*** PLEASE NOTE BEFORE BUYING TRAVEL TICKETS:
CONVENTION RESCHEDULED DUE TO PANDEMIC ***
OFFICIAL CALL FOR CONVENTION
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2020-2021
February 23, 2020
To All Members of News and Letters Committees
As Donald Trump busily shreds the checks and balances of constitutional democracy—openly and noisily in order to send the message that no one is safe from his vengeful reach—he is at the same time pushing his reactionary agenda on many fronts. Thousands of immigrants—including children and asylum seekers—are jammed into detention centers in harsh conditions without adequate medical care. Heavily armed border agents patrol far and wide, including teams sent secretly to sanctuary cities, and even Mexican troops are carrying out Trump’s operation, attacking Central Americans to keep them from reaching the North. Trump claims to be protecting U.S. workers but has in reality slashed legal protections for employment, safety, and organizing, as well as the safety net at a time when millions are getting by with temporary, precarious, or “gig economy” jobs and the ranks of homeless—especially among children and employed workers—is mushrooming; he has encouraged police repression of homeless people, protesters, workers, young people, and people of color; he and his allies are fiercely attacking access to abortion and birth control and subjugating women to the whims of political-religious zealots. Trump and his minions are directing new subsidies to coal companies, opening up more lands and waters to oil drilling, fracking, and mining, slashing or circumventing environmental regulations, shutting down climate and public health science at the very time that scientists are warning of the risk of “global systemic collapse” unless multiple interacting planetary crises are reined in. These actions, in line with those of the other rising counter-revolutionary tyrants across the globe, are not simply arbitrary. These predators are the personifications of capital at a time when the capitalist system is destroying its own future and would drag humanity to hell with it.
Revolt too spans the globe, revealing the deepening determination of masses to reach for a new human future rather than that self-destruction. The climate revolt, especially the movement of youth worldwide centering on climate strikes, has grown too powerful to ignore. State and private repressive forces are trying to silence that revolt. That doesn’t stop with the ideological assault, including a concerted attack on science itself, insofar as it reveals dangers to humanity. Countries like the U.S. and Australia are busy criminalizing protests that go near infrastructure, as most prominently seen in the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the wave of state laws passed afterwards. The U.S., UK, Brazil, and Turkey, among others, classified environmental protest groups like Extinction Rebellion as terrorists. The U.S. and UK lump them together with white nationalist groups involved in actual murders. Since the 1990s they have devoted more resources to jailing environmentalists than to fighting the violent racist and anti-abortion Right. In many countries, environmental defenders are targeted for murder—even genocide as is happening in the Brazilian Amazon. These defenders include Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, peasants, and forest-dwelling communities.
In Canada, repression of First Nations resistance camps by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with sniper rifles and other weapons in hand, sparked blockades and protests from Victoria to Halifax that have shut down offices and train lines. The Unist’ot’en camp under attack was set up in 2010—on land never ceded to Canada by sale or treaty—to block the construction of pipelines that would carry climate-busting tar sands oil and fracked gas to the coast for export. State violations of Canadian court orders and international law belie Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s excuse that the police are “upholding the rule of law.” The law, which is selectively applied, is a shield for capital’s war against the Indigenous, workers, women, migrants, Black and Brown people, and all who impede capital’s drive to accumulate itself no matter the harm caused.
As News & Letters shows with each issue, revolt is ongoing, international, multidimensional, and constantly raising new questions—from strikes in France to mass labor protests in Ukraine, from Iraq to Iran, from India to Sudan, from Algeria to Mexico.
They often go underreported, because it’s not what the media are looking for, like this year’s Women’s Marches across the U.S. Even more so, Idlib only gets an occasional report of medical facilities bombed, or the government’s destruction, occupation, and looting of one of the Syrian Revolution’s great centers of resistance and revolution, Maarat al-Numan. This is not just a question of the Bashar al-Assad regime trying to reclaim lost territory but rather an effort to silence the idea of freedom as if it too could be murdered. In fact, Free Syrians are still trying to get their voices heard, like Mahmoud Mosa, who wrote: “#Assad is still superior to #coronavirus. He kills in a day more than #coronavirus killed so far. When will the world declare a global emergency over #Assad’s crimes? #Idlib.” In Idlib, with the province under daily fire, demonstrations continue, raising slogans like, “The revolution is an idea and you can’t kill an idea.”
