Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives 2004-2005
World crises and the search for alternatives to capitalism
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.
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When did the 21st century really begin? This is one of the most crucial questions facing us today. Did it begin with the mass protest in Seattle at the end of 1999 against global capitalism, or did it begin with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? What will end up defining the 21st century--the emergence of new emancipatory mass movements such as emerged from Seattle, or the vicious circle of fundamentalist terrorist and imperialist war that was set into motion by September 11 and the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq?
Answering this question is not a matter of waiting to see how events unfold. It demands instead intervening in the events of the day with the goal of TRANSFORMING reality. We cannot even begin tackling this question without seeing that it presents us with a fundamental THEORETICAL problem that we are responsible for posing, thinking through, and helping to answer.
The exposé of the tortures inflicted by the U.S. military against detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, along with growing opposition around the world to the occupation, has created a new situation. For the first time since Ronald Reagan initiated a changed world of retrogression with a series of unbridled military interventions in the 1980s, the U.S. is encountering a major obstacle in its effort to translate its global power into the total domination of lands overseas.
The U.S.’s attacks against Iraqi civilians, coupled with opposition by Iraqis to the privatization of the economy at their expense, had turned much of the populace against the occupation even before the exposure of the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The scandal has deepened the quagmire facing the U.S. by revealing the barbaric nature of its behavior in Iraq, stirring up even deeper opposition to Bush and Blair’s policies.
Likewise, Bush’s total endorsement of Ariel Sharon’s plan to annex West Bank Jewish settlements into Israel has plunged the U.S. into a deep crisis in the entire Middle East. While Bush embraces the terrorist Sharon as a "man of peace" for proposing a limited Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in exchange for incorporating large parts of the West Bank into Israel, what everyone else sees is repeated armed attacks by Sharon’s forces against Gazan citizens.
The predicament facing Bush was seen at the G-8 summit of the major industrial nations, held in June at Sea Island, Georgia. The administration originally planned to use the summit to showcase U.S. efforts to push for "democracy" in the Middle East, but its initial refusal to even mention the Israel-Palestine issue in its declaration of principles angered European allies and led several Arab nations to decline to send observers.
Though the state of Georgia declared a "state of emergency" in six counties to intimidate protesters from coming near the summit, several thousand still managed to demonstrate against it--reflecting growing opposition to Bush’s effort to extend the retrogressive policies that were set into motion by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
For more than two decades the U.S. managed to get away with one military intervention after another--Grenada, Libya, Panama, the first Gulf War, Haiti, Kosova, Afghanistan and Iraq. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 gave fresh impetus to the U.S.’s drive for single world domination, as Bush sought to use the "war against terrorism" as a cover for imperialist intervention overseas. Yet in light of recent events in Iraq and the Middle East, the threat voiced often last year, that the U.S. may soon engage in further military interventions against states like Syria, Iran, or North Korea, seems much less imminent.
Clearly, the administration was ill-prepared for its Iraq occupation. The army is stretched so thin, with 10 of its 14 active divisions in Iraq or Afghanistan, that it has called up additional reserves and extended the active duty of army units bound for Iraq. This is in addition to the 20,000 troops whose deployment in Iraq was extended by at least 90 days this spring. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is transferring 3,600 troops to Iraq from South Korea.
These moves have drawn sharp criticism from many soldiers and their families, who are calling the extensions "forced conscription." Over 600 soldiers have voted with their feet by not reporting for duty after furloughs; thousands of soldiers in active reserve units have failed to notify the government of their whereabouts; and some GI’s have been jailed for speaking out against the war.
Staff Sergant Camilo Mejia refused to return to duty in Iraq, stating: "I have not committed a crime, and I will not run. I am saying no to war. I went to Iraq and I was an instrument of violence. Now I’ve decided to be an instrument of peace. If they say I am a criminal and if they give me many years in jail, I know I have made the right decision."(1)
Such voices reveal how widespread is the opposition to Bush’s Iraq fiasco, not only overseas, but here at home. This growing opposition is helping to expose the contradictions in U.S. and Western capitalism that have caused things to go so badly in Iraq. Bush and Rumsfeld promoted the illusion that they could hold onto Iraq with a relatively small number of troops as part of their strategy to "streamline" and "modernize" the U.S. military. One reason that they have taken this approach is that a draft is politically unpopular and they know they can’t count on an endless supply of recruits for an all-volunteer army. They also know that U.S. economic resources are limited and they cannot easily afford to pay for hundreds of thousands of additional troops to occupy a country the size of Iraq.
In all this, Bush overlooked the importance of the masses. Raya Dunayevskaya pointed out the folly of such an approach in 1986, when she wrote in reference to Reagan’s high-tech illusions about "Star Wars": "You can destroy a country, but to occupy it, you have to be there, with infantry. The infantry is the key, not the high-tech weaponry. That is what the rulers always forget--the masses."(2)
The U.S. has faced more opposition in Iraq than in Afghanistan, partly because in Afghanistan the guns and resources were and are controlled by warlords who have deals in place with the U.S. to "keep the peace." The U.S. has not sought to occupy Afghanistan directly; most U.S. troops are based in Kabul or in isolated bases, while fundamentalist warlords control much of the country on behalf of U.S. interests.
