From Philosophy to Organization and Back: Marxist-Humanist Tasks and Perspectives

Peter Hudis

Discusses new interest in Marxist humanism in Eastern Europe, the relation of economics to philosophy in Piketty and Marx, and that of philosophy to organization for Marxist-Humanism, from Dunayevskaya to today; slightly edited version of a presentation to the Convention of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization, July 26, 2014 in Chicago – Editors

rd

Raya Dunayevskaya

 

I.

It may seem, on the surface, that today’s objective situation represents little more than a repetition of what confronted us in 2012, when the International Marxist-Humanist Organization (IMHO) last met in convention. Afghanistan is again reeling from a stolen election, giving the lie to the claim that the U.S. war against “terrorism” represents a contribution to the struggle for “democracy.” Iraq is again being torn apart by sectarian strife, proving once more that the U.S. invasion of 2003 solved nothing. And Israel is again massacring Palestinians in Gaza through massive bombing raids, while the U.S. allows the killing to continue. Israel clearly manufactured this war as part of its effort to undermine the Palestine Authority’s recent unity agreement with Hamas, since no one has presented any evidence that Hamas was behind the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers that preceded the bombing campaign. The Israeli government, and much of its public, may think it can reduce the threat of Hamas’ missiles by attacking Gaza, but we’ve been here before, and have seen how each assault on Gaza only leads, in due time, to yet another one—with more and more needless deaths along the way.

Meanwhile, the realities inside the U.S. may also seem somewhat repetitious, as the Obama administration continues to disappoint the aspirations of those who hoped that his election might provide at least some respite from the ravages of American Right. In the past few months, tens of thousands of children and teenagers from Central America have sought to escape crime and poverty by crossing into the U.S. from Mexico; yet the U.S. response is to further militarize the border—this, when Obama has already deported more undocumented immigrants in the past five years than were expelled from the U.S. in the previous 100 years.[i] The abuses of the criminal justice system likewise continue unabated, with Black and Latino youth still being targeted by racial profiling in towns and cities across the U.S.—despite the fact that it is now common knowledge that most states spend more money on prisons each year than on education. And the Republican far Right is again working to impose far more draconian and regressive policies, as it reaches to gain control of the Senate in this year’s mid-term elections and the presidency in 2016.

When we take a broader view, however, it becomes evident that a number of events have occurred over the past two years that provide hope for believing that the crises of existing society can be effectively challenged and even overcome. In Turkey, the protests in Gezi Park led to one of the most creative mass movements in Turkish history and is largely responsible for opening up fissures within the Turkish ruling class that have yet to run their course. In Brazil, the protests against the extraordinary costs associated with the hosting of the World Cup brought a new generation of youth onto the streets, a phenomenon that may grow in importance as the economy stalls and inequality rises. And in Ukraine, a massive and diverse movement brought down one of the most authoritarian regimes in Europe. The earlier protests in Bosnia against ethnic partition and economic inequality, in which citizen assemblies and forums played a leading role, expressed the spirit of many such protests. As one participant in it stated, “A plenum is an assembly of all members of the group. It is a public space for debate. It has no leaders or prohibitions…. A plenum is the real, and the only, democracy. A plenum makes and adopts demands to all the institutions of state power by its own declaration.”[ii] Such forms of protest—as seen earlier in the Occupy Movement in the U.S. and elsewhere—changed the lives of many by providing a sense of what a new society could be like.

Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in all the popular movements since 2011 a major limitation has been the weakness of a theoretical-political perspective and formation within them that opposes all forms of capitalism and projects a viable alternative to the dominance of capital. So long as this lacunae remains, the movements risk being taken over by elements that are inimical to their aspirations. This threat looms especially large in Ukraine, but also in other social movements.

Developing a viable alternative to capitalism is far from easy, however—not least because it requires responding to how established Marxism has done tremendous damage to the very idea of a socialist or communist society. If radical thought fails to show how a post-capitalist future can avoid the horrors associated with both existing capitalist society and established “Marxism,” it will have no future. The Czech Marxist Humanist Karel Kosík addressed this as far back as 1992, as follows:

The ruling ideology hides the fact that all parties of the political spectrum, as it is called today, act within the system, and thus together with luxury for the few it produces only devastation and sterility for the many. In their programs, activities and reciprocal/mutual disputes, the “Right,” “Left” and “Centre” maintain and preserve this system as the sole reality, to which no alternative exists.

The disintegration of the Soviet empire is a liberating step in the search for an alternative. Whatever the ideologists of neo-capitalism assert, it belongs to the irony of the twentieth century that this system fell apart not because it was Soviet and communist, but because it liquidated the soviets (the workers’ councils) and replaced them with a police-bureaucratic dictatorship, that it suppressed communism as a liberating modern alternative and instead asserted itself as poorly functioning, inefficient, state capitalism.[iii]

In some respects the crisis of Marxism is even deeper than Kosík suggested, since in the former Yugoslavia it wasn’t just outright Stalinists and Titoists who discredited the idea of socialism. That was also true of the self-described “humanist Marxists” of the Praxis School, most of whom ended up supporting Milosevic’s genocidal “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia. Virtually all shades of radical thought are implicated in the crisis that defines our times, not simply those who actually held state power.

I was recently reminded of this during a trip I made to Slovenia, where I met a number of young activists who participated in the protests this year in Sarajevo. Although they were enthusiastic about the movement, they said it had been difficult to raise within it a discussion of the need for a socialist society to replace capitalism—largely because most people still associate “socialism” with the now-discredited state-capitalist regimes. It is no less difficult to discuss humanism, they said, since many people associate that term with the Praxis School, which descended so suddenly into narrow nationalism. In one form of another, the spectre of the failed efforts to surmount capitalism impacts all of today’s social movements—including those in the U.S.

