Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2007 - 2008
Challenging the dominance of capital in theory and practice
A striking duality defines U.S. society today. While discontent with Bush's war in Iraq grows daily, the Republicans and Democrats have failed to lift a finger to put a stop to the bloody carnage. Although Bush's insistence on continuing the war has led to deep fissures within the U.S. ruling class and in society as a whole, in June the Democrats in the Senate withdrew their effort to insist that he set a timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq-by the end of 2008!
Fewer than 30 senators voted to cut off war funding. Never in U.S. history has there been such a disconnection between the aspirations of broad sectors of the populace and the spinelessness and do-nothingness of its political leaders.
Although the Democrats won control of Congress largely because the public has become disgusted with the war in Iraq, they have refrained from mounting any serious or principled opposition to Bush. This is leading many youth especially to conclude that the U.S. political system is a sham and a snare.
This is all the most striking in light of the carnage that is devastating Iraq. Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. Four million have been forced from their homes. As many as 100 Iraqis are being killed each day by suicide bombers, home-grown militias, and U.S. troops.
A study in LANCET, Britain's most prestigious medical journal, shows that Iraq has become the largest international conflict of the 21st century. Along with the ongoing slaughter in Darfur-which the U.S. and Western powers have done nothing to stop-the Iraq war shows every sign of equaling or surpassing such conflicts of the late 20th century as East Timor, Congo, and Vietnam. A recent report of the London-based Minority Rights Group shows that entire communities in Iraq face outright extinction.
A system that cannot manage to adequately address, let alone resolve, such a crisis has clearly outlived its usefulness. It is time to dispense with any illusions about this system and work to create a totally new society that uproots both capitalist-imperialism and religious fundamentalism-terrorism.
A basis for achieving this is contained in the force and reason of ongoing mass struggles. One expression was the demonstrations in June of tens of thousands in Germany against the G-8 Conference of the major industrial powers. The banner carried by some demonstrators, reading "Total Freedom," shows that the passion for a total uprooting of the system is alive and well.
This is not restricted to protests overseas. While the anti-war rallies in the U.S. have yet to reach the level attained on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, anti-war sentiment continues to grow and is prominent in many high schools and colleges. Women's groups are increasing their activity in light of the Supreme Court decision outlawing a procedure for late term abortions.
Outrage is expressed across the U.S., especially among Black Americans, over the Supreme Court's ruling in June that public schools can no longer take explicit account of race to achieve integration. This attack on one of the central gains of the civil rights Movement may immediately affect as many as 1,000 schools around the U.S.
The less capitalism proves capable of improving the living conditions of the masses, the more it makes use of racism to target minorities. Struggles AGAINST racism therefore remain at the vanguard of the challenge to existing society.
This was reflected at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in June, attended by 10,000 people-most of whom were people of color. A large number of Black and Civil Rights groups that had not been previously involved in the anti-globalization movement held a series of important workshops and events. Hundreds of residents of New Orleans who were victims of the government's disregard after Hurricane Katrina also attended.
Especially crucial is the immigrant rights movement. Over 200,000 marched in Chicago on May Day and smaller but significant marches were held in a dozen cities. Many of these immigrant marchers have been impacted by "free trade" agreements, cutbacks in social spending, and political repression in their native lands. They have an understanding of the ravages of globalization that U.S. workers increasingly face in the form of declining real wages, layoffs, and cuts in health benefits.
Although anti-immigrant attacks and the recent defeat of legislation to provide legal status to undocumented workers are being used as a wedge to pit worker against worker, immigrant struggles are helping to reawaken a spirit of activism within U.S. labor. Campaigns are underway at UPS, Smithfield Foods, and Verizon to extend collective bargaining to thousands of workers in subsidiaries of these companies that are not covered by union benefits. At Smithfield's Tar Heel plant in North Carolina, the UFCW has built up a sizable network of labor and community supporters, including immigration rights activists. Important lessons have been learned by the victory of the Immokalee workers' boycott of McDonald's that the U.S. needs a new kind of union movement that combines workplace issues with social and community activism.
While voices of opposition exist in the U.S., what is missing is an effort to meet them with a philosophy of liberation that spells out an alternative to both capitalism-imperialism and religious fundamentalist terrorism. In its absence, activists can easily become discouraged and burned out when faced with the refusal of the system to listen to their demands.
However the loss of illusions about the system can be an opening to go beyond activity that lacks a PHILOSOPHIC foundation. The end of illusions about the forces aligned with existing society can lead to a new beginning IF we also transcend the illusion that radicals or the arrival of some revolutionary "Event"(1) will on its own surmount the seemingly insuperable contradictions facing today's freedom struggles.
Practice by itself cannot surmount the divide between reality and the idea of freedom today any more than it could in the revolutions that spanned the globe in the 20th century.
Today's crises compel us to engage in the hard philosophic labor of articulating a liberating alternative. It is inseparable from responding to the cries for solidarity coming from the genuine forces of liberation in Iraq and elsewhere.
