NEWS & LETTERS, July-August 2005

Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives 2005-2006

Our "Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives" is here to promote the widest discussion on the political, philosophic and organizational challenges facing Marxist-Humanists. We invite you to join in the process of developing our perspectives for the coming year, as part of the effort to work out a unity between philosophy and organization.

Developing a philosophically grounded alternative to capital 

Table of Contents:

  1. Bush's Wars at Home and in Iraq
    1. Fighting the Right's 'Vision' of the Future
    2. The Economic Basis of Today's Retrogression
    3. The War in Iraq: Quagmire for Bush, and the Left
  2. Challenges Posed by Today's Mass Movements
    1. Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution'
    2. Freedom Ferment in Latin America
  3. Philosophic Challenges Posed by Today's Realities
  4. Towards New Beginnings in Marxist-Humanism

The terrorist attack in London on July 7, which killed at least 50, must be condemned by all who aspire for liberation. There is no justification for this attack, most likely carried out by reactionary religious fundamentalists.

The way in which the attack was timed to coincide with the G-8 meeting in Scotland represents a serious blow to the forces of liberation. Tens of thousands came to Scotland to protest the agenda of the G-8 and to demand a new approach to poverty, racism, and environmental destruction. Thanks to the attack, such voices are being drowned out. The attack will also divert attention from eliminating Africa's poverty and debt, as the effort to sway world opinion to deal with such issues will be subsumed by concerns over future terrorist attacks.

These events show how crucial it is for the freedom movements to firmly oppose ALL forms of terrorism and religious fundamentalism in the course of projecting a comprehensive alternative to this capitalist system. If that is not done, the "two terrorisms" of the rulers and the Islamic fundamentalists will continue to feed off each other in a way that will divert, disorient, and even destroy the freedom movements themselves.

The attacks occured on the heels of the recent rejection of the European Union (EU) Constitution in France and The Netherlands. On the one hand, the vote manifested the wide gulf between Europe’s elites and the populace. A large percentage of French youth voted against it and in some working class areas 80% voted no.

The "no" votes reflected dissatisfaction with Europe’s stagnant economy, high levels of unemployment, and fears that Europe will go the way of U.S.-style "free market" economic restructuring as much as concerns over the content of the constitution itself. Many in Europe clearly fear that the drive for increased integration will become a mechanism for cutting wages and social services in the countries with the highest wages and benefits.

On the other hand, the vote was no triumph for the Left. Those advocating a "no" vote included the neo-fascist and racist Right, which fears that greater EU integration will open the door to more immigration and the loss of national sovereignty.

Moreover Bush found it hard to hide his glee over France’s rejection of the constitution--not only because it makes life much more difficult for French President Chirac, who opposed his decision to invade Iraq, but also because it reduces any chance that a politically unified EU will emerge in the near future that could serve as a counterweight to U.S. global hegemony. It appears that the Right may turn out to be the immediate beneficiary of the present situation.

This is not the first time that European leftists and rightists ended up on the same side of a political issue. In the 1960s many British leftists opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market because they didn’t want national capital to be subjected to international capital. As Raya Dunayevskaya noted at the time, such views reflected a complete lack of revolutionary internationalism.(1)

This year’s vote on the EU Constitution shows that simply saying "no" does not represent a forward step in the movement for liberation. Much, much more is demanded. The key is not whether one opposes specific aspects of today’s reality but whether one projects a concept of the transcendence of capitalism. If the radical movement refrains from the arduous theoretic and practical labor needed to meet that challenge, it will repeat the errors of the past instead of posing a viable alternative.

I. Bush’s Wars at Home and in Iraq

A. Fighting the Right’s 'Vision’ of the Future

Nowhere is a new alternative needed more than in the U.S., where Bush and the Republicans are trying to impose total ideological and political control.

Bush’s lie that his reelection provided him with a "mandate" to push for deep cuts in social security, medicare, and other programs, while doling out tens of billions more to continue the war in Iraq, reflects a serious social crisis.

Real wages for workers in the U.S. today are falling at the fastest rate in 14 years. The modest economic growth has not filtered down to most workers, who are being forced to work longer hours to keep up with the cost of living, especially in light of ballooning costs for health insurance. The lack of health insurance is hitting Blacks and Latinos especially hard; while they make up 29% of the U.S. population, they account for 52% of those without health insurance.

Bush’s "answer" is to call for even deeper cuts in social programs and to demand that his tax cuts for the rich be made permanent. His 2006 budget calls for deep cuts in everything from veterans’ benefits to the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program.

Such policies exacerbate capitalist society’s tendency to become more and more class stratified. A recent study showed that for every additional dollar of income earned by the bottom 90% of the population from 1990 to 2002, the richest Americans (one-tenth of 1% of the population) earned an additional $18,000.

The social dislocations produced by this concentration of wealth and power at one pole and immiseration at the other hits youth and African Americans especially hard. Teenagers seeking employment are having less success in obtaining jobs than at any time since statistics on teenage employment began to be compiled in 1948. In Chicago, only one out of 10 African-American teenagers has a job.

Meanwhile, spending on police and the criminal injustice system continues to climb, even as crime rates decline. The incarceration of an entire generation of African-American youth makes a mockery of the claim that the U.S. is a model of "democracy"--a point projected in many meetings, protests, and forums against police abuse and the criminal injustice system in the African-American community, which remains the vanguard force for social transformation in U.S. society.

