OFFICIAL CALL FOR PLENUM
to Work Out Marxist-Humanist Perspectives for 2019-2020
February 24, 2019
To All Members and Friends of News and Letters Committees
Emergencies are rife, from the stream of disasters fueled by climate change to the war clouds over Iran, from the never-ending police execution of Black Americans like Willie Bo to the precarious wage situation of millions counted under the rosy employment statistics. The emergency around the U.S. border is not the approach of asylum-seekers but rather the brutal human rights abuses such as separation of families, together with the presidential power grab to build a wall wanted only by a delusional mob. More than just a political ploy, Donald Trump’s wall-building is a militarization of the mind, aimed more at keeping the U.S. population in line than at keeping others out. That effort involves demonization of people of Latin American descent as the Other.
One measure of the depth of today’s crisis is the fact that, unlike the fabricated emergency, the rekindling of the nuclear arms race does not seem to merit front-page news. It is not only the fact that the new deputy national security adviser, Charles Kupperman, has stated that the U.S. could win a nuclear war. The U.S., soon followed by Russia, withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, one of the last remaining arms control instruments, and both are ramping up the nuclear arms race while talking ominously about “useable” nukes. Foremost in the Trump administration’s arms race calculations is the rising power of China. Its conflict with China ranges from rolling out new weapons to waging a trade war, from confronting the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea to deploying troops across Africa, which it sees as a commercial and geopolitical battleground. Outright war against Iran is still on the table, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu let the cat out of the bag with a tweet, swiftly deleted, announcing a meeting with Arab countries “to advance the common interest of war with Iran.”
At the same time, the rulers are pursuing another way to destroy human civilization through climate catastrophe. Those who spearhead the turn to fascism can’t abide even the mild restrictions placed on oil, coal and deforestation. From Trump to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, they are opening the floodgates while attacking climate science.
Whether in power like Trump or gunning for it like the Alternative for Germany party, these far-right wreckers pretend to oppose “elites” and their establishment, but in reality they are doubling down on capitalism and its attacks against working people as well as against all kinds of minorities and scapegoats.
Fascism never disappeared after the Nazis’ defeat in World War II because capitalism, with all its technological prowess and skyrocketing production, could not solve any of society’s fundamental problems. However, it was mostly relegated to the margins, except where it was unleashed to stave off revolution, as in Pinochet’s coup in Chile. But so crisis-ridden is the post-2008 world that fascism, though wearing new clothes, is rushing to power across the world, with little resistance from top capitalists, and often their complicity.
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 for three decades. 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. The resulting structural change meant that capitalism could not go on as before. Led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, capitalist classes waged an assault on the direct and indirect wages, working conditions, and organizing ability of working classes and on poor countries, in order to shore up the rate of profit. That was never separate from an assault on our minds. Right-wing ideology—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 as well. That was quickly borne out by the incompleteness of the revolts that brought down Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia and by the Left apologias for the genocide in Bosnia.
The past four and a half decades have been shaped not only by the capitalist onslaught but by a series of struggles, of revolt, revolution, and counter-revolution. Since the 2008 crash, a new revolutionary wave arose with the Arab Spring at its center. Counter-revolution’s victory, above all the Syrian genocide with support from elements of the Left as well as the Right, threw the doors wide open for the current march of fascism.
And yet revolt keeps springing up all across the world. It shows that the human quest for liberation cannot be killed, and it shows why ruling classes are willing to tolerate economic disruption caused by the counter-revolutionary mob as long as it attacks the revolt. This year has seen new uprisings in Sudan and Haiti. Labor strikes keep erupting from Iran to Bangladesh, from China to Zimbabwe. In the U.S. the teachers’ strikes continue to spread, as they have now hit Denver, Oakland, Los Angeles, and another set of Chicago charter schools. Striking teachers give the lie to claims that the working class put Trump in power. Instead, they are very clear that Trump, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is on the side of the wealthy who are pushing a racist, class-divided educational system and starving out education for the masses. The teachers and other school staff and parents and students are pushing back hard and talking very explicitly about class solidarity. In teachers’ strikes, struggles for a living wage, the fight against toxic water in Flint, Mich., and beyond, women are active and in many cases women of color are leaders. Women did not let serious problems within the official leadership of the Women’s March stop them from carrying out big marches worldwide again this year.