Samir Adil of the Iraqi Freedom Congress-which opposes the U.S. occupation and the fundamentalists-stated in a recent open letter to Cindy Sheehan: "Think about us in Iraq. The occupation forces are committing hundreds of crimes every day. They arrest, torture, indiscriminately kill, destroy, burn houses, rape and unleash gangs and thieves as long as they are not in their way.... What can we say when they try to take our hope away from us every day? Despite all those calamities and difficulties created by these forces, we have decided to continue our struggle to end the occupation...we have no choice; either ascend to the highest hills and watch how the fire expands and ravages large areas or carry on the struggle to save humanity in Iraq and the U.S."
I. Economic roots of political & cultural retrogression
To grasp today's realities we must explore the OBJECTIVE factors that explain Bush's refusal to withdraw from Iraq and the failure of the Democrats to take a firm stand against him.
Although the administration is indicating that it may have to search for an "exit strategy" from Iraq if its current "troop surge" fails to tamp down the insurgency, Bush arrogantly insists on seeing the war through to its end-even though much of the ruling class has concluded (as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it) that "the war is lost." Bush's insistence on continuing the war despite massive opposition-including from active-duty soldiers and former generals-recalls Nixon's prolonging the Vietnam War long after it became clear that it was a lost cause.
Bush's decision to throw ever more lives into the sinkhole of the Iraq war seems so shortsighted that it may appear he has lost all touch with objective reality.
However it is a dangerous illusion to attribute Bush's intransigence to subjective or personal factors alone. Objective factors make it hard for U.S. imperialism to admit defeat and leave Iraq. Foremost in this is the U.S. drive for single world mastery.
Bush did not create the U.S. drive for single world mastery; it created him. It has been an integral dimension of world politics since at least the end of World War II, when the U.S. emerged as the most powerful nation and competed with the other major pole of global capital, the USSR, for global dominance over the next 40 years.
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 did not end the U.S. drive for global hegemony. It just took on a new form. With the September 11, 2001 attacks U.S. imperialism found an opening to pursue its drive for global dominance under the guise of a "permanent war" against all real and imagined adversaries.
Although many assume that the U.S. chose to invade Iraq to obtain its oil, far more important issues were involved. Nor did the U.S. invade at the bequest of Israel or Saudi Arabia; the Saudis OPPOSED the invasion. Bush invaded because he wanted to show that U.S. power had become so hegemonic that it will crush even mild opposition from relatively minor figures like Saddam's Hussein's hated regime. This, he imagined, would solidify U.S. control throughout the Middle East and send a message to the rest of the world that it will have to listen to U.S. dictates.
Instead the U.S. became stuck in a quagmire. Iraq represents U.S. imperialism's most serious military and political setback since its defeat in Vietnam. Yet the U.S. cannot easily withdraw since Iraq is far more vital to its strategic interests than was Vietnam. Bush does not want to withdraw from Iraq since doing so would undermine the U.S. drive for world domination, and yet he cannot remain there over the long term because of the war's drain on troop morale and U.S. economy.
The Democrats face the same dilemma. Their shilly-shallying isn't just driven by fear of being accused of not supporting the troops. It is most of all driven by not wanting to undercut the U.S. drive for world domination that they long supported.
While the rulers are deeply divided over Bush's policies, they are as one in favoring a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq-just as they have no intention of having the U.S. withdraw its troops from the dozens of other countries in which it has bases.
Bush's policies have their origin in concepts championed by Ronald Reagan, who reversed 50 years of New Deal legislation by breaking unions, cutting social welfare, and presiding over a massive redistribution of wealth from labor to capital. The disaster after Hurricane Katrina was its end result. Reagan attacked abortion rights while extending his blessings to the Christian Right. The end result was the Supreme Court ruling outlawing a procedure for late term abortion-a prelude to a possible reversal of Roe v. Wade. And Reagan embarked on a major military expansion, attacking revolutionary Nicaragua and Grenada, as well as Libya. His expansive globalism, continued by the first President Bush and Clinton, led to the war in Iraq.
Does the rising discontent with the Iraq war and Bush's domestic policies therefore mean that we are finally beginning to emerge from out of the shadow of Reagan's retrogression?
In many respects Bush faces a different situation than did Reagan. Reagan largely got his way; there was a sense that the wind was in his sails. Today, in contrast, the U.S. is unpopular and has lost much of its ability to influence events. Bush lacks the political opportunity to use much of his power, which is why he is considering opening discussions with Syria and Iran and even signed a nuclear arms deal with North Korea.
However although Reaganism's edifice is wearing thin in some respects, it is hardly dead. While many who initially supported Bush's "war against terrorism" have broken ranks with him over Iraq, most Democrats are as committed to the conceptual underpinnings of Reaganism as are the Republicans insofar as capitalism is concerned.
This was seen not just from Clinton's policies, which went further than Reagan in gutting welfare, promoting a surge of the prisoner population with his racist "three strikes and you're out" policy, and his promotion of "free trade" agreements. It is also seen in the deal that congressional Democrats made with Bush in May to promote a series of free trade agreements that, if passed, will outsource thousands of U.S. jobs, force millions off the land in Latin America and Africa, and weaken environmental standards.
Despite their divisions on other issues, the ruling class is one in agreeing that "there is no alternative" to "free trade" and globalization. This is because they all support some form of Reaganism, which was a response to serious economic contradictions that remain unresolved.
