OFFICIAL CALL FOR CONVENTION
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2018-2019
February 25, 2018
To All Members of News and Letters Committees
The deeply ingrained rape culture, already widely known but often hushed up, has been exposed in the broadest way yet by the #MeToo movement. How deep and total is the needed uprooting of this rotten society has been shown yet again by the way women are oppressed, dehumanized, treated as things, punished for resisting or speaking out, sometimes even for just being women. This movement in turn would not have grown so big so fast without the inspiration from the massive Women’s March of January 2017, which was in a sense the launch of the “resistance” to racist, sexist, heterosexist, xenophobic fascism. The target is both the system and culture as a whole and the Trump administration in particular. One year later, the January 2018 Women’s Marches proved that the struggle continues undiminished. As shown in recent issues of News & Letters, the deep questioning of the whole rape culture that pervades the U.S., and in fact the world, points to the need to transform relations between men and women, and the objectification of women, fundamentally.
Youth fighting back against mass shootings received help from the youth branch of the Women’s March, who called for a national student/teacher walkout March 14. Well before that, many student walkouts have already happened.
The newest international revolt is the one in Iran. Its significance is taken up in the January-February issue of News & Letters, which shows what is new in this revolt by working-class youth, with an important women’s dimension that goes beyond the mass street revolts, as well as the relationship to the 2011 revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab Spring showed that revolution was again on the agenda and brought the idea of revolution front and center. It also showed once again that, without merging with a philosophy of revolution in permanence, revolutions will remain unfinished or turn into their opposite.
The ascendancy of counter-revolution in this crisis-ridden world has spewed forth ever more manifestations of fascism, from neo-Nazis in the Austrian government and the German parliament to the murderous regime of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and from the neo-fascist governments in Poland and Hungary to the Trump administration’s advancement of an anti-immigrant, white supremacist, woman-hating, gaybashing agenda. The billionaire Trump’s pretense to be the champion of the working class (white men, anyway) is as ludicrous as his claim to be “the least racist person you ever met.” He has headed an onslaught against workers’ wages, job security, health and safety, working conditions, organizing rights, social benefits, and even tips. While Trump pushes for personal control of the entire government, demanding the right to fire anyone and to subvert the limited independence of the courts and FBI, the Republican Party bows obsequiously and the Democrats offer token resistance.
Yet the specter of nuclear war is so horrifying that the Pentagon itself is resisting Trump’s demand for more options for military action against North Korea, fearing that it would increase the chance of war. The administration dropped a prospective ambassador to South Korea, the hawk Victor Cha, after his warning against a “preventive” strike. Meanwhile the U.S. and Russia are engaged in a new nuclear arms race, as is India with Pakistan and China. Syria’s counter-revolution with multiple international intrusions has become a flashpoint where U.S. forces have come into conflict with those of Russia and Turkey, and where Israel has confronted Iran.
While quick to flaunt military forces, to attack abortion rights around the world, and to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, in many other ways Trump is feckless on international issues. This has left room for China to expand its global imperial power at a time when Xi Jinping has consolidated control of its party, government, and military. He is deploying capital accumulated from the sweated labor of Chinese workers to execute his Belt and Road Initiative, forging agreements with close to 100 countries without giving up military ambitions in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
What is clear is, first, that imperialistic, militaristic, nuclear-armed state-capitalism is still the order of the day. All the globalization, privatization, austerity, and alleged attempts to cut government deficits cannot hide that fact.
Second, the world and national economies still revolve around production of surplus-value, which only comes from sweated labor in the production of commodities; value production did not cease to be the determinant just because most manufacturing relocated to low-wage countries like China. Labor did not cease to be exploited, alienated labor, and technology did not cease to generate unemployment, precarious employment, and, at the same time, intensified exploitation.
That is why the 50th anniversary of the momentous Memphis sanitation strike, in the course of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, was marked this year by Fight for $15 strikes supported by Black Lives Matter in dozens of cities across the U.S. It is still true that most Black and Latinx workers make less than $15 an hour, while Black unemployment is double that of whites. Just as the 1968 sanitation strike was about respect, dignity, and being treated as a human being, the question of wages today is important but not all there is to labor struggles. The question of “what kind of labor should a human being do?” is still on the agenda, and being raised with regard to new developments. A new stage of automation is preparing to decimate jobs such as truck driving and work in retail stores and warehouses. Amazon’s patent for a wristband that tracks and nudges a worker’s hand starkly illustrates the mentality and the relationships driving capitalistic technological “progress.” “The robotic technology isn’t up to scratch yet, so until it is, they will use human robots,” said one Amazon warehouse worker.
Robots and computers can replace human beings in production, but only living labor creates value. So capitalism’s “progress” in automation tends to reduce surplus value in proportion to the whole social capital—that is, the rate of profit tends to fall. Even before this results in a new recession, which could be as deep as the last one a decade ago, it also encourages capital to speculate, to seek fictitious profits outside production, as in rising real estate and stock prices. Besides building toward a new debt crisis, real estate speculation is fostering displacement of poor and working people in places like the San Francisco Bay Area. Home prices, rents, evictions, and homelessness are climbing, and Black and poor people are being pushed out.
