From the July-August 2022 issue of News & Letters
by Franklin Dmitryev
I. The mass murders in Uvalde and Buffalo
Thousands of people rallied in cities across the U.S. on June 11 calling for action to stop the horrendous wave of mass shootings that have become shockingly common.
X Gonzalez, a survivor of the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, told the rally in Washington, D.C., “You say that children are the future, and you never listen to what we say once we’re old enough to disagree with you, you decaying degenerates. You really want to protect children, pass some fucking gun laws.”
The mass murder at a Texas elementary school on May 24, on the heels of the racist mass murder in Buffalo May 14, was a painful manifestation of the social breakdown we are suffering through.
If you feel like the world is falling apart, you are not alone. As the 2021 Perspectives Thesis of News and Letters Committees detailed, “The world faces not one but multiple existential crises….”
The recent shootings, the Ukraine war, the world food crisis and inflation, the Supreme Court’s attacks on freedom that range from abortion rights to voting rights to prisoners’ appeals of wrongful sentences—all these are further developments of these multiple crises.
While the Texas shooting was not about racism, the politics of absolutizing the Second Amendment and flooding society with guns is rooted in the racist, sexist backlash to the Black and other freedom movements of the 1960s. And that, rather than any supposed question of “individual rights,” is exactly what the Supreme Court’s June 23 decision striking down New York’s gun law is about, the day before the same court demolished women’s right to abortion, presaging the demolition of more rights.
MISOGYNY AND PATRIARCHY ARE CENTRAL
Virulent misogyny is universal among the men who go on murderous rampages like those of the shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo. The Uvalde shooter had for months been making violent, misogynistic online threats to teen girls. The Washington Post reported:
“Many of Ramos’ threats to assault women, the young women added, barely stood out from the undercurrent of sexism that pervades the Internet—something they said they have fought back against but also come to accept.”
Trying to act as if he cared, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called the Uvalde mass murder “incomprehensible.”
He only meant that he will not allow himself to comprehend the reality that he upholds, nor comprehend the fact that the world does not have to be this way. The potential for a truly human society pervades the present but it is part of his job to keep it hidden, including from himself. And it is the job of ideology, amped up to fever pitch.
One measure of the intense delusion that has gripped our society is how quickly the absurd explanations for that bloodbath spread: It was a “false flag” attack to allow migrants to stream across the border; or the dead and their families were actually “crisis actors” and no one was killed; or the gunman was a crazed Transgender man or an undocumented immigrant. These claims perfectly reflect the nature of today’s neofascism: deny the real contradictions and their roots, and deflect to the Other, who must be the real enemy, which is always the deeper truth that is “known” intuitively, no matter the actual facts.
How this situation reveals the need for revolution and the impotence of liberals and reformists was unwittingly demonstrated by Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times (“America May Be Broken Beyond Repair,” May 27, 2022): “Even as people learn the names of all those murdered children, the most common sentiment is not ‘never again,’ but a bitter acknowledgment that nothing is going to change. America is too sick, too broken. It is perhaps beyond repair.”
But a new generation of young radicals has a different idea. They are rejecting this system and reaching out for a society that isn’t mired in despair and decay.
RACIST, FASCIST REPLACEMENT MYTH
The purely racist nature of the Buffalo massacre underscores the tremendous violence inherent in the mainstreaming of genocidal ideology. That is being played out on a grand scale in Russia’s war on Ukraine. It is the far Right that celebrated the Buffalo killings, but the Republican Party tacitly supported the thinking behind it as they echo a polished version of the fascistic “great replacement” myth that the killer trumpeted.
This cannot be separated from the imposition of totalitarian thought control by politicians banning the teaching of truth in history, erasing any freedom struggles as well as racism and sexism, erasing the humanity of LGBTQ+ people. They are very deliberately imposing a false, white supremacist, patriarchal rewriting of history that is fully compatible with the fascist replacement myth.
Along with other feverish delusions, this myth has objective roots in the fears by large numbers of working-class and middle-class whites whose living conditions are endangered by precarious employment, stagnant pay, high costs of housing, healthcare and food, at a time when white majorities are shrinking and U.S. world power has been declining. Those roots are well fertilized by capitalists who fear revolt and are enabled to grow by the lack of a prominent liberatory, revolutionary alternative.
As Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S., wrote in “The Roots of Anti-Semitism,” “Under the open sore of the persecution of a minority is hidden the greater truth of exploitation—that the exploiters, not the exploited, are the minority.” Objective roots of today’s reach for fascism are explored in detail in “Trump’s Coup Threatens U.S. Democracy” (Jan.-Feb. 2021 N&L).
We should not forget the overlap between the “great replacement” myth and the anti-abortion movement, which is largely powered by a fear that men will be “replaced” by women, that men’s power and status are in danger from women trying to claim self-determination and freedom. The anti-abortion movement was smaller and largely Catholic until reactionary Protestant leaders seized on it in the late 1970s as a more appealing moral banner than the defense of segregation in their parochial schools, so it has long had roots in racism as well as patriarchy.
Patriarchy has always been as crucial for fascism as have been racism, nationalism, and xenophobia. And now there is an added emphasis on stoking gender panic by demonizing Trans people, or all LGBTQ+ people, as “groomers.” Attacks on Trans and other LGBTQ+ people have spiked, and in Idaho 31 members of a far right group were arrested on their way to attack a Pride event in June.
II. Putin’s Genocidal Ideology and Philosophic Evasion by the Left
I haven’t seen anyone on the Left making excuses for the murderers, broadcasters, and politicians who spew “replacement theory.” And yet, too much of the Left is whitewashing a parallel genocidal ideology put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify erasing Ukraine from the map and claiming it as part of Russia. This ranges from self-described anarchist Noam Chomsky, whose echoing of Putin’s propaganda was dissected in a May 19 open letter from four Ukrainian economists, to dual screeds from Monthly Review and its editor, John Bellamy Foster. Foster and Monthly Review basically repeat Putin’s propaganda points in “analyzing” the invasion as a “proxy war,” while recognizing no agency except for that of U.S. imperialism, so that nowhere do masses of any country figure into the analysis, while resistance to genocide from Bosnia on is transformed into “NATO wars” and the actual genocides are erased from history.
The philosophic evasion of the Left has led to this kind of ideological pollution whose ground is tailending state powers, not dialectics of revolution. How to cut through this ideological pollution is a paramount question to work on.
Ideology, in Marx’s sense of objectively rooted false consciousness, depends on rewriting history—past and present—or simply declares it incomprehensible. So the battle of ideas demands not just confronting ideology with facts but with philosophy, and confronting the separation of history from philosophy and vice versa—that is, it demands the philosophic comprehension of history.
BOSNIA, SYRIA: THE TRUE HISTORY
That is why our 2021 Perspectives Thesis briefly traced what happened from the fall of Communism in East Europe and the USSR through Bosnia to revolution and counter-revolution in Syria. Looking back at the short-circuiting of revolutionary forces in East Europe and Russia in 1989-91, the Left is more comfortable focusing on the U.S. role than the determining role of the philosophic void in the Left itself, which had ramifications in the Bosnian genocide and the ability of the U.S. to corral the multiethnic revolt into an ethnic partition there, and in the hemming in of the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution. It is too easy to forget the profound depths and militancy of the reach for freedom in all of those countries, once it has been contained, betrayed, and written out of history. The failure of the Left ceded the field to the cancer of fascism. As the Perspectives Thesis put it:
“News and Letters Committees declared [Bosnia] to be a test of world politics that called for filling the philosophical void, beginning with the projection of the liberatory banner of revolution and a new human society, the negation of the negation, rather than stopping at the first negation of either state-capitalist Communism or private capitalism. The Left largely failed this test, almost universally disregarding the positive dimension coming from the struggle of Bosnians against genocide and reaching for a new multiethnic society. Instead, many Leftists openly supported the Serbian nationalism of Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, which they hailed as ‘anti-imperialist’ or even ‘socialist.’ All too many others equivocated but did not object to participating in coalitions with these reactionary would-be Leftists. It was the beginning of the return of Red-Brown alliances between elements of the Left and the far Right.”
