Toward Freedom: Intervening in a World on the Brink
A Marxist-Humanist series of classes
As crises shake the world, it is clear that we are living in a very dangerous time, and that vibrant movements have arisen to challenge the destructive path that powerful rulers are trying to force on us all. What is also clear from the history of social movements is that the challenge of our times needs to be met in both activity and thought, because the opposition to this suicidal world order must be total, including theoretical preparation for revolution. It is not enough to call for, or hope for, a total transformation without a vision of what happens after revolution and a reckoning with the dialectics of revolution and counter-revolution. The need for a total change compels philosophy, a total outlook.
In that spirit, News and Letters Committees is offering a free series of classes to explore what characterizes this degenerate stage of capitalism, why it arose, what is the opposite seething within it, and how to strengthen that opposition.
News and Letters Committees is a Marxist-Humanist organization, founded in 1955 by the revolutionary philosopher-activist Raya Dunayevskaya. It stands for the abolition of capitalism in both its private property form as in the U.S., and in its state property form calling itself Communist as in 20th-Century Russia and China. Marxist-Humanism is a body of ideas that challenges all those desiring freedom to transcend the limitations of post-Marx Marxism. We aim not only to reject what is but to further work out the revolutionary Humanist future inherent in the present.
Core readings are taken from two new Marxist-Humanist books, Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution: Selected Writings by Raya Dunayevskaya and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day: Selected Writings by Raya Dunayevskaya. Additional selections—both Marxist-Humanist and representing other views—are suggested for those who want to broaden their exploration to some or all of these readings.
1. Philosophy of revolution and what happens after revolution
The history of failed revolutions raises questions about revolutionary thought as well as activity. The burning question of what happens after revolution has an impact even before a revolution arises. Subjects of revolution—women, youth, workers, Black masses, and others—reach for serious consideration of those questions, so that a philosophy of revolution in permanence becomes a force in daily practical activity, and a subject of revolution.
Required readings: Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day chapter 11, “Post-Marx Marxism as a Category” introduces the category of post-Marx Marxism; chapter 23, “The Dialectic of Absolute Idea as New Beginning” brings to the fore what is distinctive about Marxist-Humanism.
Suggested readings: Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day chapter 13, “Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution vs. Non-Marxist Scholar-Careerists in ‘Marxism’”; chapter 24, “Abolitionism and the American Roots of Marxism”;
Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution chapter 2, “Dunayevskaya’s Changed Perception of Lenin’s Philosophic Ambivalence, 1986-87”; chapter 16, “State-Capitalism as a ‘New Stage of World Capitalism’ vs. the Humanism of Marx”
Also by Dunayevskaya: Philosophy and Revolution chapter 1, “Absolute Negativity as New Beginning: The Ceaseless Movement of Ideas and of History”;
Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution chapter 12, “The Last Writings of Marx Point a Trail to the 1980s”
By Gerry Emmett: “Socialism and a Philosophy of Revolution,” March-April 2019 News & Letters
Other views: Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Specters of Revolt chapter 7, “Reason and Revolt: Philosophy from Below”;
Antonio Negri, “Starting Again from Marx”
2. Climate, capitalism, and socialism
The movements around climate are the source of the most widespread questioning of capitalism and within them there is an incomplete discussion of a needed “theory of change.” In the climate justice movement there is a growing realization that capitalism is a big, even fundamental, part of the problem. This demands that we grasp what is essential to capitalism and what kind of new society can transcend it, while not repeating the oppressive and ecologically destructive paths taken by countries that claimed to be socialist, like the USSR and China.
Required reading: Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day, chapter 3, “The Todayness of Marx’s Humanism” poses Marx’s Humanism as key to a concept of socialism adequate to our age.
Suggested readings: Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day chapter 6, “Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital”; chapter 10, “Marx’s Critique of Culture”; chapter 21, “The Emergence of a New Movement from Practice That Is Itself a Form of Theory”;
Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution, chapter 9, pages 259-266, “Labor and Society,” and 279-286, “A New Revision of Marxian Economics”
Also by Dunayevskaya: Marxism and Freedom chapter 16, “Automation and the New Humanism,” and chapter 6, “The Paris Commune Illuminates and Deepens the Content of Capital”
By Franklin Dmitryev: “Socialism and ecology,” Sept.-Oct. 2019 News & Letters
Other views: Michael Lowy, Ecosocialism, chapter 1, “What Is Ecosocialism?”;
Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann, Climate Leviathan, chapter 5, “A Green Capitalism?”;
Kohei Saito, “Marx’s Ecological Notebooks,” article in Monthly Review that previewed his book Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism
3. The Syrian Revolution of freedom and dignity vs. counter-revolution as test of world politics
Syria’s revolution and counter-revolution in this decade became the test of world politics. The depth of the current crisis is starkly illustrated by the genocidal assault on Idlib by the Assad regime with aid from Russia and Iran. The ascendancy of counter-revolution, with support from swaths of the Left as well as the Right, threw the doors wide open for the current global march of fascism. What is tested is not alone those on the Left who defended Assad but the pragmatic philosophy that underlies the broader Left who are willing to cooperate with the apologists in anti-Trump actions but have done little in solidarity with the Syrian people’s revolution. The resulting search for a new orientation demands a dive into dialectical philosophy.
