March 14, 2008
Setting the Historic Record Straight
In a widely disseminated document dated March 10 and titled “Statement of the Marxist-Humanist Tendency,” an open attack was launched on News and Letters Committees that demands an immediate response to keep true and clear the historic record of this Marxist-Humanist organization founded 53 years ago by Raya Dunayevskaya. This year will mark 21 years since her death, when we faced the difficult task of developing the Body of Ideas she created as Marxist-Humanism, without the presence of its founder.
Over those 21 years we have succeeded as an organization in keeping in print and arranging new international translations of the foundational works of Marxist-Humanism, the books Dunayevskaya called the “trilogy of revolution” — Marxism and Freedom, Philosophy and Revolution, and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution — of publishing a collection of her major writings on dialectics as The Power of Negativity; of issuing a new edition of American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard and a new statement on Black America by John Alan, Dialectics of Black Freedom Struggles. Over the past two decades we have worked out original analyses of the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion, the wars for self-determination in Bosnia and Kosova, and the critique of Islamic fundamentalism as well as Bush’s drive for global domination after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. We have begun putting together, as an organization, a new collection of Dunayevskaya’s major writings on Marx. And throughout the entire half century we have maintained the regular publication of our newspaper, News & Letters, as a unity of theory and practice, created so that the voices of revolt from below could be heard unseparated from the articulation of a philosophy of liberation.
So serious a crisis has now developed in News and Letters Committees that a Special Convention has been called over Memorial Day weekend to attempt to return to the work of developing a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism as outlined in our Perspectives of 2007-2008. This is unprecedented. It is the first one called, not by the leadership of the organization, but through a provision in our Constitution giving one third of the membership, so long as they are not from the same local, the right to call for such a Special Convention.
What precipitated this unprecedented Call, to which well over a third of the membership signed on within 48 hours, were actions taken by a faction that formed in January calling itself “the Marxist-Humanist Tendency in N&LC” (MHT). These actions came to a head the next day on January 20. At a meeting of the National Editorial Board (NEB), a majority rejected a motion by the MHT to make Peter Hudis a co-trustee of the Raya Dunayevskaya Memorial Fund (RDMF). The NEB endorsed the selection already made by Olga Domanski, who, in accordance with the Trust Agreement, had replaced the co-trustee of the RDMF who had resigned. The shocking vilification campaign begun against her around the RDMF has now reached unconscionable heights.
That an organizational rift was expressed in terms of the RDMF indicates the sham nature of this dispute. The RDMF is a unique entity created by Raya Dunayevskaya’s comrade husband and heir to all her writings, which were promptly transferred to the RDMF the month after Dunayevskaya’s death, with a specific purpose spelled out in the Trust Agreement: “The purposes of this trust are to collect, protect and house the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya, to publish, republish and preserve them by all means or manners deemed necessary, to encourage research, studies, and writing in Marxist humanism, and to publish and promote books or other works on Marxist humanism.” It is necessary to stress that the RDMF has nothing to do with the alleged “control over all Dunayevskaya’s writings” and never has. The manner in which Domanski has carried out her responsibilities, as RDMF trustee for 21 years, and as Dunayevskaya’s Secretary for 32 years from the founding of News and Letters Committees until Dunayevskaya’s death, has never been questioned.
The most damaging action taken by the MHT after its motion was democratically defeated on Jan. 20 was its declaration in a Feb. 6 letter not only of a “strike” against News & Letters, but an appeal for others to withdraw their writings and submit them to another publication they planned to put out. [Editor’s note: they never did.] The February-March issue of News & Letters was successfully published and mailed, despite the refusal to participate by the Managing Editor, Jim Mills, the “Our Life and Times” co-columnists, Kevin A. Barry and Mitch Weerth, and one of the two National Co-Organizers, Peter Hudis. The publication of the February-March issue, which marked both Black History Month and International Women’s Day, manifests the refusal of News and Letters Committees to accept “politics by ultimatum” put forward by the MHT. The most notable result of the so-called “strike,” therefore, was the decision of the membership to try to put an end to the impossible situation that this faction had created, by calling for the Special Convention to discover and resolve whatever differences were pulling us apart.
To begin that process, it is necessary to put an end to the blatant untruths that are rampant in the March 10 Statement of the MHT. Potentially most damaging to any revolutionary organization is the charge that “the organization’s finances are the property of one person” who allegedly has sole “knowledge and control of N&LC’s finances” as well as “ownership and control over all of Dunayevskaya’s writings through the RDMF.” It is necessary to ask how such charges against her, as have now been publicly disseminated nationally and internationally on two websites, could be believed when there has been no question raised — not just for the past 20 years but the past 50 years — about any impropriety whatsoever in the finances of News and Letters Committees. Indeed, Peter Hudis publicly emphasized in January 2008 and thereafter that there is no question of any impropriety in Domanski’s management of any organizational funds, ever. Suddenly what the MHT made the center of discussion is the “power” of “money” and of “ownership.” For Marxist-Humanists the only power we are concerned with is the “power of negativity.”