It was all the more remarkable, then, for me to meet young theorists and activists (some of them from Serbia) who are interested in renewing a Marxist Humanist perspective that is freed of its previous shortcomings. The same was true at the conference that I attended on Kosík’s thought in Prague, where a number of speakers identified themselves as “Marxist Humanists.” And when I was in China a few weeks ago, I learned that there are a considerable number of young scholars and students exploring how humanist Marxism can provide an alternative to the established ideology.

Clearly, a comprehensive alternative to all forms of capitalism is urgently needed today. Many feel the need for this just as strongly as we do. Clearly, one will take hard, sustained, and creative theoretical work. Some of that work has begun, including by members of the IMHO. But it takes more than the work of a handful of relatively isolated individuals to create a comprehensive, philosophically grounded alternative to all forms of capitalism and established “socialism.” It takes an organization of philosopher-activists who work together to address and resolve the central problem of our time.

I am not referring to an organization that sees its task leading the masses to the seizure of political power. Political power will surely have to be seized from the bourgeoisie in order to move towards a socialist society—of that I have no doubt. But the idea that a particular party or organization will achieve that on behalf of the masses is an outdated notion that needs to be left behind. Even more outdated is the view that the purpose of a radical organization is to focus on how to “make” the revolution. Given the realities of our age, the fundamental question is what happens after the revolution—i.e., how to avoid a new bureaucracy emerging once the old is overthrown, how to uproot all social relations based on the dominance of capital. A Marxist organization is urgently needed to address that question. That defines, as I see it, its historic reason to exist.

II.

There are many approaches to thinking out a viable alternative to capitalism. An especially important one involves the critique of political economy. We should keep in mind that according to Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S., the work of Marx that most fully demonstrates the centrality of dialectics and humanism is Volume I of Capital. It’s rather easy to see humanism in the 1844 Manuscripts, where the term appears several times; it’s harder to see it in Capital, where it is never explicitly mentioned. However, it can be argued that Capital is the fullest presentation of Marx’s dialectical humanism, since it contains his most systematic critique of the dehumanized logic of capital.

Capital traces out the reified form assumed by human praxis in capitalist society. Human relations appear to take on the form of relations between things because, Marx says, that is “what they really are.”[iv] Marx’s Capital is an immanent critique of a historically specific social formation in which capital serves as the all-dominant social formation. But capital, despite its dominance, is a contradictory and unstable phenomenon. The dialectic of its development is the dialectic of its dissolution. Marx’s immanent critique of capital reveals its dialectical opposite—the content of the human essence that is distorted and concealed by capital. We gain access to what is now hidden —the potential of human praxis—through a critique of its reified form of expression.

With this in mind, let’s briefly look at some of what faces us in terms of today’s economic reality. The recovery, such as it is since the Great Recession, is proving quite anemic. Unemployment rates in the major industrialized countries remain far above pre-2008 levels, while the level of under-and-unemployment in the developing world has only barely improved. Despite pumping over eight trillion dollars into the economy since 2008, the U.S. Federal Reserve admits that “continued slow growth” and high unemployment—coupled with increased drives for austerity and cutbacks of government programs—is bound to remain with us for the foreseeable future, and perhaps even for decades. Austerity has, in fact, become the watchword of contemporary capitalism—from the U.S. to Europe, from Latin America to East Asia. Even the victory of Germany in this year’s World Cup is being heralded by many pundits as demonstrating the “superiority” of the German model of austerity, which over the last decade has driven down wages for many workers by imposing a two-tier wage system.[v]

This drive for austerity, needless to say, goes hand in hand with a remarkable increase in levels of social inequality. While corporate profits as a share of GDP reached record levels last year, the purchasing power of workers in the U.S. has declined by $4,000 a year since 2008. This is part of a long-term trend. While real wages for most U.S. workers have been stagnant since 1975, the income of the top 1 percent of the populace have risen 165 percent and 362 percent for the top 0.1 percent.

Perhaps most ominous of all, recent studies suggest that economic growth in the developing world—where 90 percent of the populace lives on less than $10 a day—will be significantly lower in the next decade than in the last 25 years. Growth rates in India and China—the source of the bulk of real economic growth over the past two decades—is slowing considerably. This is very, very serious. China’s projected 7.5% growth rate for 2014 may sound impressive, but that is a major decline for a country that has been running an 11% yearly rate of growth for over three decades. Its slowdown can have a dramatically negative impact on the entire world economy.

These factors, and especially the rising levels of social and economic inequality around the world, helps explain the huge amount of attention being paid to Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital on the Twenty-First Century. Piketty’s basic argument is that the rate of return on capital tends to outstrip the rate of economic growth. Since the rich own more capital assets than the poor, over time they end up receiving an ever-increasing share of national income. This trend may be temporarily lessened in exceptional periods, like depression and war—such as during and after the 1930s and 40s—when large amounts of inherited wealth were destroyed. But the traditional pattern, he argues, has now re-emerged, resulting in increased levels of economic inequality.

Piketty’s “solution” to rising inequality is rather simple—he proposes a modest tax on the rate of capital returns that could be used to redistribute value more equitably.

