OFFICIAL CALL FOR CONVENTION
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2016-2017
February 28, 2016
To All Members of News and Letters Committees
The great need for new beginnings is clear from the disintegrative tendencies that world capitalism is displaying at this moment—ecologically, economically, politically. Massive revolts continue to reach for new beginnings but remain incomplete and face counter-revolutionary onslaught on many fronts.
What has become of the Arab Spring since it burst out five years ago—and helped unleash more revolts from West Africa to Europe to the U.S.—weighs like a nightmare on the minds of humanity. Counter-revolution is exacting a deadly toll from Syria’s nearly half a million slaughtered under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, to the massacres and mass imprisonments in Egypt over which Abdel Fattah el-Sisi presides, to the chaotic fighting by militias in Libya and Yemen. Rape and enslavement of women are rising as weapons of war from Iraq to South Sudan.
Counter-revolution is coming not only from within each country but from without, as in the Saudi bombing in Yemen, in the Russian and Iranian bombing and ground assaults in Syria, and in U.S. betrayals of the revolts. The media too play a role when they paint the fighting as a contest essentially between Islamists like ISIS and Al Qaeda and the old repressive establishments. They systematically hide the liberatory content of struggles by masses and the ideas expressed in those struggles, undermining the solidarity that ordinary people feel for their counterparts suffering the brunt of repression. The inseparability of life and philosophy is shown in this attempt to bury ideas of and struggles for freedom under the ruling ideology—just at the time when the contradictions of these revolutionary uprisings cry out the need for the philosophy of revolution in permanence.
What we must not allow to be obscured is the new generation of revolutionaries who have not given up over the many setbacks they have faced but rather have been motivated to ask new questions, search for new answers, deepen their thinking, and in the best cases reveal a passion for philosophy.
Recently published recollections of participants reveal a firm conviction that the revolutionary struggles are not over, despite all the reverses suffered, all the repression, even killing, still under way, all the counter-revolutionary interventions from abroad as well as from within their countries—that, as even the most pessimistic writer put it from his prison cell in Egypt, another world is possible. As if to give confirmation, the Egyptian government clamped down hard to try to prevent any independent demonstrations on the fifth anniversary of the Jan. 25, 2011, uprising, even knowing how many activists and writers they have already killed or jailed. New protests have swept Tunisia, redoubling after another young man there lost his life in bringing attention to the plight of the unemployed youth in the country’s interior. New challenges, little heeded by the media, keep coming from women against male domination and women’s oppression. Even in Syria, where Assad’s genocidal slaughter has shocked the world, the movement, both armed and unarmed, goes on and continues to find cultural and philosophical expression.
The remembrances include recounting the new form of organization and human relations that fleetingly possessed such locales as Tahrir Square in Cairo and Change Square in Sana’a, Yemen. What is only beginning is the reassessment of how that form of organization was crucial and necessary and yet was accompanied by illusions that the form of organization was enough—and the opposite illusion that it could simply be discarded once “democratic” electoral politics seemed to be in the cards. What needs further exploration and analysis is how the attitude to organization reveals an attitude to philosophy—and yet, at the same time, the passion for emancipatory philosophy has grown out of the movements and especially out of their defeats, as News & Letters showed in particular in Syria.
The phenomenon associated with the Arab Spring that most preoccupies Europe seems to be the refugees. Together with people from Afghanistan and other countries, they have been met by a wave of anti-immigrant reaction. The move to the Right across so much of Europe is a painful coda to the hopes raised after Syriza’s election just last year. Then, its ascension to power was a model much of the Left said we should follow. Now, only die-hard apologists express that view.
In the U.S. neo-fascism is strong enough to raise its specter in the Presidential campaign, with the Republican Party increasingly following Donald Trump’s vicious xenophobia, racism and sexism. Trump’s and Ted Cruz’s embrace of torture and genocidal “carpet-bombing” are not idle rhetoric but a true reflection of the brutal counter-revolution they wish to unleash on masses both at home and abroad—and their racist appeals have won support from parts of not only the middle class but the working class.
At the same time the Black Lives Matter movement has forced discussion on what is the relationship between Women’s Liberation, Black Liberation and Queer Liberation. As we see in every issue of News & Letters, the revolt of prisoners continues to be important.
At a time when labor, from Chicago teachers to Chinese factory workers, is struggling in many countries while never having gained back all that was lost in the 2008 crash, the world economy continues to show tendencies to crisis, with new signs of weakness, as in China. That includes the price of oil falling with the slowdown in demand. Its decimation of jobs in some regions shows starkly how, whether the price of oil is high or low, either way is a catastrophe for the common person. In addition to the serious economic effects, it shows how capitalism is locked into climate change. When the price of oil is low, it stimulates more consumption of oil; when the price is high, it stimulates investment in production of the most environmentally damaging sources of fossil fuels. On climate change itself, so empty is the achievement of the Paris summit that some scientists are saying we need a different foundation to the economy. That is the kind of thing that Karl Marx referred to in the work of a scientist of his day as “another unconscious socialist tendency!”
And yet a portion of the supposedly “revolutionary” Left is busy, along with the Right, defending Russia’s decidedly anti-revolutionary Vladimir Putin. When it comes to most of the Left’s attitude to actual Left formations like Greece’s Syriza, the autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava, or Chavismo in Venezuela (some of which are connected to truly revolutionary movements, but all of which have cooperated, sometimes enthusiastically, with Putin and Assad), they disregard, excuse, or explain away their contradictions. All that does is evade the need for philosophy, without which those contradictions cannot fully be confronted, and thereby shift all responsibility onto the movement from practice, if not to parties that retain a large dose of vanguardism rather than embracing philosophy of liberation as leadership.
