Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2020-2021: Shattered by pandemic, world needs new beginnings in revolutionary activity, thought

April 30, 2020

From the May-June 2020 issue of News & Letters

Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2020-2021: Shattered by pandemic, world needs new beginnings in revolutionary activity, thought

Introduction: Deep crises demand a path to liberation
I. The failed pandemic response and the fetishism of the economy
II. The true pandemic war
III. Pandemic sets in motion the latent economic collapse
IV. What to do in the face of compounding crises—medical, economic, political, and the philosophic void

Why we print the Draft Perspectives in News & Letters

In 1975 News and Letters Committees printed its Draft Perspectives Thesis in News & Letters for the first time. The organization has continued the practice ever since. What follows is the 1975 explanation of why we decided to take such action and why we continue to do so:

With this special issue, News and Letters Committees are breaking totally new ground for the Marxist movement. Publishing the Draft Perspectives Thesis for our coming national gathering directly in the pages of our paper is unprecedented, not only for all other organizations, but even for our own. We do it because our age is in such total crisis, facing a choice between absolute terror or absolute freedom, that a revolutionary organization can no longer allow any separation between theory and practice, philosophy and revolution, workers and intellectuals, “inside” and “outside.” We ask you to join in the discussion of these Perspectives with us. We are not presenting any “pat answers” to the question, “Where Do We Go From Here?” We are raising the questions that demand answers—and we ask you to help us in working them out.

Introduction: Deep crises demand a path to liberation

Because the economic and political crises wracking the capitalist-imperialist world are so horrendous…it is all too tempting to express oneself solely in opposition to what is, without ever specifying what one is for, so weighted down does one become by all these crises crying out for an end….It only assures the transformation of that type of bare opposition into one form or another of halfway house.

—Raya Dunayevskaya[1]

Pandemic shattered the world in 2020. It has not shattered the roots of the global system that powered its spread and hobbled society’s response. That will take revolutionary action, shoots of which are already sprouting across the planet, from widespread labor strikes to growing recognition of the role of capitalism in undermining the health of humanity and the Earth. For precisely that reason, those in power are maneuvering to suppress revolt and dissent, to deploy racism/nationalism/sexism and militarize thought, and to keep the toiling billions at work or impoverished enough to be desperate for work.

GE workers picket April 8 in Lynn, Mass., demanding adequate sanitation, personal protective equipment, paid sick leave, and conversion of idled jet engine factories to make ventilators. Photo by IUE-CWA Local 201

The mounting toll only begins with the thousands of deaths—over 150,000 confirmed as of April 17—and millions to come. Staggering numbers of people have been thrown out of work, from the 22 million who filed for unemployment in the U.S. in just four weeks to most of the over 350 million informal workers in India.[2] A large part of India’s 45 million migrant workers, lacking income and shelter, began walking home for hundreds of miles, with dozens known to have died along the way. The social dislocation does not stop there, as state responses in many countries have engendered fear, isolation and bigotry, and violence on the part of both police forces and racists. Abuse from husbands, partners or parents is on the rise.

Any suggestion that we will return to normal after a brief episode is an illusion. The pandemic is likely to last 18 months or longer, according to a U.S. government plan leaked on March 13. Nor is this the final disaster. It has been 100 years since the last comparable pandemic, the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, which killed 40 to 100 million people. But this is not a 100-year epidemic because conditions have changed. Human destruction of and encroachment into wildlife habitat has vastly accelerated since World War II, and the intensifying climate crisis is adding to the avenues that release new viruses into our globally connected society, as happened with HIV, Ebola, SARS, Zika, H1N1 and the current virus.

The climate and extinction crisis will force us to deal with multiple intersecting catastrophes. Puerto Rico is still trying to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and a swarm of earthquakes from Dec. 28 to Jan. 11, and bracing for the beginning of the hurricane season in June—all on top of being ravaged by centuries of colonialism and decades of neoliberal structural adjustment.

Even after the pandemic subsides, society will be very different. We are already in the midst of a battle over how society will change in responding and adapting to the pandemic. That calls for the deepest solidarity, internationally as well as at home, participation in liberatory social movements and battles of ideas, and theoretical preparation for the battles ahead, including revolution, counter-revolution and the question of what happens after the revolution.


It is for this reason that the Marxist-Humanist Perspectives grapples with the meaning of events, not a roundup of the news but an effort to comprehend the current stage of capitalism and the current stage of activity and thought in revolt against it.

Those who only oppose neoliberalism fail to grasp the historical development of capitalism’s inherent contradictions. However, necessary as it is to point at capitalism and call for its abolition, that cannot satisfy us. What is needed is to grasp the meaning of current and historical struggles for liberation, in activity and in thought, as they illuminate the negation of what is and the positive in that negative as the foundation of a new human society.

That includes the trends and transformations of the new period of global capitalism’s disintegration opened by the economic crash of 2008. Central to that period were the revolutions of the Arab Spring and all the revolts that were at least partially inspired by them, and the counter-revolutions that met those revolutions and revolts. It did include a broad undermining of popular legitimacy of the existing order, which powered the quest to overturn capitalism and create a new society, and as well false alternatives including new flavors of fascism.

With all this, the ideological pollution of the Left intensified. It is in this context that we can take the measure of Trumpism, which is not just about one individual who is so monstrous that Democrats can depict him as some kind of aberration instead of a crude manifestation of this dying system, but rather Trumpism beyond Trump as the expression of the system’s senescence that could actually lead to the destruction of civilization.

The absolute opposite to this is not just socialism as a generality. The questions of what kind of socialism and what kind of revolution are needed reveal the crying need for a philosophy of liberation. What can make a difference after the revolution between allowing a return to the old, dying system, or making revolution in permanence real? What should be clear, but is too often evaded in the fight to oppose the powers that be, is that to avoid the failure of revolution and thereby the success of the counter-revolution that drives us onward to barbarism and climate chaos, what is needed above all is the unity of philosophy with revolution.

Continued in I. The failed pandemic response and the fetishism of the economy

[1] “What to Do Facing the Depth of Recession and the Myriad Global Political Crises as Well as the Philosophic Void,” Perspectives Report to the News and Letters Convention, Sept. 4, 1982, p. 1.

[2] The world has 2 billion informal workers. On the plight of informal workers in Mexico and South Africa, see “COVID-19 manifests the crisis of capitalism, shows the urgency of a new human society” by J.G.F. Héctor, newsandletters.org, March 24, 2020, and “COVID-19 among the Shackdwellers,” May-June 2020 N&L.

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