The youth have revealed new levels of rejection of this oppressive system that is destroying their future, not just decades from now but tomorrow and today. Their reach for an opposite in thought is shown not only by the polls that keep telling us that more young people are for socialism than capitalism. That was already evident in movements like climate justice, where for years capitalism has often been fingered as the enemy. A new wave of organizations and actions by youth are demanding real action on climate change, just as it was the youth who created the massive outpouring of the March for Our Lives last year. Climate strikes by high school and even younger students have spread to several countries now.
The revolt is a beginning, and it has prevented Trump’s retrogression from becoming the new normal, even as the media and pundits act more and more as if it is. That the resistance is not the absolute opposite of capitalism in its degeneracy should be clear from the contradictions in revolts such as the women’s march and the yellow vests, both of which have been analyzed in the pages of News & Letters. Glib comparisons of the yellow vest movement to the May 1968 French near-revolution reflect the contradictions pervading the Left. It is not only a question of glossing over the reactionary elements among the Yellow Vests. Just as importantly, it is the glossing over of the significance of the failure of 1968. Epitomizing the 1960s movements, that failure was due not only to betrayal by the Stalinists but to the illusion that theory could be picked up en route so that the philosophy of liberation was once again subordinated to activity and organization. That attitude persists all around us.
The situation cries out for the unfurling of a banner of total human liberation as the absolute opposite of degenerate capitalism rushing humanity down a course to destruction, a banner to act as a pole of attraction and organization for today’s revolts and social movements. The concrete, of course, is no mere point of departure for restating Marx’s vision of liberation. It calls for us to work out the current changed world of capitalism so concretely that the opposite shines forth from within it; that the movement from practice that is itself a form of theory shines forth from within it. What we need to help release is the reach for a new relationship between theory and practice and the urge for theory to root itself in the movement from practice to develop, and to develop to philosophy. Such a release will make the degeneration of thought so clear that the rulers’ turn to fascism cannot be held apart from the ideological pollution of the Left and therefore we cannot ignore the crying need for Marxist-Humanist organization, which does not separate organization of people from organization of revolutionary thought.
All of this is involved in the question of comprehending the current stage of world politics. Every issue of News & Letters addresses the question in Leads, editorials, essays, columns, and other articles, including Readers’ Views. Now more than ever, we need to work on our projection so that these Marxist-Humanist analyses become widely recognized as a challenge to all other tendencies, whether post-Marx Marxist, anarchist, or social-democratic.
We know we have much to build on, beginning with Raya Dunayevskaya’s trilogy of revolution, her Archives, and our other publications. We have two new books collecting her writings, Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day. The new pamphlets we are working on are likewise interventions both on their topics of focus but also on what is this degenerate stage of capitalism we are living in, why did it arise, what is the opposite seething within it, and what to do about it. That is true of the publication on Syria, the country whose revolution and counter-revolution we identified as early as 2012 as the test of world politics. It is true of the publication on women’s liberation, the Subject that broke out into the first mass opposition to Trump and now faces new contradictions. It is true of the pamphlet to challenge dominant conceptions of what socialism means.
Our work with the books and the projected pamphlets is an intervention into the objective-subjective situation. We do not discuss movements as detached observers but with the aim of projecting Marxist-Humanist ideas concretely as an intervention within the movements. At the same time, it will be a way to stimulate theoretical development. News & Letters is both a newspaper for all the forces of revolution and a theoretical journal; in addition to being printed, it is online on both our website and social media.
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 to know your arrangements for housing. Participants should make housing arrangements as early as possible and inform the Center.
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 widely by both “inside” and “outside” 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.
The aim of this year’s national gathering is what the 1977 Call for Plenum articulated:
“…we prepare ourselves, theoretically as well as in daily activities in mass struggles, to influence events in a most decisive way through concretization of our Marxist-Humanist philosophy politically….Towards that end, this year’s plenum becomes a way to collectively work out our Perspectives in a way that analysis of an event and activity in mass movements lead to organizational growth as well as the self-development of masses as Reason as well as Force.”
—The Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees