As the global capitalist economy spirals ever deeper into the most severe and acute crisis since the Great Depression, we are proud to respond by announcing the formation of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative. This new U.S. organization is a freely associated collective that seeks to rebuild an organization capable of projecting, developing, and concretizing the bodies of ideas of Karl Marx and of Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987), who founded Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. We aim to renew the legacy of Marxist-Humanism for the new times in which we live.
Our members are among the people forced out of News and Letters Committees (N&LC) in 2008 — nearly half the membership — by a clique that seized control of its assets and violated its Constitution and principles in order to suppress dissent. We had been expected to do the major work of the organization, including the significant theoretical work, but we were not permitted to make major decisions. Nor could we effectively stop members from substituting personal opinions that differed wildly from the Perspectives Theses we approved annually, for the organization’s own positions. We were expected to continue serving the needs of members whose only interests and contributions were to write for the newspaper or attend meetings of a talking-shop, or who publicly misrepresented Dunayevskaya and Marx’s philosophies, or who publicly presented their personal views but not those of the organization.
When we formed a tendency to try to change the direction of the organization and to instill some fairness into the control of finances and decision-making, we were ignored. When we attempted to employ the Constitution to remedy matters, we were summarily suspended, without a hearing and without being informed in advance of the charges against us, all in violation of the Constitution. A special convention was called without stating its purpose (undoubtedly to expel us). We were locked out of the office, website and e-mail account—effectively rendered non-persons. We had no choice but to leave last May.
The underlying disputes within N&LC concerned the nature and direction of the philosophy and organization: the meaning of Marx for today, and whether Dunayevskaya’s work was to be continued or, as the group that pushed us out favored, frozen in time. Their relationship to the Marxism of Marx had become more tenuous with each passing year since the death of Dunayevskaya. Unwilling and unable to treat Marxist-Humanism or Marx’s Marxism as a “live body of ideas in need of concretization,” as Dunayevskaya had characterized the latter, News and Letters failed to respond meaningfully to the changed world situation brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union, just as it is unable now to respond meaningfully to the economic crisis.
The people who were forced out of N&LC set up a temporary working group of individuals, called the Marxist-Humanist Committee (MHC), which sought to re-found a Marxist-Humanist organization. But that effort proved to be a still-birth. Against our will, the MHC was dissolved last month.
Those of us now forming the Marxist-Humanist Initiative were critical of parts of N&LC’s organizational structure and all its undemocratic practices following Dunayevskaya’s death. We regard them as factors that contributed significantly to its philosophical regression and inability to renew Marxist-Humanism as a living philosophy. We sought to establish a different kind of organization. We vowed that never again would we allow decades of hard work spent building a Marxist-Humanist organization, and the results of that work, to be destroyed by cliques and by members who sought to make the organization serve their individual purposes rather than the tasks of Marxist-Humanism itself. We therefore sought to establish a fair, open, non-hierarchical organization capable of protecting itself against cliques and attempts to make it serve ulterior ends — an organization worth rebuilding because it would be stable and resilient enough to withstand efforts to divert it from the task of continuing and renewing the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism.
Others in the MHC did not take these organizational goals seriously. They resisted efforts to examine the organizational dimension of N&LC’s philosophical retrogression and to do things differently in a new organization. The majority of the MHC hoped that, solely by virtue of having a different philosophical orientation, its different set of people would be able to withstand the pull of retrogression to which N&LC had succumbed. This diremption of philosophy from organization, however, soon led those members of the MHC to replicate many of the same practices that they themselves had been victims of only months before.
Rushing to “go public” and insisting that philosophic agreement by itself was a sufficient basis for organizational unity, the majority could not resolve the contradictions inherited by the MHC, and they began to operate like N&LC. Some grossly and repeatedly misrepresented the positions of others, some retroactively re-interpreted the meaning of facts and decisions we had voted on, some just violated those decisions, and some threw mud. The philosophy of Marxist-Humanism came to be seen as embodied in one person, and “philosophic agreement” came to mean unquestioning support for that person on all “fundamental issues.”
The MHC had a rule that members must respect dissent and the formation of minority currents, but when we formed a current, the leaders of the MHC simply ignored our request that the organization discuss and consider adopting our principles, as well as our request that they inform us of our rights as a current within the organization. Meanwhile, some members secretly maneuvered behind the scenes, lining up the votes they needed to pass motions before we had a chance to discuss and debate them. Finally, to our complete surprise, a motion was made by e-mail to dissolve the organization, and members were told they had only a day and a half to discuss it. Our current’s counterproposal to form an umbrella organization, so that two currents could work together on matters of common concern, was summarily rebuffed, without any organization-wide consideration at all.
The diremption of philosophy from organization practiced by the other members of the MHC impelled them to force it to collapse over differences about “form of organization,” even though we did not have differences about philosophy. Ironically, although they claimed to regard philosophical differences as primary and form of organization as separate and secondary, they refused to continue to work with us, despite our shared philosophical outlook, merely because we and they favored different forms of organization. Thus the people who claimed that philosophical agreement alone was a sufficient basis for unity refused to unite with other Marxist-Humanists with whom they were in philosophical agreement. Philosophical agreement, while necessary, proved to be an insufficient basis for unity by itself.
Thus, we are now on our own as the U.S. continuators of the perspective, propounded by Dunayevskaya, of overcoming the separation of revolutionary organization from the philosophy of revolution. The Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) is the sole U.S. proponent of the perspective of rebuilding an organization capable of projecting, developing, and concretizing Marx’s Marxism and Marxist-Humanism, in order to renew the Marxist-Humanist tradition for our time. (The other groups calling themselves Marxist-Humanist are not trying to rebuild, and their structures and practices undermine the rebuilding of, such an organization.) The challenge is daunting and success is certainly not assured. We have no illusion that we are now that organization, but we hope to be a bridge to such a new kind of organization.
Our website will soon contain documentation supporting the facts we allege in this short statement, and we intend to publish continued discussion on the relationship between revolutionary philosophy and its organizational expression.
Our members are few but diverse in age, gender, color, and ethnicity. Some members have decades of experience in N&LC, including working with Dunayevskaya, and in many radical movements. Others are thoughtful, bright and energetic youth who we hope will be the nucleus of Marxist-Humanism’s next generation. All of us are dedicated to developing aspects of Marx’s theory for today and to establishing a collective, fair, and sustainable form of working that is based in our revolutionary philosophy.
We hope you will read our Principles and By-Laws; we think they reflect important steps forward. Whether you are in the U.S. or abroad, if you share our aims, please contact us and help support our work.