The decade that just came to a close was marked not only by the aftermath of the 2008 crash, the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and not only by the rise of new fascist currents nationally and internationally, but by a revolutionary upsurge as deep and intense as the Arab Spring that rapidly ousted rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen and has burned intensely in Syria for nine years. It upended the politics of the Middle East and even global politics. Partly inspired by the Arab Spring, revolts surged up in dozens of countries, from Spain’s Indignados to Occupy Wall Street to Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution.
It did include a broad undermining of popular legitimacy of and confidence in the existing order, which powered the reaching for abolition of capitalism and foundation of a new society, and as well false alternatives including fascism. With all this, the ideological pollution of the Left intensified to an incredibly deep disorientation, not excluding lining up with genocide and far right figures and propaganda. It is only in this context that we can take the measure of Trumpism, which is not just about one individual who is so monstrous that Democrats can depict him as some kind of aberration instead of a crude manifestation of this dying system, but rather Trumpism beyond Trump as the expression of the system’s senescence at a time when it could actually lead to the destruction of civilization.
While the ramifications and “intellectual sediment” from none of these upsurges are finished, our Draft Perspectives this year, and revolutionaries in general, must take the measure of this decade and grapple with the fact that all this massive revolt has not led us out of the deepening dangers of disintegrating capitalist society. We cannot explain it away only because of the strength of the counter-revolution, both within each country and from without, which is real enough. The question is where does the elemental revolt lead when it is lacking a philosophy of revolution that would give these revolutionary struggles a direction?
To shed light on today’s dilemmas, in 2020 we observe the 60th anniversary of the “Year of Africa,” the turning point of the African revolutions. The new passions and new forces manifested in the African revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s, even deeper than what the 2010s experienced, “opened a new page in the dialectic of thought as well as in world history….Africa was charged with a dynamism of ideas that opened new paths to revolution and looked for new roads to development,” as Raya Dunayevskaya put it in Philosophy and Revolution, from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao. And yet, she showed how, after gaining political independence, the leaders’ lack of a philosophy of revolution in permanence resulted in a separation between leaders and masses, and stark retrogression that opened the door to neocolonialism and counter-revolution. In the past decade, capitalist “development” made serious inroads on the continent and brought some industrialization and riches to elite minorities from South Africa to Kenya. A large part of that development is the presence of capital from North America, Europe, and, increasingly, China exploiting labor and nature on the continent, with transnational corporations extracting oil, timber, crops, and ores like coltan for tech products. The other side of capitalist development is devastation brought to masses—especially in the slums where 60% of urbanized Africans dwell and in the parts of the countryside where farming food is disrupted by drought, storms, floods, locusts, and land grabs by foreign capital—but also discontent and revolt, and a new searching for the transcendence of capitalism.
Socialism or barbarism! That is on many lips now, and the popularity of candidates who label themselves socialist, such as Bernie Sanders, reflects the groundswell of opposition to capitalism and the search for an alternative. But Marxist-Humanism cannot stop with the abstractions that satisfy social democrats and even tendencies called revolutionary socialist. Not just socialism as a generality, but what kind of socialism, what kind of revolution, and what happens after the overthrow to make revolution in permanence both a method, a goal, and the reality? Post-Marx Marxism has surely proven itself to be a force in the world, and one which has on many occasions acted as a barrier to revolution or a prop to its transformation into opposite and eased the rise of the Right by discrediting the Left from within. What should be clear, but is evaded by the Left in general, is that to avoid the failure of revolution and thereby the success of the counter-revolution that drives us onward to barbarism and climate chaos, what is needed above all is the unity of philosophy with revolution, of philosophy of revolution in permanence with the subjects of revolution. This is not brought about externally by an elitist party taking command. It is about leadership, not as the leadership of an individual person or a supposedly vanguard organization, but theory of revolution as leadership—in other words, “philosophy, not philosopher.” It depends above all on the body of ideas of the revolution in permanence, which demands projecting. As Hegel pointed out, the Idea of freedom is not so feeble as to have a right or obligation to exist without actually existing. That does not mean that we can leave the Idea floating on its own. It needs, it demands, an organizational home.