Third, the end of the Cold War may have obscured the specter of nuclear war but it is back with renewed vigor, joined by its apocalyptic twin, climate chaos. Puerto Rico is the new model for what climate change under capitalism holds in store: the racist abandonment of the population, the decay of infrastructure for the masses while the rulers ensure their own comfort. Already climate disruption is swelling the ranks of refugees, from Puerto Rico to South Sudan. Trump’s answer is to reverse the meager existing regulations of greenhouse gas emissions and unleash drilling for fossil fuels, whether in national parks or the Arctic Ocean. In truth, long before Trump ascended to the throne, capitalist competition on the world market undermined all attempts to establish adequate emission controls. The world’s suicidal path toward climate chaos is yet another proof, as if more were needed, that capitalism has become the biggest threat to humanity’s existence. Its latest response, however, is to attack knowledge itself, by defunding science, censoring education, erasing climate information from federal websites, banning terms like “global warming,” and ordering that climate change not be taken into account in infrastructure planning.
That is only one aspect of the degeneration of thought, manifested so blatantly in the resurgence of fascism and the genocide raging against the Rohingya and the Syrian and Yemeni people—and the apologetics for genocide that have become central to a very vocal part of the Left, making them a barrier to building any genuine freedom movement. However much they dress themselves in “revolutionary” language, they remain an element of counter-revolution, and their acceptance as a legitimate part of the Left only reveals the philosophical void that disorients the Left and the resistance.
That degeneracy of thought continues the administrative mentality characteristic of the age of state-capitalism. That mentality always looks for a new program to impose, a new plan to implement, without seeing that the only real alternative to imperialism and fascism is the Subject, masses in motion. The profound global capitalist economic crisis of the mid-1970s provoked not only a political and economic restructuring, including neoliberalism, but a retrogression in thought as well, with the “ideological pollution” that Raya Dunayevskaya warned about. As we see today, where there is no method and revolution is reduced to a mechanical would-be opposition to U.S. imperialism, thought is dead and its death can only lead to counter-revolution. That is not only on the fascist Right and among the rulers but on the Left as well. So when we see a “resistance” emerging, we cannot stop at warning against the attempts to take it over by both the Democratic Party and the most sordid leftists. We need to work at the concrete projection of a liberatory banner to act as a polarizing force for opponents of the turn toward fascism. This points to the need for the philosophy of revolution in permanence that can become the unifying force.
A growing part of the Left has been denouncing the apologists for Bashar al-Assad’s genocide and counter-revolution, and is debating how to push them aside and organize anti-war/anti-imperialist/pro-revolution coalitions separate from their misleadership. The question becomes, what about the difference in philosophy? That is, is it enough to reject the politics of the apologists, and not rethink the philosophy that underlies as well the opportunists who are willing to cooperate with the apologists in anti-Trump or “anti-war” actions but have done little in solidarity with the Syrian people’s revolution?
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 was another occasion when the Marxist Left disintegrated, with many socialist parties—including the biggest and most prestigious, the German Social Democratic Party—openly supporting their rulers in the imperialist war. The true revolutionaries broke politically with those parties and tried to forge an anti-war, anti-imperialist Left. But only Lenin went back to rethink his own philosophy, because he had accepted the German party and Karl Kautsky, who had betrayed, as the leader. Thereby Lenin provided ground not only for total opposition to the betrayers and opportunists but for the revolution to come in Russia in 1917. That is the most important point developed in the new Marxist-Humanist book, Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution. Who today will return to the Russian Revolution and counter-revolution and recognize this as the most important lesson? It is our responsibility to project that concretely with regard to the present split within the Left, and thereby to realize philosophy as a polarizing force that gives action its direction.
What Lenin did not grasp fully in terms of philosophy but did to an extent recognize as politically crucial was Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence. From when he first broke with bourgeois society in 1843, Marx counterposed revolution in permanence to political revolution that does not continue to deepen but ends in counter-revolution, as he theorized on the basis of the French Revolution’s vicissitudes. That Marx developed this into a whole philosophy is elaborated in Raya Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, and shown in a new way in Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day: Selected Writings by Raya Dunayevskaya, which will be off the press in a few months.
All of our new publications are vital in helping us intervene in today’s struggles and concretely project Marxist-Humanist philosophy as a polarizing force. So far only the Russia book is off the press. That will soon change but that does not mean we will forget its importance when Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day is out, as well as new pamphlets on Syria and on women’s liberation. In addition, just as new French editions of Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 until Today and Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal have been published, there are now in the works a Turkish translation of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution and Greek translations of that book and the other two in Dunayevskaya’s trilogy of revolution: Marxism and Freedom and Philosophy and Revolution.
Every moment, every event, is different, and demands that we work out how to project the whole body of Marxist-Humanist ideas as a totality, through the concretization of one or more of the new publications, the newspaper—which is “new” every two months—the trilogy of revolution, the Archives, which are now online complete with the Guide, and all the other publications and our own individual intervention. Let us make sure this potential turning point does not fail to turn in the direction of full human emancipation.
This document is the Call for a national Convention this Memorial Day weekend. The outgoing National Editorial Board will meet in Executive Session Friday evening, May 25. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 26, and running through Sunday, May 27, all sessions of the Convention will be open to members and to invited friends, who are given the same privileges to the floor for discussion.
We are asking the Chicago local to host the Convention and to be responsible for a Saturday evening party to greet out-of-towners. All locals and members at large are asked to let the Center know at least two weeks in advance who will be attending the Convention, in order for the host local to plan meals and to know what arrangements you have made for housing. Participants should make housing arrangements as early as possible and inform the Center.
With this Call begins a full 90 days of pre-Convention discussion. A draft Perspectives Thesis will be published in the May-June issue of News & Letters so that it can be discussed by members and friends, correspondents and critics, before the Convention. Articles for pre-Convention Discussion Bulletins must be submitted to the Center by Monday, April 30. Any articles after that date must be copied and brought to the Convention to be distributed there. Discussion within our local committees and with all those we can reach becomes a measure of the inseparability for us between preparation for our Convention and all our activities throughout the pre-Convention period.
—The Resident Editorial Board