The roots of today's economic predicament go back to the Vietnam War of the 1960s, when U.S. capitalism could no longer afford the high costs of both militarization and the welfare state. A crisis point was reached in 1974-75, when a global recession showed that capitalism was suffering from a decline in the rate of profit.
Capitalism responded with a three-decade long effort to cut wages, benefits, and social programs in order to obtain the surplus value needed to meet capital's thirst for self-expansion. Central to this was globalization-the taking down of barriers to the free movement of commodities and capital in order to make use of lower wages and more efficient production techniques.
Since the mid-1970s, it has become clear that welfare state policies conflict with the expansionary requirements of capitalist value production. This has eliminated the economic basis of progressive liberalism. The Social Democratic or liberal Left has proven unable to effectively challenge the Right because the objective basis upon which its policies were predicated has seriously eroded. One expression of this is that even the one presidential aspirant who has presented a plan for universal health care-John Edwards-does not support a state-funded system. His proposal instead would require the uninsured to buy health insurance from a pool of privately owned plans.
That adequate social services and a rising standard of living for workers is no longer compatible with the accumulation of capital on an ever expanding scale is dramatically shown by Nicolas Sarkozy's election as France's president. He has proclaimed the goal of making a "clean break with the past" by ending Gaullist policies that favored a strong state role in the economy. He advocates weak trade unions, tax breaks for big business, and cuts in the national health system. He has viciously attacked immigrants and citizens of non-European descent, calling for hiring more police, building more prisons, and taking punitive measures against the restless, unemployed Black and Middle Eastern youth. Just prior to the election he stated that the legacy of the French student-worker revolt of 1968 must be "liquidated."
Although Sarkozy is likely to face much opposition from the French masses to these moves, "what Sarkozy's victory means for France is something closer to the so-called 'Reagan Revolution' in the U.S. that began in 1981 the process of dismantling and destroying the institutional New Deal legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt."(2)
The decline of welfare state policies is also evident in the developing world, where secular nationalism and socialism is in decline. The state's role has been hollowed out in much of the Third World to the point that it funds little more than the military, police, and prisons.
The erosion of the welfare state does not mean, however, that the nation state is no longer an important factor. Nor is the epoch of state-capitalism-which emerged from out of the Great Depression of 1929-at an end.
The state-capitalism that emerged in the 1930s represented a new WORLD stage of production. It took three basic forms: the New Deal in the U.S., fascism in Italy, Germany and Japan, and Stalinism in the USSR.
While some of the PHENOMENAL FORMS of state-capitalism have by now been eclipsed-as seen in the collapse of the USSR, China's turn to the "free market," and the erosion of the welfare state in the West-the role of the nation state in the operation of the general law of capitalist accumulation has not been eclipsed or become irrelevant.
The state today keeps wages low by encouraging global competition, providing corporate tax breaks, and maintaining tight control over a rebellious reserve army of labor through the prison industrial complex. The "free" market is largely a creation of state power, imposed from above in order to deal with a declining rate of profit.
The state also maintains a huge military-industrial complex. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that global military spending rose 3.5% in 2006, to $1.2 trillion. The U.S. and Russia were the largest arms suppliers in the world from 2002 through 2006, each accounting for 30% of the global shipments of arms. And debts incurred by the nation state-which Marx said is the only part of the national wealth that is "shared" with the people-have never been higher, in the U.S. especially.
In sum, the state maintains a critical role in today's economy by facilitating the transfer of surplus value from labor to capital-not by providing for social welfare.
Whether it is the U.S. or France, West Europe or Japan, South Africa or India (which is now experiencing levels of economic growth comparable to China's), the world's rulers are committed to the policies of capitalist globalization. This is not a matter of ideological posturing on their part. They MUST pursue the policies of state-imposed "free market" globalization because the capitalist law of value demands it.
We are therefore not likely to see a reversal of the legacy of Reaganism unless social change comes not from above but from below, from masses of people who contest and find a way to UPROOT capitalism in major parts of the world-which would have to include some of the industrially developed countries.
II. Global crises and revolt, from Gaza to Latin America
The need to develop an alternative not just to capitalism-imperialism but also to fundamentalist forces that target women is especially critical when it comes to the Middle East. The victory of Hamas in the civil war that broke out between Palestinian factions in Gaza, and the subsequent efforts of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Abbas to cut all ties to Hamas-controlled Gaza, has created the most serious setback to the Palestinian struggle in decades.
Much of the blame for this debacle rests on the U.S. and Israel. For years the Bush administration ignored Abbas and the PA in order to allow Sharon, and then Olmert, to solidify Israeli control of the West Bank and avoid entering into peace negotiations with the Palestinians. This played into Hamas' hands, since it has long argued against any attempt to reach an accommodation with Israel.
A turning point was reached last summer, when Israel launched a massive invasion of Lebanon and Gaza in response to the capture of some of its soldiers. While the world focused on the battle between Israel and the Islamic militants of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel launched a devastating attack on Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed, and already impoverished Gaza saw its economy contract by 25%.
The PA-long compromised by corruption and an utter failure to provide basic services-was further weakened by these events since Hamas was able to present itself as being in the front lines against Israeli aggression. As a result, PA authority in Gaza in June collapsed much faster than even Hamas had anticipated.