Despite his paltry recommendations (and no one imagines that even they will be adopted by global capitalism), Piketty’s book represents an important opening in so far as it focuses attention on rising economic inequality. The Occupy Movement was responsible for bringing this issue to the forefront of public attention. Indeed, I very much doubt that his book would be receiving so much attention were it not for the Occupy Movement. Nevertheless, his book suffers from a major limitation: it focuses exclusively on distribution. He is concerned with capitalism’s tendency to promote the unequal distribution of value, not with the existence of value production itself. This is a big error, since if unequal distribution is identified as the central problem it follows that the ills of modern capitalism can be cured simply by a “fairer” and more “rational” form of re-distribution. There is no need to call the system itself into question. The crisis is reduced to a technical problem of managing the rate of return on capital, which can be solved through the technique of re-distribution. As Paul Krugman, who has highly praised Piketty, put it: “We are talking about what is basically a technical problem, a problem of organization and coordination… Solve this technical problem and the economy will roar back into life.”[vi] We should therefore not overlook the fact that one reason Piketty’s book has made the bestseller list is that it conforms so well to established capitalist ideology.

This becomes even clearer from what he says about Marx. He dismisses Marx’s theory of capital on the grounds that it ignores capitalism’s proclivity to achieve productivity gains through new technologies. But this is clearly mistaken. Marx held that profit rates tend to decline because of rising productivity spurred by technological innovation—not because of their absence! The rate of profit tends to decline, according to Marx, when the ratio of the organic composition of capital—dead labor—grows exponentially at the expense of living labor, the only source of value and surplus value. As profit rates decline, so does the rate of return on capital. In response, capitalists try to make up the difference by forcing down wages and benefits in order to obtain the value needed to spur further capital accumulation. This leads to increased inequality. In sum, whereas for Piketty the growth of inequality is explained by the rising rate of return on capital relative to income, for Marx it is explained by the falling rate of return on capital.[vii]

But who cares about Piketty’s differences with Marx, you may ask? After all, he makes it clear enough that he is not a Marxist (that he dismisses Marx while admitting that he has never even read Marx’s Capital does not seem to concern him). So why make a fuss over this? It’s by no means some academic debate. The heart of the problem is that Piketty equates capital with material wealth. He writes, “I use the words ‘capital’ and ‘wealth’ interchangeably, as if they were perfectly synonymous.”[viii]

This is a rather remarkable confession. That is because conflating material or personal wealth with capital makes it impossible to understand the general formula of capital—designated by Marx as M-C-M’. The question that Marx explores in Chapter 4 of Capital is where does the additional money (M’) come from that makes it possible to accumulate capital? It can’t come from personal wealth (after all, owning a home does not necessarily generate money for the homeowner). So where does the additional money come from? What explains this seemingly “mysterious” process whereby money “miraculously” begets more money? The answer, Marx shows, is that money increases in value only if it is invested in commodities whose production entails the employment of labor power whose value is greater than the amount of value that goes to the worker. The surplus value that does not go to the worker takes the form of money that is embodied in capital (M-C-M’). This is the basis of Marx’s theory of capital as self-expanding value.

In sum, when capital and material wealth are distinguished it finally becomes possible to see that money accrues in value only because of the exploitation of labor. The “occult” process whereby money “miraculously” begets more money is instantly dispelled. In total contrast, however, when capital is conflated with material wealth the self-expansion of value is hidden under the mere circuit of money; the exploited and alienated human relations that make the self-expansion of capital possible become totally hidden from view. Such a standpoint fails to pay any attention to the human praxis that is distorted and concealed by the law of motion of capital. It instead stays on the surface, at the level of appearance, and becomes reduced to no more than a mere economic analysis.

The difference between these two approaches is of crucial importance. One (Piketty’s—a standpoint he shares not only with bourgeois but also with much of “Marxist” economics) stays at the surface level of society, concerning itself with the relationship between things—money, capital, commodities, etc. The other (Marx’s) critically examines the relationships between things in order to decipher what makes those relations possible—the distorted and alienated character of human relations in the innermost recesses of society, at the point of production. Marx’s critique of the reified, alienated form assumed by human relations in capitalism brings to light what human subjectivity is capable of once it becomes freed from the dominance of capital.

How does Marx show this? He first says that labor, generically speaking (not alienated labor!), is one way in which we give meaning to our social existence. Labor, in the general sense, enables us to shape and transform nature, based on our capacity for conscious, purposeful activity. But in capitalism, labor becomes reduced to a mechanical, repetitive, and monotonous activity. Concrete laboring activity becomes dominated and subsumed by abstract labor. Abstract labor in turn serves as the substance of value. The greater the predominance of abstract labor, the more social relations—not just in the factory but also in the whole of society—are governed by the drive to increase value. This is the essence of the alienated, reified nature of social relations in capitalism.

However, Marx does not limit himself to delineating this reification. For Marx, the struggle of the proletariat against alienated labor is a fight to recover the “subjectively historical” wholeness of humanity that is denied by capitalism. This is what genuine Marxism is about—it is a “return to the subject,” its wholeness, on the basis of a critique of its phenomenal forms of appearance. It is, in word, a return to the thing itself.

Marx’s aim is to recover the Subject from a society whose social relations have assumed the form of “science”—of a reified, objectivistic manifold. Enzo Paci captured this brilliantly in stating that in Marx’s Capital “one discovers man, we discover ourselves precisely as we are, in the actual situation and in the actual ongoing historical society. ‘Ourselves’ here refers to the operations of the whole man even if he has been rendered abstract. In fact, capitalism forces the worker to live as if he were abstract. Actually, however, the worker remains a man and, because of this, he is alienated.”[ix]

Here we see how Marx’s critique of the abstraction of the value form discloses the essence of humanity, our humanism, which this society tries to efface. Here is where economics, through its immanent critique, passes into philosophy: the delving into the philosophic question of what does it mean to be human. Anyone who does not see this conceptual movement in Marx’s work has missed the whole point of his critique of political economy.