The social divisions that define the U.S. are being exacerbated by Bush, but he did not create them. They are a product of capital’s response to the STRUCTURAL crisis that world capitalism has faced since the 1970s. Staving off a further decline in capitalism’s rate of profit requires increased immiseration at one pole and the concentration of wealth at the other. Perhaps no society more than the U.S. today better illustrates what Marx called "the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation."

Bush’s plans for Social Security are part of capitalism’s response to the structural crisis that the U.S. has experienced since the 1970s. His proposal to cut benefits for higher income workers is even more threatening than his effort to introduce private accounts. If a system of scaled-back benefits based on income levels is introduced, Social Security will become a welfare system. If that happens mass support for Social Security will erode, which will enable the Right to later introduce massive cuts in the program. This is extremely dangerous at a time when corporations are trying to defraud workers of their pensions in order to prevent a further erosion of capitalism’s rate of profit.

The Right does have a "vision" of the future--albeit a most regressive one. Some rightists are saying that if they get their way on Social Security it will become possible to replace many other government-funded programs with "investment-based personal accounts"--from Medicare and Medicaid to unemployment insurance. Bush’s notion of an "ownership society" ultimately means that those without investments in the market would be denied even the most minimal protection of a social safety net.

B. The Economic Basis of Today’s Retrogression

Profound social dislocations and insecurity have resulted from the economic restructuring of U.S. society over the past several decades. They have everything to do with the growth of racism, reactionary politics, and religious fundamentalism here at home.

Deindustrialization and the destruction of family farms, the decline of the union movement with its message of "solidarity forever," economic insecurity and feelings of helplessness in the face of impersonal forms of domination beyond our control have led many to reach for a false sense of security, identity and community based on racism, "moral values" and regressive forms of religion.(2)

The problem is not religion per se, but the failure of the liberals and the Left to project a viable alternative to restructured capitalism.

U.S. capitalism experienced a serious economic crisis following the Vietnam War, when it became clear that it could no longer afford the high costs of both militarization and the welfare state. Then a severe global economic crisis erupted in late 1973, from which the global economy never fully recovered.

In light of the crises of the 1970s, the economic basis of liberalism disappeared. Welfare state policies had been predicated on the notion that economic growth could coexist with relatively high wages and benefits. By the mid-1970s the continued survival of U.S. capitalism required it to appropriate value that it was no longer generating in production. It responded with a three-decade long effort to cut wages, benefits, and social programs. U.S. capitalism became increasingly aggressive as part of an effort to obtain the surplus value needed to meet capital’s thirst for self-expansion.

These imperatives fundamentally changed the landscape of American politics. The Democrats as well as the Republicans came to recognize that the liberal alternative was no longer a viable option, since a rising standard of living for workers was no longer compatible with the accumulation of capital on an ever-expanding scale.

The radical Left, much of which had assumed that the welfare state and nationalized property would help move society towards "socialism," proved completely unable to deal with this situation. For years the radical Left--INCLUDING those leftists opposed to state-capitalist regimes that called themselves "socialist" or "communist"--refrained from projecting a comprehensive, philosophically based alternative to the very existence of capital. The ramifications of this failure have by now become all too evident. The void left by the absence of a liberatory alternative has created the ground for the rise of reactionary tendencies like religious fundamentalism.

Religious fundamentalists target the rights of women, gays and youth to control their bodies and minds because they wrongly view such rights as causing the dissolution of family, community, and other social bonds--when it is the logic of CAPITAL that promotes their dissolution. Targeting women’s rights has become a device to avoid confronting the problems of capitalism by posing the traditional family as a refuge presumably "free" from alienation.

At the same time, racism remains the cornerstone of U.S. capital’s effort to maintain economic, political and ideological hegemony. Despite such welcome events as the June conviction of one of the killers of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, U.S. society is becoming more segregated and racist. Rates of poverty and unemployment among African Americans are growing in the inner cities. And African Americans die from HIV/AIDS at a 750% higher rate than whites. These horrendous conditions may lead to new forms of revolt by Black America, as it has repeatedly throughout U.S. history--most recently seen in the Cincinnati uprising in 2001.(3)

Clearly the Democratic Party poses no serious opposition to Bush--as seen in how it too endorses cuts in social programs, has failed to filibuster Bush’s judicial nominees, and is officially downplaying support for abortion rights.

In light of this situation, it is crucial to build upon resistance from workers, African Americans and other minorities, women and youth. On May 24, 5,000 mostly women healthcare workers rallied in Los Angeles to protest Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s efforts to impose deep cuts in wages and benefits. African Americans and women’s groups are taking the lead to oppose Bush’s vision of an "ownership society," as seen in efforts by a number of women’s organizations to forge alliances with welfare rights groups and others in the African-American community.

Such developments are not limited to the U.S. An especially important expression of women’s resistance was the March 8 demonstration of 35,000 women in Sao Paulo, Brazil, sponsored by the Worldwide March of Women. It was held to promote the passage of a charter on women’s rights that was first discussed at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January.

The charter states: "We view patriarchy as the system oppressing women and capitalism as the system that enables a minority to exploit the vast majority of women and men. These systems reinforce one another. They are rooted in, and work hand in hand with, racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and forced labor. They breed manifold forms of fundamentalism that prevent women and men from being free....We propose to build another world where exploitation, oppression, intolerance and exclusion no longer exist, and where integrity, diversity and the rights and freedoms of all are respected."

