OFFICIAL CALL FOR PLENUM
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2015-2016
March 2, 2015
To All Members of News and Letters Committees
The long-simmering outrage of Black masses that has broken out into a movement against this racist society, particularly its pattern of racist killings by the police, has transformed the subjective terrain of the U.S. Not only has that reverberated internationally, it has also made itself felt in the battle of ideas and the sphere of theory, from the messages of support issued by women’s liberation, labor, Gay rights and environmental groups, to essays such as “‘We all can’t breathe’: Reflections on Marx’s Humanism and Fanon” (Jan.-Feb. 2015 N&L).
The new revolt calls not only for ever greater participation in the movement against such brutality but for ideas rooted in the history of freedom struggles past and present. Thus the objectivity of 60 years of News and Letters Committees as Marxist-Humanist organization enters into today not so much by marking an anniversary as by giving voice to the self-determination of the idea of freedom as it speaks to this specific time.
Clearly, the subjective transformation has not overthrown the old order. The police have not stopped killing—as seen by the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, Wash. There is no confidence that the killers will suddenly start being convicted, even if one or two examples are made. Quite the contrary. Patrick Lynch, head of New York City’s largest police union, is still yelling fascist rhetoric about blood on the hands of anyone who dares question any action by the police.
There is more than a whiff of fascism pervading local, state, national and international politics. One of the best examples is the fascist theocrat Roy Moore, Chief Justice of Alabama, who, in ordering a ban on same-sex marriage in that state, is defying, not the supposedly “Left” Barack Obama, but rather the most reactionary Supreme Court in decades. This is the Court that enabled plutocrats like the Koch brothers to pervert elections with unlimited money, that gave its blessing to employers denying women access to birth control, that invariably sides with businesses over workers, that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Moreover, Moore’s appeal to the law of God—as determined by him—as trumping the U.S. Constitution managed to rally not just the KKK but, initially, the majority of the state’s probate judges to his defiance, even knowing they would soon be ordered to grant wedding licenses to same-sex couples. Most have now bowed to the federal court’s orders, but several still refuse. That is an indication of fascism’s latent support.
The victory of the “radical Left” party Syriza in Greek elections did not take place in a different world. The economic crisis that struck world capitalism beginning in 2007 unleashed forces of revolt and forces of desperate counter-revolution. Revolt has ranged from the U.S. (prison strikes, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and new labor struggles from fast food and Wal-Mart to nurses to the present oil workers’ strike and dockworkers’ struggle) to the Arab Spring revolutions, to upheavals across Europe. There is no doubt that revolt against austerity fueled Syriza’s electoral showing, yet at the same time the openly fascist Golden Dawn party rose to third place in that same election. Just as worryingly, Syriza’s coalition with an anti-immigrant, theocratic, right-wing party has been met with a slew of apologias from leftists in other countries who want to emulate Syriza’s kind of populist broad Left unity as the path to power—as if history has no lessons for us on precisely this disastrous path! In the 1930s, the spontaneous actions of the masses, including occupations of workplaces, defeated fascism in France and dealt it a severe blow in Spain; however, Popular Front governments stifled those spontaneous actions and ended in the Right’s victory.
A related serious defect endemic to today’s Left is a tendency to side with any state or armed force that presents itself as an opponent of the U.S. Here too the first negation, the need to oppose the overwhelming power of U.S. capitalist imperialism, blocks thought’s urge to negate that negation. That second negation, needed to concretely raise a banner of a society on new human foundations, brooks no accommodation with counter-revolutionary forces, no matter how anti-U.S. Its necessity is clear from the way some on the Left take at face value the revolutionary claims of the “people’s republics” carved out of eastern Ukraine with Russia’s aid, while they disregard the severe repression there, including of independent trade unions, even to the point of murder—whose struggles are not separate from those of workers in western Ukraine against the oligarchs.
It is also clear from the way truly revolutionary voices in Syria are disregarded in favor of dogmatic repetition of “Hands off Syria,” even if that means tacit support for the genocidal Assad regime and/or the genocidal Islamic State (IS). In 2015 U.S. drones are still killing civilians as well as fighters in several countries; war continues to tear apart lives and disrupt society in Afghanistan with U.S. involvement; and the destruction wrought by this country’s war and occupation in Iraq not only has drawn U.S. troops back into the fray after the war’s ostensible end but has bred sectarian conflict and the rise of IS. At such a moment, opposition to imperialism must be based on a concrete understanding of the way the U.S. intervenes only to support capitalist “stability” and at the same time undermine any genuine freedom movements. To do so requires a realistic assessment of the counter-revolutionary forces that pose as anti-imperialist; even more, it requires singling out and listening to the people fighting for freedom. That includes the Kurdish and Syrian revolutionaries who—in spite of the U.S, which all along has hoped for the “stability” of an Assad victory—have fought both the regime and IS and in so doing created the space in which others can fight IS. As in Syria, the disintegration of Yemen and Libya in the wake of the revolts of Arab Spring reflects both the rulers’ desperation to stave off social revolution even at the risk of such disintegration and the lack of a unifying banner of total freedom encompassing new relations in production and women’s liberation.
The vantage point of liberation is needed for all the many crises besetting the globe, from attacks on labor and the poor by reactionary U.S. state governments to the lingering economic crisis, especially in Europe and China; from the new stage of revolt in Mexico to labor unrest and revolt by the Black poor in South Africa; from Boko Haram’s push into four nations to the way imperialism and capitalist “development” set the stage for the ebola epidemic in West Africa; from militarism in Japan and the U.S. to capitalism’s inexorable momentum toward climate chaos.
This simultaneity of revolutionary ferment and many-faceted counter-revolution makes imperative the activity of the philosophy of revolution, which is not so feeble as merely to have a right or obligation to exist without actually existing, and proving its existence by influencing events. Therefore our observance of 60 years of News & Letters and News and Letters Committees is not simply a celebration looking back—a retrospective—but a new return to Archives as perspective, as action and as organization. It is a return to the category that Marxist-Humanism made of the post-World War II era as a new stage of production, a new stage of cognition, a new kind of organization whose objectivity is rooted in that new stage of cognition. That is, this newspaper and organization express the fact that this era is characterized by a movement from practice that is itself a form of theory and that that essential aspect of the new stage of cognition is complemented by the self-determination of the Idea of Marxist-Humanism. That is an objective need for today’s swirling revolt, revolution, and counter-revolution.
What is needed from an organization of the type of a small group like us is what Raya Dunayevskaya described as “leadership, not as ‘party to lead’ but as revolutionary philosophy to raise new banners of freedom that meet the challenge of the movement from practice.” In bringing together members and invited co-thinkers and co-activists, this year’s national gathering will aim to collectively work out our Marxist-Humanist perspectives in such a way that analysis of the meaning of events and activity in mass movements lead to organizational growth as well as the self-development of masses as Reason as well as Force.
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 22. Beginning on Saturday morning, May 23, and running through Sunday, May 24, 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 27. 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 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