It is precisely this, I would argue, that enabled Marx to intimate a future free from capitalism—even if he refrained from going into many details because of his reticence about writing “blueprints about the future.” For once we begin to discern the totality of the human subject that is hidden by the dominance of capital, we can speak of how its essence will manifest itself in a world freed from capital.

Capitalism is the loss of subjective and inter-subjective meaning, but its criticism, in theory and in practice, provides for the possibility of its recovery.

The standpoint one takes vis-a-vis economic reality is therefore not merely a question of economics. It is a question of whether or not one reaches the critical philosophical issue—the essence of humanity as a creative subject. We cannot reach the essence except through the critique of its alienated form of appearance. Skipping over that renders any effort to posit an alternative to capitalism abstract, just as getting stuck in economics and not moving to philosophy totally misses the point of Marx’s Marxism.

We can therefore say: The critique of political economy without philosophy is obtuse, while philosophy without the critique of political economy is empty.

What we need to affirm and work out is how the Marxist-Humanist critique of capitalism in all its forms, whether “free market” or statist, can lead us to the “original evidence” of our humanity that is obscured by capital. Surely, it is a goal that is worth aspiring for—for the sake of the present as well as the future.

III.

Whether our point of departure is the political situation disclosed by today’s crises and social movements, or whether it is the state of the economy, the objective situation speaks to the importance of developing a viable alternative to existing society. Yet this is also a task called forth by the content of Marxist-Humanist philosophy. I wish to address this here, by briefly re-examining one of Dunayevskaya’s last writings—her “Presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy” of June 1, 1987.

This was originally intended as a talk to the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees (N&LC), the group that the IMHO emerged from in 2010. It discusses some important parallels between Marx’s “philosophic moment” —his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844—and the philosophic moment” which gave rise to Marxist-Humanism, her 1953 “Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes.” Re-examining that parallel may prove helpful in thinking out our organizational tasks today.

Marx’s 1844 articulation of a “new humanism,” she says, informed all of his later work—including as an organizational activist in the Communist League and First International. However, she says the “full concretization” of the 1844 Manuscripts for organization only occurred at the end of his life, in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. So what happened then that was so important? What happened is that Marx sharply criticized his own followers in 1875 for forming an organization that did not share his view of what constitutes a post-capitalist society. In response, he issued his fullest discussion of what a post-capitalist society would be like. As Dunayevskaya put it, “There [was] no way now, no matter how Marx kept from trying to give any blueprints for the future, not to develop a general view of where we’re headed the day after the conquest of power, the day after we have rid ourselves of the birthmarks of capitalism when a new generation can finally see all its potentiality put an end once and for all to the division between mental and manual labor.”[x]

As I show in Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, 1875 was not the first time that Marx discussed the new society; he speaks, if only briefly, about life after capitalism in many works, such as The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) the Grundrisse (1857) and Volume One of Capital (1867). However, one thing that surprised me in working on my Marx book is that virtually all of Marx’s discussions of a post-capitalist society prior to 1875 discuss the lower phase of a communist society, “as it emerges from capitalism.”[xi] However, it is only with his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program that Marx explicitly spells out the ultimate goal of a new society, which prevails in a higher phase of communism. What prevails in a higher phase, he says, is the principle “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”

Of course, Marx also discusses the lower phase of communism in 1875; he does so to show what social relations are needed to ensure that a revolution makes a firm break from capitalism and creates the conditions for ultimately achieving a higher phase. But what is new in the 1875 Critique is that Marx for the first time explicitly spells out the content of this higher phase. In this sense, it seems to me, Marx has finally “fully concretized” his philosophy of a “new humanism,” which arose in 1844, for organization.

Dunayevskaya, however, does not stop her discussion with Marx. She draws a parallel between Marx’s “full concretization” of his philosophic moment of 1844 in his Critique of the Gotha Program and the need to achieve the “full concretization” of the “philosophic moment” of Marxist-Humanism, her 1953 “Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes.”

But what exactly does this mean? As Dunayevskaya noted many times, the 1953 Letters marked the philosophic birth of Marxist-Humanism (though the actual term did not arise until several years later). Each stage of Marxist-Humanism, she held, flowed from and was a further concretization of this philosophic breakthrough—whether it be her first book, Marxism and Freedom, or her last one, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. Moreover, it also led to the formation of the first Marxist-Humanist organization, based on a unity of worker and intellectual and theory and practice. However, as she states in the June 1, 1987 Presentation, the full concretization of her 1953 breakthrough for organization has yet to be achieved.

But what does it mean to “fully concretize” the “philosophic moment” of 1953 for organization? It’s hard to say. Do keep in mind that she never got to deliver her talk of June 1, 1987; she had an accident several hours before the meeting and never delivered it (she died 8 days later). We therefore do not know how she would have responded to its discussion, whether she would have revised it, or what she would done to further clarify and develop her views. This makes it a rather difficult and enigmatic document.

However, the parallel or analogy that she draws between Marx’s “full concretization” of 1844 in his 1875 Critique and the need to “fully concretize” her 1953 “Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes” for today is highly suggestive. It indicates that there is something in her 1953 “Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes” that speaks to the task of developing a vision of a new society. It is up to us, those who are to (hopefully) inherit the legacy of Marxist-Humanism, who would need to work out its “full concretization.” This, indeed, the essence of “dialectics of organization and philosophy.”