The purpose of the RDMF, which has not been questioned for 20 years, has suddenly now been equated with the question of “ownership” of “copyrights.” The question of “power” has now been substituted for the trustees’ responsibility for carrying out the clearly defined purposes of this unique Trust. Now we face the wild falsifications of the March 10 Statement of the MHT.
A principled tendency bases itself on articulating the ideas at issue, rather than issuing statements centered on personal attacks and misrepresentations aimed at character assassination. Instead of dealing with actual writings by News and Letters Committees members on Marx and Marxist-Humanism, the MHT statement makes numerous false claims such as a “lack of interest in Marxism.” In this way they have, for the past six months, systematically diverted the organization from any serious battle of ideas. At the same time they take credit for collective work while discounting the contributions of any who disagree with them.
In righting the historic record of the Marxist-Humanist concept of organization — as taking responsibility for Marx’s Marxism by projecting and developing theory and practice as a unit — it is most important to grasp the urgency of the task Raya Dunayevskaya left to our age to solve. It is a task that takes ALL of us to even attempt to grasp.
This most difficult challenge that had ever confronted us was the assignment she had given herself in the last year of her life to work out the inseparability of philosophy from organization as what she called the “Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy.” In contending that it was the path no revolutionaries had walked on since Marx alone, the task she left for our generation is undeniably formidable. The most important document she left was the presentation she had planned to give us on June 1, 1987 — which an accident prevented her from delivering before her unexpected death on June 9. We published it in the January-February 1988 issue of News & Letters to share immediately with all our readers as the Perspective that would remain our common goal to work out, and published it in book form as The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism, together with Dunayevskaya’s 1953 Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes, to which the June 1 Presentation serves as both Introduction and Overview.
The essay in the February-March 2008 issue by Tom More, which we succeeded in publishing despite the MHT’s attacks, returned to this task: “For Dunayevskaya, the determinant was a matter of the inseparability of ‘meaning, i.e. philosophy’ from ‘activity.’ …[S]he wrote, ‘The real point is the meaning that this is not a question of the “author,” but the whole organization,’ such that ‘the content of each person’s activity and special point of concentration … will be inseparable from the meaning of that activity.’ As she emphasized, ‘I want to repeat, because philosophy has not permeated the paper, therefore, it didn’t permeate the organization.’
“The question Dunayevskaya was raising with such provocative urgency in her June 1 Presentation went far beyond the intramural affairs of News and Letters Committees, reaching up to a question of epoch-making world-historical importance, one that might strike us as even more urgent twenty years after ‘the year of the book,’ when the need to concretize a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalist society has grown even more desperate.”
Our organization, for the past several years, has paid particular attention to her June 1 statement of the need to concretize Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program as ground for organization. This tremendously important direction is not an easy question to be worked out. It takes a collective effort.
Our Perspectives, likewise, are a collective endeavor each year that aims to flow from a discussion with the whole organization as well as the readers of News & Letters. Since 1975, we are still the only organization that publishes a draft of the Perspectives document in the paper, asking for the widest possible discussion with our readers. It both reveals the democratic nature of the organization, and manifests our unique concept of the relationship of theory and practice, of the need to break down the division between inside and outside. Once voted on and agreed to by the organization, they are to be faithfully carried through. As a living document, they continue to be open for discussion, and at the same time that they are being concretized, they can also be debated and developed.
What recent events make very real is how difficult is the task Dunayevskaya articulated for our age: to work out the dialectics of philosophy and organization. We in News and Letters Committees refuse to allow that formidable task to be debased by a vicious vilification campaign against all who dare to disagree with the MHT; or by published and widely disseminated lies about members’ commitment to revolution and to taking responsibility for the ideas of Marx and Marxist-Humanism; or by the flouting of majority decisions by the politics of ultimatum.
In times of crisis in the past, we have always called upon the support of our readers and friends. From our beginning in 1955, it is that support that has made it possible to continue this only Marxist-Humanist organization in the U.S., and to publish the newspaper News & Letters, which presents voices from below unseparated from the articulation of philosophy of revolution. We count on your continuing contributions in the form of articles, Readers’ Views, new subscriptions, discussion of ideas, or financial donations to help us keep going, as paper and as organization. We ask you to share with others this true historic record of recent events.
Olga Domanski, National Co-Organizer and founding member
for News and Letters Committees