It has long been clear that Arab nationalism is no longer a pole of attraction for the masses of the Middle East. The main beneficiaries of this are the Islamic fundamentalists, who are filling a void left by the decline of the secular and radical Left. A similar situation now faces the Palestinians, which until recently possessed the last secular nationalist movement with a mass base in the Arab world.
Bush may imagine that his offer of economic aid to Abbas will create a viable West Bank that will undermine Hamas' support in isolated and impoverished Gaza. However his support of Abbas may be the kiss of death, since Bush and Olmert are as detested in the West Bank as in Gaza. A further erosion of the PA's authority and more fratricidal civil war looms as a serious possibility.
The deep crisis facing the Palestinians makes it imperative to rethink the principles of social transformation. As we argued last year, "Israel's murderous invasion of Lebanon and its ongoing attacks against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank must be opposed, and totally opposed not by supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, or Iran, but by working to make the content of Marx's and Marxist-Humanism's notion of a new society real for today's forces of liberation. Anything short of that, including 'a plague on both your houses,' is retrogressive."(3)
To meet today's challenges we must keep our eyes focused on new struggles that are reaching for the future. Especially important are the labor and township struggles in South Africa, where a million workers went on strike in June-the largest labor action in the world this year. A general strike also broke out in Nigeria in mid-June over the government's effort to increase fuel prices and a tax on consumer goods.
The struggles in South Africa have to be viewed in light of the succession crisis in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the increasingly regressive role played by South Africa on the African continent.
South Africa is playing an increasing dominant role on the African continent. Its influence extends from Angola to Nigeria and from Mozambique to Sudan. Despite its origins in a liberation struggle, this year the ANC stood in the way of UN efforts to punish Sudan for its genocidal war in Darfur; it embraced Umaru Yar'Adua as the president of Nigeria, despite his having come to power in a fraudulent election; and it has provided cover for Mugabe's dictatorship in Zimbabwe.
As an activist with the Ogoni people's struggle in Nigeria who lives in Cape Town wrote, "Despite what the ANC government claims, South Africa's foreign policy towards Africa is not based on Pan-Africanism or anti-imperialism; it is rather based on promoting South Africa's expanding business interests on the continent. In reality, the South African state's interests, in both the domestic and African area, have become fused with those of South Africa's capitalist elite."(4)
The ANC's commitment to "free market" economic restructuring and capitalist globalization was challenged by a million public sector workers in June demanding a pay increase and improved working conditions. Workers employed in the private sector also joined in strikes and protests.
One South African trade union activist wrote, "I must say I am amazed at the stamina of the South African organized workers. Despite theories of how globalization has tamed organized workers (given all their expenses and credit debt), I have seen workers here out on strike for two to three months at a time. Their strikes are not even covered by the media. Our media is largely state controlled and many of us in labor are saying that we are going the Zimbabwe route in terms of the oppression of the opposition forces and social movement activities. This also explains why the government is so timid with regard to Mugabe."
Some union leaders are trying to force President Mbeki to enable his populist adversary, Jacob Zuma, to become the next president when Mbeki's term ends in 2009. Although Zuma is supported by much of the labor leadership and the South African Communist Party, he is just as pro-capitalist as Mbeki. The unprincipled support for Zuma on the part of some traditional leftists has infuriated South African feminists and many labor activists, who oppose Zuma for being a demagogue and male chauvinist. (He was tried for raping a women last year.)
It still remains unclear as to whether the labor struggles in South Africa will coalesce with the new social movements that have arisen over the past decade in its impoverished townships and shack towns. In a country with over 40% rate of unemployment, many youth have no prospect of finding a job, let alone obtaining a pay increase. Yet the township struggles are a key arena, since many of them oppose any tendency to appeal to the state or to make compromises with the existing system.
As S'bu Zikonde, an activist with Abahlali baseMjondolo-a key group in the township struggles-stated, "What we have learnt is that the government currently in power cannot understand IsiZulu nor English nor Xhosa. We have written letters, but they cannot understand the language of pen, faces, and telephones. The only language they can understand: guess what? Putting thousands of people on the street...what we need to do, is to conquer this capitalist system, because each second you turn your head, the capitalist system is there."(5)
Intense discussion and debate is occurring in Latin America, where many are searching for a nonhierarchical, anti-statist path to liberation that avoids the dead ends of the past.
One expression of this is efforts to establish worker-owned cooperatives, especially in Argentina. Workers began taking over scores of factories in 2001 and some continue to be run as independent worker-owned cooperatives. Such experiences have produced important intimations as to what it would mean to create a society based on freely associated labor.
A worker involved in these occupations stated, "I'm talking about production, but more than that. There are new ways of thinking [in the cooperative]. You're a person, instead of an object." Another declared, "The issue is no longer a theoretical problem concerned with the way theory up to now has been considered merely an intellectual exercise. No. Thoughts and ideas are not solely the product of cerebral cognition.... Thought emanates from a practice that creates a radical rupture against that which has been established. We establish the theoretical framework with this place...In fact, it's from practice that theories are constructed"(6).
