OFFICIAL CALL FOR PLENUM
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2013-2014
February 24, 2013
To All Members of News and Letters Committees
The world today is riven between the creativity of masses in revolt and the violent degeneracy of counter-revolution, whose destructiveness even extends to the revived specter of nuclear war two decades after the collapse of the USSR. The Indian government’s warning to Kashmir residents to prepare for nuclear attack; North Korean overlord Kim Jong Un’s resumption of nuclear weapons testing; and continued saber-rattling over Iran by elements of the ruling classes of the U.S. and Israel, all deliver a harsh reminder that the end of the Cold War did not end the nuclear threat to humanity. On the contrary, proliferation has continued and is likely to spread further; neither the U.S. nor any other nuclear-armed power has any intention of abolishing nuclear weapons; and now we see the return of the specter of “limited nuclear war” as if that is a realistic and sane prospect. Very real tensions are building in each of the areas where this specter has arisen. Sporadic fighting between the Indian and Pakistani armies in Kashmir has escalated, while China’s growing aggressiveness in territorial disputes with several other Asian nations over resource-rich uninhabited islands is bumping up against Japan’s far right, whose thinking is reflected by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The fact that global state-capitalism has now developed two different potential, though not inevitable, ways of destroying civilization altogether–nuclear holocaust and catastrophic climate change–is as convincing a proof as any of capitalism’s utter moribund degeneracy. It is not the only proof, as seen in the continuing economic crisis, with still high unemployment and homelessness in the U.S. and Europe, recession still gripping Europe and possibly worsening, and the world food crisis also deepening–and, through it all, no prospect of any more than a weak recovery on the horizon precisely because of capitalism’s degeneracy as manifested in the rate of profit.
The political dimension of this is epitomized in the reactionary laws on many fronts rammed through in Michigan. New anti-labor laws have already led to a sharp drop in unionization in states like Wisconsin and Indiana, so that nationally only about 1 in 15 private sector workers are in unions now. The re-election of the first Black President could not hide the hollowness of American democracy. Black masses have exposed that hollowness from the beginning, and indeed have put American Civilization on Trial, which is the title of one of Marxist-Humanism’s foundational works, first published 50 years ago.
Militarization at home has reached new heights, with the administration claiming the power not only to single out U.S. citizens and others for execution by drone without trial, but to detain anyone indefinitely and to spy on, infiltrate, and prosecute as terrorists activists from movements like Occupy.
At the same time, actual ongoing wars bleed on. President Obama promises to end the war in Afghanistan after twelve years. But the Afghan people have every right to fear a recapitulation of what happened after Russia’s withdrawal in the early 1990s: no end to war, but an internecine struggle for power among multiple warlords, including the Taliban; and more exploitation and violence directed at women, youth, workers, and national minorities. The new war in Mali is accelerating entry of the U.S. military into a number of African countries. And Iraq, where Obama officially declared the war over in 2011, is still suffering from the sectarian and ethnic violence stimulated by the U.S. invasion ten years ago, giving an example of the kind of “peace and stability” that imperialism can live with in Afghanistan and Syria.
Syria and Egypt, meanwhile, show the determination of the masses to continue their revolutions in the face of vicious counter-revolution. The Islamists such as Al Nusra in Syria–powered in part by Iraq’s decade of sectarian strife–are playing a role increasingly reminiscent of the way the Stalinists helped to destroy the Spanish Revolution from within in the 1930s, paving the way for the victory of Franco’s fascism. Stalinists in Spain systematically undermined the more radical aspects of the Revolution, including the forms of organization by which workers and peasants exerted self-activity. Having been accepted as part of the antifascist coalition, the Communists did not even stop short of bloodshed against other revolutionaries. Islamists in Syria are undermining masses’ self-activity in order to impose their own counter-revolutionary vision.
To fight this counter-revolution from within requires not only the independent revolutionary organization of the masses but a revolutionary organizing principle, a banner of full liberation. The need for that banner cries out in each country where the revolutions of Arab Spring are still being fought out or struggling to get underway. It is therefore crucial to project concretely within all these struggles the indispensable selection of Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on the Middle East in our new publication, Crossroads of History, whose Foreword makes a special point about how those writings relate to the question of revolution in permanence.
The fightback against the Islamists includes protests against Al Nusra by those fighting against the Assad regime. It includes the targeting of Muslim Brotherhood offices for destruction in Egypt during mass protests. It includes the national general strike carried out in Tunisia after the assassination of Marxist opposition leader Chokri Belaid, accompanied by running street battles and occupations or attacks on offices of Ennahda, the ruling Islamist party. As one protester declared, “The revolution continues! Chokri’s death is a lesson for everyone!”
These actions reflect the determination of the masses not to allow a replay of the betrayal from within of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, as in Mali, the movements’ ambivalent relationship to the Islamists–as well as to other elements that would like to limit the revolution, including the liberals and parts of the old state, even the Egyptian military–shows yet again the missing link of philosophy that could give the movement a direction toward revolution in permanence.
What is involved is much more than simply stopping the Islamists and other opponents from halting the revolution. Revolution in permanence is not just a first negation but a negation of the negation, and one that encompasses all the forces of revolution as reason, and philosophy as a force of revolution. 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. That is the unique understanding of revolution in permanence developed by Dunayevskaya on the basis of the new moments of Marx’s last decade. To bring all of this into today’s battle of ideas remains the main point not only of Crossroads of History but of the forthcoming collection of Dunayevskaya’s writings on Karl Marx.