Iraq lacked the equivalent of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan that could take control of large parts of the country on the U.S.’s behalf. At first, at the start of the Iraq war, the administration planned on decapitating the top leaders of Hussein’s regime while keeping much of his Ba’ath Party apparatus in place. Yet by the end of the war, which led to the total destruction of Hussein’s regime and much of his army, the U.S. abandoned this approach. It then toyed with alternatives, like using its proxies in the Iraqi National Congress, but it never had the forces on the ground to control much of anything. It is true that several Shiite Islamist militias emerged soon after the war, but the U.S. could hardly embrace them. That would have alienated the Kurds to the point of threatening the breakup of the country, which would undermine a centerpiece of U.S. policy in the region--opposition to an independent Kurdistan. The U.S. and Britain, therefore, found that they had to occupy Iraq directly.
The rebellions in Iraq this spring made it clear to U.S. commanders that they lacked the forces to control the situation. In response, they brought back former leaders of Hussein’s army to lead militias in Falluja and dropped their demand that fundamentalists under the control of Moktada al-Sadr surrender to U.S. forces. Bush is now trying to give the new interim Iraqi government more control of the country, even as he insists on maintaining total U.S.-control over all military operations.
Not all Iraqis who oppose the U.S. occupation support fundamentalist clerics like al-Sadr or the insurgents in Falluja. Most Shiite political tendencies have denounced al-Sadr and many Iraqis have condemned the Falluja militants. As Iraqi citizen Ahmad Abbas told THE NEW YORK TIMES on May 8, "We don’t support either side. We don’t want the Americans to kill the members of [al-Sadr’s] Mahdi Army, but we also don’t want the Mahdi Army to win."
This does not mean religious fundamentalism isn’t a major threat. The overthrow of Hussein by the U.S. and the discrediting of nationalist and communist tendencies over the past several decades have left a void that militant Islam is eager to fill. This void is not just political, but philosophic. The Left’s failure to develop a viable liberatory alternative has created space for a host of reactionary tendencies to aspire for mass support.
The rise of fundamentalist Islam in Iraq--once one of the most secular nations in the Middle East--gives new meaning to Karl Marx’s insight that bourgeois society, including its secular culture, does not negate the pull of religious mystification.
Marx showed that the alienated, mystified social relations of capitalism--in which human relations take on the form of relations between things--provides religious mystification with a new lease on life. For this reason, he did not make criticism of religion the centerpoint of his thought. Marx argued,
Marx’s approach retains its validity. So long as the transcendence of the alienated nature of capitalism is not envisioned and realized, an array of regressive tendencies, including religious fundamentalist ones, will step in to try to fill the void.
For this reason we disagree vehemently with the kind of ideological pollution being promoted by leftist commentators like Walden Bello, who argues that "one of the key obstacles to the emergence of a sustained peace movement in the U.S. and internationally" is that "progressives have been incapacitated by their own qualms about the Iraqi resistance" --which he identifies with the Falluja militants and fundamentalists like al-Sadr! No better is James Petras, who argues: "Since the resistance began a year ago, not a single U.S. intellectual...has dared to declare their solidarity with the [Iraqi] anti-colonial struggle. They have ‘problems,’ I hear, ‘about supporting Arab fundamentalists, terrorists, anti-Semites, etc.’...There are two sides: An entire nation fighting a colonial occupation army and U.S. imperialism. Serious and consequential political intellectuals must make a choice."(4)
With a methodology inherited from post-Marx Marxism, this reifies "the Iraqi people" into an undifferentiated totality--as if it is void of class, gender, and ethnic divisions once the opponent is the U.S. In truth, the battle being waged in Iraq today is not just against the U.S. military, but is also pitting reactionary fundamentalists and "secular" Ba’athist loyalists against Iraqi workers, women, and national minorities trying to create a free society. Failure to solidarize with these liberatory forces amounts to telling humanity that it has no choice but to side with either U.S. imperialism or native reactionary tendencies.
In opposition to such short-mindedness, this year we helped generate solidarity with Iraqi feminists in groups like the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, which has come under attack from both fundamentalists and the U.S. occupiers. Over 1,000 Iraqis marched in Baghdad on International Women’s Day against a planned constitutional measure to impose Shari’a law, showing once more that the quest for new man/woman relations is as indigenous to Iraq as to any society on earth.
Those who call on the anti-war movement to support any force battling the U.S., no matter how reactionary it may be, not only ignore the importance of these women’s struggles; they also stand in direct opposition to the self-activity of the Iraqi working class. Some Iraqi workers greeted the collapse of Hussein’s dictatorship by forming small but growing independent trade unions and unions of the unemployed. In doing so, they have come up against the U.S. military occupation, which has maintained Hussein’s 1987 labor law which forbids strikes or unions in public industries, including in the all-important oil industry. These unions have also come under attack from the same reactionary forces that Bello and Petras call on us to support.
In April a group of armed gangs controlled by al-Sadr ordered workers in aluminum and sanitary supply plants in Nasiriyah to hand the factories over to them for use as bastions for fighting the U.S. military. The workers refused and remained inside their factories. The Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) stated, "We completely reject the turning of workers and civilians’ work and living places into reactionary war-fronts between the two poles of terrorism in Iraq: the U.S. and their allies from one side, and the terrorists in the armed militias, well known for their enmity to Iraqi people’s interests, on the other."