C. The War in Iraq: Quagmire for Bush--and the Left

The gravest crisis facing Bush is his murderous war in Iraq, which has led to the deaths of 120,000 Iraqis and 1,700 U.S. soldiers. Contrary to Bush’s rhetoric about "democracy," the Iraqi people continue to face massive unemployment, a collapse of social services, and deadly attacks by religious fundamentalists and ex-Ba’athists as well as by U.S. troops. Donald Rumsfeld now says that it may take more than a decade before Iraq will be "stable" enough for U.S. troops to leave. These conditions are leading to growing opposition inside the U.S. to the occupation.

The great contradiction in this is that while support for the war inside the U.S. continues to drop, the organized anti-war movement is not getting stronger. It has instead become smaller and more fragmented over the past year. This has everything to do with its failure to recognize that the choice is not to support either the occupation or the Ba'athist and fundamentalist armed "resistance."

Many in Iraq are voicing opposition to the latter even as they demand that U.S. troops leave the country. This view is especially evident in Iraq’s small but growing labor movement. The Southern Oil Company Union has set up workers’ councils in 23 areas in southern Iraq and opposes the Islamic fundamentalists and the U.S. occupation. The same is true of the Union of the Port Industry, established by dock workers at Um Qasr. The Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq recently announced the formation of an Iraqi Freedom Congress dedicated to creating a secular and multiethnic Iraq.

Meanwhile Iraqi women are speaking out against the threat that the future Iraqi Constitution will severely restrict the rights of women by imposing Shari’a law. One of them, the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, has been especially active in calling for the creation of a secular constitution that guarantees women’s rights.

Many threats confront Iraq today--from the risk of civil war to the growing power of Shi’a fundamentalists, who enjoy significant mass support. The fact that the democratic Left, labor and women’s movements in Iraq are weak is no excuse not to solidarize with them. It only makes developing the links of solidarity MORE crucial. Opposing the occupation without solidarizing with those Iraqis who are striving to create a truly free society is standing in the way of developing an enduring and effective anti-war movement inside the U.S.

Our work over the past year underlines the objectivity of this challenge. We were not thrown off course by Bush’s reelection because, we held, the problems of U.S. society are STRUCTURALLY rooted in the nature of global capital and are not a mere result of Bush’s personality or the Republican Party. We also were not disoriented by the events in Iraq since we argued that the anti-war movement would not be able to surmount its contradictions unless it opposes both U.S. imperialism and the reactionary "anti-imperialist" currents by forging solidarity with genuine forces of liberation in Iraq.

Most important, we projected ground for surmounting the pessimism and accommodationism that has taken hold of many radicals today by insisting that now is the time to develop a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism through DIRECTLY grappling with such works of Marx as his CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM. By embarking on our nationwide series of classes on "Beyond Capitalism," we came face to face with Raya Dunayevskaya’s concept of the integrality of philosophy and organization, namely working out organizational responsibility for the philosophy of revolution than can help spell out "what happens AFTER" the revolution BEFORE it occurs.

The classes on "Beyond Capitalism," undertaken as we embarked on a new, bimonthly NEWS & LETTERS, was the highpoint of our effort over the past year to concretize our perspectives. At a moment when large numbers of people around the world are asking about whether there is an alternative to the seemingly unassailable domination of capital, we took it upon ourselves to do something few others have the audacity to consider--probing into the FUTURE, into the realm of absolute freedom itself.

II. Challenges Posed by Today’s Mass Movements

New freedom movements have emerged in the past year that pose important challenges to radical thought. They range from protests in April that brought down the government in Ecuador to workers’ unrest in China, where 60,000 unauthorized strikes and protests have occurred this year. We need to focus here on two especially crucial events--the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine and new mass struggles in Latin America.

A. Ukraine’s 'Orange Revolution’

Viktor Yanukovych’s effort to steal Ukraine’s presidential election from Viktor Yushchenko, who campaigned on a promise of greater democracy and civil rights, led to a nonviolent insurrection at the end of 2004 that brought huge numbers of people into the streets of Kiev and other cities. Student groups like Pora, which called some of the first rallies, hoped that 20,000 would show up at them--and were pleasantly surprised when a million poured out into the streets.

Despite the size of the "Orange Revolution," the working class did not play a central role in it--following the pattern of other protests in the former Soviet Union and East Europe since 1989. One reason why Ukrainian workers did not participate in the "Orange Revolution" as an independent force may be that Yushchenko is part of a ruling class faction that favors "free market" reforms and neoliberal economic restructuring. Since coming to power he has expanded civil liberties, partly reformed the state-controlled media, and modestly increased social spending. Yet his government is dominated by capitalist interests that are trying to move the country closer to the U.S.

The "Orange Revolution" has nevertheless helped stimulate a resurgence of pro-democracy sentiment in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and even Russia. If Putin’s increasingly authoritarian rule becomes threatened by pressures for democratic change from inside the country, it can have a dramatic effect on the entire world situation.

The new pro-democracy movements this year extend from Georgia to Lebanon and from Togo to Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe’s current murderous effort to "cleanse" the urban poor and unemployed from Zimbabwe’s major cities is aimed at eliminating the social base of that country’s democratic opposition.(4) He must not be allowed to get away with this horrendous crackdown. If he does, it will make it easier for rulers in other African countries to try to crush struggles for social justice, especially in Western Sudan.

China remains key to the international situation. Its massive economic growth and intensive government repression has not prevented the emergence of new struggles for social change and democracy.(5) A Marxist-Humanist was able to attend a conference in Guangzhou, China this year, which focused on the importance of Rosa Luxemburg’s concept of socialist democracy.

Mass movements for democratic transformation have repeatedly arisen in our time--from South Korea and the Philippines in 1986, to the revolts that brought down the state-capitalist regimes that called themselves "Communist" in East Europe in 1989, to growing demands for democracy in Egypt, Iraq, and Iran today.(6) The less that the Left addresses this widespread quest for democracy, the more the field is left open for Bush to claim to be its "defender"--even as he moves to scuttle democratic rights here at home.

The great contradiction in these democratic movements, however, lies in their stopping short of moving toward a fundamental transformation of social relations. One reason for this is undoubtedly the many failed efforts to achieve a thoroughgoing social revolution, from Russia 1917 to Iran 1979. The defeat of so many efforts at social revolutions by both internal and external factors makes it harder to envision an alternative to capital. The resulting tendency to focus on political changes, while not addressing how to break with the logic of capital, is a major problem of our times.

This relates to the contradictions that showed themselves this year in Ukraine. The problem isn’t that Ukrainian workers are suffering from a "crisis of political representation," as some claim. There has been no shortage of labor parties and other political formations in other parts of the world (some of them avowedly "socialist") that claimed to "represent" the working class--yet that didn’t stop the idea of social revolution from suffering a profound crisis. The problem lies deeper, in the absence of a theoretic articulation of a viable alternative to capital that matches the reason that repeatedly upsurges from spontaneous mass struggles.

B. Freedom Ferment in Latin America

The need for such an alternative is especially borne out by ongoing events in Latin America, which is experiencing an explosion of new revolts and movements.

In Mexico, a million people marched in late April to protest fabricated charges of corruption by the ruling PAN, as well as the PRI, against the leftist mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. It was the largest march for democracy in Mexican history (see page 12).

In Ecuador, residents in the oil-producing provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana went on strike on May 21 to demand improvements in roads, schools, housing and health care. In Peru, several thousand residents of Espinar province seized a copper mine run by a British-Australian company in May, demanding that it provide the community with $20 million to fund social programs and protect the environment. Strikes have also been initiated by peasants in seven other regions.

Bolivia is experiencing the continent’s most important mass movement--the largest in that land since the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. The movement rejects the entire agenda of neo-liberalism. Bolivia was one of the first countries to be subjected to neo-liberalism in the structural adjustment program imposed in the mid-1980s. The current protests are trying to stop multinational corporations from looting the country of its natural gas reserves, the second largest in Latin America. Multinationals bought the gas at below market value and now sell it back to Bolivians at 12 times the price.

Historical recollection plays a central role in this movement, which is trying to stop global capital from repeating its earlier rape of Bolivia’s silver and tin reserves that produced immense profits for world capital while impoverishing Bolivia.

The backbone of the movement--which encompasses factory workers, miners, peasants, teachers, students, and women’s organizations--are the indigenous Aymara and Quechua (as well as Guarani) people, who constitute two-thirds of Bolivia’s populace.

The movement contains different tendencies posing distinct demands. One of them, Evo Morales’ Movement for Socialism (he won 20% of the vote in the last presidential elections) demands that transnational oil companies pay a 50% tax to extract Bolivia’s oil and gas resources. This proposal, which was widely approved in June 2004 referendum, has been rejected by Bolivia’s rulers on the grounds that it would "scare away" foreign investors. Other groups, like the Confederation of Bolivian Workers, say the demand for a 50% tax doesn’t go far enough. They call for total nationalization of the country’s natural gas industry and for closing of parliament.

Demands are growing for the formation of a constituent assembly "to transform political institutions to correct the current situation of exclusion and the lack of recognition of citizen’s political rights" by creating (as one recent declaration put it) a political formation in which "sovereignty resides in the people" rather than in the elite.

At the same time, serious threats confront the movement. One is posed by business interests in Santa Cruz and Tarija, where the natural gas is located. They are demanding "autonomy" from the central government in order to negotiate their own contracts with the multinationals--undoubtedly in a way that wouldn’t "scare away" foreign investors. The Santa Cruz oligarchs plan to hold their own referendum in August. Some fear that the breakup of the country is possible.

Meanwhile sections of the ruling class are calling for the army to "restore order." Some labor leaders are also calling upon sections of the army to intervene, on the grounds that only they can "break the power" of the oligarchy.

The events in Bolivia raise many critical THEORECTICAL questions. The central role played by the indigenous peoples, whose forms of struggle are often based on pre-capitalist forms like the Andean AYLLU, recalls Marx’s studies of technologically underdeveloped societies at the end of his life. Marx probed into whether indigenous forms of working the land could become the basis for a socialist society, shortening or even bypassing the stage of capitalistic industrialization.(7)

Though Marx singled out the liberatory potential of such indigenous forms, he argued that they could provide a "fulcrum for social regeneration" only if revolutions in the technologically underdeveloped world linked up with a proletarian revolution in the industrialized world that could provide them with needed technology, resources, and solidarity.

Marx’s writings on this subject take on new importance in light of contemporary events. The workers and peasants of Bolivia are raising a REVOLUTIONARY demand in insisting that the country’s resources be used for domestic development and not be stolen by global capital. At the same time, no society can attain economic development in isolation; a country as poor as Bolivia cannot develop if it is cut off from world trade.

