Workshop/Classes on Current Events and the Dialectical Method
Learn about Revolutionary Journalism with Marxist-Humanists
Workshop/Classes on Current Events
and the Dialectical Method
Marxist-Humanist Initiative is proud to announce a series of five workshop/classes that seek to bring the dialectical method to bear on current events. We hope to further develop our capabilities as what Raya Dunayevskaya called “practicing dialecticians.”
Each workshop/class will focus on current events rather than philosophical or theoretical readings. As part of his or her presentation, the presenter will include a draft of a short article (200–600 words) for With Sober Senses, MHI’s online publication, which discusses an event that took place during the last week or two. Other participants will also come prepared to discuss recent events related to the topic of the particular workshop/class session.
Philosophical, theoretical, and other materials are listed in the full description of the workshop/class series. They are included in order to help the presenter and other participants reflect upon and analyze current events related to the session’s topic. In other words, they are background materials, and not the focus of the presentation, the draft article for With Sober Senses, or the discussion.
This workshop/class series is modeled on the original one that Dunayevskaya developed a quarter-century ago. When proposing it, she stressed that “[t]he meaning of the event is grounded in the event itself,” and that “we [will] approach a current event not in an abstract manner, but concretely.” However, she cautioned, what “concrete” means here is not the event in the form in which it immediately appears––to our senses, or in the mainstream or Left media––but the essence of the event, “which flows from Concept.”
The primary goal of the series is to further develop ourselves as practicing dialecticians, rather than to host a public discussion. The series is therefore intended especially for Members and Supporters of Marxist-Humanist Initiative. However, we would also like to invite others who wish to participate in these working sessions. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be invited to participate in person or electronically.
The first workshop/class will be held on August 9, 2011, in New York City..If you wish to attend but cannot come in person, then you can watch and listen to a video streaming on your computer and can write us your questions and comments during the actual workshop/class. If you can’t join us in real time, then you can view a video on a private page of our website shortly after the workshop/class and can correspond with us about it.
Please apply right away if you wish to be invited, so we can get you the preparatory materials and make arrangements for your participation. [last two paragraphs added July 29, 2011]
The Recession and its Aftermath; Workers’ Revolts and Marx’s Capital
The financial crisis and the Great Recession continue to have consequences. The future is especially uncertain, and “the new normal” may prove to be very difficult, economically and politically. The recovery in the U.S. is sluggish and possibly faltering, there is an acute government-debt crisis in Europe, and government budgetary problems there and in the U.S. have triggered a worldwide drive on the part of capital to impose austerity. In this first workshop/class, we will try to understand these phenomena. We will also explore whether and how opposition from below and from Marxist-Humanist thought can open up possibilities for an emancipatory alternative.
Raya Dunayevskaya, “Is a New World Recession Coming?,” News & Letters, Jan.–Feb. 1977.
This article, by Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S., was written at a moment somewhat similar to our own. The global recession had ended, but there was not a strong recovery, and “Big Business and its ideologists” were worried that it was stalling. The article should be studied for insights it may provide into how Marxist-Humanist journalism can respond to a somewhat similar situation today. [If you are interested in more of Dunayevskaya’s journalism on the topic, you may also wish to read her “Deep U.S. Recession and the Myriad Global Crises,” News & Letters, Jan-Feb. 1975.]
“The Battle Continues in Wisconsin,” The Real News, http://therealnews.com/t2/ index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=6936rite.
Norman J. Ornstein, “How Republican Governors Could Help Obama in 2012,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-republican-governors-could-help-obama-in-2012.
Wisconsin Governor Walker’s austerity and anti-worker proposals are now the law, and the battle against them is no longer front-page news. Yet even though capital has won the class battle, the class war is not over. “The Battle Continues in Wisconsin” is a short video that focuses on the latest stage of protest in Wisconsin. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, discusses the broad nationwide opposition to austerity policies.
“Chinese university students investigate life on the factory floor,” China Labour Bulletin, http://www.china-labour.org.hk/en/node/100834.