III. Marx and Marxist-Humanism vs. Retrogression
Tracing the character and the roots of today’s retrogression in the Left and in society as a whole is an effort to battle and transcend it. Raya Dunayevskaya’s category of post-Marx Marxism as pejorative showed the roots of its retrogressions in its incompleteness: it did not grasp Marx’s body of ideas as a total philosophy of revolution in permanence and instead broke off sections of it.
Marx had already faced retrogression in the Left as early as the Communist Manifesto’s critique of the epigones of utopian socialism. After the 1848 revolutions were defeated, Marx faced retrogression within the Communist League, and again within the First International after the defeat of the Paris Commune.
To Marxist-Humanism, the Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx’s counterattack against retrogression within so-called Marxism, projected the inseparability of philosophy and organization, including a general view of what happens after revolution as an integral part of the ground of organization.
That general view referred specifically to his concept of “a higher phase” of the new society. Dunayevskaya wrote:
“Critique of the Gotha Program: There is no way now, no matter how Marx kept from trying to give any blueprints for the future, not to develop a general view of where we’re headed for the day after the conquest of power, the day after we have rid ourselves of the birthmarks of capitalism when a new generation can finally see all its potentiality put an end once and for all to the division between mental and manual labor.”
After Marx’s death, post-Marx Marxism pervaded the Marxist movement, which suffered waves of retrogression, from the degeneration of the Second International, to the transformation of the Russian Revolution into its opposite with Stalin’s counter-revolution, to the post-1968 Left grounded in defeats of near-revolutions like France May 1968, to what we traced with Bosnia and Syria.
After the Second International’s betrayal, reviving revolutionary Marxism took Lenin’s return to Hegel’s dialectic as Marx’s roots; the Russian Revolution’s transformation called forth Dunayevskaya’s return to Hegel’s dialectic and Marx’s Humanism; the 1960s failures demanded a new focus on Hegel’s absolutes as new beginning.
TRANSCENDING TODAY’S UNREASON
Today’s retrogression certainly brings to mind the heyday of Stalinism, when Communists and fellow travelers would tour the USSR while the purges were going on, and return to the U.S. or Western Europe or Latin America with tales of nothing but a workers’ paradise. However, like today, retrogression was not limited to the outright Stalinists who denied the reality in front of their faces, but characterized in a different way the anti-Stalinism that failed to present a fundamental alternative to Stalinism. That is, an alternative in philosophy, in a vision of the future, in comprehension of the meaning and direction of events, and in the search for and recognition of new subjects of revolution.
We didn’t know in August 2021 that Russia was going to invade Ukraine, but it’s worth taking a look at Part IV of that Perspectives Thesis on fascism with today’s eyes to see how we can deepen it now. Part V of that Perspectives Thesis showed that fighting ideology requires raising the banner of a new universal
“grounded in the movements from below, their actions and ideas, their reach for a totally new future, and the philosophy of liberation that roots itself in those movements both of today and historically. What is needed is to begin, not from the particular facts, but from the Absolute of the projected new society. Anything less ends in capitulation. Our world on the precipice of interacting disasters cannot afford to get mired in more compromise and capitulation.
“What is crucial in defeating fascist unreason is the Reason of masses in motion for freedom, as manifested both in movements from practice and in the historic continuity of freedom struggles, which are concentrated as Ideas in theories and philosophies of liberation. In other words, the absolute opposite to this unreason is the philosophy of revolution in permanence, grounded in and always returning to and interrelating and exchanging with movements from practice.”
. See “In the U.S., Backlash to Civil Rights Era Made Guns a Political Third Rail” by Amanda Taub, New York Times, May 25, 2022.
. From her June 1, 1987, Presentation, in The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism, p. 7, or The Power of Negativity, p. 5. More expansively, Dunayevskaya wrote in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revoution (pp. 156-57) about this “general view” from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, focusing on his “perspective of a totally classless society” grounded in “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” and ending the “subordination of the individual to the division of labor” and “the antithesis between mental and physical labor,” to the point where “labor from a mere means of life, has itself become the prime necessity of life.”