Out of Dunayevskaya’s work on Marx’s last decade, which she put in the context of Marx’s body of ideas as a totality, as an entire, comprehensive philosophy, she made a category of revolution in permanence as the needed ground for organization. As she wrote in “Not by Practice Alone”:
“We…have used precisely Marx’s theory of the philosophy of revolution in permanence, not as an abstraction but as the actual concrete needed in order both to be armed against being pulled into the world market of the whirlpool of capitalism, state as well as private, and as requiring a decentralized organization whose ground is that continuing ‘revolution in permanence.’…
“Philosophy of ‘revolution in permanence’ cannot possibly be only ground, or even content, substance; it is Subject, and that both objectively and subjectively. The unchained dialectic—both as dialectics of liberation and dialectics of thought, dialectics of self-development—that self-development is both Individual and Universal. The achievement of that can only come with sharp awareness of the absolute contradictions in the nuclear world state-capitalist reality; to project Marx’s philosophy of revolution concretely, its Absolutes as concrete Universals, not abstractions, becomes imperative. This lays ground for daily practical work and not just books or essay writing. That is our organizational task.”
That is the spirit we bring to working out our perspectives and tasks this year. Our projected new publications—on Syria, on Women’s Liberation, on What Is Socialism, and on the climate movement—are about comprehending the current stage of capitalism and this society, the disorientation on the Left as well as everywhere else, the meaning of the movement from practice, and philosophy and revolution reaching out to each other. Aiding us in this projection are the two new books of selected writings by Raya Dunayevskaya, Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day and Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution. These bring to the fore the Marxist-Humanist comprehension of Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence and of one of the highest points of history, the Russian Revolution, as well as the dialectics of counter-revolution coming from within the revolution, and the cruciality yet ambivalence of Lenin’s philosophical reorganization with his return to Hegel. In turn these books bring out the centrality of the Marxist-Humanist trilogy of revolution, as incorporated right in our organization’s Constitution:
Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 until Today, “with its dialectical form of presentation of history and theory as emanating from the movement from practice, [laid] the foundation for the articulation of the unity of philosophy and revolution” as developed in Philosophy and Revolution. The latter reflected “the need of integrality also of philosophy and organization. As against ‘the party to lead’ concept, such integrality of dialectics and organization reflects the revolutionary maturity of the age and its passion for a philosophy of liberation.” Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution concentrated on the “new moments” of Marx’s last decade as the trail to our age, as seen in the Man/Woman relationship and in the relationship of the less technologically developed lands to the capitalistically technologically advanced countries. As a consequence, we “see the absolute challenge to our age as the need to concretize Marx’s ‘revolution in permanence’ not alone as the determinant for theory and practice, but as ground for organization in place of ‘the party to lead,’ in order to achieve the total uprooting of this exploitative, racist, sexist society and the creation of truly new human relations.” Our Constitution goes on to single out American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, which “concretized [the trilogy of revolution] on the American scene and for the Black dimension,” as another fundamental Marxist-Humanist work and contribution to the theoretical preparation for revolution.
Nor can these be separated from what it means to have a Marxist-Humanist newspaper—and there are two, News & Letters in the U.S. and Praxis en América Latina in Mexico, which cooperate closely. News and Letters Committees is responsible for News & Letters and we aim to strengthen it in terms of both theoretical development and voices from below. There are no others like these in the world, practicing as best we can the new relationship between theory and practice that is at the heart of Marxist-Humanism, and projecting Marxist-Humanist Archives as living.
All of these tasks point to the tremendous need for active, concrete projection of Marxist-Humanism as participants in ongoing movements, and for organizational growth, which we need to get more concrete about. Because what it is all about is revolution in permanence, getting rid of this rotten society and establishing one with totally new human relations.
This document is the Call for a national Convention in Chicago this Memorial Day weekend. The outgoing National Editorial Board will meet in Executive Session Friday evening, May 22. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 23, and running through Sunday, May 24, 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. 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 logistics. Participants should make housing arrangements as early as possible and inform the Center.
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 27. Any articles after that date must be copied and brought to the Convention to be distributed there. Discussion within our local committees and with all those we can reach is vital to preparation for our Convention and all our activities throughout the pre-Convention period.
—The Resident Editorial Board