The emergence of this new Iraqi labor movement deserves our full support--not least because it can help transcend the ethnic and religious divisions that threaten to tear Iraq apart. Falah Alwah, a representative of FWCUI, stated, "The interim government has structures set up on ethnic and religious bases, and it is therefore logical that it attempts to develop the union movement along these lines. It is a divisive concept for workers. We want to establish genuine unions in Iraq. The Workers and Trade Union Councils in Iraq act on the basis of recognition of the right of all workers, regardless of their ethnic, linguistic or religious origin, to be present in the union. Only the workers’ movement can avoid ethnic confrontation and can unite the country to avoid what happened in Bosnia or in the ex-Yugoslavia."(5)
Ironically, many of those arguing against people-to-people solidarity with the liberatory forces in Iraq on the grounds that "we in the West should not be telling Iraqis how to proceed" are the very ones advising the anti-war movement to support REACTIONARIES there who attack women and workers!
A genuinely revolutionary and humanist anti-war movement capable of fundamentally transforming our alienated society cannot be built on the basis of what it is against; it has to be built on the basis of what it is FOR. The starting point for achieving this is solidarizing with those in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere who are reaching for human liberation. This is not alone a practical question; it is also a theoretical question, for it entails developing the IDEAS that can lead to new dialogue between different forces of liberation.
In the absence of developing the IDEAS that are at stake in liberation struggles, the historic initiative gets conceded to the Right--a lesson that should have been learned from the way Reagan’s presidency managed to change the course of world politics. We surely need to debunk the myths about Reagan that were manufactured by both Republicans and Democrats at his recent funeral. But we need to do so with full recognition that what allowed him to introduce a retrogressive, changed world was the failure of the radical movement to develop and project a viable alternative to existing society.
We surely cannot depend on presidential aspirant John Kerry and the Democrats to develop such an alternative for us. Kerry has gone out of his way not to harshly attack Bush over Abu Ghraib, and in his overall campaign against one of the most reactionary presidents in U.S. history he has managed to make the difference between himself and Bush appear paper-thin.
A far deeper basis of opposition can arise in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal by developing new connections between the anti-war movement and the struggles against the criminal injustice system. John Alan addressed this in his new book DIALECTICS OF BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLES:
The April 25 March for Women’s Lives, which was attended by over a million and included many Latinas, Asian, and Black women, likewise shows the potential for building new solidarity between those fighting Bush’s policies at home and abroad.(7)
Developing such connections among the forces of liberation will not arise automatically; it takes hard labor, including theoretical labor. In solidarizing with those fighting oppression, we must not overlook the IDEAS that they are struggling to defend.
The fact that new voices are being raised against the U.S.’s fiasco in Iraq doesn’t mean that the forces controlling U.S. domestic and foreign policy will retreat without a fight. Far too much is at stake for them to walk away from its quagmire in Iraq. At issue is not even Bush’s presidency, but the U.S. drive for single world mastery. That drive is not simply driven by personalities, but by the present stage of restructured state-capitalism.
The U.S. quest for global military domination is inseparable from its effort to maintain dominance over the world economy. More than ever, the global economy is being kept afloat by the debt-financed U.S. economy; the U.S. accounted for most of the world’s economic growth since 1996 and much of that continues to be financed by massive inflows of capital from overseas.
While foreign capital continues to flood into the U.S., decent-paying jobs continue to flood out of it. The U.S. has lost 12% of its manufacturing jobs since 1998--a period in which global industrial production rose by more than 20%. White collar and service jobs are experiencing similar job losses; in 2002 alone, for example, Sprint’s productivity jumped 15% while its payroll fell by 11,500. Such figures are being repeated in industry after industry, which helps explain much of the persistently high levels of unemployment in the U.S. economy.
In response to this, labor is fighting back. The four-day multi-state walkout by SBC workers in May was motivated by demands for improved health care and an end to outsourcing of jobs. Though the Communication Workers of America has worked out a tentative agreement with management, many of the issues which motivated the walkout remain unresolved--not just at SBC but in the communications industry as a whole. Meanwhile, new labor protests and strikes occurred in June in New York City by day care workers, home health aides and teachers who are fully aware that the modest "recovery" in the U.S. economy has yet to "trickle down" to them.
What enables the U.S. to dominate the world economy is that it remains the investment haven of choice for foreign capital. Foreign investors hold 50% of outstanding U.S. Treasury debt, 35% of corporate debt, and 12% of U.S. equities. The U.S. economy is doing as well as it is because of foreign loans and consumption propped up by borrowing. One analyst wrote, "Never before has the world put more stock in America--both as an engine of growth and as a store of financial value."(8)
Maintaining this situation is inseparable from asserting U.S. global military hegemony. Military force is important in showing the rest of the world that the U.S. can keep control of key natural resources, such as oil, and dominate the process of political decision-making between different capitalist states. This explains much of the reason for the Iraq war: the Bush administration decided to take down Hussein because it knew he was weak militarily and they figured that his rapid defeat would intimidate other centers of world capital, like West Europe and Asia, to abandon any illusions that they could ever challenge the U.S. economically or politically.
