From the July-August 2012 issue of News & Letters:
Readers’ Views, July-August 2012, Part 1
REVOLUTION, COUNTER-REVOLUTION AND NEED FOR PHILOSOPHY
In the Draft of Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2012-2013, published in the last issue, while the global analysis is good, it is partial and emphasizes mass uprisings that may be a part of history tomorrow, i.e., Syria, while ignoring the long-term struggles that have a potential for raising a clear anti-capitalist, anti-state-capitalist banner, especially those in China. China is crucial in terms of an ongoing worldwide revolutionary dialectic, because it is a call for workers’ self-management, for a new revolution. I would have given more space to the ongoing struggles in Europe, where the rise of a new fascism is a distinct possibility.
New York City
In the U.S. the objective of capitalism is to overwhelm consciousness. Look at the world of finances. Ferdinand Lundberg wrote a book in the 1930s about America’s 60 richest families. Now there are 1,000 billionaires in the world. All of this overwhelms and is a part of the consciousness being created to oppress. The other part of the picture is the revolt. Capital fears this potential explosive force that they know exists and is showing itself in many ways. The economic crisis destroyed the foundations of capitalism. The whole world today asks the question: is capitalism viable?
We get first negativity through our feelings, through the eviction notice, or through the pink slip, or the bad review for a performer waiting up all night to see what the critic is going to say about him. The way out of the chasm is the recognition of ourselves as Subject that includes, not just the working class or Blacks or women, but all together experiencing it as individuals, and through a philosophy trying to change the world.
New York City
Last year I often went to Occupy Detroit. There were 30-35 tents and about 200 people at times. A homeless person who was part of Occupy froze to death after the Occupy camp was destroyed. Businesses do not allow homeless people to sit indoors even when they need to do so to save their lives. There was a proposal to superimpose an image of the person who froze to death on the business that wouldn’t let him get warm. But the ground is shifting. The revolution cannot be frozen in time or retrogression be allowed to tear it apart.
After thinking that global warming is going to trump politics, I now think that Fukushima is going to trump even global warming as a path to destruction.
The Draft Perspectives states, “the economy appears to have a will of its own that cannot be controlled.” There are a lot of people who think it can be controlled. The smartest people say no one understands how the economy works. It is a shorthand to say that the theory of fetishism encompasses not only first negation but second negation and freely associated labor is needed to abrogate the law of value. It needs more explanation.
The Draft Perspectives is good in its critique of racism in the U.S. and its political discussion of the Middle East, especially Syria, but the economic situation today challenges the new movements and their inability to meet the crisis. In the small section on the environment and the economy, we get a good discussion of the environmental costs, but not the objective barriers to capitalist growth that the U.S. and Europe are experiencing. What growth there is leaves aside the thousands of previously employed people who may never work again.
One thing that struck me in Raya Dunayeskaya’s writings is the movement from practice that is itself a form of theory. To me this means that whatever happens in the mind has already happened somewhere in the world. All our lofty concepts of democracy, liberty, freedom do not descend from heaven into the minds of intellectuals as God’s gift, but are the result of day-to-day struggles of often the most oppressed. Dunayevskaya expertly demonstrates that this was even the case with Marx, who revised Capital in light of new developments in the class struggle. This is perhaps the most antithetical idea to the “postmodern,” “neoliberal” capitalist superstructure that would have all good ideas be the result of the studies of technocratic experts.
The Situationists were by far the most successful revolutionaries to date. There is no doubt in my mind that the Occupy Movement’s success, such as it is, is due to its basis in Situationist theory and practice. Aside from them and their progeny, all I’ve heard is a lot of ineffective noise. Merely to call attention to a situation does not change it. At some point one must take action. Ultimately, even the Situationists were unsuccessful and it doesn’t look good for Occupy, either, since what made Occupy a threat, the physical occupation of territory, has been ruthlessly eliminated by the state.
I include a sub renewal and a little donation. You’ve done excellent work reporting revolt around the world, including the Occupy Wall Street movement. I was also impressed that you raised the Situationists for discussion (see March- April N&L). I have been since the mid- 1960s a critic of the Situationists, but N&L‘s discussion was unusual on the Left.
I followed the Situationists’ splits and for the most part was disgusted. They reminded me of the old Socialist Labor Party, another anti-State, Marx-quoting faction. Both were vanguardists in their internal arrangements. The incredible creativity of young workers and students in the streets of Paris in May- June 1968 could not possibly have derived from the plodding and tendentious diatribes of Guy Debord et al.
