What is Marxist-Humanist Internationalism?

What is Marxist-Humanist internationalism? Although a full answer requires a much longer analysis than this piece, the question provides a useful context for evaluating some recent events. So we ask here whether internationalism means (1) establishing an organization with the word “international” in its name, like the International Marxist-Humanist Organization (IMHO) that insists on excluding Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) even though we share its philosophic principles, or whether it means (2) contributing to a world-wide development of Marx’s humanist philosophy of revolution by analyzing capitalism at this historic moment of crisis. We counterpose these two concepts of internationalism in light of the recent practice of organizations calling themselves Marxist-Humanist: on one hand, IMHO’s refusal to recognize the propriety of MHI’s joining with it, and on the other, MHI’s own unique practice of Marxist-Humanist internationalism which focuses on (2) above.

I. IMHO admits it excludes MHI for a reason contrary to its own stated principles.

When IMHO was established earlier this year, it published Principles and invited all who agreed with them to join with it in the new organization. Yet when MHI responded that it was doing so, IMHO  rejected our participation even though we share its philosophic principles, as it well knows (its principles have much in common with our own, both deriving from the years in which our members worked together). Since our earlier report about this matter, MHI has received a second letter from IMHO, again rejecting our participation. What is interesting about the second letter is its outright admission of IMHO’s reason for rejecting MHI: it admits that its action is based not on any principled, philosophic differences, but on our public objection to Peter Hudis’ untrue characterizations of us in an earlier public writing of his. Here is what IMHO wrote in its second letter rejecting MHI’s participation (sent June 18):

“In response to your disingenuous statement of June 6 2010 that you haven’t attacked the IMHO, we would point out that your article of March 19 2010 (‘Hudis Falsely Represents MHI Position on Relationship of Philosophy to Organization’) attacks an IMHO members [sic] who is who is [sic] helping to organise the [IMHO] conference and who serves on the steering committee of the USMH [US Marxist-Humanists] – the body that initiated the conference call in the first place.”

Apparently, IMHO has collapsed itself into Peter Hudis! How else can it claim that our setting the record straight about what this one person wrote about us, in his own name and months before the existence of IMHO, is now equivalent to an attack on IMHO? How bizarre that our setting the record straight on Hudis’ statement is even called an “attack” on Hudis, when it is a factual refutation of his untrue description of us.

Since our only statement about IMHO is our June 1 statement that announced our full agreement with IMHO’s principles and our decision to join with it, this is surely a false and unprincipled reason for excluding us–unless IMHO is really unable to distinguish between itself and Hudis, that is, if it is in fact a clique centered around one person rather than an organization centered around the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism. Dislike of our response to Hudis’ criticism of us is not a legitimate reason for excluding a group which shares IMHO’s principles.1 Surely this is a bureaucratic maneuver to exclude MHI from IMHO for personal or competitive reasons, or even worse, to protect and maintain a clique if not outright cult of personality around Hudis.

In spite of our having been excluded from the formation of IMHO, we said only good things about its Principles. And we attempted to join with it, as the statement invited all who agreed to do. We must continue to insist that we have joined with IMHO, because we cannot allow USMH and IMHO to claim a monopoly on the principles we share. That could mislead people into thinking that MHI’s philosophy is not Marxist-Humanist. So we join with IMHO even though we remain unrecognized and relegated to a special, lowly class of members, lacking the right to participate in any of its functions–contrary to all principles of Marxist-Humanist organization.

By their refusal to recognize our existence and right to join with IMHO, our former comrades boxed themselves into having to admit outright their real reason for excluding us, which is an illegitimate one. Their June letter is an admission that they simply eschew principle when it comes to their wish for exclusive control. This is cliquish behavior, just like the clique that took over News and Letters Committees three years ago and pushed out half the members (see “Why a New Organization?”). There is a lesson in this sad repetition of principle-jettisoning when one’s clique’s control is threatened: those who refuse to examine history more deeply than by repeating “News and Letters lacked an understanding of philosophy,” are bound to succumb to the pull of the same bad practices that infected News and Letters.