The U.S.’s fiasco in Iraq has undermined this scenario. This doesn’t mean the U.S. will simply beat a quick retreat--not least because the Republicans, and many Democrats, not without reason, view the maintenance of a massive U.S. military empire as a key part of managing its structural economic problems.
Meanwhile, the threat of terrorism--which has tended to strengthen reactionary tendencies within the U.S.--is more alive than ever. The invasion of Iraq has only increased this threat, as recent terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and the Madrid train bombing show. This makes all the more relevant the point we made from the moment the September 11 attacks happened, namely, that it is just as important to oppose reactionary tendencies trying to challenge U.S. global hegemony as it is to oppose the U.S. drive for single world domination.(9) Any other standpoint closes off the space needed to work out an emancipatory alternative.
The election of Lula as Brazil’s president last year was the culmination of a long history of workers and peasants’ struggles and his election was a cause for celebration. Since taking office, things have been less sanguine; though Lula has initiated some projects to ameliorate poverty and homelessness, he has adopted the economic program of his predecessors by pursuing a straight neoliberal agenda.
In the field of world politics, however, Lula has tried to assert some independence. He opposed the Iraq war, he traveled to Cuba, and he extended some support to Chavez’s regime in Venezuela. Of far greater importance is his effort to work out a new kind of economic-political alignment with China and Russia.
Lula concluded a trip to China in late May accompanied by 400 business executives. Fifteen business and trade deals were signed between these two economic powerhouses of the developing world--ranging from Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer’s agreement to build planes for China to a $1 billion contract for China to build an aluminum factory in poverty-stricken northeastern Brazil. Most revealing was an agreement for China to buy large amounts of uranium from Brazil (the world’s sixth largest uranium producer), in exchange for Brazil helping to build 11 new nuclear power plants in China. This raised eyebrows in Washington, since China is undertaking a significant buildup of its arsenal of nuclear weapons.
During his trip Lula sidestepped questions about China’s rampant human rights abuses and said nothing to support Chinese labor struggles--this from a man heading a party that did not hesitate to go against the dominant trend in the Latin American Left in the 1980s by strongly supporting the Solidarnosc movement in Poland.
Lula’s China trip is part of a broader effort to create an alternative pole in the developing world to U.S. power. Last year Brazil formed, along with India and South Africa, a "G-3" to counter U.S. hegemony in international relations. Lula has stated, "We dream in the near future it will be a G-5, which will be with Russia and China" a counterweight to U.S. power. One analyst wrote, "Lula’s pursuit of closer ties to China is part of the Brazilian president’s sweeping international agenda for improving Brazil’s trading relations with other developing countries and regions...so that the developing world does not have to depend so much on the U.S."(10)
It is true that China, which is heavily dependent on exports to the U.S. and investments from U.S.-based multinationals, is not anxious to openly upset relations with the U.S.; nor is Russia in the position to break free from U.S. dictates, though its growing importance as an oil exporter gives it more wiggle-room than in recent years. Though it is not clear that Lula’s dream of a "G-5" will ever come to fruition, the fact that such an effort is underway reflects the extent to which the U.S. does not have smooth sailing in its drive for single world mastery. Intra-capitalist rivalries persist and can be expected to grow in the aftermath of the U.S.’s problems in Iraq.
The fact that Lula comes out of the Left and continues to use leftist language, even as he pursues a neoliberal agenda--as also seen in his support for Brazilian agribusiness which is decimating the Amazonian region through soybean production, much of which is exported to China--makes it crucial not to be taken in by any half-way house "challenge" to the U.S.
What is true for large nations trying mildly to distance themselves from the U.S., like Brazil, is even truer of smaller ones who openly oppose it, like Cuba. Castro’s decision in June to close down 40 categories of self-employed businesses--as if state-controlled capital is an advantage over such enterprises that have enabled many Cubans to supplement their meager state wages of $8 a month--only serves to show what little new he has to offer.
Opposition to U.S. imperialism that is not based on a concept that transcends both state-capitalism and neoliberalism remains abstract and is unable to pose a real alternative; it just tailends any anti-American force and reduces the struggle against capitalism to something purely political.
One of the most difficult challenges facing us today is that in the absence of an emancipatory alternative all sorts of nefarious tendencies enter to fill the void. We witnessed this in the 1990s, when the collapse of both Communism and the internal socialist humanist opposition in Yugoslavia created a void that Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic took advantage of by fomenting ethnic hatred against Kosova and genocide against Bosnia.
Tragically, the failure of much of the Left to speak out against the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnia and Kosova is being repeated today in the near-silence over the genocide being waged against Black Africans in Darfur, in western Sudan.
