OFFICIAL CALL FOR CONVENTION
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2012-2013
February 26, 2012
To All Members of News and Letters Committees
Where we must begin is with the world in upheaval, from Occupy Wall Street to Arab Spring, still going after more than a year.
Nothing better shows the old order’s bloody desperation to prevent a new world from being born than the Syrian state’s genocidal assault on its own people. In giving President Bashar al-Assad a green light to proceed with his assault, the rulers of Russia and China had above all their own restive masses in mind. On the other side of the same coin, the leaders of Al Qaeda trumpet their “support” for the uprising to cover up their antipathy to Arab Spring. Far from aiming for freedom, which is what the Syrian masses are telling the world they want, Al Qaeda and political Islamists thirst for state power. Within the Western Left, the totality of the crisis is manifested when so many insist that enemy number one is U.S. imperialism and therefore Assad must not be opposed. Meanwhile, whole communities in Syria are fighting for freedom, faced with ongoing massacre.
Where revolution has succeeded in ousting a dictator, as in Egypt, that has not meant an end to contradictions. Each revolution remains incomplete, and will be as long as the mass movements are not armed with a philosophy of revolution in permanence–based on a vision of total uprooting, knowing that the overthrow of the old is only the first act of revolution. Such a vision is needed to continue revolution’s self-development until a totally new social order is established.
Last year’s Call for Plenum singled out Egypt’s vast flowering of different forms of self-organization by masses from below, of workplace struggles, of women’s challenge to sexism; and we quoted people in Tahrir Square who were reaching for freedom, for totally new human relationships. One year later, the mantle of revolution is claimed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council, both of which came late to the revolution only in order to take it over. Young activists have been attacked by the police and jailed by military tribunals. Workers are still fighting for better wages and conditions and full recognition for their independent unions. Women have been pushed aside and subjected to vilification and sexual assault. Far from being fooled, the masses in the streets are calling for both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood to be toppled. The revolution is not over, and there are calls from Tahrir Square for a second revolution. Those are calls for revolution in permanence.
Yet we cannot overlook the opening for counter-revolution that was provided by the wish to be “non-ideological.” What was not banished was the ideology that does not seem like ideology because it flows from everyday life: the most basic unfree relations seem natural and inescapable because, in capitalism, people are treated as things and things rule. The alienation of workers from their own activity–that is, the value-form–appears to have no alternative. Liberty is confined to the political sphere, and the economy has a will of its own that cannot be controlled. The illusion that conventional political democracy is the goal allowed the military and the Brotherhood to use bourgeois elections to take the initiative away from the masses’ self-activity–temporarily–which is the only basis for a true, revolutionary democracy.
That self-activity is at the heart of Karl Marx’s philosophy, which opposes alienation and grasps its absolute opposite, freely associated labor, as what is needed to transcend it. At the same time, today’s struggles demand recognizing that multiple subjects of revolution are confronting multiple dimensions of alienation. The full development of these concepts in Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence is what our forthcoming book of selected writings by Raya Dunayevskaya on Karl Marx projects.
Global capitalism’s decay, which is the context for all this upheaval, is sharply expressed in rising hunger, with one in four children malnourished though adequate food supplies exist, and in Europe’s barbaric austerity programs, especially in Greece–and in the revolts against these conditions.
What Greeks are calling the dictatorship of European capital, with Germany in the lead, has forced on their country an austerity program that includes firing one-fifth of public employees, cutting the minimum wage by 22%, and slashing pensions. Those are only highlights of the latest round of austerity, imposed at a time when youth unemployment is near 50%, the suicide rate has shot up, stores are closing in droves, and many people who still have jobs have not been paid in months. No economic recovery for Greece is envisioned by the European Union plan, but only a bailout of international financial capital and a desperate attempt to stop the crisis from enveloping all of Europe. Some European leaders are calling for debt repayment to be the absolute priority for Greece’s treasury, even before such necessities as wages, healthcare, and food provision. Greeks have been fighting back with general strikes, huge demonstrations in cities all across the country, and occupations, which have moved from Syntagma Square in Athens to neighborhoods. At the same time, the economic crisis and disintegrative forces in the European Union have created openings for outright fascism.