It’s important to recall that the subject matter of the 1953 Letters is a commentary on the chapters on “The Absolute Idea” in Hegel’s Science of Logic and “Absolute Mind” in the Philosophy of Mind. In commenting on the latter in her letter of May 20, she says the following after working through the dialectic of “Absolute Mind”: “We have entered the new society.” Clearly, something was brewing in these 1953 letters regarding the concept of a post-capitalist society that calls for further articulation.

Moreover, the June 1, 1987 Presentation states, “The whole truth is that even Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, which remains the ground for organization today, was written 112 years ago. What is demanded is not mere ‘updating,’ after all the aborted revolutions….’Ground’ will not suffice alone; we have to finish the building—the roof and its contents.”[xii] Surely, we must get to know Marx’s concept of a post-capitalist society, which has been ignored or rejected (by his followers as much as by his enemies) for far too long. And we especially need to get to know his concept of a new society that is spelled out in the Critique of the Gotha Program. That is where we begin the effort to work out an alternative to capitalism. But that is not where we end. Dunayevskaya was suggesting, it seems to me, that an organization that “fully concretizes” the 1953 “Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes” would be taking responsibility for issuing a truly comprehensive notion of the new society that is adequate to our times.

Of course, it is not possible to “fully concretize” the “philosophic moment” of Marxist-Humanism if it is not explored, nor is it possible if the ways in which it informed the various stages of the development of Marxist-Humanism is overlooked. But most of all, the “full concretization” of 1953 cannot be achieved without an organization. And here is why: whereas Marx’s “philosophic moment” of 1844 did not have much to say directly about organization, the 1953 breakthrough was written with organization very much in mind. As Dunayevskaya put it, “I wasn’t interested either in the mass party, which the masses will build, or in the elitist party, which we definitely oppose, but in what happens to a small group ‘like us’ who know that nothing can be done without the masses, and are with then, but [such small groups of] theoreticians always seem to be around too. So, what is the objectivity that explains their subjectivity…In a word, I was looking for the objectivity of subjectivity.”[xiii] Since the 1953 Letters were so directly concerned with organization, it does not seem possible to “fully concretize” it without doing so organizationally. In a word, we aren’t talking about someone just going off and writing a book that “answers” the problem of dialectics of organization; in fact, Dunayevskaya denied that her planned work on organization would achieve that. We’re instead talking about developing an organization that works out an alternative to capitalism for our time as part of an ongoing, collective project.

This is why, as our Call for Convention stated, “Now that we have created a solid theoretical ground for continuing the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism, we need to turn our attention to how we will build our organization by making the IMHO a viable pole of attraction for activists and thinkers who are searching for a viable alternative to capitalism…. at our upcoming convention, we will need to work out how the IMHO can become an active voice in today’s freedom movements. This will require both new theoretical and philosophic work on our part as well as careful consideration of how we can function more effectively as an organization that engages today’s struggles.”

With this in mind, I’d like to offer a few proposals that may contribute to this collective discussion. To become a more effective organization, as I see it, two things are needed: 1) We need to return to and recover aspects of Marxist-Humanist organizational practice that we may have become distant from, and 2) We must embark on some new practices and approaches that may not have been part of our previous heritage.

I’ll begin with the first. Since we had to separate from N&LC in 2008, it was understandable, and perhaps even necessary, for us to emphasize our break from the organizational practices that dominated that group. However, let’s keep two things in mind: 1) The N&LC of 2008 was not the same organization as the one headed by Raya Dunayevskaya from 1955 to 1987; 2) We cannot advance if we fail to continue and build upon the organizational practices that she sought to develop over that 32 year period.

One aside here in terms of the historic mirror: One of the greatest failures of Marxism after Marx was its assumption that while Marx was the greatest theoretician of socialism, he had little to say about organization. When it came to organization the Marxists took Ferdinand Lassalle as their leader—the man Marx once castigated as “a future workers’ dictator.” The adherence to Lassalle’s ideas of organization characterized all of the leading Marxists—from Kautsky to Lenin, from Luxemburg to Trotsky. They acted on the premise that Marx lacked a concept of organization distinct from all of his rivals. As a result, they separated the organizational practice of Marxism from its theoretical and philosophic content. Today we face a similar problem. Dunayevskaya’s work contains many important theoretical contributions. But have we been as attentive to the organizational practices by which she sought to develop Marxist-Humanism?

Here are some of the organizational practices that we need to recover and renew:

  1. It was a standard practice that: a) The organization’s perspectives were worked out collectively in face-to face dialog in convention, and b) Its decisions informed the work of individual members and chapters for the ensuing two years. This was not a top-down process, since c) We had a 90-day period of intense pre-Convention discussion in which the perspectives to-be were widely discussed. We need to return to all three of these practices, especially now that we are a very diverse, international organization.
  2. The unity of worker and intellectual was always a cardinal principle of Marxist-Humanism. One aspect of that was encouraging workers, and not just intellectuals, to make presentations at our meetings and write for our publications. We now have a great website, but we need to emphasize that you don’t need to be an academic or write a 20-page essay to contribute to it: we need more voices from below, activity articles, and reflections on everyday life from working people.
  3. Marxist-Humanism has made critically important contributions to the understanding of “Black masses as vanguard”; however, in recent years we have had no discussion of this. It is only now, with Jacqueline Jones’ new book,[xiv] which has an entire chapter on the work of Charles Denby (Simon Owens), that the distinctive Marxist-Humanist view of the relation of race and class—and of philosophy to Black workers’ struggles—has been presented to the public. This provides a vital opening that we must take advantage of, if we are to truly live up to Marxist-Humanism’s historic contributions.