IMHO/USMH have made clear that they don’t want us to participate because we spoke up to correct Hudis’ gross public misrepresentations of us in our article “Hudis Falsely Represents MHI Position on Relationship of Philosophy to Revolution,” which also calls for cooperation among Marxist-Humanists. In addition to the fact that our document has nothing to do with IMHO and is not an “attack” on anyone, one wonders: Is it IMHO’s policy to expel anyone who says anything critical about another member, or just anything critical of its leaders? We hope that this policy appears in the rules that IMHO said it was going to produce at its recent conference, the one we were excluded from. The public has yet to see any information about IMHO’s structure or rules. What about the case in which one person or group has told falsehoods about another? Apparently, IMHO is unconcerned with truth, honesty, and proper debating tactics.

We believe in rational argument, not attacks, and we have refrained from saying publicly (or, for that matter, privately) anything about Hudis’ organizations or their members which is not political, philosophical, and/or organizational–and true. We value honesty and openness, and condemn lies and gossip. But USMH cannot say the same. In addition to Hudis’ essay perpetuating lies about us, as “Hudis Falsely” details, USMH and IMHO’s public statements criticizing unspecified organizations in the abstract are clearly aimed at us. How else to explain critiques that seem to come out of nowhere and seem absurd? For only one example: IMHO’s call for a conference says, seemingly gratuitously, in its third sentence, that Marxist-Humanism is not “a mere set of organizational statutes and rules that guards against the threat of bureaucratic practices,” followed, in a dizzying juxtaposition, by a statement that it is instead “a philosophy of liberation.” Of course that statement is true, but no one ever said anything to the contrary! It is obviously meant to imply that MHI thinks Marxist-Humanism is “a mere set of organizational statutes…”  In truth, our Principles and By-Laws stress the integrality of philosophy and organization, and they do not even mention bureaucratic practices. IMHO’s silly juxtaposition is undoubtedly part of USMH’s attempts to claim that we are somehow less “philosophical” than they are because we created a new structure and conduct ourselves in accordance with rules.

A pattern of behavior has emerged in which Hudis and USMH apparently think they can state any lie at all as long as it doesn’t actually name us, even if it is clear to anyone familiar with our shared history and current organizations that it means to defame us. They seem to think this is a proper standard of behavior, but it is not. We suggest that IMHO be honest enough to recognize that USMH has been on a campaign to discredit MHI. Perhaps USMH is still trying to justify the fact that its future members broke up the interim organization to which we all belonged in March 2009, without any notice to or consultation with our future members, and that they refused to consider an umbrella organization when we raised the idea then, and that USMH has not had one word to say to us since it pre-arranged that vote, and it has done its utmost to exclude us from IMHO and to alienate our mutual friends from us.

Anyone can start an “international” organization (or pancake restaurant) by declaring it to be international. Now apparently not only News and Letters, but other organizations that call themselves Marxist-Humanist, violate essential principles of Marxist-Humanism by operating though bureaucratic edicts or cults of personality. The proofs of internationalism and of Marxist-Humanism lie not in an organization’s name, but in the content of that organization’s practice.

2.  MHI practices internationalism by engaging in international cooperation to develop theory that can help transcend capitalism.

Although MHI doesn’t have the word “international” in our name, our organization is open to international members and supporters. Today, it is possible to actually have an organization without borders–just as the working class has no borders–and that is our orientation. More important than one’s name or location, we believe, is the content of one’s organizational practice. In our view, there exists a Marxist-Humanist form of practice of internationalism, and it does not consist of signing up old friends overseas to merge with a particular U.S. group. Rather, it consists of contributing theoretically to the development of Marxist-Humanist philosophy in light of objective events internationally and in partnership with people around the world who also see Marx’s theory as a force for revolution.

MHI is internationalist in the Marxist tradition because we are engaged internationally in sharing and deepening Marxist-Humanist ideas pertinent to this period of world economic crisis. Recent visits to England, France, and Argentina, as well as international correspondence and conferences, have revealed an interest outside the U.S. in the recovery of Marx’s Marxism and the development of its meaning for today, and, specifically, an appreciation for the theoretical and empirical work that MHI has produced to date.

MHI’s analyses of the crisis are being discussed internationally and are becoming rallying points for those who oppose current popular Left analyses that lead away from Marx and revolutionary change. Works published on our website and in print2 are finding audiences and discussants overseas among those who see the failings of the popular Left idea that this is an irreducibly financial crisis. Some actual Marxists do remain in the world, and they are happy to find our work: people who reject the notion that the latest crisis is a crisis of “neoliberalism/financialized capitalism” instead of a crisis of capitalism, and who reject the politics that flow from this (or create it). They are joining us in discussing and spreading what we have presented in order to elaborate Marx’s concept of crisis for today.

