From the November-December 2015 issue of News & Letters
ON BECOMING PRACTICING DIALECTICIANS
I was interested in seeing the complete document that was excerpted in the Sept.-Oct. 2015 N&L, “A revolutionary attitude to Archives” (#10348 in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection). I found the subtitle, “The Process of Becoming ‘Practicing Dialecticians,’” helpful. Precisely that process is what tracing Marx’s last decade and Marxist-Humanist development is all about. The preceding section called “Becoming Practicing Dialecticians” spoke to the task of Marxist-Humanists in creating a new form for N&L at that moment. The challenge is practicing dialectics at every moment.
There are other movies inspired by the 1971 Stanford prison experiment. All of them focus on the abstract ethical issue, and not on the need to uproot completely this capitalist society. They stress how good people turn evil, almost affirming that “humans are evil by nature.” Naturally, this is a bourgeois way of thinking, for it implies that, as people are evil by nature, there is nothing else we could do. “Philip Zimbardo and Marx’s Humanism” (Sept.-Oct. N&L) contrasts the “ethical issue” of the experiment with a wider view of humanism, and then goes to Marx’s 1844 philosophic writings. However, it is a little confusing, since it jumps from the experiment to Marx without developing the latter’s ideas to a more comprehensible form. This made Marx’s quotes feel a little forced, like if we had the Stanford experiment and Marx next to one another, without one coming dialectically out of the other. Anyway, the text opens new possibilities to understand the struggle of prisoners for human treatment.
The commentary on Zimbardo brought out the fundamental link between the dispositional good nature of people and Marx’s concept of humanism and made it quite accessible. I’m about halfway through [Zimbardo’s] The Lucifer Effect. I recently read The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness by New Afrikan psychologist Amos Wilson. Wilson wrote about the power of the rulers to define or diagnose various kinds of behavioral characteristics, particularly those that do not comport with the prescribed social norms of capital relations. We have narrow, self-serving definitions and diagnoses stemming purely from innate dispositions of an individual. The tragedy of that kind of definition/diagnosis is that the system of capital relations is never called into question. Zimbardo takes up where Wilson leaves off in bringing to the fore the need to include the impact of the situation and the system on an individual’s behavior. Zimbardo is advocating that in order for a definition or a diagnosis to have credibility it must include a holistic analysis.
In the document of Dunayevskaya’s printed in the Sept.-Oct. N&L, she uses the surprising expression “The Dialectic of the Party” to describe the book she intended to write. What a dialectic of development that title, that concept, underwent in the two years she worked on the book. Now that her Archives are online one can seek that in Vol. XIII. The development was far too deep and extensive to show in a short note, but one can get an indication of the distance she traveled in the title she finally arrived at in 1987: “Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy: The ‘party’ and forms of organization born out of spontaneity”
Marxist-Humanist Archives fan
In issue after issue of N&L, we have seen an analysis of how things are evolving in Greece. One of the first articles that I remember was “Greece: Postmodernism in Power” (March-April N&L). We published a Spanish translation of it in the May-June 2015 issue of our paper Praxis en América Latina, before the July referendum. We received some critique for publishing it. Some people were still “astonished” by how Syriza had been able to “challenge” the European powers. They also complained about the criticism of Althusser, Laclau, Varoufakis and others all together as post-Marx Marxists (in Dunayevskaya’s pejorative sense of this concept). Since that essay, the position of N&L has been clear: Syriza is not the masses. To beat capitalism, we need a much wider philosophy of liberation than that of Althusser, Laclau and company. And how things have turned out since then—Syriza actually betraying the masses! It is not that N&L “predicted” what was about to come, but that it is rooted in a strong philosophy of human liberation.
VOICES FROM BEHIND BARS
I have been receiving N&L since 2002 and each one gets better. N&L is my distraction to the prison industrial complex. As a Black man, I appreciate your coverage of the Black Lives Matter campaign. All lives matter, no one disagrees with that, but the reason an emphasis has been put on Black Lives Matter is that Black lives never mattered in the mainstream media or to the average citizen. If Black lives did matter, we wouldn’t have to say it. The Eric Garner situation is proof that Black lives don’t matter; and do I need to say more regarding Mike Brown and the others who lost their lives to racist, bloodthirsty pigs? When Black Lives Matter, activists will stop saying it. When Black Lives do Matter is when the racist pig establishment will be held accountable for eradicating Black and Brown people.
Prison rights activists in
Most likely portions of this letter will be illegible due to officers over-stamping some people’s mail with a non-transparent stamp. Ever since I came to Pelican Bay-SHU, everyone I have written to has written me back stating that they couldn’t read portions of my letters due to these security housing unit stamps. My mom told me that they stamped my one-page letter four times, and she couldn’t read it. What if something happened to me and I tried to tell her, but she couldn’t read my letter due to these excessive stamps? No doubt these officers deliberately use these stamps to keep us silent.
Crescent City, Calif.
I like how “California prisons’ punitive ‘wellness checks’” (Sept.-Oct. N&L) let us hear the voices of prisoners speaking for themselves, the universality and humanity of their struggle. One of the most important contributions of N&L is to conceive prisoners as a revolutionary subject—with women, Black people, youth, workers.
I write this letter to request a year subscription to N&L. I would also like to thank you for the hard work and dedication y’all put into the struggle around the world. Know I really appreciate the solidarity.
Camp Hill, Penn.
I am being released in September. You can send my N&L to my new address, enclosed. Thank you for your time and help.
San Antonio, Texas