True as this is, it is also true that while movements from practice are a FORM of theory, theory is not yet philosophy-a philosophy that can spell out how to transcend capitalism and create new human relations. Eschewing "abstract" philosophy and steering clear of the attempt to offer a comprehensive vision of a new society has often left a theoretical void that has strengthened statist and vanguardist tendencies.
A new society cannot arise by eliminating the personifications of capital and taking over the forms of labor and association that characterize the presently existing labor process. Marx opposed this Proudhonist fallacy, writing: "If cooperative labor is not to become a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system" it must "be under [the workers'] own control."(7) And production is not truly under the workers own control so long as the law of value and world market continues to exist.
The problem of escaping the pull of the world market is no less pressing when it comes to efforts by popularly elected regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador to obtain control of natural resources by nationalizing industries under foreign control.
These efforts represent a crucial step in the struggle against imperialist exploitation. Just as it is vital for workers to demand a more equitable redistribution of the surplus value that is robbed from them each day, so the nations of the South have every right to demand a redistribution of wealth from the magnates of global capital.
However just as a worker who obtains a wage increase still lives in a capitalist context in which those gains can be taken away, so a regime that makes demands on multinational corporations still exists in the context of the world market and capitalist social relations. Socialism is not the same as nationalized industry and property-even when a co-management scheme operates between workers and the state.
Many in the movements against global capital skip over such distinctions, as seen in their uncritical embrace of Chavez of Venezuela. Although Chavez has considerable popular support because of the massive social spending and aid that he is providing to many cooperatives, his policies are generating intense debate in Venezuela, including within the revolutionary Left. He did not come to power as a result of a spontaneous mass movement, and some question the paternalistic and top-down approach often taken by the government. Others worry that the cooperatives, while important, may be used to sidetrack demands for genuine workers' control of production.
Moreover Chavez's nationalizations and fostering of cooperatives operate within the confines of a statist structure which itself operates within the confines of the capitalist world market.
Marx spoke to this situation in his CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM of 1875. The Gotha Program, which was an effort at organizational unity between the followers of Ferdinand Lassalle and the German "Marxists" of the time, called for "the establishment of producers' cooperatives with state aid under the democratic control of the working people. The producers' cooperative societies are to be called into being for industry and agriculture on such a scale that the socialist organization of the total labor will arise from them." Marx sharply attacked this, writing: "Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of the transformation of society, the 'socialist organization of the total labor' 'arises' from the 'state aid' that the state gives to the producers' societies which the state, not the worker, 'calls into being.' It is worthy of Lassalle's imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!"(8)
Marx's comments speak to issues facing Venezuela and other countries in Latin America. The movements against global capital have not suffered from a lack of insights when it comes to the need for decentralized and non-hierarchal forms of organization and decision-making. What we are suffering from is a lack of discussion of how such formations can enable humanity to break decisively from the capital relation and the law of value, thereby laying the basis for a totally new, human society.
As Dunayevskaya wrote in her criticism of the state-capitalist regime in Castro's Cuba, "Even where a state like Cuba is protected from the worst whims of the world market and where state planning is total, the price of sugar is still dependent upon the socially necessary labor time established by WORLD production. In a word, to plan or not plan is not the decisive question. The state of technological development and the accumulated capital ARE the determinants, the only determinants when the masses are not allowed their self-activity."(9)
The restructuring of global capital has undermined not only the basis of liberalism but also versions of radicalism that reduced "socialism" to nationalized property and state control of industry. Yet many in the anti-vanguardist, autonomist and anarchist Left stop dead at affirming the need for workers' control without considering how value production subordinates the workers' activity to an alien power even when workers have POLITICAL control over some aspects of the labor process. This reluctance to concretely address what is needed to transcend capitalist value production has left the door open for narrow tendencies to step in and offer various false alternatives.
"When subjected to the dialectical method from which, according to Hegel, no truth can escape, the conclusion turns out to be a new beginning. There is no trap in thought. Though it is finite, it breaks through the barriers of the given, reaches out, if not to infinity, surely beyond the historic moment."-Raya Dunayevskaya(10)
The movements against global capitalism have posed a serious challenge to revolutionary theory-to show that "another world is possible." Since 2004, we have sought to respond to this by taking seriously Raya Dunayevskaya's call to make Marx's CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM (CGP) "new ground for organization."(11)
The effort to help develop a liberatory alternative on the ground of the CGP is unprecedented. As Dunayevskaya stressed (p. 154, p. 157), Marx's CGP "was never fully internalized" nor studied as "actual perspective for the whole movement." This despite the fact that it was an organizational document in which Marx "worked out his whole theory of human development" from the end of capitalism, through the lower phase of communist society and finally to the truly human, higher phase.
The CGP does not contain "the answer" to how to transcend capitalism. Yet it responds profoundly to poorly thought-out answers put forward in Marx's day that focused upon the outer forms of appearance of capitalism while leaving its inner structure intact.
The Gotha Program had called for "fair distribution" and the "equal right" to wealth. Marx repudiated the program in no uncertain terms, not because he disagreed with these goals, but because it sowed illusions about "what would be required to make [the supposedly socialist program] real," as Dunayevskaya put it (pp. 156-57). To "make it real," Marx showed, nothing less than the whole course of human development culminating in the higher phase of communism is required.