In the 1960s I could tell at a glance that C.L.R. James, Castoriadis, Murray Bookchin, the Situationists, etc. had little to offer. But I’ve continued to follow N&L throughout all these years.
HANDS OFF BHEKI!
Bheki Buthelezi, from the Durban branch of the Unemployed People’s Movement, was arrested on June 23. There have been a number of protests in the area, including road blockades, which culminated in a large march on June 8. People have been struggling for housing, electricity and water and against an unresponsive councillor and for participatory development. The situation with the water is particularly serious as people are being forced to drink from polluted streams. Police demanded that Bheki cancel a planned Abahlali baseMjondolo mass meeting. He told the police that if the government wants to stop the protests they must address the people’s concerns. How can people be expected to live without houses, electricity and even safe water almost 20 years after democracy? After sustained pressure the police finally released Bheki later that day.
Unemployed People’s Movement
Durban, South Africa
VATICAN VS. CHRISTIAN ETHICS
A great voice in ethics and Christian spirituality has been censured by the Vatican. Dr. Margaret Farley inspired an entire generation of students, been a mentor and a wise, eloquent voice guiding the Church towards a profound ethical understanding of what it means to live humanely. Her censure reflects on the state of politics in the Catholic hierarchy, which is engaging in open persecution of American religious women. This is a sad day.
But I was happy that Farley’s book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics became an Amazon bestseller in the aftermath of the censure. From #142,000 something to #16 today! God has a way of making a way. Maybe Dr. Farley can set up a scholarship for Catholic feminists.
L.A. REBELLION, 20 YEARS AFTER
The L.A. revolt was far from simply spontaneous. It was preceded by the thinking of those who had had enough of the unjust justice system. The movements that came out of it and against the prison-industrial complex express, in their critique of the justice system, the rationality of revolt. They quickly grasp that elite politics hawked by politicians don’t change anything, just as the offer to create employment by building prisons is fool’s gold. They understand in the most Fanonian sense—from their experience—that the essence and appearance of a carceral society built for them, the surplus humanity, are one and the same: violence. And yet, to think with Fanon, it is from that arid zone of nonbeing, in the necessities of struggle, that a radical sense of what it is to be human flickers in the dark.
A GLOSSARY NEEDED?
In rereading Eugene Walker’s essay on Istvan Meszaros (March-April N&L), a thought came to me. A glossary would be helpful for readers with much interest but limited knowledge of the deep-thinking philosophers. I would suggest beginning with “dialectic” and how it is translated in the articles where it is used, e.g., “Hegel’s dialectic.” Other phrases would include “absolute idea,” “negation of the negation,” “revolution in permanence,” “accumulation of capital.” I think there are many in the Occupy Movement who are not aware of the relationship between Marxist principles and their own actions. N&L could be a conduit for enlightening the participants of OWS. The mainstream media will not do so.
When readers have complained that N&L‘s language is obscure, the response could simply be that these are difficult concepts. But there are other possibilities. Couldn’t more be done with explanatory footnotes in essays for readers who might not know Hegel or Marx thoroughly? And fundamental concepts like dialectics cannot be explained too often.
No one can come to the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism, in terms of the Hegelian dialectic and, of course, its language, without being intimidated. It is also true that if you stay with it and not get dispirited, it’s possible to make creditable inroads into the entire body of Marxist-Humanism. I say this in reflection of my own experience.
PRO-DEMOCRACY IN MOSCOW
Recent events in Moscow show that the pro-democracy social movement is far from being “exhausted.” On May 6, a day before Putin’s “presidential inauguration,” at least 100,000 people took part in the “popular march” protesting against the rigged elections and corruption in general. This time it was met by the government with brutal force. Many people were brutally beaten, more than 600 arrested.
The next day thousands of people wearing white ribbons (a symbol of protest) were again on Moscow streets. In order to let Putin’s motorcade enter the Kremlin police had to block the city center, and the motorcade went through absolutely empty streets (precisely like Hitler in occupied Paris in 1940). But there were mass spontaneous demonstrations with people shouting “Russia without Putin!” “Putin is a thief!” and “Russia will be free!” Again police attacked and beat protesters, arresting about 500 (I was among them).
A permanent camp of protesters was organized on one of Moscow’s central boulevards with several hundred people (mostly youth) staying there— like Occupy Wall Street. The revolutionary process is developing; it can be prolonged, but the crisis of the ruling regime is irreversible.