The authors write, “If you go into a factory in search of the ‘working class,’ or ‘class consciousness,’ the result will most likely be disappointment.” It will therefore be helpful to read the facts and draw one’s own conclusions. [If you are interested in more information on how the global recession affected China, you may also wish to read pp. 9–17 of Going it Alone: The Workers’ Movement in China (2007-2008), available at http://www.chinalabour.org.hk/en/files/share/File/research_reports/workers_movement_07-08_print_final.pdf, and/or pp. xxx–xxx of A Failure of Capitalist Production (see below).]
Karl Marx, selections from sections 2 and 3 of chapter 15 of Capital: A critique of political economy, vol. 3.
Andrew Kliman, selections from chapters 1 and 9 of A Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession.
David McNally, “Contours of Crisis,” interview with David McNally, Upping the Anti 8, 2009.
Marx needs no introduction; Kliman is a contemporary Marxist-Humanist theorist. McNally is a professor of political science and a supporter of the New Socialist Group, Solidarity’s sister organization in Canada.
These selections are theoretical; they should be studied for insights they may provide into the causes of the recession and the subsequent failure of the economy to rebound strongly. The selections from Capital and chapter 1 of A Failure of Capitalist Production deal with the relationship between economic crisis, recession, and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Some of the selections from chapter 9 of A Failure of Capitalist Production critique proposed Leftist and Left-leaning solutions to the economic crisis; others put forward an alternative rooted in Marxist-Humanism.
McNally, in this interview, argues against the view that global capitalism has failed to recover from the crises of the 1970’s: “The evidence demonstrates, in my view, that there was a sustained neoliberal expansion from 1982 to 1997, centered particularly in East Asia. Wage repression, lean production, spatial reorganization, and industrial and financial restructuring raised the rate of exploitation of workers and underpinned a period of substantial growth.” As well, McNally comments on political openings presented to the Left by the crisis: “Imagine, for instance, what might be achieved by radical forces significant enough to reframe the ‘bailout debate’ by insisting that no public funds be given to auto companies without guaranteeing every job, preserving union contracts, and converting ‘excess’ factories to green products (solar panels, or fuel-efficient diesel buses).”.
The “Youthquake” in the Middle East and North Africa:
What Happens After the Revolution?
The purpose of this Workshop/Class is to analyze an aspect of the “Arab Spring” and now summer, and to consider where the revolutions may lead. Recent events illustrate, on one hand, the power of youth to spearhead revolutions, on the other hand, the crucial questions they are raising about what they and the workers and women who removed the dictators can do now to really change people’s conditions of life.
Questions that might be addressed include: Can youthful idealism translate into actual “control” of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries in order to work toward freedom, equality, and prosperity? Can small economies, dominated by international capital, create jobs for the unemployed, develop or continue social services, and lessen exploitation? Similar questions faced the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the many Third World revolutions of the post-World War II era, all of which failed to develop into sustainable, socialist societies. Are today’s spreading revolutions in a better position to succeed because they are dominated by tech savvy, internationalist youth? Are their ideas realizable within capitalism, and if not, might they be catalysts for a world-wide break with capital?
We use the phrase “what happens after the revolution?”––a major concept in the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya in critiquing the 20th century’s revolutions—in the sense of viewing current events from the standpoint of Karl Marx’s vision of the future.
Karl Marx, The Critique of the Gotha Program, section 3.
The Critique of the Gotha Program is key to all the workshop/classes, as it contains the most detailed and last word from Marx on his vision of a socialist society. In it, he critiques a political program that aims to (slightly) re-distribute political power and material goods without uprooting value production; this contradicts his life work of showing how capitalist (in)human relations flow from the mode of production. He also gives some description of what must be changed immediately upon the overthrow of capitalism in order to lay the basis for a new society.
Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom, chapter 14 (“Stalin”).
Her analysis illustrates how the pull of world capitalism made it inevitable that the Russian Revolution would turn into its opposite, an even more exploitative and repressive form of capitalism.
Raya Dunayevskaya, Nationalism, Communism, Marxist-Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions.