Of course, there are also many new practices that we need to develop, such as:

  1. Although Dunayevskaya often spoke of the need for a “philosophic nucleus of practicing dialecticians,” it never emerged in her lifetime. They are many reasons for this that I can’t go into here. But surely one reason was the tendency to repeat conclusions and phrases rather than developing new ideas. We have made great progress in this direction, especially as seen in some of the books we have published. We need more of this kind of creative work, and from a broader array of members.
  2. We need to work more collectively, by having us work as an organization on some common theoretical and philosophic problems ands projects—perhaps by having some kind of coordinated class series or organized discussions via the internet.
  3. Most of all, we should recognize that “dialectics” is not only a matter of theoretical work, crucial as that is; as Dunayevskaya wrote in her essay “Organization, Organization, Organization” in 1979, “It is impossible to be a really good organization person…unless there really has been so total an er-innerung (internalization) of revolutionary dialectic, that it comes as natural as breathing.” Dialectics pertains not only to theory and philosophy but to the most “mundane” aspects of the practical and personal; when that is achieved, we will be on the way to having a new kind of organization.
  4. As far back as the fall of 1986, Dunayevskaya critiqued what she called “the near disappearance” from our vocabulary of the need for organizational growth. There seems to be a history to taking the question of organization for granted—as if it will take care of itself. Surely, we need to re-introduce the “vocabulary” of organizational growth in our praxis today. For this reason, I see no better way to end than to invite all those here who are not now members of the IMHO to join our organization, and thereby achieve new self-development both for themselves as individuals and the group as a whole.

 


 

[i] See “Mapping the Shift from Border to Interior Enforcement of Immigration Laws During the Obama Presidency,” Social Scientists on Immigration Policy [http://stopdeportationsnow.blogspot.com/2013/01]

[ii] Juraj Karalenac, “What’s up with Bosnia,” Controappuntoblog, Feb. 14, 2014.

[iii] Karel Kosík, “The Prague Spring” [1992]. I wish to thank Ivan Landa of the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences for providing me with a translation of this important essay.

[iv] Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, translated by Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin, 1977), p. 166.

[v] See “Germans See World Cup Win as a Symbol of Global Might,” by Alison Smale and Jack Ewing, The New York Times, July 14, 2014, p. A3.

[vi] Paul Krugman, End the Depression Now! (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), p. 22.

[vii] For more on this, see “Unpicking Piketty,” by Michael Roberts, Weekly Worker, Oct. 2013, p. 6.

[viii] Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 4.

[ix] Enzo Paci, The Function of Sciences and the Meaning of Man (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972), p. 289. For an excellent discussion of Paci’s work, see Alessandra Farina, “Praxis and Labor in Kosík’s Dialectics of the Concrete and the Constitutively Needing Nature of the Subject in The Function of the Sciences and the Meaning of Man by Enzo Paci.” Paper delivered to conference on “Karel Kosík and Dialectics of the Concrete,” Prague, Czech Republic, June 7, 2014.

[x] Raya Dunayevskaya, “Presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy of June 1, 1987,” in The Power of Negativity: Selected Writings on the Dialectic in Hegel and Marx, edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002), p. 5.

[xi] Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, in Marx and Engels Collected Works Vol. 24 (New York: International Publishers, 1989), p. 85.

[xii] The Power of Negativity, p. 9.

[xiii] The Power of Negativity, p. 7.

[xiv] See Jacqueline Jones, A Dreadful Conceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

LEAVE A REPLY

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

11 Comments

  1. Matt Owen

    One of the most impressive things I have seen in recent times within the socialist movement was Kevin Anderson of the IMHO speaking at a Socialist Party function: it is almost unheard of that an organisation formed in the process of several splits (Anarchist/Socialist, Socialist/Communist, Stalinist/Trotskyist, Trotskyist/Marxist-Humanist) would circle back around to reexamine the grounds for the earlier splits, or that the prior organisation would welcome this effort.

    We of Mission Solidarity have as our project the gathering together of Inland Empire socialists interested in bringing the struggle for socialism in the 21st Century from Venezuela to our region, taking advantage of the acute crisis of San Bernardino to write and campaign for a socialist city charter: the work of the IHMO is proving to be vital to our effort. We also include Mexican comrades preparing to take the socialist struggle into Mexico, much as the Flores Magon brothers launched their campaign from Los Angeles as part of the Mexican Revolutionary process.

    We will certainly keep the IHMO informed of our progress, and welcome your observations, questions, and comments. Solidarity!

    Reply
  2. Jason Schulman

    My friend and comrade Peter Hudis writes:

    “The adherence to Lassalle’s ideas of organization characterized all of the leading Marxists—from Kautsky to Lenin, from Luxemburg to Trotsky.”

    With all due respect, where is the proof of this? Both the early SPD and the RSDLP (both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) had heated internal debates which were expressed publicly in the party press. Neither were leadership cult; neither practiced “democratic centralism” as we’ve all come to know it.

    I also still don’t understand why IMHO exists as an organization unto itself rather than a tendency/caucus within a larger group which may not be Marxist-Humanist in the strict sense (i.e., basing itself on Raya’s understanding of Marxism) but which defines itself as “democratic socialist” or even “revolutionary democratic socialist.” Shouldn’t all us anti-authoritarian left-wing socialists be working far more closely together by now? There aren’t exactly a lot of us in the U.S.

