Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2023-2024: Polycrisis and the need to transform reality. Parts VI & VII

June 15, 2023

From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters

V. Revolt is global

VI. Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy

The question that Dunayevskaya asked repeatedly remains: where will even the greatest movements from below lead so long as they lack a philosophy of revolution that would give these revolutionary struggles a direction? That cannot be reduced to the easy substitute of a blueprint for the new society, as if that is what Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program means. On the contrary, what it meant for Dunayevskaya in her last years was a multifaceted exploration of the dialectics of organization and philosophy.

Woman Life Freedom rally for human rights in Iran, in Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10, 2022. Photo: Victoria Pickering


Organizations that arise from the movements from practice, created spontaneously by masses in motion from below, are crucial for any social revolution to take place. At historic moments they have spawned creative new forms of organization like the variants of workers’ councils, shoras, or soviets seen in the Russian, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Portuguese, and Iranian Revolutions in the 20th Century. And yet history shows that these forms of organization by themselves cannot ensure that the revolution will succeed and not go backwards. Any mass movement and any organization can regress and even transform into its opposite.

That applies not only to the movement from practice but to left groups, including communist, socialist or anarchist collectives, militias, or parties. Transformation into opposite has plagued as historic a phenomenon as the 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia, which changed into state-capitalist totalitarianism under Stalin; or as pathetic, but still dangerous, a contemporary phenomenon as much of the U.S. and European Left entering into, or flirting with, a Red-Brown alliance.

There is no doubt that ample ground for such retrogression on the Left was laid not only by Stalinism but by the attachment to the “vanguard party to lead” by much of the anti-Stalinist Left as well. The self-developing Subject of masses in motion has too often been subordinated to organization and/or leadership.[1]

The organizational existence of Marxist-Humanism began with rejection of the vanguard party and adoption of a decentralized committee form. That, however, is not all there is to it. Committee form, as the first negation or opposite of the party to lead, is not its absolute opposite (just as spontaneous action and organization from below is not its absolute opposite). Dunayevskaya’s late work on dialectics of organization and philosophy returned to the need for committee-form to be fused with “not only the new relations of theory to practice, and all the forces of revolution, but philosophy’s ‘suffering, patience and labor of the negative,’ i.e., experiencing absolute negativity.”[2]

Where the vanguard party concept once dominated post-Marx Marxist tendencies, alternatives have grown more prominent in recent decades. Horizontalism came out of factory occupations and popular assemblies in the 2001 revolt in Argentina and was picked up in 2011 by the Occupy Movement and the Indignados in Spain and Greece. The old vanguardist Left was wrongly dismissive of the creativity infused in these forms by the revolt from below—and yet the burden of working out a new relationship of theory and practice in life cannot be put on the shoulders of these forms as if the movement from theory and its participants have no responsibility.

Horizontalism and “leaderlessness” were elements of the Arab Spring revolutions and were important categories for the women and genderqueer activists who started Black Lives Matter, and yet that creative type of form was no substitute for a philosophy of revolution as its proponents wished. The contradictions all of these movements smashed into make this clear.

This historic problem cannot be solved by the right program, leadership, or even form of organization. It highlights the indispensability of the need for a philosophy of revolution, the need for the organization of thought and its demand to be embodied in organizations based on the movement from theory. This raises the question of “the objectivity of subjectivity,” or “the objectivity which explains their presence, as the objectivity explains the spontaneous outburst of the masses,” as Dunayevskaya put it in her June 1, 1987, presentation on the dialectics of organization and philosophy.

That is, the subjectivity of masses in motion for freedom is an indispensable objective factor in transforming reality in an emancipatory, human way. Yet at the same time, the subjectivity of the Idea of Freedom, and its embodiment in individuals and organizations striving to bring out its expression in the world, is also objective and crucial. That rare kind of organization whose life and reason for being is the self-development of the Idea of Freedom is needed if we are ever to get to full freedom.