The ultimate success of the movements in Bolivia and Latin America therefore depends not only on what they do, but also upon the links of solidarity that we forge with them. Foremost in this is our opposing any effort on the part of our rulers to intervene against these promising mass movements.

Another focal point in Latin America is Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has survived several U.S.-inspired plans to overthrow him. Chavez is now firming up support by spending much of the country’s oil money on social programs. Venezuela’s oil revenue has increased fivefold since 1999, enabling him to curry favor with many Venezuelans--long disgusted with the antidemocratic machinations of the privileged oligarchy--by spending $3.7 billion on social and agricultural programs in the past year.

Chavez is now proclaiming the need to "roll back neo-liberalism"and "move toward socialism" by bringing more of Venezuelan industry under state control. Despite such proclamations, as of now he has nationalized only a few industries; the oil sector has been state controlled for decades, as has the Alcasa Foundry, a state-owned aluminum company.

What is new, and what has attracted much attention, is that Chavez has proposed a system of "co-management" between Alcasa workers and the state. Not long ago Chavez nationalized the Venepal paper company, which workers took over and ran as a cooperative after they were locked out by the owners. More recently, he nationalized the Constructora Nacional de Valvulas (CNV), which makes valves used in the oil industry. Chavez has also called for the CNV to be run under a "shared worker-state co-management" scheme.

While some are hailing this as a sign that Chavez is steering Venezuela towards "socialism," these "developments suggest a deviation from workers’ earlier goals," as one report put it. One of the new state-appointed directors of Venepal (a former union bureaucrat) recently stated at a mass meeting that since "the bosses no longer run the firm" since it is now under state control, the workers no longer need a union to defend themselves. His comments "caused serious concern among [many workers], who worried that the model of co-management and worker agency in the country was setting the stage to become a model for capitalist cooperatives."(8)

Workers in the state electronic company, Cadafe, have also expressed concerns that Chavez’s policy of "co-management" between workers and the state will lead to a weakening of unions and increased exploitation at the point of production.

At the same time, independent demands are growing for workers’ control of production; some groups are even calling for workers’ councils to run production. There has also been a growth in unionization drives in some areas.

The most critical contradiction facing Venezuela is that the army remains largely in control. Unlike the situation in Nicaragua or even Cuba right after their revolutions, no attempt has been made to dismantle the army, which is hardly a liberatory force.

Despite the contradictory character of Chavez’s "revolution from above," he is being uncritically hailed by many on the Left, who take at face value the claim that his call for "worker-state co-management" represents a new liberatory path. They fail to keep in mind Marx’s point that "if cooperative production is not to remain a sham and a snare" it must be under the direct control of the workers themselves. Marx argued that this cannot be achieved within the framework of the existing capitalist state. As he wrote after the Paris Commune of 1871, "The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes."(9) The task is not simply to take over state power, but to SMASH state power as part of moving towards abolishing value production and alienated labor.

Many leftists continue to ignore the fact that calls for nationalization of property or industry are not inherently revolutionary or even progressive. They can just as readily become a vehicle to disarm the workers through the repressive power of the state. Nationalization of industry and property is a necessary but insufficient condition for the transformation of society ONLY WHEN it is under the DIRECT control of the masses. Clearly, our age is still haunted by the specter of halfway houses.

III. Philosophic Challenges Posed by Today’s Realities

In light of the crisis confronting today’s radical movement, revolutionaries need to focus on the long-term perspective of developing a comprehensive philosophic alternative to capitalism instead of responding in a defensive or partial manner to immediate crises. Over the past year Marxist-Humanists have been directly involved in this challenge by engaging important tendencies in radical thought with our ideas.(10)

Especially important was our participation in the 2005 World Social Forum in Brazil. This event, attended by over 160,000, showed that many around the world know that capitalism is bankrupt, that the planet is facing ecological destruction, and that it’s crucial to show that "another world is possible."

However there are an array of different approaches to the question of what constitutes an "alternative" to existing society. Some go no further than posing the need for a redistribution of global resources while refraining from any socialist or revolutionary perspective. Others consider themselves revolutionary, but what they mean by this is carving out "autonomous zones" freed from the impact of capital wherein they can "try to live differently." Others realize that only a social revolution that uproots the capital relation can save humanity, but they do not know how to address how that can be done in a way that avoids the aborted revolutions of the past 100 years.

As a result, there tends to be a lack of concrete, theoretically rigorous discussion about the actual content of a new society in the movements against global capital.

This problem is reflected in the work of such theoreticians as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Their work has generated much attention because of their effort to explain the changed world reality of the past few decades in a way that rejects neither Marxism nor the importance of mass self-activity. They write in their newest work, MULTITUDE, "Even when labor is subjugated by capital it always necessarily retains its own autonomy, and this is ever more clearly true today with respect to the new immaterial, cooperative, and collaborative forms of labor" (p. 54). Since they see such struggles as immanent to the very movement of capital, they do not pose the need for an external unifier of opposites, like the old "vanguard party to lead."

How does Negri and Hardt’s work fare when it comes to projecting a vision of the future? Their previous book, EMPIRE, suggested that the goal of a new society is so immanent in spontaneous struggles that there isn’t a need to theoretically articulate the goal at all. For this reason, their book contained little discussion of the role of organization. It concluded, "only the multitude through its practical experimentation will offer the models and determine when and how the possible becomes real" (p. 411).