Philosophy as missing link means not just philosophy in general but dialectical philosophy of revolution–which means Marx’s new continent of thought, and Marxist-Humanism comprehends that as revolving around revolution in permanence. That is the reason that, on its 60th anniversary, Raya Dunayevskaya’s 1953 philosophic moment of Marxist-Humanism remains urgent to delve into, with its many universals, from the relationship of theory and practice, to the question of organization and philosophy, to the concreteness for our age of Hegel’s dialectic and especially his Absolutes. The question of “what happens after the revolution” moved from the realm of theory to that of staving off counter-revolution, making the vision of a new society a weapon in that concrete struggle. Negation of the negation as self-determination of the idea of freedom is a material force, needed to make the new society real.
Where philosophy remains a missing link, the Left disarms itself, often by spending its energy choosing the “lesser evil,” such as Assad or Qaddafi–anointed as heroes by much of the Western Left or at least not opposed, in order to oppose U.S. imperialism–or the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi–supported by the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt as an alternative to the Egyptian military’s presidential candidate. Where philosophy remains a missing link, the Left disarms itself by not recognizing the Reason in forces of revolution.
At this moment, women are once again surging as a force of revolution, most prominently in India. This upsurge sparked by the brutal rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi is at the same time much broader and deeper than the protest over that incident, as important as that is. By concentrating on the need for sweeping societal changes rather than band-aids like new laws or swifter courts–changes that women worldwide recognize as needed in their societies–women are putting forth a revolutionary perspective and challenging actual revolutions to deepen. They are driven by frustration over continuing oppression and in many countries, including the U.S., retrogression–AND by the way women in the Middle East and North Africa have taken the historic stage in the uprisings and strikes of the last several years.
On the U.S. scene, the reality under Obama, as under Bush, is that, in everything from poverty to unemployment, to imprisonment, to police brutality, to health, to attacks on women’s autonomy, to the rapid restructuring of the educational system, African Americans are worse off than whites and in some ways conditions are deteriorating. While we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, one cannot help but notice that slave labor still exists in this country, both in and outside of prisons; that the structure of our economy still depends on a superexploited layer of second-class citizens, or rather, workers of this country not recognized as citizens, as well as superexploitation of workers from China to Honduras to Bangladesh; that families are still being torn apart by armed agents of the state; that resisting this system of exploitation can land you behind bars, deported, or even dead.
Add to that the latest effort to subvert even the limited democracy we have: the Republicans’ push to gerrymander the Electoral College. That is in addition to last year’s voter suppression efforts, many of which were only temporarily blocked by courts, while the Supreme Court may well unblock others by gutting the Voting Rights Act. The real challenges to establish true democracy have come from African Americans fighting voter suppression and the racist criminal injustice system, from young Latinos going beyond the Dream Act to demand recognition as full human beings, from workers occupying state capitols, from immigrant workers rekindling insurgent working-class struggles, from women fighting an onslaught of invasive laws, from a new generation of Queer youth announcing that same-sex marriage is only a beginning, and from young people who made Occupy into a movement. Here too we have to ask: where is the total view? Again and again, these struggles are carried out without the raising of a banner of a totally new society, with new human relations in production, between the sexes, and more.
Those who would limit the movement’s reach have taken advantage of this to mislead. Union bureaucrats succeeded in diverting the struggles in Wisconsin and Michigan into electoral channels. So-called Marxists and anarchists used their shared “lesser evil” ideology to destroy Occupy’s solidarity with the Syrian masses. And at the very time that large numbers of U.S. Blacks and Latinos came out to resist the Right’s attacks on voting rights, these same Left tendencies undermined Occupy’s solidarity at home by substituting abstract revolutionism (claiming that “voting makes you complicit with the imperialist system”) for the needed historic link to actual struggles–past, present, and yet to come–by Black masses to transform this society.
Just as failure to listen to the voices from below blocks the development of theory and philosophy, the philosophic void prevents would-be revolutionaries from hearing the voices from below. Working out the needed historically grounded philosophy of liberation and working out a new, Marxist-Humanist relationship between theory and practice are not two tasks, but one and the same. The urgency of the task is underscored by the multiplicity of the crises and the simultaneity of revolution and counter-revolution.
Therefore it is urgent for us to intervene as practicing dialecticians, and to make this year’s anniversaries–60 years since the philosophic birth of Marxist-Humanism; 50 years since the completion of American Civilization on Trial; 40 years since the publication of Philosophy and Revolution–not a matter of celebrating the calendar but of releasing the missing link of philosophy.
The Plenum this year, which is the meeting of the National Editorial Board members of News and Letters Committees, opens in Executive Session Friday evening, May 24. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 25, and running through Sunday, May 26, all other sessions of the Plenum will be open to all 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 Plenum 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 Plenum, in order for the host local to plan meals and arrange for housing.
Pre-Plenum discussion begins with the issuing of this Call. 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 Plenum. Articles for pre-Plenum Discussion Bulletins must be submitted to the Center by Monday, April 29. Any articles after that date must be copied and brought to the Plenum 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 Plenum becomes a measure of the inseparability for us between preparation for our Plenum and all our activities throughout the pre-Plenum period.
–The Resident Editorial Board