Conflicts in Darfur have been going on for decades between Black Africans and the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, which has long opposed the interests of the Fur, Masaalit, and Zaghawa communities of Darfur (an area the size of France with a population of four million). Sporadic uprisings have occurred there over the past three decades. Conflict intensified in the 1980s, when Colonel Ghadafi of Libya encouraged the creation of an "Arab corridor" into Central Africa; he supplied weapons to Arab militias in Sudan, which launched attacks against the citizenry of Darfur.(11)
By the 1990s, the element of racism against the Black Africans in western Sudan became pronounced when 27 Arab pastoral groups declared war against the "Zurug" (or Black) non-Arab groups of Darfur. Last year Sudan moved to repress any dissent in the region by letting loose the janjaweed militias--death squads 20,000 strong, not unlike the units employed by Milosevic against Bosnia and Kosova and the interahamwe used in Rwanda against the Tutsi. The janjaweed openly talk of "exterminating" the Blacks of Darfur.
Groups have arisen to defend the inhabitants of Darfur, such as the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. Sudan has responded with a scorched-earth campaign of aerial bombardment, systematic rape, and unleashing the deadly janjaweed on the civilian populace. Tens of thousands have been killed and raped, over a million have been forced from their homes, and much of the populace is slowly being starved to death.
Though this genocide resembles Sudan’s 20-year war against secessionists in the south, there is one major difference--whereas the southern rebels are Christian and animist, the people of Darfur are Muslims. This is not an inter-religious war, but a racial-ethnic war, as an Arab-dominated government seeks to wipe out indigenous Black Africans.
The Bush administration still refuses to say that genocide is occurring in Darfur; it brokered the talks between Sudan and the southern rebels and does not want to upset its new-found alliance with the Sudanese government, which it sees as an ally in its "war against terrorism." U.S. Black and civil rights organizations have also so far said little about the issue. Nor has anything been done by the African Union, created as a result of the political impotence of the Organization for African Unity.
Why is the genocide in Darfur not a larger issue in the anti-war and other movements? Is it because the U.S. is not behind the conflict? Does this mean another Rwanda will be allowed to happen? Have we learned nothing from the genocide in Bosnia--or the ongoing war of the Indonesian government against the people of Acheh? Just because the U.S. is not militarily involved in a conflict doesn’t free us from solidarizing with the victims of ethnic cleansing, religious fundamentalism, and statist terrorism. The radical movement cannot afford to focus only on opposing U.S. actions; it has to proceed on the basis of the kind of new society it is FOR. Anything less eliminates the ground for extending the most basic kind of human solidarity.
WHY has it proven so difficult to develop a viable alternative to capitalism? Much of the reason is that throughout the 20th century most radical movements and intellectuals assumed that an alternative to capitalism would arise from nationalization of industry and state control of the economy. "Marxism" became largely identified with its opposite, nationalized property under the control of a single party state. By the 1980s this proved totally bankrupt. In every instance the reduction of "socialism" to the state control of industry led to totalitarianism or to an embrace of "free market" capitalism.
The ensuing collapse of statist Communism and reformist Social-Democracy led to the gravest problem of all--a decline of "Marxist" movements and even interest in Marxist theory. This impacted the entire Left, including the anti-Stalinist Left which had distinguished between Stalinism and liberatory, humanist Marxism. This decline of interest in Marx proved deadly, for it removed the ground needed to envision and work out a path to a noncapitalist future.
At the same time, the attacks on dialectical reason that have dominated intellectual discourse since the 1980s--not just from pragmatists and Althusserians of the old Left, but from the "new" generation of theorists influenced by poststructualism and autonomism--has also impeded the effort to envision a noncapitalist future. The wholesale rejection of Hegel, which characterizes such different figures as Foucault, Deleuze, and Negri, blocks access to "the vision of the future which Hegel called the Absolute and which Marx first called ‘real humanism’ and later ‘communism'."(12)
This didn’t mean that history ground to a halt. New forces and new passions spring up from the bosom of society, no matter how deep the crisis in radical thought may be. We saw many instances of that in the past two decades, especially in 1999 when the Seattle protests against the neo-liberal restructuring of state-capitalism brought to prominence the emergence of a worldwide movement against global capital.
Though the September 11 attacks disoriented some within this movement, the movement has not yet run its course--as reflected in the recent elections in India. Almost no one foresaw the defeat of the BJP, given the "boom" in India’s economy. Yet in retrospect, the fact that tens of millions of working people turned out to toss the BJP from power should not come as such a surprise in light of the way large numbers of workers and peasants attended the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January.
One dimension that has made the Seattle protest, and other actions of the movement against global capital since then, so exciting was that the centralism and "party-building" fetishism of the traditional Left was rightly rejected in favor of decentralized organizational structures. The old Left’s efforts at "party building" have done nothing to fill the void in the development of an emancipatory alternative, and no amount of efforts to recycle the "vanguard party to lead" concept in some "new" expression will have any greater success.
At the same time, the rejection of the "party to lead" and the embrace of decentralized forms of organization, correct as that is, has not resulted in the emergence of a new organizational expression of the idea of freedom that persists after the end of particular protests or campaigns. Why has it proven so hard for anti-vanguardists to create an organized expression of the idea of freedom that survives the ebb and flow of particular protests and campaigns?
Nobody tries to forge a movement or organization if they think that spontaneous action by itself will bring forth a new society; they do so out of an implicit awareness that some kind of organized articulation of an ultimate goal is needed. So why has it proven so hard to create an organizational alternative to the "vanguard party" that could become a pole of attraction for masses of people?