MULTITUDE may seem to move in a different direction, since they now write: "We have to search for a post-capitalist political alternative today" by developing a "new model of sovereignty." They say that developing such an alternative "is anything but spontaneous and improvised" (p. 354). However, they view the task of envisioning an alternative primarily in POLITICAL terms. They say little or nothing about how to transform the mode of production or economic relations, calling instead for "a new science of democracy" that can determine the proper political form to realize freedom. They write, "the central point is how the multitude can arrive at a decision" (p. 338). Everything for them comes down to inventing "different form of representation or perhaps a new form of democracy that go beyond representation" (p. 258).

Hardt and Negri’s tendency to reduce the question of a new society to political forms of decision making while shying away from the question of how to transcend the capital relation itself, is symptomatic of much of radical theory today.

For many years post-Marx Marxists spoke of transforming the mode of production--by which, however, they usually meant state control of industry or nationalized property. The disastrous outcome of that approach helps explain why for the past 25 years the radical movement has virtually dropped any discussion of transforming the mode of production, focusing instead on civil society, democracy, culture, "self-expression," etc.

These issues are important, but what’s been left aside is any discussion of how to transform the economic structure of capitalism. The bankruptcy of unilinear evolutionist or economic reductionist perspectives has led to a new situation in which many now embrace either multilinear or non-economic approaches to social change. Yet the more recent approaches do not represent a transcendence of the limitations of the former.

The failure by post-Marx Marxists to transform production relations because they fetishized property forms has led many to now act as if the most we can reach for is to transform the political and cultural superstructure of capitalism. In BOTH cases transforming alienated labor and the capitalist mode of production is left untheorized.

In sum, the problem we face today is not "economic determinism." The problem is discussing everything except transforming the social relations of capital. It is not up to us to choose what ideas should or should not be contested by Marxist-Humanists. History decides that for us. We are judged by whether we look in the historic mirror and respond accordingly.

The task is neither to return to the economic reductionism of the old Left nor to refrain from the theoretical work of developing a viable alternative to capitalism. Developing a philosophy of liberation that addresses "what happens AFTER the revolution" does not mean "imposing" some "program" upon the masses. It is instead the way to meet the questions and challenges posed by mass self-activity.

IV. Towards New Beginnings in Marxist-Humanism

"...'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ to this day remains the perspective for the future, yet the Marxists who keep quoting it never bother to study just how concretely that arose from the critique of the supposedly socialist program, and what would be required to make that real."--Raya Dunayevskaya

Our experiences of the past year show that our organization is not the only one to "defend" the idea of spontaneous self-activity. Nor are we the only ones to say that mass practice gives rise to new theory. In the aftermath of the failure of statist "socialism," the emergence of new social movements, and postmodernism, many now say that common peoples’ actions are expressions of theory. What none except the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism say, however, is: 1) the movement from practice is a form of theory--A form, not THE form; 2) THEORY is not the same as PHILOSOPHY; and 3) the philosophy that is needed is NOT just ANY philosophy but Marx’s philosophy of "revolution in permanence" developed to its next stage of dialectical development.

The fact that there is little discussion of Marx’s Marxism, including in the movements against global capital, pinpoints the historic-philosophic barrier to working out an alternative that remains to be resolved. The root of the problem lies in the evasion or rejection of Marx’s philosophy of revolution. It is this which has led people to assume that there is no alternative other than to accept under various names a self-limiting revolution.

When Raya Dunayevskaya first took issue with the idea of the "self-limiting revolution" in the 1980s, she did so by noting that its main author, Jacek Kuron of Poland’s SOLIDARNOSC movement, had earlier said that he had gone "beyond Marxism." She wrote: "Why choose between either of the two global superpower alignments? Does 'beyond Marxism’ mean you have given up the class struggle?" She noted that despite the great self-activity of Polish workers, "the philosophic rudder of Marx’s Humanism is yet to be embraced by the organized working class."(11) This was the decisive issue. The collapse of any effort to connect mass activity to Marx’s philosophy of revolution allowed the idea of a "self-limiting revolution"--as well as paens to religion and the "free" market--to take hold.

Today we face a kind of vicious circle. The lack of a vision of the future on the part of the Left fails to provide mass struggles with a liberatory direction; and the resulting tendency of many struggles to stop short of a total uprooting further reinforces the pragmatism and accommodationism of the Left.

To break out of this vicious circle we must grapple with and project the TOTALITY of Marx’s Marxism. Totality means the WHOLE--the economics, politics, and philosophy. Restating Marx’s Marxism entails being responsible for the WHOLE of his concept of "revolution in permanence." "Revolution in permanence" means more than ceaseless struggle. It means struggle in pursuit of a specific goal--the end of the capitalist law of value and of class society; the end of racism and of alienated man/woman relations; the abolition of ALL social relations in which our human potential is objectified in an alienated manner.

The perspective of assuming responsibility for the totality of Marx’s body of ideas is a unique contribution of Marxist-Humanism. As Dunayevskaya argued, "We must turn to Marx--the whole of Marx. Without his philosophy of revolution, neither Women’s Liberationists nor the whole of humanity will have discovered the ground that will assure the success of the revolution." She wrote in the same book, "Clearly, there is no substitute for the totality of Marx as organization man, as political theorist, as visionary of a future social order."(12)

How then can we follow through on the work we have begun over the past year in developing a philosophically grounded alternative?

It is not possible to develop an alternative to capitalism without building upon the forms of self-organization that have emerged from past and ongoing freedom struggles. Dunayevskaya explored this issue in a book she planned to write on "Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy." It remains a difficult issue to explore, however, because intellectuals and historians have often skipped over what has been achieved by masses of people in moments of revolt.