In the U.S., while the Occupy Movement has provided a real counterweight, the forces of reaction continue to mobilize, infesting the election campaigns. Rick Santorum expresses it clearly enough, equating President Obama with the French Revolution, which he then equates with the guillotine. That is to say, counter-revolution is his explicit self-identification. The Republican presidential primary campaigns are permeated with racism as well as attacks on immigrants and gays. The assault against labor continues to escalate, including “right-to-work” laws, layoffs of public employees, school “turnarounds,” and attacks on any regulation of corporations. Women’s self-determination is a special target, with access to birth control put into question alongside abortion. When the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast cancer awareness organization, decided to defund Planned Parenthood, it was simply following the lead of politicians and the men who run the Catholic Church. Women’s immediate mass rejection of the maneuver gave a taste of battles yet to come.
Looming over everything is the threat of a war against Iran. War is one of the rulers’ most potent weapons when faced with economic crises and revolt. Taking the side of one set of rulers or another undermines opposition to war. It becomes nothing less than counter-revolutionary anti-imperialism when anti-war demonstrations exclude Iranians who oppose the Islamic Republican regime of Iran from the Left, or when they bar denunciations of Syria’s Assad. Our new pamphlet of Marxist-Humanist writings on the Middle East roots its analysis of counter-revolutionary anti-imperialism in the actual dialectics of revolution and counter-revolution in Iran 1979. Its meaning is obscured today by the rewriting of history as if that had been an “Islamic Revolution,” rather than a social revolution with many contradictions that led to its capture by counter-revolutionary Islamists.
It is still true, however, that the Occupy Movement has transformed the political atmosphere. Though the state’s repressive forces have violently dismantled most occupations, the movement has spread out into neighborhoods and is trying to deepen participation by people of color and by workers. It has breathed new life into a wide range of activist groups. Occupy is looking ahead to big protests, including “Chicago Spring,” leading up to the May Day labor/immigrant rally and actions against the NATO and G8 summits.
While the movement involves vibrant discussions of ideas, they are limited by the prevailing attitudes for which activity towers over theory. It is crucial to get beyond the attitude that unity is only possible around first negation–what we are against. The biggest weakness of the slogan “We are the 99%” is not so much the lack of theoretical precision–the division between rulers and ruled is defined not by income level but by social relations, beginning with relations in production. No, the main weakness is that it is a first negation. It is a necessary and justified opposition to a small elite’s domination of economics and politics, but by the same token it is defined by this opposition and not by a vision of a future, human society. The movement’s commitment to “political diversity” is a safeguard against being taken over by any particular organization or tendency. At the same time, we must recognize the danger of halting at a halfway house short of total liberation.
Questions of a vision of a new society, and of what happens after revolution, cannot be dismissed as divisive, and we cannot afford to put them off for a later time. There will never be a time when the movement is not under attack. Unity around first negation cannot spontaneously produce the unity of theory and practice, without which we could not transcend this society’s alienations and class divisions and create totally new human foundations for society.
Second negation, the negation of the negation which allows the positive in the negative to emerge, is the heart of the Hegelian dialectic. It is that which Marx recreated as the philosophy of revolution in permanence. Marxist-Humanism makes a category of the dual rhythm of revolution, the destruction of the old and the creation of the new society. It is above all the need to bring philosophy to bear on the objective-subjective situation that highlights our tasks of bringing out a new pamphlet of Marxist-Humanist writings on the Middle East and a new book of writings by Raya Dunayevskaya on Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence, as we continue the revolutionary journalism of our newspaper and website and participate in the discussions and activities of freedom movements.
We here issue a Call for a national Convention this Memorial Day weekend. The outgoing National Editorial Board will meet in Executive Session Friday evening, May 25. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 26, and running through Sunday, May 27, all sessions of the Convention will be open to members and to invited friends, who are given the same privileges to the floor for discussion.
We are asking the Chicago local to host the Convention and to be responsible for a Saturday evening party to greet out-of-towners. All locals and members at large are asked to let the Center know at least two weeks in advance who will be attending the Convention, in order for the host local to plan meals and arrange for housing.
With this Call begins a full 90 days of pre-Convention discussion. A draft Perspectives Thesis will be published in the May-June issue of News & Letters so that it can be discussed by members and friends, correspondents and critics, before the Convention. Articles for pre-Convention Discussion Bulletins must be submitted to the Center by Monday, April 30. Any articles after that date must be copied and brought to the Convention to be distributed there. Central to working out our perspectives are concrete discussions from all of us about how we will project the need for philosophy of revolution in permanence and how we will bring that philosophy to bear on the different movements and events. Discussion within our local committees and with all those we can reach and whom we may wish to invite to the Convention becomes a measure of the inseparability for us between preparation for our Convention and all our activities throughout the pre-Convention period.
—The Resident Editorial Board