All of this points to both the need for and the potential for totally new beginnings in the transformation of society. It points to the need for new banners of freedom as a polarizing force. Their absence has very serious consequences, especially when counter-revolution is so strong, so vicious, coming from so many directions, including from within the oppositional movements themselves. It therefore points to the need for new Marxist-Humanist organizational beginnings.
As we put it in last year’s Call for Plenum: What is needed from an organization of the type of a small group like us is what Raya Dunayevskaya described as “leadership, not as ‘party to lead’ but as revolutionary philosophy to raise new banners of freedom that meet the challenge of the movement from practice.” In bringing together members and invited co-thinkers and co-activists, this year’s national gathering will aim (to paraphrase her) to collectively work out our Marxist-Humanist perspectives in such a way that analysis of the meaning of events and activity in mass movements lead to organizational growth as well as the self-development of masses as Reason as well as Force.
We have a solid foundation to build on in the body of ideas that Raya Dunayevskaya developed. We have a new entry into that body of ideas: the Archives that our organization made available online, which we have only begun to use. The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, “Marxist-Humanism: A Half-Century of Its World Development,” and its Supplement, together with her books and the other publications we have always made available, represent a living body of ideas that speak to the current world situation and provide the missing ingredient needed for truly new beginnings that would determine the end—but we have to project them concretely to make it so.
In the wake of the betrayal of the Spanish Revolution from within and the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Dunayevskaya began by working out the concept of state-capitalism. The Archives illuminate how she was compelled to reach further for a new philosophical basis for the Marxist movement, delving into Marx’s Humanism and dialectic and its roots in the Hegelian dialectic. That culminated in “the philosophic moment,” when her breakthrough on Hegel’s Absolutes revealed the movement from practice as well as from theory. The first Marxist-Humanist book, Marxism and Freedom, showed how that movement from practice that is a form of theory was the driving force for development of theory in Marx’s age and our own “age of absolutes.” Philosophy and Revolution articulated the integrality of philosophy and revolution, and with it the new category of Absolute Idea as New Beginning; this cast new light both on revolutionary leaders and alternatives and on the “new passions and new forces” of the day. Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution singled out the new moments in Marx’s last decade, as seen in Man/Woman relations, the relationship of the less capitalistically developed countries to the industrialized ones, and the philosophical ground for revolutionary organization; and, based on the new understanding of Marx’s thought as a totality, took the measure of “post-Marx Marxism as a pejorative, beginning with Friedrich Engels.”
Left unfinished at Dunayevskaya’s death was her work on Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy: “The Party” and Forms of Organization Born Out of Spontaneity. The Archives now online provide a new opportunity to dig into that work. As she wrote in preparing for her last Convention,
“Chapter XI of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution—’The Philosopher of Permanent Revolution Creates New Ground for Organization’—will be its ground. Indeed, it is this which has permeated our organization from its beginning. It has motivated us to reject all elitist parties, any sort of ‘vanguard party,’ and instead to begin working out what forms of organization were emerging from the unity of theory and practice. Instead of proclaiming ourselves ‘a party,’ News and Letters Committees concentrated on that missing link, dialectical philosophy.”
One year later, in her June 1, 1987, presentation—a first projection of her talk for the Executive Session at the national gathering that did not come to be—after stressing that the “UNTRODDEN PATH…IS ORGANIZATION, the Dialectics of Philosophy and Organization,” she indicated that the work toward Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy entailed each member projecting “that meaning, whether of an objective event or the subjective activity…because in meaning, i.e., philosophy, is both ground and roof of all we do, survey, strive for, as we prepare for that ‘revolution in permanence.'”
She then proposed that in the paper “the book—Dialectics of Philosophy and Organization [though not yet written]—becomes the dominant force not only in essay-articles, but in every activity we undertake, especially in discussions with subscribers, with not-yet Marxist-Humanists, not just as the recording of the events and their experiences, but the meaning of those events and experiences and their direction in a global context. That is what we will have to project when we have conversations with subscribers. That is what has been missing—the whole new concept of ‘post-Marx Marxism as a pejorative’—it just [lay] there in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.”
The recent inreach to us shows the tip of the iceberg of the passion for philosophy and the search that is going on for what that body of ideas represents. Inreach shows us the potential for organizational growth but cannot substitute for it.
We have to confront the critical moment we are in not only objectively but organizationally. We need, the world needs, a new generation of Marxist-Humanists to be a part of the new generation of revolutionaries. Projection is of the essence. Projection to individuals, one on one, where there is the potential for developing the relationship to that individual taking responsibility for Marxist-Humanism, organizational responsibility for Marxist-Humanism, cannot take second place to any other activity, however crucial, from the study and inwardization of philosophy to dialogue and debate with other tendencies, to making political analyses and writing for and distributing the newspaper. We are at a moment when none of those crucial activities must be allowed to become separate from that specific kind of projection. If that is not the central topic of our pre-Convention and Convention discussions, then we are taking refuge in abstraction.
We here issue a Call for a national Convention this Memorial Day weekend. The outgoing National Editorial Board will meet in Executive Session Friday evening, May 27. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 28, and running through Sunday, May 29, 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 assist in arranging 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, May 2. 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