to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2011-2012

February 28, 2011

To All Members of News and Letters Committees

Dear Friends:

The year 2011 brings a very new situation, with revolution taking center stage. At one and the same time, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have opened up tremendous new possibilities, spread the fire of their passion to many countries, and brought out many facets of counter-revolution, from violent repression to devious maneuvers aimed at co-opting the initiative of the masses in motion.

While the revolutionary struggles continue, the myriad crises of global capitalism still threaten humanity's future. In the superpower U.S., such a reactionary tide has swept the House of Representatives and many a state legislature that its onslaught seeks to eliminate birth control, legalize the murder of abortion doctors, wipe out environmental regulation, enshrine the denial of global warming as a law, and jail whistle-blowers and journalists as spies.

As for the economic crisis--characterized by monstrous and lengthy unemployment, a housing crisis worse even than in the Great Depression, and a looming resumption of the world food crisis--these super-reactionaries have no answer but to destroy healthcare and other social benefits for the working class, and to prepare for even more wars. Mass protests in Wisconsin over what workers designated the new governor's class war against them show the revolt beginning to emerge against the reactionary onslaught. Internationalism is having an impact here too, as seen in many signs in Wisconsin such as, "Fight like an Egyptian!"

All these crises raise the question of how to intervene as Marxist-Humanists aiming for revolution in permanence. The ongoing struggles in Egypt have once again caused the question "what happens after the revolution" to be asked, and not only by us. However, no others link it to raising a banner of total uprooting. The urgency of intervention is such that we issued a leaflet with that unique solidarity message on Jan. 28, then issued an organizational statement on Feb. 3, still over a week before Mubarak's fall. What is key is not separating the concrete analysis and listening to voices from below from the expression of Marxist-Humanism's unique principles.

With the fall of Mubarak and Ben Ali, the battles in Egypt and Tunisia have not ended but widened. Youth, workers, and women, having been at the forefront of the struggle, are not giving it up now. In both countries strikes are spreading, as workers focus not only on wages and conditions but on ousting managers and choosing their own new ones. Women are fighting to end discrimination and harassment; in Tunisia, they are contending with fundamentalists yelling, "Women back to the kitchen," and in Egypt women are condemning the Army's all-male constitutional reform panel since it "excludes half of society." Youth are demanding the release of political prisoners, repeal of the emergency law, and an investigation into killings during the protests.

What is going on is nothing less than a contest over power between the Army, which claims it is consolidating the revolution, and the masses. It is a contest over whether the historical initiative will be snatched away from the masses to channel everything into "building democracy"; or the masses' self-activity will continue to deepen. The importance of the struggles of youth, women, and workers is not only in their specific demands but in the reach for totally new relationships. It is that above all which needs our support in both theory and practice.

We do not overlook the importance of bringing down a police state and the prospect of a real improvement in human rights. However, a far deeper democracy, a deeper freedom, was created in Cairo's Tahrir Square, and dissolving that is exactly what the rulers aim for. Many voices of people in the Square, reported in newspapers and on television, made note of this deeper freedom.

"You feel like this is the society you want to live in," declared one. Another said after Mubarak's fall, "Everything is now possible. Horizons have opened up. We must now care for the revolution we have made." Protesters' pride at their "leaderlessness" reflected a rejection of old forms of representation and an appreciation of the direct democracy they were building. Women reported that, for the first time, they were able to be in a public place free of sexual harassment. From neighborhood defense committees to self-organized cleanup committees, from medical clinics in the Square to the form of decision-making practiced there, people discovered through their own self-activity and self-organization new ways of acting together, before which bourgeois democracy pales.

It is in just these circumstances that confronting reality means confronting the question of why philosophy, why now? A great danger is the pressure to halt at a halfway house short of total liberation. What threatens the revolutions is not only the ruling classes but ideology, as the masses are told even by some from within the movement that the role of regular people has ended, that they should give up the forms of organization they created spontaneously, submit to "democracy" and go back to work. The immediate answer given by the workers has been an escalation of strikes. The history of revolutions shows that they are not satisfied with spontaneous action but "look to be taken over" in the sense of searching for an organization to bring together theory and practice against the tendency to stop dead with the conquest of state power. But the kinds of organization of thought that are ready to offer themselves to take over the movement fall short of a unity of theory and practice measuring up to the altogether new beginnings sought from below.

The fire unleashed by the revolution in Tunisia that then spread to Egypt, while not finished in either country, is now burning across all of North Africa and the Middle East, from Libya to Bahrain, Yemen to Iran. What becomes urgent as a concrete task is a new edition of a Marxist-Humanist pamphlet on the Middle East. That pamphlet highlights the need for philosophy to prevent revolution stopping at halfway houses, as in Israel and Lebanon. Its analyses of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 show how philosophy can be a force of revolution, as Marxist-Humanism fought to help the women, workers, youth, and oppressed nationalities open a second chapter of revolution as against the clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini seizing control. Learning the lessons of history cannot mean only avoiding the same political mistakes but rather being philosophically prepared for the new and unexpected.

Masses across the world are feeling that the movements sweeping the Middle East and North Africa are not far-off events but rather a new moment struggling to be born, at a time of global crisis engendering revolts from the mammoth Wisconsin protests trying to save the union movement from destruction, to the revolts by European workers resisting austerity, while masses in Latin America continue decade-long movements to break out of capitalist paths of "development." Revolution is once again seen not only as possible but as the needed pathway out of the crises engulfing every country, which range from economic crisis to climate change, to the many kinds of wars being fought or threatened. War has become so seemingly permanent that it has receded from the headlines, even as the U.S.-led war rages in Afghanistan, and the conflicts in Korea and Pakistan have raised the specter of nuclear annihilation. Capitalism's inability to solve its crises is seen most dramatically in Haiti's lack of recovery more than a year after the devastating earthquake.

The reach for revolution actually to become the pathway out of these crises underscores the urgency of "Why philosophy, why now?"--a concept at the core of Marxist-Humanism as developed by Raya Dunayevskaya over four decades. Therefore, at the forefront of our tasks for 2011-2012 is completing an edition of selected writings of Dunayevskaya on Marx.

The Plenum this year, which is the meeting of the National Editorial Board members of News and Letters Committees, opens in Executive Session Friday evening, May 27. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 28, and running through Sunday, May 29, all other sessions of the Plenum will be open to all members and to invited friends, who are given the same privileges to the floor for discussion.

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

Pre-Plenum discussion begins with the issuing of this Call. A draft Perspectives Thesis will be published in the May-June issue of News & Letters so that it can be discussed by members and friends, correspondents and critics, before the Plenum. Articles for pre-Plenum Discussion Bulletins must be submitted to the Center by Monday, May 2. Any articles after that date must be copied in your local and brought to the Plenum to be distributed there.

--The Resident Editorial Board

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