Required reading: Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution chapter 1, pages 58-79, “Hegelian Leninism” shows how key and yet how difficult it is to make a philosophically-based divide in the Left when opposing attitudes to world crises have provoked a political divide.
Suggested readings: Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution, chapter 3, “Lenin on Self-Determination of Nations and on Organization after His Philosophic Notebooks”;
Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day, chapter 15, “Bertell Ollman: Pitting ‘Human Nature’ against Marx’s Humanism” (which contrasts dialectics with empiricism and Ollman’s claims about Marx’s “theory of human nature”); chapter 32, “A Post-World War II View of Marx’s Humanism, 1843-1883; Marxist Humanism, 1950s-1980s”
Also by Dunayevskaya: Philosophy and Revolution chapter 7, “The African Revolutions and the World Economy”
By Gerry Emmett: “How dead thought failed Syrian revolution’s living history,” Jan.-Feb. 2019 News & Letters
Other views: David, “Discussion Article: The Left’s Response to Syrian Genocide,” Sept.-Oct. 2018 News & Letters;
Gilbert Achcar, “Morbid Symptoms”
4. Women’s liberation as resistance and as revolutionary force and reason
The most massive resistance to the current U.S. administration burst out as the Women’s Marches, with many voices, ideas, ways of reaching for the future, and connections with the historic threads of the women’s liberation movement. Confronted by efforts to narrow it to electoral politics, many of those voices are struggling to be heard. How can hearing the ideas of women’s liberation and the philosophy of human liberation enable the movement’s reorientation? How can the humanism that shone forth from the women’s marches help inspire the entire movement for liberation?
Required reading: Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day, chapter 1. Iranians involved in fighting the counter-revolution that emerged from the Iranian Revolution asked Raya Dunayevskaya to write this “Preface to the Iranian Edition of Marx’s Humanist Essays” as one of their efforts to fight the reactionary religious forces attempting to hijack the revolution. It grounds women’s struggle for freedom in Marx’s moment of philosophic creation, unseparated from his humanism, concept of labor, and critique of vulgar communism. It is a short piece projected to participants in an ongoing revolution within which women’s liberation was both attacked and supported.
Suggested readings: Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day chapter 27, “Marx’s ‘New Humanism’ and the Dialectics of Women’s Liberation in ‘Primitive’ and Modern Societies”; chapter 29, “Letter to Adrienne Rich on Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation, and the Dialectic”
Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution chapter 7, “On Women Revolutionaries in Russia”
Also by Dunayevskaya: “Women’s Liberation, Experimentation, and Revolution in Permanence,” March-April 2019 News & Letters
Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution chapter 8, “The Task That Remains to Be Done: The Unique and Unfinished Contributions of Today’s Women’s Liberation Movement”
By Terry Moon: “Socialism and Women’s Liberation,” July-August 2019 News & Letters
Other views: Silvia Federici, “Marx and Feminism,” TripleC, or “Social Reproduction Theory” in the Spring 2019 issue of Radical Philosophy, since “social reproduction theory” is the currently popular way to attempt a synthesis of Marxism and feminism
5. Revolutionary organization and Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence
The separation perpetrated by post-Marx Marxists between Marx’s concept of revolution and his concept of organization helps make clear that neither the concept of socialism nor organization can be separated from the concept of revolution and what happens after revolution, from dialectical philosophy, or from absolute negativity.
Required reading: Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution, chapter 2, “Dunayevskaya’s Changed Perception of Lenin’s Philosophic Ambivalence, 1986-87” puts Hegel’s Absolutes at the center of the critique of Lenin and the question of organization.
Suggested readings: Russia, from Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution, Part 3, “What Happens After?—Lenin, 1917-1923”;
Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day, chapter 30, “Spontaneity, Organization, Philosophy (Dialectics)”
Also by Dunayevskaya: Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution chapter 11, “The Philosopher of Permanent Revolution Creates New Ground for Organization”;
Marxism and Freedom chapter 9, “The Second International, 1889 To 1914”
By Bob McGuire: “Socialism, Labor, and the Black Dimension,” May-June 2019 News & Letters
By Eugene Gogol: Toward a Dialectic of Philosophy and Organization chapter 11, “Lenin and Hegel: The Profound Philosophic Breakthrough That Failed to Encompass Revolutionary Organization”
Other views: John Holloway, “Cracking Capitalism vs. the State Option,” which returned after 12 years to his book Change the World without Taking Power
Check with the closest Local of News and Letters Committees for times and places of classes.
Feel free to contact us for help getting copies of the readings.