Yet while exploring spontaneous forms of struggle is a crucial part of developing an alternative, we "can’t solve the problem here," as Dunayevskaya wrote in 1987.(13) She wrote, "The point is that of the years 1924-29, 1929 to today, World War II, and all those national revolutions, the rise of a Third World and the endless continuing struggle, and nowhere in sight, not even in telescopic sight, is there an answer to the questions, what happens after the conquest of power? Why so many aborted revolutions? What type of party or organization? What have the various forms of spontaneity--councils, soviets, committees, associations, communes--achieved? And why when they did come close to power, it was the political organizations that didn’t take them over so much, as that they themselves looked to be taken over?"(14)

Masses of people do not "look to be taken over" by groups other than their own because they are "backward." On the contrary, they "look to be taken over" because they are in search of groups of theoreticians that can help answer their quest to know "what happens after" the revolution. One expression of the REASON of the masses is that they SPONTANEOUSLY search out groups DIFFERENT from their own to meet their quest for reorganizing production and human relations. Yet when no organization exists that can help answer such questions, they can get taken over by groups that aren’t defined by developing a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism.

In sum, transitions or revolutions are no longer sufficient to bring forth a new society. Even revolution, crucial as it is, will not lead to a new society if an organizational embodiment of a philosophy that can answer "what happens after" the revolution is missing.

Recognition of this problem led Dunayevskaya to initiate a far-reaching reexamination of the work of Hegel, Marx, and Marxist-Humanism in the last years of her life. At issue was the inseparability between dialectical philosophy and organization. The predominant approach toward organization among post-Marx Marxists has been to stress either the need for an elitist vanguard party or for decentralized and spontaneous forms of organization. Dunayevskaya instead explored the role of an anti-vanguardist "group like us" who "know that nothing can be done without the masses, and are with them, but [such groups of] theoreticians always seem to be around too."(15) In exploring this issue, she returned with new eyes to the philosophic moment of Marxist-Humanism, her 1953 "Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes."

A new reinterpretation of Hegel’s Absolutes is central to Marxist-Humanism’s original contributions. In contrast to those who stress Hegel’s method while rejecting his Absolutes as some mystification, Dunayevskaya held that the realities of our age made it imperative to unearth the vision of freedom that is contained in the culmination of Hegel’s system in Absolute Knowledge, Absolute Idea, and Absolute Mind.

The first work of Marxist-Humanism’s "trilogy of revolution," MARXISM AND FREEDOM, singled out "the vision of the future which Hegel called the Absolute and which Marx first called 'real Humanism’ and later 'communism’" (p. 66). Her next work, PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, projected the new category of "Absolute Negativity as New Beginning"; it represented her unique philosophic contribution to Marx’s Marxism. This emphasis on the importance of Hegel’s Absolutes was further developed in the third work of the trilogy, ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOHPY OF REVOLUTION. It led to renewed explorations of Hegel’s dialectic "in and for itself."

This culminated in her writings of 1986-87, in which she returned with new eyes to her 1953 "Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes" from the vantage point of the problem of organization. She was not simply concerned with defining the "right" form of organization. On the contrary, as she later elaborated in discussing her commentary on the final three paragraphs of Hegel’s PHILOSOPHY OF MIND in her 1953 Letters, "I end not with the form of organization, but instead say, 'we have entered the new society.’"(16)

Dunayevskaya’s work on the "dialectics of organization and philosophy" showed that a Marxist organization’s historic right to exist depends on its assuming responsibility for the philosophy that can spell out "what happens AFTER" the revolution. Her development of this unique Marxist-Humanist concept of organization caught the link of continuity with MARX'S concept of organization.

Marx fully concretized his "philosophic moment" of 1844 for organization in his 1875 CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM, which contained his most detailed discussion of a future socialist society. His Critique shows that the mark of breaking with capitalism comes by replacing production relations based on socially necessary labor time with new human relations based on directly social labor. A new society for Marx is not the result of changed relations of distribution. It is marked by freely associated laborers breaking with abstract labor and alienated production relations. There can be no true transformation of human relations, including of gender, race, and family relations, so long as production is based on socially necessary labor time and abstract labor.

It isn’t that post-Marx Marxists were unaware that in 1875 Marx posed the ultimate goal of a new society as "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." It’s that they failed to grasp the significance of the fact that Marx projected the path to this goal in an ORGANIZATIONAL document. As Dunayevskaya wrote in ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION "'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ to this day remains the perspective for the future, yet the Marxists who keep quoting it never bother to study just how concretely that arose from the critique of the supposedly socialist program, and what would be required to make that real" (pp. 156-57).

For many years we have condemned the limitations of gradualist and stagified approaches that fail to spell out a total uprooting of capitalism. Such approaches are very widespread today, as seen in leftists who stress the "permanence" of alienation and the "impossibility" of transcending value production. We need to combat such tendencies by envisioning the SPECIFIC steps that according to Marx are required to reach a totally new society, instead of assuming that the absolute can be reached like a shot out of a pistol.