Even before many of the post-revolutionary, former colonial countries gave up trying to develop a “third way” (following neither the West nor East), Dunayevskaya warned that the tendency to create new divisions between rulers and ruled could perpetuate class divisions and undermine the revolutions’ objectives.
Raya Dunayevskaya’s 1983 lecture on youth OR her “Letter to the Youth” in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 7803ff, or another piece on youth.
On the MENA revolutions: Class participants may select some reports and analyses from the following or other sources, in addition to MHI’s With Sober Senses articles:
(1) Al Jazeera-English (http://www.livestation.com/channels/3-al-jazeera-english-english); Middle East Report (http://www.merip.org/); Egyptian Association for Change (http://eacusa.org/); Mona Eltahawy (http://www.monaeltahawy.com/);
(2) New York Times: Some recent articles include “Clashes Ease in Cairo, but Underline Nation’s Fragile Condition,” June 30, 2011, p. A10, “Coalition of Factions from the Streets Fuels a New Opposition in Syria, July 1, 2011, p. A4, “Thousands in Cairo Return to Tahrir Square to Protest the Slow Pace of Change,” p. A8 and “With Police Forces Absent, Protest Surge in Syrian City Infamous for a 1982 Crackdown,” p. A1, both July 2, 2011. You can substitute later articles or other sources.
(3) On the U.S.’ control of Egypt’s and others’ economies through international trade pacts, see Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (http://www.citizen.org/documents/FinanceReregulationFactSheetFINAL.pdf); Our World is Not for Sale Network (http://www.ourworldisnotforsale.org/)..
The State-Capitalist Mindset, Then and Now
Today, as a result of the most significant economic crisis since the Great Depression, we are witnessing a new manifestation of state-capitalism. In an effort to hold the system together, policymakers in both the Bush and the Obama administrations turned to measures aimed at increasing state control of the economy, including nationalization of property. And, despite the well known horrors of the Soviet and Chinese experiences, state-capitalism remains a strong pole of attraction for the Left. Many on the Left, in an effort find a way out of our crisis-ridden system, have embraced state control over the economy as an alternative, often conflating changes in property forms with changes in the mode of production. This third workshop/class explores the continued pull of state-capitalism––masquerading as “communism” and “socialism”––on the Left, with a special focus on China.
Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, “Constituted Value or Synthetic Value,” http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/poverty-philosophy/ch01b.htm.
Marx’s critique of political economy focused not only on bourgeois thinkers but also on thinkers of the Left who failed to workout a thoroughgoing and liberatory alternative to capital. This selection is from the second section of the first chapter of Marx’s 1847 critique of the French anarchist thinker Pierre Proudhon. Focus especially on Marx’s claim that Proudhon “… give[s] as a ‘revolutionary theory of the future’ what Ricardo expounded scientifically as the theory of present-day society, of bourgeois society, and that he should thus take for the solution of the antinomy between utility and exchange value what Ricardo and his school presented long before him as the scientific formula of one single side of this antinomy, that of exchange value.”
Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom, chapter 17, “The Challenge of Mao Tse-Tung.”
The Marxist-Humanist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya advanced a unique concept of “state-capitalism.” Dunayevskaya understood state-capitalism as a new global stage of capitalism, marked by permanent state intervention in the economy, that emerged in the 1930s and posited the struggles and revolts of workers, women, and the Third World as engendering its opposite. In this selection from Marxism and Freedom, focus especially on the section entitled “In place of a Conclusion: Two Kinds of Subjectivity.” Dunayevskaya in analyzing state-capitalism in the U.S.S.R. often focuses on the distortion of Marx’s economic concepts, while in analyzing state-capitalism in Mao’s China she tends to focus more on the distortion of Marx’s philosophic concepts. What might the Left today — not just Maoists but all those who place an emphasis on politics, ideology, and culture independently of material conditions in social transformation — learn from Dunayevskaya’s critique of Mao’s distortions of Marx?
Minqi Li, “The Rise of the Working Class and the Future of the Chinese Revolution,” Monthly Review, June 2011, http://monthlyreview.org/2011/06/01/the-rise-of-the-working-class-and-the-future-of-the-chinese-revolution.