Isn’t it because ideas are often separated from organization, as if basing activity on distinct theories and ideas inevitably risks falling into a fixed and frozen ideology? Many assume that the old Left failed because it insisted on an attachment to ideas. But the truth is, the old Left failed because it relied on adherence to leaders and power politics INSTEAD of ideas.
In fact, being serious about ideas is the very opposite of dogmatically holding to some fixed and frozen ideology, for it involves a continuous working out of the inner dialectic of philosophy.
To leave ideas to the realm of "theory" and organization to that of "practice" robs us of the ability to comprehensively respond to the question of whether there is an alternative to capitalism and what has called itself "socialism." The question is too awesome to be worked out by individuals in isolation from forces of liberation. It can only be worked out in an organizational collectivity that is based on a philosophy of liberation.
The development of Marxist-Humanism speaks directly to this problem. Its roots go back to the theory of state-capitalism, developed by Dunayevskaya as a response to the new stage of capitalism that emerged out of the Great Depression. By analyzing state-capitalism that called itself "Communism" through the categories of Marx’s CAPITAL, she proved its nonviability long before its collapse in the 1980s.
By the 1950s it became clear to Dunayevskaya that state-capitalist theory, though necessary to meet the challenge of the times, was insufficient. The emergence of counter-revolution from WITHIN revolution, as in Stalin’s Russia, called for a philosophy that recaptures the humanism of Marx for our day. Even the best economic analysis is still NEGATIVE; it represents a critique of what exists. To meet the challenge of "new passions and new forces" asking "can humanity be free in the age of totalitarianism?" required something more--filling the philosophic void that has persisted in the radical movement since Marx’s death.
For this reason, in such works as MARXISM AND FREEDOM (1958), PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION (1973), and ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION, AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION (1982), Dunayevskaya focused on filling the missing link in the radical movement--dialectical philosophy. Dialectics, she insisted, cannot be reduced to an ideology or some fixed and frozen set of conclusions. As she wrote in 1974,
The unresolved task facing Marxist-Humanists is to see to it that dialectical philosophy becomes ground for organization. Though Dunayevskaya explicitly projected this challenge in the 1980s, after creating the category "post-Marx Marxism, beginning with Engels," she was reaching for a new kind of organization that would take responsibility for DEVELOPING a non-totalizing form of dialectics from as early as 1953, in a series of letters that led to the birth of Marxist-Humanism.
The 1953 "Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes" was written as part of a dialogue among Dunayevskaya, C.L.R. James, and Grace Lee (Boggs) on what kind of revolutionary organization could replace the vanguard party. As she wrote in a 1987 reexamination,
By the time Dunayevskaya completed the 1953 letters, she had departed from what C.L.R. James called "the dialectics of the party." By "dialectics of the party" James meant defining the specific FORM of organization that could replace the vanguard party. While Dunayevskaya was also interested in new forms of organization, she did not stop there: she focused most of all on the relation between dialectical philosophy and organization.
This led to the formation of News and Letters Committees in 1955. Dunayevskaya stated at its founding convention, "It is the organization of thought which determines organizational life."(15)
This concept flowed from MARXISM AND FREEDOM. It showed that the Second International had plenty of "organization" and many publications, but they were unsuccessful since there was no organization of Marxist thought. In part, it was seen in their failure to publish much of Marx’s work. But even when they did publish Marx it meant little, since they took his conclusions as a pillow for intellectual sloth instead of experiencing the Marxian dialectic in light of the realities of their times.
The Marxist-Humanist concept of philosophy as ground for organization broke new ground--including from those who had accepted the theory of state-capitalism. As Dunayevskaya wrote in 1973, "Even in 1950-51, when for the first time we did add a section on philosophy right within our political document (STATE-CAPITALISM AND WORLD REVOLUTION) and were on the threshold of totally breaking with Trotskyism organizationally as well, we still had not, in throwing out the concept of the ‘party to lead,’ created anything to take its place. That is the whole point. We still haven’t fully, not yet. We have practiced an alternative. We have created committees...we must now expand that by making it a totality so that PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION is its organizational and not only philosophical manifestation..."(16)
From then to the end of her life in 1987 Dunayevskaya focused on how to close the gap between philosophic breakthrough and its organizational concretization. The task is neither to develop organization apart from philosophy, nor to treat philosophy as a set of conclusions that one simply "propagates." No new kind of organization can emerge from either approach. She defined the challenge in her unfinished work on "Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy" in 1986-87: "The question of organization not only as organizational growth we’re so in need of, but the concept of organization...where it is inseparable from and dialectically integral with, the dialectics of philosophy."(17)
Embarking upon this "untrodden path" of dialectics of organization and philosophy is central to concretizing the challenge that Marxist-Humanism has posed since its birth--answering the question of what happens AFTER the revolution.
This question is posed by ongoing revolts and it is the task of revolutionary theorists to respond to it. It is seen in such expressions as "Another World is Possible" or "Life After Capitalism"--the latter being the name of a forum that will be held at the protests against the Republican Convention in New York in August.
However, it is difficult to even get started on developing an alternative without the hard theoretical labor of internalizing Marx’s Marxism and working out what it means for today. In the absence of such necessary work it becomes easy to fall prey to the illusion that a new form of organization will by itself meet the challenge of the times. The way in which many in the movement against global capital were unsure of how to respond to the September 11 attacks points to the need to go beyond the issue of forms of organization by developing philosophy inseparable from organization.