Marx's critique rests on his concept that a society's legal relations, notions of right, and income distribution depend on and correspond to its mode of production. He begins by challenging the notion that income distribution under capitalism is "unfair." He wrote, "[i]s it not, in fact, the only 'fair' distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production?"(12) Do we not get back what we contribute-to capitalist society, measured in terms of ITS standards and requirements?
Marx then turns to the first phase of communist society, "not as it has developed on its own foundations, but just as it EMERGES from capitalist society" (p. 85). He here envisions a sweeping revolutionary transformation of the relations of production. In this first phrase, the "individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor." The individual's contribution to society is no longer assessed in terms of the number of products she produces OR THEIR VALUE. What she contributes to society is now her "individual quantum of labor" (p. 86)-the ACTUAL amount of work she does. Consequently the products are no longer values and "the producers do not exchange their products."
Corresponding to these new relations of production are new relations of distribution: "Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society-after the deductions [for social consumption and investment] have been made-exactly what [she] gives to it...[t]he same amount of labor"-not the same amount of value or products. This does not imply that income will depend exclusively upon how much work one does. Marx notes that an increasing share of consumption will be public and that there will be "funds for those unable to work, etc."
These new relations of distribution are "fair" for the lower phase of communism since they correspond to its production relations. What workers contribute and receive are both measured in terms of "an EQUAL STANDARD, labor." This is a decisive, QUALITATIVE "advance" over capitalism, where "exchange of equivalents...[does not exist] in the individual case"-since one sum of value tends to exchange for an equivalent sum, but one individual's hour of work creates more or less VALUE than another's.
However equal remuneration for equal amounts of labor remains a "defect" from the vantage point of the higher phase of communism because it implies unequal remuneration for unequal amounts of labor. Thus human equality is recognized only imperfectly, in the form of equality of all human labors-which does not imply that humans are recognized only as laborers.
But, Marx writes, such defects are "inevitable in the first phase of communist society" because "[r]ight can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby" (p. 87). Given the structure of the lower phase, it remains necessary to link what an individual receives from society to what she contributes to society. A much higher level of economic and cultural development will be needed before this link can be broken, such that each individual contributes according to her ability-without regard to what she receives-and each individual receives in accordance with her needs-without regard to what she contributes.
To make this a reality will require the willingness of individuals to contribute WITHOUT REGARD TO WHAT THEY MATERIALLY RECEIVE IN RETURN. This can become a reality only when labor is finally transformed so totally that it is no longer drudgery, but "life's prime want" (or, as Dunayevskaya put it, "the creative self-activity of humanity") and the "all-round development of the individual" progresses to the extent that all divisions of labor, including "the antithesis between mental and physical labor," is overcome.
What will also be required, of course, is a level of productivity and an abundance of wealth sufficient to allow individuals to receive from society in accordance with their needs-WITHOUT REGARD TO WHAT THEY HAVE MATERIALLY CONTRIBUTED.
Thus "from each according to [their] ability, to each according to [their] need" depends crucially upon and corresponds to the production relations of the higher phase. Only on its basis will contributing according to one's ability and receiving according to one's needs become "fair," much less possible.
This will also require a profound transformation of the human personality. Marx wrote that capitalism "makes us so stupid and one-sided" that we think something is important only if we POSSESS it. The need to HAVE becomes all consuming. To reach the higher phase of communism, the very meaning of human needs must become broadened and redefined. As Marx put it in his 1844 MANUSCRIPTS, capitalism "does not know how to change crude need into human need"-the need for association, for new human relations-central to which is the need for new man/woman relations. A new society entails "a new enrichment of human nature."(13)
Marx's CGP suggests that a viable alternative to capitalism must be grounded in a thoroughgoing transformation of production relations, which entails abolishing alienated labor. The transcendence of alienation, inequality, and exploitation are neither possible nor "fair" as long as labor continues to be only indirectly social--and when labor power continues to be a commodity and the law of value continues to compel producers to maximize production and minimize cost.
Yet how can these capitalist production relations be overcome? It is an illusion, born of despair over the prospects for total social transformation, to believe that cooperative projects and autonomous zones can gradually be stitched together and enlarged, thereby gradually shrinking the space in which capitalism operates.
Some argue, "[t]hrough autonomy, we can create zones that aren't governed by the logic of capitalism. This isn't the same as claiming that the capitalist system isn't the dominant social order....What we can do, however, is build and create different things without following the logic of the capitalist system. We can attempt to create the revolution in our day-to-day living. The day when all these things succeed, when we truly succeed in all these things, we will have arrived."(14)
However in the GRUNDRISSE Marx called capital "the all-dominating economic power of bourgeois society." This is even truer today. The capitalist drive to expand value limitlessly and inexorably, overcoming and integrating into itself all obstacles in its path, dominates life throughout the world. The operation of the world market makes it impossible for alternative ways of producing and distributing to thrive against competitors who produce and sell as cheaply as possible, as the law of value requires.
It is hard to envision total societal transformation, but there is no alternative to trying to do so. The law of value must be uprooted root and branch on a global scale, which would create the space for new human relations in all facets of life and labor.
Surely, overcoming capitalist production relations requires that workers own and control the means of production. They must direct production themselves, producing for use, not for exchange or profit. To extricate themselves from the law of value, they must break free from the world market that enforces it.