Li, influenced by both Maoism and Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory, advances themes of his The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (2008) in this recent piece. Focus especially on the section on “The Socialist Legacy: The State Sector Working Class” (p. 42-44). Here Li argues that “[i]n the Maoist socialist era, the Chinese workers enjoyed a level of class power and dignity unimaginable by an average worker in a capitalist state” and that given their “unique historical experience in both the socialist period and the capitalist period” China’s state sector workers, with “the help of revolutionary socialist intellectuals,” “could emerge as the leadership of the entire Chinese working class and give future Chinese Workers’ movements a clear revolutionary socialist direction.”
John Weeks, Capital, Exploitation and Economic Crisis, chapter 11, Section E, “Controlling Capitalism.”
In this selection Weeks, Professor Emeritus at the University of London, argues that state control of the economy holds the promise of “capitalism without severe crises” and an “end [to] the profoundly anti-democratic role of capital in dictating economic and social policy.” Can capital be “controlled” or “managed”? Were the leaders of the Soviet Union, China, and other state-capitalist regimes able to control the economy, or did the economy control them? Is Weeks’ view that capitalism can be controlled consistent with that of Marx, who emphasized the movement of capital, self-expanding value, as unbounded and limitless?.
The Capitalist System Today vs. the Revolts of Women, Black, and Indigenous Peoples
This workshop/class highlights the increasingly sharp contradictions breaking out from within the world-wide capitalist behemoth. Since the fall of so-called “Communism” 20 years ago, the unchallenged might of the U.S. has allowed it to carry on wars, dominate the world economy, and repress those at home and abroad with impunity. In spite of this, however, the world economy is extremely fragile—and the U.S. is becoming less able to control economic and political events by the day.
The capitalist system is inherently unstable due to its internal contradictions, and it generates more instability by producing working people’s revolts against it. As Marx put it, it produces its own gravediggers. Among these today are women, Black, and Indigenous people, whose specific outlooks and interests enhance the revolutionary process. In “Black” we include African, African American, and Caribbean people; all have been in near continuous revolt for hundreds of years, and through their interconnectedness bring a special international dimension to revolution.
Over the past 30 years in Latin America, Indigenous peoples’ movements for civil rights and self-determination, like the Zapatistas in Mexico and the movements from which Evo Morales arose in Bolivia, have become inseparable from their struggles to preserve their environment and to fight the loss of their land, water, and resources, and climate change. In Africa, the fall of apartheid in South Africa and of some dictators like in Kenya has nonetheless left neo-colonialism and capital in control, so that new struggles are on-going against “democratic” as well as dictatorial regimes. Iran has been in continuous protest since the religious establishment hijacked the 1979 revolution, and especially for the past two years, with women taking the lead, and despite intense repression. In the U.S., recent decades have brought new movements by African Americans against racism, police repression, and incarceration of youth; by women for reproductive freedom and an end to discrimination; by GLBTs for equality and civil rights; and by Latino, Asian, and other immigrants and minorities for citizenship rights and improved working conditions. The preparatory materials for this class explore the history and theory underlying today’s mass movements for change, as well as some contradictions within them.
Raya Dunayevskaya, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, chapter 12, sections 1 and 2.
Here Dunayevskaya takes up Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks in which he examines women and the Third World, and his study and projection of the possibility of Russia going from a peasant society to socialism.
Raya Dunayevskaya, Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution: Reaching for the Future. Chapter 2, “The Miners’ Wives”; chapter 7, “The Black Dimension in Women’s Liberation”; chapter 9, “Iran: Unfoldment of, and Contradictions in, Revolution”; and “Introduction and Overview.”
This is a brief sampling of Dunayevskaya’s writings on “the movement from practice which is itself a form of theory” over 50 years, and her “overview” of her own development of the complementary concept of “movement from theory.”
Raya Dunayevskaya, Philosophy and Revolution; From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao. Excerpts from chapters 1 and 9.