As Dunayevskaya wrote in one of her final essays, "The two-fold problematic of our age is 1) What happens after the conquest of power? 2) Are there ways for new beginnings when there is so much reaction, so many aborted revolutions, such turning of the clock backward in the most technologically advanced lands?"(18)
Responding to this problem entails taking Marxist-Humanism to its next stage of dialectical development. It cannot be done by repeating conclusions or by assuming that Marxist-Humanism has answered all theoretical problems. We instead need an open-ended process of working out philosophy in an organizational collectivity.
In the past several years we have sought to respond to this challenge by issuing a series of new publications, such THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY, which includes some of Dunayevskaya’s major writings on the dialectics of organization. It has sparked a number of serious and wide-ranging discussions. We have also helped issue new editions of MARXISM AND FREEDOM and PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, as well as a Chinese translation of both books. In the past year we have also issued a new edition of AMERICAN CIVILIZATION OF TRIAL: BLACK MASSES AS VANGUARD, John Alan’s DIALECTICS OF BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLES, and the pamphlets MARXIST-HUMANIST WRITINGS ON THE MIDDLE EAST and MARX'S CONCEPT OF INTRINSIC VALUE. These were issued as part of a living battle of ideas that we invite our readers to join with us in discussing, concretizing, and further developing.
This year we also reexamined Marx’s critique of capital in a series of nationwide classes on "Alternatives to Capitalism." These classes, which had excellent attendance and discussion in our local committees, sought to explore how Marx’s critique of capital illuminates the path to overcoming today’s dominance of capitalism.
Marx’s critique of capital has two inseparable dimensions--his critique of capital as a social relation and his critique of leftist alternatives that fail to envision a total uprooting of capital. Marx’s critique of the radical alternatives of his day is not some distant historic issue without relevance to today. This is especially seen in his critique of such 19th century radicals as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who opposed the state, and Ferdinand Lassalle, who was a statist-socialist.
Proudhon’s utopianism and Lassalle’s statism represented partial, superficial negations of existing society insofar as both failed to envision the transcendence of commodity production. Proudhon wished to eliminate some of the inequities of capitalism by "realizing" the principle of equality, presumably involved in commodity production, on the basis of the classical political economists’ discovery that labor is the source of all economic value. While Proudhonism long ago passed into history, the assumptions contained in its approach live on. These assumptions are seen when those who argue that the inequities of globalized capitalism can be overcome by replacing institutions like the World Trade Organization and IMF with organizations based on mass participation--as if humanity can be freed without abolishing value production and alienated labor.
The question we have to ask ourselves today is how to actualize a new society defined by a CONCRETE equality based on new human relations, as opposed to the abstract "equality" of the capitalist market and process of production. Such a society can neither be realized in a statist framework nor in a "free association" that skips over the need to abolish the capital relation itself.
Marx’s analyses of the need to abolish not just the manifestations of capital but capital itself provides the ground for overcoming such limited approaches. But it isn’t as if the answer is lying there in Marx and we can just pick it up and popularize it. The way in which Marx’s two-fold critique of capital intimates a future, noncapitalist world has to be thought through to its fullest logical development in light of the specific realities of our time.
To achieve this it is first of all necessary to grapple with Marx’s work inseparable from Hegel’s. Dunayevskaya spoke to this in 1985: "Remember how rarely you think something through to the end. Indeed, if you do follow an abstract thought to the end, and if your Idea is the wrong one, you will wind up sounding like an idiot. That is, thinking ‘in and for itself’ will end up by proving that the Idea is no Universal. But if your Idea was correct, the concretization will prove you a genius. Ideas ‘think,’ not sequentially, but CONsequentially, related to other Ideas that emerge out of HISTORIC ground, and do not care where all this might lead to, including transformation into opposite."(19)
Thinking through the logic of an idea to its fullest development is at the core of Hegel’s dialectic; it reaches its fullest expression in the Absolute Idea--which is not an end but the jumping off point for new beginnings. 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.
In other words, since the present moment does not, by itself, immediately suggest an alternative, one has to be thought through by bringing the creativity of cognition to bear on the content of Marx’s new continent of thought. As Marxist-Humanists see it, "Marx’s legacy is no mere heirloom, but a live body of ideas and perspectives that is in need of concretization. Every moment of Marx’s development, as well as the totality of his works, spells out the need for ‘revolution in permanence.’ This is the absolute challenge to our age."(20)
As Marx wrote in the GRUNDRISSE, "If we did not find latent in society as it is, the material conditions of production and the corresponding relationships of exchange for a classless society, all attempts to explode it would be quixotic."(21) Envisioning a noncapitalist future doesn’t involve drawing up a "blueprint" for a new society; it instead involves discerning the reaching for a new society that is contained in ongoing mass movements, while never adopting an uncritical attitude toward them.
At the same time, as the Marxist-Humanist Perspectives Thesis of 2003-2004 put it, "Standing for a new society does not simply mean being for practical struggles for a new society once they arise. Standing for a new society also means theoretically discerning the elements for creating a new society BEFORE such struggles arise."(22) Envisioning a noncapitalist future cannot simply wait for the emergence of new revolts; that may leave the masses without the direction needed to reach their goal.
