Draft Perspectives, 2024-2025: Part Four, The crisis in thought

May 4, 2024

III. Russia’s war on Ukraine and the worldwide drive toward fascism

IV. The crisis in thought

The totality of the many-sided crisis is a manifestation of how the global capitalist system is falling apart, and is ready to take all of humanity down with it. The crisis in thought is central. It is seen both in the system’s promotion of rampant irrationality and denial of reality, and also in the severe disarray on the Left. The revolutionary Left is marginalized, and much of the revolutionary or anti-capitalist rhetoric that we hear covers up an abandonment of revolution as a serious prospect.  

The self-disarming of the Left is manifested in multiple ways, including falling short on opposing the clear and present danger of a second Trump term. At its most extreme, it is manifested in championing organizations or ruling classes that oppress their own people, from Hamas to the Houthis, from the rulers of Iran and Syria to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. A substantial amount of resistance to this debasement has built up, and yet there is still tremendous pressure for indiscriminate “Left” unity, as if such degradation has not exposed an abandonment of liberatory thought and activity.  

For example, those who were united in September in supporting the Ukrainian people’s resistance to Russian imperialist invasion, suddenly in October found that some were so overwhelmed by the need to oppose Israel’s genocidal attack on Palestinians that they were ready to tailend the anti-Ukraine, pro-Beijing, pro-Pyongyang misleadership of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) since they could organize demonstrations against Israel.  

Sign in a 2022 demonstration in London that puts together solidarity with Palestine, Ukraine and other nations isolated by war. Photo: Alisdare Hickson, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

As we noted in “Israel’s war and Hamas attack stoke retrogression,” at an Oct. 8 rally in New York called by the PSL and its front group People’s Forum, together with some Palestinian groups, “speaker after speaker praised the slaughter of civilians.” Eugene Puryear of PSL told the crowd, “There was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time, until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters. But I’m sure they’re doing very fine.” The equally reactionary “Marxist-Leninist” Workers World Party (WWP) issued a statement calling the Hamas attack, “a heroic example for people longing for liberation from imperialism around the world” and reprinted a statement from Hamas whitewashing the attack and declaring, “An ‘Israeli’ ground invasion would be the best scenario for us to settle the conflict against the enemy.” The NYC chapter of Democratic Socialists of America had to apologize for promoting the rally, which is a symptom of much of the larger Left’s willingness to support actions dominated by such reactionary groups as the PSL and WWP, even after they cozied up to Putin and elements of the far Right in the U.S. Kevin Anderson of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization (IMHO) touted the Oct. 7 attack as “nothing less than a global turning point” and its “dramatic” military achievements, criticizing Hamas not for the atrocities of its “legitimate war” but for its illusions about its chances of success.[1] The national committee of Students for Justice in Palestine called it “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance: across land, air and sea.” A 2006 video transcript was dug up where Judith Butler opined, “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements.”  

Campism—the attitude that pictures the world divided into two contending camps of nations, one led by the U.S. and another opposed to it—leaves no place in its theory for the subjectivity of the masses except as pawns of one state power or another. Only state powers have agency, and therefore leftists must tailend one of them. This anti-dialectics is a surrender to capitalist thought. 

One aspect of the anti-dialectics is the failure to acknowledge or confront the intertwining and interdependence of Hamas with the Israeli Right including Netanyahu, [2] which leads them essentially into a choice between Hamas and Israel, notwithstanding occasional feeble critiques of Hamas for right-wing nationalism.  

The bitter lessons taught by the hijacking of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and its transformation into opposite have been forgotten even by some who witnessed it.[3] Will today’s leftists repeat the fatal error of the hundreds or thousands of leftists who deferred to the leadership of the mullahs then, and paid the price along with their generation and two generations to follow? That continues today as the Ayatollah Khamenei and his regime attempt to drown in blood a new generation of revolutionaries. It is no coincidence that on the very day that Iran retaliated militarily against Israel, it also initiated a brutal crackdown on its own population, including a new crescendo of arrests and beatings of women by the morality police for “improper hijab.” 

While there was important pushback against the inhumanity of campist positions by several prominent Left figures, the disorientation cannot be explained by “bad politics” alone but must be comprehended in relationship to the philosophical abyss into which much of the Left has descended, and therefore requires an answer that is philosophical as well as political. Finding a way out of the total crisis requires solid grounding in the absolute opposite: masses in revolt and a philosophy of revolution, and their interrelationship.

V. Lenin and today’s contradictions 

[1] More recently, in an official April 3 organizational document, the IMHO again conflated the brutal, diversionary Oct. 7 attack by the counter-revolutionary Hamas with “the decades-long resistance of the Palestinian people,” as if Hamas had spurred rather than undermined the Palestinian people’s struggles for self-determination and freedom. One of their own members publicly noted “a marked departure from the analysis worked out by Raya Dunayevskaya, which went against the left orthodoxy of the time. Of course, Raya’s ideas are not sacrosanct, but if we decide that some of them no longer apply in a changed world, or were even mistaken all along, we should do so consciously, and not forget our own history.” The IMHO were aware of our critique, but failed to acknowledge it. Instead, they inserted ad hominem attacks on News and Letters Committees in their April 3 document while totally evading—as they have always done—any acknowledgment of, let alone confrontation with, the differences in ideas. This was followed by a brief April 22 statement titled “Our Differences with Other Marxist-Humanists in Light of Israel’s Genocide in Gaza.That document also evaded any real discussion of differences or even quoting what they claim to be criticizing. Instead they falsely accuse us of “a type of both-sidesism that bizarrely equates Hamas with” Israel. Just as reactionaries accuse anyone criticizing Israel of supporting Hamas, the IMHO substitutes a simplistic binary for dialectics: serious criticism of Hamas supposedly “equates” it with Israel and they smear it as“both-sidesism. The obvious reason is to cover up their own almost uncritical endorsement of Hamas, which they equate with the resistance and the liberation movement. The IMHO continues to avoid articulating any criticism of the part of the Left that celebrates Hamas and its Oct. 7 atrocities.

[2] See “Israel’s war and Hamas attack stoke retrogressionby Franklin Dmitryev, News & Letters, Nov. 29, 2023.

[3] See “Iran: Unfoldment of, and Contradictions in, Revolution” (reprinted here and here),What Is Philosophy? What Is Revolution?” and “The Struggle Continues: What Kind of Revolution Is Needed in the Battle against the Khomeini-IRP Counter-Revolution?” in Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East by Raya Dunayevskaya. 

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