From the May-June 2019 issue of News & Letters
Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2019-2020
Humanity’s choice: Freedom and revolution or fascism, war and genocide
I. Two opposite directions: Climate strike and genocide
II. Remaking the world order in the image of the far right
III. World crises in economy, politics, ideology—and the missing link of philosophy
IV. Humanity’s never-ending quest for liberation
V. What to do in a world in upheaval
…Continued from II. Remaking the world order in the image of the far right
III. World crises in economy, politics, ideology—and the missing link of philosophy
Sectors of the capitalist class long chafed to throw off the restraints imposed by the New Deal in the U.S. and social democracy in Europe, but were held in check during the three decades of the post-World War II boom. That changed in 1974-75 when capitalism’s endemic tendency for the rate of profit to fall led to the deepest world economic crisis since the Great Depression, which was not matched until the even deeper 2008 crash. The resulting structural change meant that capitalism could not go on as before. Led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, capitalists tried to shore up profits through an assault on the wages, working conditions, and organizing ability of workers and on poor countries. That was never separate from an assault on our minds.
Reactionary ideology—pushing racism, sexism, heterosexism, militarism, climate change denial, rejection of any environmental or workplace safeguards, the constant drumbeat that there is no alternative to capitalism—had its counterpart in the ideological pollution of the Left. That was borne out by the incompleteness of the revolts that brought down Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia and by Left apologias for the genocide in Bosnia. A new study found that today’s wave of “autocratization” and assault on democracy actually began in 1994, at the height of the genocide—and just as importantly, the feeble international response to it. It is no accident that the New Zealand killer’s livestream included a song devoted to Radovan Karadzic, a leader of that genocide campaign.
In the wake of the 1995 Dayton Accords imposed by the U.S., which legitimized the country’s ethnic partition, global politics of the rulers made a palpable turn toward nationalism and ethnocentrism. This turn of global politics was facilitated by the failure of the world Left to make a category of the opposite tendency coming from the Bosnian masses defending multicultural existence. While genocide in Bosnia was going on, the Rwandan genocide ignited, with little response from the U.S. and European powers except likely complicity by France. Rwanda’s holocaust in turn set the stage for the genocidal “African world war,” with fighting, atrocities and oppression continuing in Congo to this day.
As much of the Left twists and turns to avoid looking in the historic mirror and glimpsing their own share of responsibility for the counter-revolutionary descent since the Bosnian genocide, will they remember how they accepted, even celebrated, deniers of the genocide as legitimate allies; or how the paucity of Left solidarity left the field open for the U.S. to set the terms of peace? Will they recognize the repetition of that failure of solidarity again and again, from apologias for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to defense of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, which brought them into alliances, sometimes open, with elements of the far right because of their agreement that Assad was a victim of “globalists”?
In the absence of any such epiphany, can our projection of Marxist-Humanist philosophy as an element of the struggle help establish a sorely needed dividing line within the Left to fight against the rampant ideological pollution?
The dividing line in life is between revolution and counter-revolution. Because the century since the Russian Revolution has proved that counter-revolution dialectically emerges not only from outside the revolution but from within it, and since thought is integral to life, the line between a philosophy of revolution and ideological pollution is not only a frontier but a line of battle. And that is a life and death battle.
Revolutionaries faced a life and death battle in 1914 when World War I broke out and the Marxist Second International collapsed, with many socialist parties and leaders supporting their rulers in the imperialist war.
While many revolutionaries broke with the pro-war socialists, only Lenin made a philosophical break, shocked to find that those he had seen as leaders had misled the movement. He felt compelled to rethink the philosophical roots of Marxism by diving into Hegel’s dialectic. It led to a break in his conception of the relationship between materialism and idealism. In Hegel’s concept of world-transforming subjectivity whose self-movement is objective, Lenin saw a deeper basis for his own concept of masses as reason. As Raya Dunayevskaya added, “It wasn’t only self-movement that Lenin discovered in Hegel’s philosophy, it was also the plunge into freedom that a generalization gives you.”
We return to this 1914 break in thought to shed light on what is needed both to separate the revolutionary movement from the trends within it that are aiding counter-revolution, and to make new revolutionary beginnings.
Lenin’s break was followed by his analysis of the subjectivity of new forces of revolution in struggles for national self-determination against imperialism, and led to his concept of the toiling masses “to a man, woman and child” taking charge of production and the state if revolution was to mean liberation.
Thereby Lenin provided ground not only for total opposition to the betrayers and opportunists, but for the revolution to come. The break with his own philosophical past enabled him to intervene in the 1917 Russian Revolution so that the second, October Revolution came to be. That point is central to the recent Marxist-Humanist book of selected writings by Raya Dunayevskaya, Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution.
The present split within the Left calls for realizing philosophy as a polarizing force that gives action its direction. That direction would begin, but not end, with fighting for solidarity with real revolution and breaking with those who support counter-revolution. That is only the first step toward second negation and a direction driven by the concept of revolution in permanence.
The Great Divide in Marxism that Lenin established does not answer today’s problems, but skipping over it is a way of evading the indispensability of philosophy for revolution, since the success of the October Revolution gets attributed to the leadership of a vanguard party, or simply denied and viewed as the advent of tyranny, throwing out any idea of transformation into opposite, of counter-revolution emerging from within the revolution—even though that contradiction has beset not only the Russian Revolution but every other one since—and thus throwing out the indispensable weapon, the dialectic.
That ground was not followed up on—in part due to Lenin’s own philosophic ambivalence and his failure to make his Hegel notebooks the public basis for the revolution’s further development. In the absence of that philosophical ground, the 1930s depression led to fascism and world war, the same threats we face today, only with even more apocalyptic potential consequences.
This is not just about 1914-1917. The point is to make a new philosophical beginning to set the ground for a new beginning in reality, in revolution, in the achievement of a new human society. The absence of that kind of ground sapped the Left’s power to project a pole of attraction for the discontent that is so widespread, and therefore its power to resist the rise of the Right. As we have seen, much of the Left’s thinking got warped by the ideological pollution from the Right.
Continued in IV. Humanity’s never-ending quest for liberation…
. Anna Lührmann & Staffan I. Lindberg, “A Third Wave of Autocratization Is Here: What Is New About It?” Democratization, March 1, 2019.
. This may well have been a factor in Netanyahu’s first rise to Prime Minister of Israel in 1996.
. We did not shy away from making such a philosophical category of the new kind of national liberation struggle in Bosnia that opposed ethnic divisions—which we posed as the test of world politics—and from linking it with the search Marxist-Humanism found in Marx’s late writings for multilinear pathways to a new society. See Bosnia-Herzegovina: Achilles Heel of Western ‘Civilization’ (News & Letters, 1996).
. Raya Dunayevskaya, “On Working Out Our Perspectives: Practicing Dialectics” (May 24, 1968, letter found in Vol. VI of the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, http://rayadunayevskaya.org/ArchivePDFs/4092.pdf, #4093-4096).
. See chapters 1-3 of Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution: Selected Writings by Raya Dunayevskaya (Haymarket, 2018).