    Reply
  3. Peter Hudis

    Jason is absolutely right that the SPD and RSDLP had extensive internal democratic debate and neither suffered from the defects of “democratic centralism” as practiced in more recent decades. But that is not what I was referring to in stating that both adhered to Lassallean IDEAS of organization.

    The basic Lassallean idea of organization, which Kautsky took directly from Lassalle and which Lenin directly quoted from Kautsky in “What is to be Done,” is that “the vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia.”

    Most important, the SPD was essentially founded on Lassallean principles in 1875—which is why Marx sharply castigated it in his “Critique of the Gotha Program.” Despite Marx’s sharp critique of the Gotha program, he never published it; Engels first did so after issuing his own sharp critique of the Erfurt Program (the basis of the organizational concepts of the entire Second International, including the RSDLP) in 1891; but Marx’s “Critique” was ignored and remained a dead letter for the Second International. The great divide between Marxian and Lassallean conceptions of organization went unnoticed by virtually all Marxists of that generation—and that continues largely to be the case today.

    I should add that when Marx referred (in a private letter) to Lassalle as “a FUTURE workers’ dictator,” he was not suggesting that Lassalle’s organization (the ADAV) was itself a dictatorship; it too had lively, internal democratic debate. But that didn’t mean that Marx shared its understanding of the role of a revolutionary organization.

    Reply
  4. Jason Schulman

    In response to Peter:

    Well, technically Marx was criticizing the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (SDAP) in 1875. The SDAP became the SPD in 1890.

    I don’t see the non-publishing of the Critique of the Gotha Program as the super-important thing that some others do. The Erfurt Program was not the same as the Gotha Program; it was more Marxist.

    As to Kautsky. He wasn’t the elitist that many think he was. As early as 1903 Kautsky distanced himself from Lasalle’s

    “aphorism on science and the proletariat [that] science…stands above the class struggle. […]When brought to the proletariat from the capitalist class, science is invariably adapted to suit capitalist interests. What the proletariat needs is a scientific understanding of its own position in society. That kind of science a worker cannot obtain in the officially and socially approved manner. The proletarian himself must develop his own theory. [emphasis added] For this reason he must be completely self-taught, no matter whether his origin is academic or proletarian. The object of study is the activity of the proletariat itself, its role in the process of production, its role in the class struggle. Only from this activity can the theory, the self-consciousness of the proletariat, arise.”

    (From “The Intellectuals and the Workers,” Die Neue Zeit Volume XXII, No.4 (1903), http://www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1903/xx/int-work.htm.)

    The “science from the bourgeois intelligentsia” bit refers, I think, to the scientific categories and analysis of capitalism found in Das Kapital. These things don’t automatically pop into the heads of workers, or anyone else; if they did, Marx wouldn’t have had to spend all that time in the British museum in the first place.

    Disavowing the whole of Second International Marxism is a big error that far leftists have been making for almost 100 years. We should stop.

    Reply
  5. Peter Hudis

    Some things are getting conflated here. First, critiquing the programmatic basis of the Second International–the Erfrut Program–is not to “disavow the whole” of it. After all, not everything that happened in the SI, a huge and complex movement, was reducible to that one document. Second, while Marx never underestimated the indispensability of the theoretician–surely, not everyone can write Das Kapital!–Marx never held that the “vehicle of science is the bourgeois intellectual.” The idea of socialism and communism was not created by Marx, nor any other intellectual; it came from below. As Dunayevskaya put it, “If, as a theoretician, one’s ears are attuned to the new impulses from the workers, new ‘categories’ will be created, a new way of thinking, a step forward in philosophic cognition.” The impact of the freedom struggles unleashed during the U.S. Civil War and Paris Commune (keep in mind that the first, 1867 edition didn’t have a section called “The Fetishism of Commodities”) is living proof of this.

    Reply
  6. Jason Schulman

    Peter says: “The idea of socialism and communism was not created by Marx, nor any other intellectual; it came from below.”

    Of course. But that wasn’t what Kautsky meant by “science.” It wasn’t what Lenin meant either. What they meant by “science” was the categories of Das Kapital: value, use and exchange value, surplus value, constant and variable capital, organic composition of capital, etc.

    It was Marx, a bourgeois intellectual (or at least an intellectual with a bourgeois roots) who came up with such categories. Not the proletariat.

    I’ll make what I meant in my previous comment clearer: the far left has been disavowing the Marxism of Karl Kautsky (through 1909) and August Bebel as “not real Marxism” for a very long time. This has been a mistake. We should stop this.