That is what Dunayevskaya was working out in relationship to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program—the needed inseparability of organization from philosophy of revolution, which is what she saw Marx posing.

Marxist-Humanism always brought to the center the question of what happens after the revolutionary conquest of power—not as something only in the far future but at the same time refusing to let that liberatory vision of the future be separated from the day after, the day of, and even before the revolution. And yet, that is not what was new in her studies of dialectics of organization and philosophy.[3]

Elsewhere, she had argued:

“While [forms of organization born out of spontaneity] are correct, as against the elitism and ossification of the party, the truth is that these forms also search for an organization different from their own in the sense that they want to be sure that there is a totality of theory and practice against the establishment of a power that has stopped dead with its conquest of state power—in short, altogether new beginnings….

“The question of ‘What happens after?’ gains crucial importance because of what it signals in self-development and self-flowering—‘revolution in permanence.’ No one knows what it is, or can touch it, or decide upon it before it appears. It is not the task that can be fulfilled in just one generation. That is why it remains so elusive, and why the abolition of the division between mental and manual labor sounds utopian. It has the future written all over it.”

The elements of the dialectics of organization and philosophy were part of Dunayevskaya’s thinking and writing from the beginning of Marxist-Humanism, what she called its philosophic moment. At the same time, we must keep in mind that her work on that subject was far from finished.

Major changes in both the objective and subjective situation, including the impact that the pandemic, fascism, and war have had on social movements and on our organization, make it imperative to reinvigorate our efforts to comprehend, concretize, and practice the dialectics of organization and philosophy—and in that spirit to consider how to reorganize for the new situation.


At the heart of that discussion, which will be the focus of this year’s pre-Convention period, is that the task of this organization since its founding has always been taking responsibility for the Idea of freedom, as concretized in the body of ideas of Marxist-Humanism. How to do that in changing circumstances—of our organization and of the world—is the ground of our discussion, be it on the direction and future of the archives, the newspaper, the website, the office at the Center, the organization.

Central to everything is how do we take responsibility for the idea. The power of the idea is what makes it possible and compelling to act as an organization of Marxist-Humanists. The point is, as always, how do we work to advance the Idea of freedom with the aim of total liberation in life.

VII. Tasks

The paramount question for our tasks this year is how to work towards a new beginning, although that goal cannot be guaranteed in advance. That is, how to find new or alternative ways to project the Idea of freedom that Marxist-Humanism represents and continues to develop.

Changed circumstances make it necessary to move from a printed newspaper to making our website the main locus of publication. Our first task, then, is to make that move and simultaneously continue in that new context our philosophical/theoretical development and concretization, our outreach and projection, the flow of new articles on our website, our work on archives, and the development of our organization.

As a needed part of our philosophical/theoretical development, we propose to hold a series of classes on dialectics of organization and philosophy based on Dunayevskaya’s writings on it—and to hold it in a way that encourages outreach.

The sharp currency of the concepts and history laid out in American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard leads to the proposal to study it as well, whether as part of the class series or as a separate study group.

In pursuit of these tasks, we will be open in experimenting with new ways of holding classes, meetings, and study groups, of communicating with each other, and of relating to both the movement from practice and the movement from theory, as an organization of people that also always strives to be an organization of ideas.

The point, as always, is to transform reality, and to see that it is done in a way that “the concrete totality of all the challenges that face our age bursts forth into a new human dimension, and, therefore, a new social order.”

—The Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees, May 25, 2023

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Parts 6-7

[1]. See Dunayevskaya’s Philosophy and Revolution, especially pp. 147-48, 289.

[2]. See Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, pp. xxxvii-xxxviii.

[3]. And certainly it had nothing to do with using what Marx only gave as an example, never a prescription, of how post-revolutionary society could be organized and yet could not escape the contradictions “inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society.” It had nothing at all to do with the vulgar reduction of Marx’s concepts of directly social labor to “equal remuneration” for producers.

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