However these statements are a SPECIFICATION of what it means to overcome capitalist production relations, not THE ANSWER as to HOW to do so. They have traditionally been taken as an answer because of a contradiction that has pervaded post-Marx Marxism. On the one hand, post-Marx Marxists have asserted that political, legal, and distribution relations depend upon and correspond to the society's mode of production. On the other hand, they have believed and acted as if the mode of production can be transformed by political and legal means, thereby effectively making the former dependent on the latter.
But the experience of the state-capitalist regimes that called themselves "Communist" shows that workers neither own nor control the means of production simply because "the law" says they do and that their labor does not become directly social simply because the State Plan "recognizes" it as such. And as we have showed, "We also know from history that cooperatives and worker-run enterprises, important as they are for prefiguring the actual abolition of the opposition between capital and labor, do not constitute the abolition of capitalism."(15)
If capital remains the all-dominating economic power, economic and political decision-making will necessarily operate within the strict limits and conditions imposed by it, no matter what one calls the society and no matter which persons or forms of organization are nominally in control. The actual relations of labor at the point of production must be changed; it is there that the change must begin.
Near the end of her life, in 1986, Raya Dunayevskaya wrote that no generation faces a more difficult task than ours when it comes to working out what Marx's Marxism means for today. The difficulty has become even more palpable by 2007.
One reason for this is the widespread tendency, in U.S. society especially, to substitute individual opinions and subjective judgments for ideas whose objectivity has been proven by history. Ideas are objective not only insofar as they are generated by mass struggles but also insofar as epochal philosophers comprehend the MEANING of history.
This issue is spoken to in one of the greatest works in the history of philosophy, written 200 years ago this year-Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT. In it Hegel traces out the journey of consciousness through its myriad stages of development. He aims to show that the "absolute," the transcendence of alienation, is not external to the standpoint of "ordinary consciousness." Hegel does not dogmatically counterpose the "absolute" to the journey of consciousness through its various stages. The absolute instead emerges from a development through its myriad contradictions.
However no single stage of consciousness represents the absolute. Each one is "defective." As Dunayevskaya put it in her "Notes on Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY," "In the struggle to realize freedom, we confront various attitudes of mind that SOUND heroic, but are in fact adaptations to one or another form of servitude." Until the alienated soul has "stripped itself of its Ego," it "will not be able to execute the leap to Reason." Hegel shows that many become wary of the long trek to the goal and take refuge in an "appeal to the 'heart' which 'inwardly' tells what they mean." Dunayevskaya notes, "Hegel hits out against this form of self-expression." While the "absolute" is immanent in each stage of consciousness, "the human spirit has not been able to shake off alienation" until consciousness makes itself the object. It is only when we reach "the unity of the real world and the notions about it" that we attain the "organization of thought and activity" which "anticipates the future."(16)
Hegel, Marx and Marxist-Humanism all stress the OBJECTIVITY of cognition. Marx wrote, "The PRACTICE of philosophy is itself THEORECTICAL. It is the critique that measures the individual existence by the essence, the particular reality by the Idea."(17)
Achieving this begins by WORKING OUT theory by tackling a specific problem that hasn't yet been answered in light of a BODY of ideas. That is very different from repeating conclusions that have already been worked out. Practicing philosophy theoretically requires approaching issues with the assumption that we don't know the answer and by tackling yet-unresolved theoretical problems that have us discover something new about history, philosophy, and the world.
We have pointed out, "Thinking through the logic of an idea is central to the creativity of cognition; it is how cognition not only reflects the objective world, but creates it....Experiencing theory isn't a matter of either using the conclusions of Marxist-Humanism to attack others or to justify a series of prearranged conclusions. That just treats the body of ideas as a THING. But the body of ideas [of Marxist-Humanism] is not a thing. It is a PROCESS. Treating the ideas as a process entails taking up a problem that hasn't been answered yet by going into the body of ideas, into objectivity, into the ideas of others by thinking out the logic of an idea to its ultimate conclusion-not in an enclave removed from the world, but in an organization that engages movements, involves itself in ongoing events and organizations, works to fuse theory and practice."
We concluded, "Our primary responsibility is to create space and time for concretizing the Marxist-Humanist organization of thought...our philosophic responsibility above all demands concretizing the Marxist-Humanist organization of thought in relation to today's realities and theoretic debates."(18)
Dunayevskaya addressed a critical challenge facing us in a discussion with the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees in May 1984, in which she said: "When I established as a principle that a workers' paper was to be where theory/practice were broken down and insisted that if intellectuals were serious about theory they not only had to submit to a critique by the rank and file but had to begin where the masses were by contributing the highest kind of theory to illuminate, not 'popularize,' the objective situation Marxistically, they all went the other way. Now, when it comes to ourselves, we seem to all agree. In fact, however, we do not work hard at theory and keep taking it for granted, as if repeating conclusions can be called theoretic development. What is worse, we portray activity as if that is theory. Theory is a very hard taskmaster...this needs further serious development."
Today we need to take stock of how to reorganize in light of this critique. This is especially important given the fact that this year marks 20 years since we faced the task of developing Marxist-Humanism without the presence of our founder.
