News and Letters Committees has posted its
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2014-2015
February 23, 2014
To All Members of News and Letters Committees
The sharpness of revolution and counter-revolution contending now, while the prolonged global capitalist economic crisis refuses to end, cries out for a philosophical direction. The question arises: where is the needed banner of total uprooting of the system and creation of new human relations as THE goal? This objective need, present in every struggle from outright revolution in the Middle East to movements of workers, women, Blacks, Latinos and youth in the U.S., motivates our call for a national Convention of News and Letters Committees.
Beset by attacks and contradictions, the revolutionary wave that began in Tunisia three years ago has moved into new phases and new countries. Some participants in the latest uprising in Bosnia are calling it “Bosnian Spring” in recognition of its links to the Arab Spring, while others are using the word “revolution.” Ukrainians are describing the uprising that led to the toppling of their president as a revolution; now the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and a variety of Ukrainian political parties are working to impose new “democratic” leadership in order to stop the political revolution from developing into social revolution.
Even massive repression cannot destroy what Rosa Luxemburg called the “mental sediment” of mass strikes, which she declared “the most precious, because lasting, thing” in the 1905 Russian Revolution. As one occupier of Turkey’s Gezi Park summed it up:
“It was important for us to experience that kind of life. If you were hungry, the food was free. If you were wounded, someone would carry you to the emergency tent. If you needed a lawyer, he is always there. Gezi gave us a powerful sense of a world based on solidarity and equality, which we could not imagine before. No one can take away what we experienced in the park.”
The same spirit and mental sediment have been expressed in each revolution, from Egypt to Syria. At the same time, the strength of counter-revolution makes clear that a philosophy of liberation is an urgent practical need.
In Egypt two competing counter-revolutionary forces, the military and the Islamists, both still maintain some sort of mass base, highlighting the inability of those who led the revolutionary movement three years ago to orient the struggle around a banner of total uprooting, despite the experience of new human relations in centers of struggle like Tahrir Square. The rethinking going on now by those who want to make that experience the basis for a new stage of revolution, in open opposition to the twin poles of counter-revolution, expresses the hunger of the movement from practice for a unity of theory and practice toward liberation.
The mass voices of the Syrian revolution are struggling to be heard above not only the boom of barrel bombs and mortar fire, but the shouting of reactionary jihadists clamping down on women’s freedoms and independent thought in general, and the bombast of state powers maneuvering. All too much of the Left has taken the state powers’ real and imagined maneuvers as their ground and thus had no inclination to listen to the voices from below–at the very time when 140,000 people have been killed and 6.5 million displaced, when civilians are targets of the Assad regime’s bombs, shells, and bullets as well as torture, starvation and denial of medical care.
The administration’s ambivalent verbal support never came close to military intervention, and obscured President Obama’s double-cross of the Syrian people as he flirts with Assad’s champion Iran so flagrantly that Ban Ki-moon thought he had the green light to invite Iran to the Geneva talks. Consummate insider Ryan Crocker, ambassador to Syria under President Clinton, to Iraq and Pakistan under Bush, and to Afghanistan under Obama, voiced what Obama does not yet dare to say: “we need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad” and therefore focus on the Geneva talks. Those talks were simply in a different world from the struggles on the ground, where not only Iran and Hezbollah but the Al Qaeda-linked ISIL are seen as de facto allies of Assad. The reach for social revolution must not be allowed to be buried by the power struggles of states and factions.
While revolution has not exploded in the U.S., the past year has seen continued struggles, from the renewed Pelican Bay prisoners’ hunger strike that spread across California and beyond, to the strikes and actions by fast food workers, Walmart workers, and others who are demanding a living wage. The massive turnout of over 50,000 for the Feb. 8 Moral Monday protest in North Carolina, with similar protests cropping up in other Southern states, is only one indication that the struggles will continue to grow this year.
The degeneracy of this capitalist society is seen in the political disarray, in which the Democratic President and Senate are unable to enact their stated goals of increasing the minimum wage and maintaining extended unemployment insurance and fell in line with devastating cuts to food stamps. It is seen as well in the deadly racism of “stand your ground” gunmen and the torrid pace of attacks on access to abortion and even birth control. The global scope of the disintegration of thought glares through such events as
- Switzerland’s passing of an anti-immigrant referendum, drawing attention to the rise of far-right parties and politics across the continent;
- Nigeria’s passage of an anti-Gay law giving the green light to a wave of arrests and killings, echoing events in Uganda, Cameroon, and a number of other African countries;
- Russia’s use of the Olympics as a spectacle to cover up its own anti-Gay and ethnic oppression and harassment of environmentalists and its economic crisis extending even to unpaid workers at the Olympics itself, as well as its support of Assad’s carnage in Syria;
- wars, slaughters, mass rapes in African countries from Congo to Sudan, often fueled by imperialist exploitation of natural resources
- the catastrophic aftermath of the U.S. wars started in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade ago that the administration is trying to separate itself from;
- “kill lists” maintained as legal by President Obama, a constitutional lawyer who knows the history of how the state has perverted the Bill of Rights.