Such work is the practice of dialectics. It consists of digging into the essence and functioning of capitalism in order to understand what must be uprooted and transcended. We need to understand capitalism before we can envision with any concreteness a social transformation in which capitalism will be replaced with a mode of production planned and run by freely associated workers. We believe that this practice, and not factional maneuvering dressed up as “internationalism,” is what the world needs from an organization claiming a Marxist-Humanist philosophy.

Our model is the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, who analyzed 20th century events–the transformation of the Russian Revolution into state-capitalism; the Third World national revolutions that, once in power, chose the capitalist road over relying on their own resource of “human power”; Mao’s substitution of voluntarism for workers’ and peasants’ self-development in China. All were compared and contrasted by her to Marx’s categories of capitalism and to what its abolition would mean. Her theory zoomed in on, and revealed the economic relations at the heart of, all seemingly political positions. In this tradition, we are looking at the actual fall in the rate of profit underlying the current crisis (see “The Persistent Fall in Profitability Underlying the Current Crisis”) in order to discern its implications for capitalism’s transcendence.

Inextricably related to understanding this moment of capitalism is the problematic of what has to be changed in order to break with it and begin a new society based on a new mode of production. MHI is not merely talking about this question as needing to be theorized; rather, we have taken the plunge into beginning to work out some of the questions involved. We have presented some ideas in our public talks this year, most recently presentations in London on “What must be changed in order to transcend capitalism?”

We are engaged in this work not to vindicate Marx or ourselves, but to give Marx’s Marxism a chance to flourish and become a “force for revolution,” as Raya Dunayevskaya called the power of ideas. Only an actual revolution in the mode of production will give the world a chance to create a truly socialist society. This cannot come about if we stop at analyzing the phenomena of capitalism without working out how it generates its own destruction and lays the ground for releasing a new mode of production that entails and engenders new human relations.

IMHO’s practices are insufficient to meet the challenge of the times because its principles remain abstract (in addition to being controverted by its practice). A truly international Marxist-Humanist organization cannot be declared successful when, like IMHO, it is a mere organizational regroupment. A truly international Marxist-Humanist organization only begins to succeed if it engages in the process of developing an international, concrete dialogue that actually begins to develop answers to the vital problematics of today and tomorrow.

Put in terms of dialectical philosophy, the hollowness of IMHO’s declarations of “success” in articles about its recent conference, is described by this passage in Hegel’s Science of Logic:

“The impatience that insists merely on getting beyond the determinate–whether called beginning, object, the finite, or in whatever other form it be taken–and finding itself immediately in the absolute, has before it as cognition nothing but the empty negative, the abstract infinite; in other words, a presumed absolute that is presumed because it is not posited, not grasped; grasped it can only be through the mediation of cognition, of which the universal and immediate is a moment, but the truth itself resides only in the extended course of the process and in the conclusion.” (A.V. Miller translation, Humanities Paperback edition, pp. 841-842)

IMHO presents itself as being “immediately in the absolute,” when the “international” in its name is merely an “empty negative” of “national.” Declaring oneself international is hardly original and does nothing to work out the dialectic of Marxism needed in these times. Restoring and developing Marx and Dunayevskaya’s Marxism is still the task that remains to be done.

Marxist-Humanist Initiative

September 12, 2010

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1. Also illegitimate is the letter’s reference to us as “a group which has declared both the USMH and LCC [London Corresponding Committee] as its ‘enemies’.” This fabrication is apparently a reference to a letter we wrote to the LCC’s publication, The Hobgoblin, in which we complained that it had made itself our enemy by publishing only Hudis’ misrepresentations of us and not answering any of our many letters asking it to publish our response. We never “declared” anyone our enemy–we never even mentioned USMH or IMHO. IMHO’s letter to us gets backwards who has made whom into an enemy; its exclusion of us from participation in its organization is the best evidence of that.

2. Including, among others, “Appearance and Essence: Neoliberalism, Financialization, and the Underlying Crisis of Capitalist Production” and “The Persistent Fall in Profitability Underlying the Current Crisis: New Temporalist Evidence.”


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