There is no way to anticipate the future without doing the "thought diving" involved in experiencing theory. 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 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.
As our Perspectives for 2003-04 put it, "Why should the theoretic power of philosophy be only theoretical? Why shouldn’t we exercise that power in class struggles, in Black struggles, in the anti-war movement, in youth and Women’s Liberation struggles? Why not project Marxist-Humanist philosophy ORGANIZATIONALLY as the power that is both the form for eliciting from the masses their thoughts and projecting Marxist-Humanist perspectives to them?"
This remains our unfinished task. To achieve it we need a reorganization of priorities. We will only grow as an organization if we demonstrate that we are involved in a process of creating something NEW which has never been fully actualized in the history of the anti-Stalinist Left--an alternative to both the vanguard party and total reliance on spontaneous forms of organization. It can only be achieved by drawing on the full body of ideas of Marxist-Humanism and engaging in the painstaking, rigorous thinking that can meet new objective and subjective revolutionary challenges.
Our primary responsibility is to create space and time for concretizing the Marxist-Humanist organization of thought. The acceptance of such responsibility necessitates having an organization to ensure that ideas are worked out in dialogue with the movements of our time. First and foremost we need to ensure that the works of the founder of Marxist-Humanism are available, but that alone is insufficient; our philosophic responsibility ABOVE ALL demands concretizing the Marxist-Humanist organization of thought in relation to today’s realities and theoretic debates.
The perspectives for NEWS & LETTERS paper--its production, content, distribution and frequency--has to be conceived in relation to our Perspectives as a whole. N&L aims to bring together political analyses, voices from below, and the process of experiencing theory, and we need to constantly check ourselves to see we are living up to that.
The Constitution of News and Letters Committees states, "We hold it to be the duty of each generation to interpret Marxism for itself." This cannot be achieved by individuals working in isolation without a unified direction. It can only be achieved by eliciting and developing the talents of different individuals on the basis of a unified organizational perspective. This is the key to determining all our tasks, from forging new international relations to initiating explorations of our newest publications, from engaging in movement activities to meeting our financial responsibilities.
What we need most of all is a common discussion, a common dialogue, in which we speak to each other about what is needed to ensure the future existence of Marxist-Humanism. We invite you to participate in this process with us.
--The Resident Editorial Board
1. Quoted in "Iraq War Objector Surrenders with Fanfare," by Kirsten Schamberg, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, March 16, 2004.
2. See "Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 1986-87."
3. "Introduction to Critique of Hegel’s PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT," COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 3, p. 176. See also Marx’s "On the Jewish Question": "We no longer regard religion as the cause, but only as the manifestation of secular narrowness. Therefore, we explain the religious limitations of the free citizen by their secular limitations. We do not assert that they must overcome their religious narrowness in order to get rid of their secular restrictions, we assert that they will overcome their religious narrowness once they get rid of their secular restrictions."
5. INTERNATIONAL LIASON COMMITTEE NEWSLETTER, 72, April 14, 2004.
6. DIALECTICS OF BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLES (Chicago: News and Letters, 2004), pp. 11, 14.
7. See "Women make history in massive rally," NEWS & LETTERS, May 2004.
8. Stephen Roach, "The Heavy Lifting of Global Restructuring," MORGAN STANLEY GLOBAL ECONOMIC FORUM, May 27, 2003.
9. See "Terrorism, Bush’s retaliation show inhumanity of class society," by Peter Hudis, NEWS & LETTERS, October 2001.
10. "Brazil and China draw closer," by Carmen Gentile, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, May 28, 2004. See also "China’s success inspires envy and awe," by Richard McGregor, FINANCIAL TIMES, May 28, 2004.
11. See Dunayevskaya’s "Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 1985-86": "Ghadafi is by no means the scatter-brain that the U.S. government and the media are making him appear. You cannot, for example, dismiss the other critical alliance he has now negotiated with the new ruler of Sudan, General El-Dahab." THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 10345.
12. See MARXISM AND FREEDOM, by Raya Dunayevskaya, p. 66.
13. "Hegel’s Absolutes as New Beginning," THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY (Lexington Books, 2002), p. 184.
14. "Presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy," THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY, p. 7.
15. "Theoretical and Practical Perspectives: Where to Begin?" (1956), THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 2566.
16. "PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION as Organization Builder" (1973), THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 4982.
17. "Talking to Myself" [May 13, 1987], SUPPLEMENT TO RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 10923-24.
18. "A post-World War II View of Marx’s Humanism, 1843-83; Marxist Humanism in the 1950s and 1980s," BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: ACHILLES HEEL OF WESTERN "CIVILIZATION" (News and Letters, 1996), p. 93
19. THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY, p. 310.
20. ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION, AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION, by Raya Dunayevskaya (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), p. 195.
21. Marx’s GRUNDRISSE, COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 28 (New York: International Publishers, 1986), p. 97.
22. See "War, Resistance, and the Need for a New Alternative," NEWS & LETTERS, July 2003.
Published by News and Letters Committees