All this degeneracy occurs in the context of a globalized capitalism in deep economic crisis, no matter how the government tries to spin what they call the recovery, pointing to 3.2% growth in the last quarter. Actual conditions of life and labor have not recovered for the masses, with the official unemployment rate hiding the large number who are no longer counted as part of the labor force, and with many of those who lost jobs and found new ones employed at far lower wages than before, while the social safety net continues to be dismantled. Although some improvements have been made in health insurance, they come at the cost of many part-time workers having their hours reduced as well as mergers leading to greater monopolization in the healthcare business.
The UAW’s loss of the unionization vote at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., recalls the failure of union leaders’ vow to unionize the South after World War II. Labor unions are hardly a factor for most U.S. workers–just at the time when talk of the dangers of economic inequality is being channeled into partisan politics rather than the need for workers to control their own workplaces and lives. The capitalist class is enjoying lush profits and lavish income, yet economic growth has not recovered to its pre-recession peak, nor has the rate of profit. Warnings of a weakening economy in China raise the specter of a panic over “emerging market” countries in general.
One important way the economic crisis is manifested is capitalism’s inability to tackle the perils of climate change. That can be seen in everything from the administration’s abandonment of environmental protections in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact–which would undermine environmental, food safety, health, and financial industry regulations and endanger millions of jobs–to Europe’s backtracking on its commitments on renewable energy as well as the collapse of its carbon emission markets.
Above all it is seen in the drive by the U.S. and Canadian governments to push through the Keystone XL pipeline on the pretext that Canada’s tar sands oil will be exploited anyway. It illustrates the suicidal tendency of capitalist production to keep expanding no matter how disastrous the effects to the future of humanity. The climate crisis is here now, as seen from The Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan to the severe drought in California’s Central Valley, a major source of agricultural produce. And yet what the world’s governments and businesses are doing to address climate change pales in comparison to all they are doing to exacerbate it.
Nonetheless, the revolutionary mental sediment of the Occupy Movement remains in force. As an Occupy Boston activist viewing Turkey’s Gezi movement wrote, “Another world really is possible! Anti-capitalism is such a realistic worldwide goal for our generation. We aren’t benefitting from capitalism, and we are finally starting to talk about it.”
The positive in the negative of anti-capitalism cannot be allowed to remain implicit. It is said often enough that we have to talk not only about what we are against but what we are for. But if the President can repeat that same statement as a platitude in his State of the Union address, we need to make clear that what we are for involves a total break with this capitalist society and its dehumanization, with all its alienations and oppressions. The unfolding dialectic of revolution and counter-revolution has placed starting from the Absolute at the top of our, and the world’s, agenda. As the organization whose explicit basis is the Absolute of Marxist-Humanism, News and Letters Committees bears a special responsibility.
This year we are returning with fresh eyes to Marxist-Humanism’s philosophic moment, with a special focus on what this organization published 25 years ago, shortly after our founder’s death: The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism. Raya Dunayevskaya’s discussion there singles out from Karl Marx’s philosophic moment his appropriation of Hegel’s “negation of the negation” and transformation of it into a “new Humanism,” which she indicates was Marx’s ground for organization. It is in that context that she takes up his return to his own philosophic moment “as it was concretized for organization,” and then takes up Marx’s “general view of where we’re headed” after revolution, looking ahead to the abolition of the division between mental and manual labor. The reintegration of mental and manual is key to the “new society” she found in Hegel’s Absolutes in her own philosophic moment of Marxist-Humanism.
The Absolute is not something to graft onto the analysis of an event or movement but rather challenges us to begin from the Absolute in grasping the internal dialectic of the particular, in showing the meaning of the event. For us, philosophy is not an academic exercise but is at the heart of working out what to do. That “what to do” will be a part of all our discussions, publications, and activities in this pre-Convention period and will be a test of how we concretize philosophy. One essential point for each Local will be to be concrete, beginning with the issuance of this Call, about how they plan to participate and who they are going to bring to the Convention this year, as part of our work to build the organization.
We here issue a Call for a national Convention this Memorial Day weekend. The outgoing National Editorial Board will meet in Executive Session Friday evening, May 23. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 24, and running through Sunday, May 25, all sessions of the Convention will be open to 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 Convention 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 advance who will be attending the Convention, in order for the host local to plan meals and assist in arranging for housing.
With this Call begins a full 90 days of pre-Convention discussion. 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 Convention. Articles for pre-Convention Discussion Bulletins must be submitted to the Center by Monday, April 28. Any articles after that date must be copied and brought to the Convention 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 and whom we may wish to invite to the Convention becomes a measure of the inseparability for us between preparation for our Convention and all our activities throughout the pre-Convention period.
—The Resident Editorial Board