Our age is crying out for a philosophy that can address "what happens after the revolution" and for an organization that takes responsibility for that philosophy. It cannot be achieved without a direct encounter with Hegel, especially with the concept of "absolute negativity," any more than it can be achieved without the contributions of Marx and Marxist-Humanism. This doesn’t mean that Marx supplies "the answer" to every issue. While Marx provides the ground, we also need a roof. But we can’t get to the roof unless we grasp the foundation. And we must not take the foundation for granted in an era when an entire generation of radicals has abandoned Marxism. To deal creatively with the many unanswered questions associated with working out an alternative to capital, we must hold firmly to, and delve further into, the TOTALITY of the Hegelian-Marxian dialectic through the mediation of Marxist-Humanism’s unique contributions.

This perspective seeks to define our tasks for 2005-2006. We aim to further develop our bimonthly publication, NEWS & LETTERS, in a way that provides the time and space to develop a publication AND AN ORGANIZATION that brings together the questions being posed from below with the philosophic restatement of Marx’s Marxism.

This involves ensuring that our publications contain both theoretical material that addresses the central problems of our times and that we elicit the questions and sentiments of common people that can make it clear what those central problems are. Most of all, it involves having an active ORGANIZATIONAL dialogue between the voices from below and philosophy. Only through this process can we achieve our foremost task, philosophic and organizational growth.

Central in this will be furthering the work that we have done over the past year in the battle of ideas, both in the pages of NEWS & LETTERS and in outside presses and conferences. We will also need to deepen our participation in ongoing movements events and activities, especially in women’s liberation and the Black dimension. Our efforts to broaden the perspective of the anti-war movement becomes especially important in the coming year in light of growing opposition in the U.S. to the occupation of Iraq.

Most important, we need to continue the effort to develop a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism, even when this means challenging some of the core assumptions of many in the radical movement.

For this reason a major focal point of our work over the next year will be the collective organizational effort of compiling a new collection of Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on Marx. We view this task as a way to follow-through from our compilation of THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY: SELECTED WRITINGS ON THE DIALECTIC IN HEGEL AND MARX, which remains one of the most outstanding accomplishments of our effort to continue Marxist-Humanism.

The effort to continue Marxist-Humanism requires that the writings of the founder of Marxist-Humanism be made widely available. However, these writings cannot be treated as an icon that one bows to but fails to concretize for the changed realities facing us today. Our aim in compiling a new collection of Dunayevskaya’s writings on Marx is to bring her insistence on working out the totality of Marx’s Marxism for today into EVERY facet of our work.

It is not possible to address and build upon the quest for universality that shows itself in ongoing freedom struggles without the active work of restating, redeveloping, and re-creating a body of ideas. We do not aim to simply repeat the conclusions of prior philosophic breakthroughs. We seek to internalize those breakthroughs in such a way as to RESTATE for our day Marx’s vision of a new society.

In other words, concretizing the "creativity of cognition" defines News and Letters’ Committees historic reason for being and explains why we ask all whom we can reach for their help in developing new beginnings in Marxist-Humanism.

-- The Resident Editorial Board


1) Dunayevskaya wrote, "Unfortunately, the capitalistic class is much more class-conscious than the working class movement and know they must give up some national prerogatives if they are to survive at all....One [side] is prepared to be 'for’ the Common Market because it is a step toward a United States of Europe; the other is 'opposed’ to it on the basis of taking away some 'independence’ of Britain." See "The Berlin Crisis, the European Common Market and the International Class Struggle" [Weekly Political Letter of July 14, 1961], in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 2938.

2) See "New Pope Anoints Religious Fundamentalism," by Kevin Anderson, News & Letters, May-June 2005.


4) For more on the recent events in Zimbabwe, see p. 12.

5) See "China as Global Factory is Incubator of Future Revolt," by Peter Hudis, News & Letters, January-February 2005.

6) For more on the recent elections in Iran, see "Our Life and Times," p. 12.

7) For an analysis of Marx’s writings on indigenous societies during the last decade of his life (1872-83), see ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION, AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION, by Raya Dunayevskaya (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991).

8) "Venezuela Expropriates Abandoned Value Factory," by Jonah Gindin, Venezuelanalysis.com, April 28, 2005.

9) See Marx’s THE CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE, in COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 22 (New York: International Publishers, 1986), pp. 333, 328.

10) See especially Tom Jeannot’s review of THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY: SELECTED WRITINGS ON THE DIALECTIC IN HEGEL AND MARX BY RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA, in THE OWL OF MINERVA, Fall/Winter 2004-05, Vol. 36. No. 1 and Peter Hudis’ critique of Moishe Postone’s TIME, LABOR AND SOCIAL DOMINATION ("The Death of the Death of the Subject"), in HISTORICAL MATERIALISM, Vol. 12, Issue 2, 2004.

11) "The Trail in the 1980s for Transforming Reality," by Raya Dunayevskaya [Sept. 5, 1981], in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 7108-7109.


13) "One possible outline for Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy" [May 11, 1987], in SUPPLEMENT TO THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 10922.

14) "Another 'Talking to Myself,’ this time on what has happened since 'Not by Practice Alone,’ 1984-87" [May 19, 1987], in SUPPLEMENT TO THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 10955.

15) "Presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy," in THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY: SELECTED WRITINGS ON THE DIALECTIC IN HEGEL AND MARX BY RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002), p. 7.

16) "Talking to Myself," [May 13, 1987]," in SUPPLEMENT TO THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 10932.

Return to top

Home l News & Letters Newspaper l Back issues l News and Letters Committees l Dialogues l Raya Dunayevskaya l Contact us l Search

Subscribe to News & Letters

Published by News and Letters Committees
Designed and maintained by  Internet Horizons