These selections reveal a relation between philosophic concepts and history; here, between Hegel’s dialectic and the development of mass movements in the U.S. in the 1960s.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” http://www.maldura.unipd.it/dllags/docentianglo/materiali_oboe_lm/2581_001.pdf
With Sober Senses (http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/our-publication). Articles on South Africa’s Shack Dwellers movement for housing, International Women’s Day 2011 around the world, Haitian and Latin American struggles, Indian health and environmental struggles, women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more. Also, see the articles on U.S. movements in the “U.S. News” section.
Please explore the many resources on the Bolivian and other recent Latin American peasant movements of Indigenous people, which have often been led by women. Two sources are the NACLA Report on the Americas (http://nacla.org) (see e.g. NACLA’s vol. 43, no. 5, entitled “After Recognition: Indigenous Peoples Confront Capitalism”), and Weekly News Update (http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/). Both also contain some articles on immigrants’ mass actions in the U.S..
The Road from Marx’s Last Decade to Today:
Revolutionary journalism and “the absolute method”
The purpose of this final workshop/class is the same as the purpose of the last of the workshop/classes that Raya Dunayevskaya developed 25 years ago: “It is a sum-up of what achievements, if any, occurred in the other … sessions. This brief retrospective look is not as repetition but in the nature of a Perspective.”
As in the other workshop/classes, the main presenter will present a draft of a one- or two-page article of a recent current event. But because this session is a sum-up that reflects on the earlier sessions of the workshop/classes series, the specific topic is left for the presenter to choose.
In the 1980s, a key element of Dunayevskaya’s practice of the method of “retrospective as perspective” was her return to Marx’s “new moments,” during the last decade of his life, as “a trail to the 1980s.” We want to practice that method here––but as a trail from Marx’s last decade, through the 1980s, to the 2010s. Thus, key questions to keep in mind are those that pertain to new problems that have arisen during the last quarter-century.
(1) The idea of “the movement from practice” has become a kind of common sense for the Left. Nor is it unpopular in the university (see, e.g., James Scott’s “everyday resistance”). Given that these types of ideas are so readily accepted, why are Dunayevskaya’s advances over them, and her call for a new relationship of theory to practice, almost entirely unrecognized?
(2) The end of the Soviet Union two decades ago marked the end of the Stalinist Left’s ability to promote an alternative. It also marked the beginning of the end of almost the whole anti-Stalinist Left, which defined itself in opposition to Stalinism without working out what it was for. How can we transcend the widespread refusal on the Left, including that of groups which call themselves Marxist-Humanist, to deal with and resolve this internal contradiction?
(3) The most obvious new problem is that the economic crisis has called into question both the stability and the viability of capitalism, but most of the Left avoids discussion of these issues.
Raya Dunayevskaya’s discussion of the final (6th) workshop/class, in “New Beginnings that Determine the End,” Dec. 29, 1985.
Raya Dunayevskaya, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, chapter 12, “The Last Writings of Marx Point a Trail to the 1980s.”
One of the “last writings” considered here is Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program. It may be helpful to read relevant parts of it alongside Dunayevskaya’s discussion of it.
Raya Dunayevskaya, Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao. Excerpts from chapter 1, section B.
This reading may be helpful for an understanding of the concept of “absolute method.”
Raya Dunayevskaya’s May 8, 1984 critique of News and Letters Committees.
Membership of Marxist-Humanist Initiative, “The Self-Thinking Idea Does Not Mean You Thinking,” Oct. 8, 2009.
In her critique, Dunayevskaya charged that the leaders and other members of News and Letters Committees “do not work hard at theory,” “keep taking it for granted,” act “as if repeating conclusions can be called theoretic development,” and “portray activity as if that is theory.” When reflecting on this critique, it may be helpful to keep in mind the failure of the anti-Stalinist left to transcend its attitude of bare negation (which Hegel called “first negation). When rereading the MHI statement, it may be helpful to reflect on the relationship between the above problems and other groups’ abandonment of the task of renewing Marxist-Humanist philosophy and theory organizationally.