Over the past 20 years we have kept the foundational works of Marxist-Humanism, the "trilogy of revolution," in print. We have secured new translations and international editions of them-Persian and Chinese editions of MARXISM AND FREEDOM and PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, Slovakian and Russian editions of PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, a new Spanish translation of MARXISM AND FREEDOM, a German edition of ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION, AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION, and forthcoming Arabic and Russian editions of MARXISM AND FREEDOM. We have edited and gotten published a collection of her major writings on dialectics, THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY; a German edition will appear this year. We have also issued a new edition of Dunayevskaya's AMERICAN CIVILIZATION ON TRIAL: BLACK MASSES AS VANGUARD and published it alongside a statement on contemporary Black America-John Alan's DIALECTICS OF BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLES.
We have taken these ideas out to new audiences in the U.S., as seen in our work in the prisoner solidarity movement, in struggles against racism and sexism, and in discussions with youth involved in the fight against global capital. We have also taken these ideas out to new audiences overseas, as seen in our participation in meetings in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, China, England, Holland, France, Italy, India, Finland, the Philippines, Germany and South Africa.
No less important is developing our ideas in the face of unforeseen objective events in a way that bears the distinctive stamp of Marxist-Humanism. We sought to do this by working out a series of original analyses of the Los Angeles rebellion of 1992, the wars in Bosnia and Kosova in the 1990s, and in our analysis of the September 11, 2001 attacks and critique of Islamic fundamentalism. These political analyses have shown that Marxist-Humanists have something of unique importance to say about today's crises. We still have much more work to do in this regard, both in analyzing new political and economic realities and responding to ideas being debated by today's revolutionaries-especially in feminist theory, autonomist Marxism, and radical theory.
All of our tasks depend on deepening our understanding of the totality of Marx and Marxist-Humanism. This was the core of our classes on "Marx for Today," which is part of our preparation for putting together a new collection of Dunayevskaya's major writings on Marx, from the 1940s to 1980s.
None of these tasks are separate from measuring ourselves in the historic mirror in terms of where we stand on "the dialectics of organization and philosophy"-the basis of which is contained in the "philosophic moment" of Marxist-Humanism, the 1953 "Letters on Hegel's Absolutes."
Practicing philosophy theoretically is an ORGANIZATIONAL challenge, since our reason for being is to alter prevailing ways of thinking by not just asserting that another world is possible but developing a conceptual awareness of that world and how a revolution can create it. This cannot be achieved by having an assortment of individuals working on separate interests and agendas in lieu of coming together as an organization. It takes working on a common problem, a common project, through face-to-face interactions between individuals inside and outside the organization.
We have argued, "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."(19)
-The Resident Editorial Board
July 11, 2007
1. For a critique of Alain Badiou's notion of "the Event," see "Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2006-2007: Theoretic Preparation for Uprooting Capitalism," NEWS & LETTERS, August/September 2006.
2. "French Elections: What Sarkozy's Victory Means," by Doug Ireland, May 6, 2007, http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2007/05/french_election.html.
3. "In the Aftermath of Israel's War in Lebanon," by Peter Hudis, NEWS & LETTERS, October-November 2006 (http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2006/Oct-Nov/Lead_Oct-Nov_06.htm). One sign that many in the Middle East are searching for a new beginning is that the Persian-language editions of Raya Dunayevskaya's MARXISM AND FREEDOM and PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION are now being widely read in Iran.
4. "South Africa's Role in Nigeria and the Nigerian elections," by Shawn Hattingh. For the full text of this important essay, contact the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, 41 Salt River Rd, Salt River, PO Box 1935, Cape Town 8000, South Africa, www.ogoniforum.org.za.
5. "Shackdwellers Movement of Durban," The Accumulation of Capital in Southern Africa, edited by Patrick Bond, Horman Chitonge, and Arndt Hopfmann (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2006), pp. 164-65.
6. Quoted in Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, edited by Marina Sitrin, (AK Press, 2006), p. 97, p. 106.
7. Civil War in France, Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 10, p. 335.
8. CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM, MECW, Vol. 24, p. 93.
9. PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION: from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao (Lexington Books, 2003), p. 225.
10. Raya Dunayevskaya, "Hegel's Absolutes as New Beginning," THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY (Lexington Books, 2002), p. 184.
11. ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION, AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION (University of Illinois Press, 1991), p. 153. All page numbers in the text are to this edition.
12. MECW, Vol. 24, p. 84.
13. MECW, Vol. 3, p. 307.
14. Horizontalism, p. 115.
15. "Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2006-2007: Theoretic Preparation for Uprooting Capitalism," NEWS & LETTERS, August/September 2006, p. 7. (http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2006/Aug-Sept/index.htm)
16. "Notes on Hegel's Phenomenology," THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY, pp. 36, 38, 47.
17. "Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature," MECW, Vol. 1, p. 85.
18. "Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2004-2005: World Crises and the Search for Alternatives to Capitalism," NEWS & LETTERS, July 2004, p. 8. (http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2004/July/index.htm)
19. "Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2005-2006: Developing a Philosophically Grounded Alternative to Capital," NEWS & LETTERS, July/August 2005, p. 8. (http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2005/July-Aug/index.htm)
Published by News and Letters Committees