    Reply
  7. Karel Ludenhoff

    Marx’s totality and the notion of science in the Second International

    Without engaging myself in a full discussion about the Marxism of the Second International, I would like to make a critical remark about Jason’s assessment of Kautsky’s notion of the relation between of the social sciences and the proletariat.
    To begin with, as for Kautsky, the outstanding man of this organization, the so called Pope of the Second International, it is good to remember the words Marx wrote to his daughter Jenny about Kautsky in 1881 (!), April 11th:
    “A small- minded mediocrity, clever by half (he is only 26), industrious in a certain way, busies himself with statistics but does not derive anything intelligent from them, belonging by nature to the tribe of philistines.” (In: Raya Dunayeskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, p.195, n.3)
    The argument Jason brings in about Kautsky’s notion of the development of the social sciences by the proletariat itself, its own activity, seems to be a strong one, but actually is a weak one. This becomes clear if we see Kautsky’s notion in the context of the article in Die Neue Zeit to which Jason is referring. If we read this article painstakingly we see Kautsky has a class neutral notion of the natural sciences. This class neutral notion of the natural sciences was disastrous to the development of Marx’s ideas in the Second International—and far beyond that, in Lenin and Gramsci, for example, too. It implies a class neutral notion of the development of the productive forces. This class neutral notion of the productive forces puts the insistence on the growth of these forces instead of on another way (humanized way) of producing. Further, this notion distorts the view on the relation Humankind/ Nature and where we have to differentiate between natural and social phenomena. In other words, Kautsky’s notion of science does not square with the totality of vision enclosed in Marx’s thinking, in which there is a class determination in all these phenomena. All the categories Marx is using and developing are an expression of this totality.
    To make Marx’s “totality of vision” somewhat more concrete, I refer to Marx’s own words, when he is concluding about the “Silesian uprising” (1844): ”We have already seen that a social revolution is found to have the point of view of the whole because— even if it were to occur in only one factory district— it represents man’s protest against a dehumanized life, because it starts out from the point of view of a separate real individual, because the community, against the separation of which from himself the individual reacts, is man’s true community, human nature.” (citation in RLWLKM, p.128)
    Note that Marx came to this notion after breaking in his mind with bourgeois society in 1843.
    Indeed, these ideas and categories do not pop up automatically in the minds of working people and their allies, and that is precisely why Marxist- Humanists as organization try to give these notions substance and try to develop them for our day.

    Reply
  8. Dan Beltaigne

    October 30, 2014

    First, I apologize for these remarks being a bit too brief and perhaps a bit peripheral. If I have time later I will comment further on what I think is an important debate; one which is obviously far from being settled any time soon.
    One of the biggest lies in this capitalist world, one which much even much of the left still suffers from, in my view, is that words/concepts like “neutral,” “objective,” and “scientific,” all mean the same thing. They do not. They did not for Marx, and they should not for us. Marx was anything but neutral, but he was objective and he was scientific. Many would say that Marx was a bourgeois thinker/intellectual. Objectively, there is a certain amount of truth to that. But the greater truth isn’t that he was a working class partisan; because he certainly was that. The greater truth is that he took the higher stage/phase of communist society (that new society that not only has gone beyond value production, the first stage/phase, but gone beyond the bourgeois horizon of so-called equal rights) as his vantage point of all that he analyzed, including all economic categories, which he never tired of reminding his readers that were not so much “thing” as they were relationships that were materialized through the instrumentality of things. It was this vantage point that was at the heart of Marx’s partisanship. And, I would add, that it was this vantage point that made Marx the most objective and scientific of all economists of his time, and I dare say, ours. It was this vantage point that Kautsky didn’t get—and it’s a big thing not to get.

    Reply
  9. sam4wp

    I read Peter Hudis’s excellent piece on “From philosophy to organization and back” from the IMHO web site. It got me to thinking about the question he posed about developing a theory and practice of organization basing it on, and going beyond, what Raya did.

    I have a few thoughts on that which might be worth discussing.

    1. Raya wrote about the “groups like us which always seem to be around.” I think it would be worth looking at what those groups did and did not do, and how it worked out, and why, in revolutionary or near-revolutionary situations of mass struggle.

    2. It might be useful to have discussion around what such groups should do, or should have done, in relation to the struggles in Ukraine and Egypt recently, and possibly even in Occupy.

    These two discussions would force a degree of concretization of the discussion and a dialectical investigation of what kinds of theory/practice relationships take place or should take place.

    These are just some thoughts that may or may not be useful.

    Reply
  10. Jason Schulman

    What Karel says is partly true but mostly irrelevant. If all Kautsky cared about was the development of the productive forces then he would have hailed the industrialization of Russia in the 1930s as a great success. But he didn’t. He was appalled at the human cost. And if he was one to hail productivity for its own sake why would he write in 1888 that “As an exploiter of labour, the state is superior to [i.e. worse than] any private capitalist. Besides the economic power of the capitalists, it can also bring to bear upon the exploited classes the political power which it already wields”?

    Was Kautsky (through 1909, when he was genuinely Marxist) a “perfect Marxist”? No. But there are not perfect Marxists. Not even Raya Dunayevskaya. But given that the only time that Marxism was ever an unambiguously democratic mass movement was during the years when Kautsky was “Pope of Marxism,” might we not look to the man’s strengths — in both theory and practice — as well as his flaws? Or are we content with having a Perfect Understanding of Everything Marx Ever Wrote and yet being totally marginal in our ability to change the world?

    Reply
  11. DR

    “I also still don’t understand why IMHO exists as an organization unto itself rather than a tendency/caucus within a larger group which may not be Marxist-Humanist in the strict sense (i.e., basing itself on Raya’s understanding of Marxism) but which defines itself as “democratic socialist” or even “revolutionary democratic socialist.” Shouldn’t all us anti-authoritarian left-wing socialists be working far more closely together by now? There aren’t exactly a lot of us in the U.S.”

    I agree and I’m actually curious as to whether anyone else has given this much thought. It seems to me that N&L, at least in its present mode of operating, has something of an “outsider looking in” mentality where anything happening in the wider movement is only reported on if an N&L member happens to decide it needs looking at. As a recent ex member of that organisation, I’m interested in how the IMHO goes about such tasks, including whether you think caucus work is viable.

    Reply

FROM THE SAME AUTHOR