, p. 2), so now another savage sexual assault and murder—this time in Turkey—brought forth thousands of demonstrators, mostly women, throughout the country and beyond.

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On Greece and Syriza: Against the inhumanity of austerity, we pose the fullness of human liberation!

This was posted on the News & Letters website a couple of weeks ago, and is worth reading:

On Greece and Syriza: Against the inhumanity of austerity, we pose the fullness of human liberation!

Short description: The electoral victory of Greece’s Syriza represents resistance to brutal austerity. Alarms are raised by Syriza’s alliance with the racist, theocratic Independent Greeks party.

The electoral victory of Greece’s Syriza party represents an important step in resisting the brutal austerity that has been imposed on the Greek and European working class as the capitalist system’s response to its own intractable, seemingly never-ending crisis. Unemployment is conservatively estimated at 25.8% with youth unemployment at 49.6%; nominal wages have fallen 23.5%; and public health care spending has fallen by 40%. The capitalist crisis is the most vicious of zero-sum games, in which everything is taken from the life fabric of human society until nothing is left but wars and accounting ledgers. While we in News and Letters Committees celebrate the resistance represented by the Greek vote against this intolerable system, Syriza’s immediate follow-up to the election cannot be overlooked….

Read the whole piece at the original site.

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January-February 2015 N&L available on the web

The January-February 2015 issue of News & Letters, Vol. 60, #1, is available on the web.

View the issue online or as pdf.

Lead: Revolt surges against racist system destroying Black lives
Protests erupted following the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the cold-blooded murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Thousands marched under the slogan “Black Lives Matter!” These demonstrations grew in the wake of the equally outrageous decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner.

Editorial: Never-ending U.S. wars
The formal end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 was just in time for post-war wars to begin in Afghanistan itself, as well as in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen.

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes, Part 3
Raya Dunayevskaya’s May 20, 1953, letter is one of the historic-philosophic writings included in The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism. This letter explores Hegel’s “Philosophy of Mind” and is where she experienced her philosophic breakthrough that became the foundation of Marxist-Humanism.

European racism and economic decay
In today’s economic crisis, Europe is haunted by the specters that were supposed to be overcome by the European economic union and the single currency Eurozone: the 20th century tendency to degenerate into vile nationalism, genocidal racism and the barbarism of total war.

Workshop Talks: CNA nurses strike to save lives
2,600 mental health clinicians in California carried out a week-long strike over Kaiser Permanente’s “failure to provide timely, adequate care to patients.”

Essay: ‘We all can’t breathe’: Reflections on Marx’s Humanism and Fanon
As a Black man, I asked myself: Why—through the dialectical crises of the social relations of production and the subsequent implosion of multiple outlived modes of production—has racism persisted? Why, despite the relations of property literally bursting asunder, does racism survive? How and why does racism, sexism, homophobia survive revolution after revolution? Will we again be left behind after the next revolution?

Woman as Reason: 60 years of News & Letters’ feminist dimension
As we celebrate 60 years of publishing News & Letters, a look back at the Women’s Liberation Movement encountering Marxist-Humanism and how the women’s movement was anticipated as well as documented in its pages. It is an ongoing perspective.

Letter from Mexico: Mexican protests deepen
At the end of the Nov. 20 mass demonstration in Mexico City in support of Ayotzinapa’s missing students, acts of repression from state forces became more open and intense.

Rage against lawless police murders
Participant reports from several Black Lives Matter protests in different cities.

Lima climate talks betray future
The 20th “Conference of Parties” was held in Lima, Peru, and, rather than action, issued a “Call for Climate Action” without binding commitments or effective monitoring. The U.S. and other nations as good as admitted the bankruptcy of capitalism by arguing that binding commitments had no chance of being adopted.


Page 2
Men Explain Things to Me — a review
Women WorldWide

Page 3
Murderous King Coal on trial
Chicago teachers’ strike reviewed
Journey to Death’s door

Pages 6-7
Enough is enough: This movement is about humanity
Readers’ Views, Part 1
Readers’ Views, Part 2

Page 8
What solitary means

Page 9
ADAPT warns Rauner
Handicap This!

Page 10
Transgender Day of Remembrance
Queer Notes
Philosophic Dialogue on Dunayevskaya’s May 12, 1953, Letter on Hegel’s Absolutes and Gramsci’s “organic party”

Page 11
Youth in Action
Read and write for News & Letters
New York study group: 1965-2015 Fifty Years of Struggle and Revolution: The Legacy of Malcolm X

Page 12, World in View:
Zapatistas and the Ayotzinapa rebellion
Cuba-U.S. Relations
Sri Lanka election
Massacre in Nigeria

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