Hudis Falsely Represents MHI Position on Relationship of Philosophy to Organization

Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) strongly objects to an essay by Peter Hudis called “Towards an Organizational History of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. (1)” [1] for its gross misrepresentation of our members’ past statements and, by implication, MHI’s view of the relationship between philosophy and organization. Hudis’ essay claims that, in discussions surrounding the departure of half the membership of News and Letters Committees (N&LC) in 2008, some of usargued that conceptual differences were not the basis of the split, or at least were not as important as N&LC’s deficiencies on an organizational level.” The fact is that none of us ever said or implied any such thing.

Although Hudis does not name the “some” people who he claimsargued that conceptual differences were not the basis of the split …,” there is no doubt that his remarks are meant to characterize the MHI, especially because his piece repeats word-for-word the same preposterous accusation he leveled at some of us in July 2008.

At that time, former members of N&LC were working together in an exploratory committee, Marxist-Humanist Committee (MHC), trying to develop a new organization. Some future-MHI members were working in a subcommittee designated to draft “rules, structure and goals” for a new organization. Since he attributes the position he criticizes to “[some] who emphasized the need to work out the form, structure and goals of a new Marxist-Humanist organization,” there is no doubt that Hudis is referring to us in his untrue statement.

NEW AND OLD LIES

Hudis’ essay on the US Marxist-Humanist (USMH) website says:

In 2008-2009 the Marxist-Humanists who left N&LC engaged in intense discussion over what precipitated the degeneration of N&LC and the lessons needed to take out of that experience.Some who emphasized the need to work out the form, structure, and goals of a new Marxist-Humanist organization argued that conceptual differences were not the basis of the split, or at least were not as important as N&LC’s deficiencies on an organizational level. We differ from this viewpoint. We believe that conceptual issues were the basis of the split …. [emphasis added]

His July 2008 report to an MHC conference alleges:

Recently we have had much back and forth on the list serve and in committee discussions about what precipitated the split within N&LC and the lessons we need to take out of that experience. Some who have emphasized the need to work out the form, structure and goals of a new Marxist-Humanist organization have argued that conceptual differences were not what precipitated the split. Others who have argued that conceptual differences precipitated the split have suggested that working out the form, structure and goals of a new Marxist-Humanist organization is not as imperative. We offer an alternative to both of these viewpoints.” [emphasis added] [2] 

When Hudis made that statement to the 2008 MHC conference, this characterization of us was repudiated by the membership of the MHC; the conference voted to remove the allegation before accepting the report. Yet Hudis’ 2009 essay repeats the identical allegations!

WHAT WE REALLY SAID

Below are just a few of innumerable statements that give the lie to Hudis’ allegation that we argued that conceptual differences were not the basis of the split, or at least were not as important as N&LC’s deficiencies on an organizational level.” The first three were made by MHC members who are now MHI members. The last one is an acknowledgement of our position by a member of Hudis’ faction.

Excerpt from e-mail from Anne to membership of MHC, July 2, 2008:

Some messages [on the MHC discussion list] have recently referred (sometimes indirectly) to statements about the crucial importance of structure and rules, put forth principally by Andrew and me, by indicating that philosophy was the greater determinant of where N&LC went wrong than were defects in its structure or workings, or it was what great socialists acted upon in history, etc. I believe this is a false opposition: of course philosophical differences lie at the root of all differences, but the issue we are facing is how to build a new org[anization] that can survive the tests of time and differences without sacrificing its own self-development to the exigencies of being a functioning organization. The relation of philosophy to organization is *itself* a philosophic question, and we should avoid starting from premises to the contrary. [emphasis added]

Excerpt from e-mail from Andrew and Anne to MHC, July 22, 2008, responding to a draft of Hudis’ conference report:

Firstly, what is at issue is not what “the main problem was.” Neither of us has used phrases such as “the main problem.” It thus goes without saying that we reject the much stronger claim, made by Committee 2 [Hudis’ committee] in its draft report (p. 14, 1st full para.): “Some who have emphasized the need to work out the form, structure, and goals of a new Marxist-Humanist organization have argued that conceptual differences were not what precipitated the split.” No, what we have argued is very different: the MHT [our tendency within N&LC] was established, and the split occurred, for reasons that were not *exclusively* cognitive or conceptual; the opposition’s refusal to implement our Perspectives was at least one prominent proximate reason why the MHT was established and why the split occurred. [emphasis added]

… Thus, secondly, THE DISAGREEMENT WITHIN [MHC] IS *NOT* BETWEEN THOSE WHO AFFIRM THAT THERE WERE UNDERLYING PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES IN N&LC AND THOSE WHO DENY THAT THERE WERE SUCH DIFFERENCES. As Anne pointed out in her message to the list of July 2, neither of us has denied that philosophical differences were involved in the failure to implement our Perspectives ….

Excerpt from e-mail from Andrew to MHC July 23, 2009, still before the conference:

Let’s have an *honest* debate, one in which people don’t distort, exaggerate, or misrepresent our position by stating or implying that we deny that conceptual issues were of over-riding importance (we reject the false opposition between conceptual issues and the opposition’s refusal to implement our Perspectives), or that we deny that the various non-conceptual issues involved flowed, however, indirectly, from underlying philosophic differences (we have explicitly affirmed this).
These are non-existent points of controversy. They are not what the dispute within [MHC] is about. [3]

Excerpt from e-mail from Tony, a member of Hudis’ faction and of the USMH, March 5, 2009, three days before MHC was dissolved by them:

As [Andrew] and Anne pointed out on July 22, 2008: “of course philosophical differences lie at the root of all differences ….”

CONTEXT OF THE DISCUSSION

The facts show that we continuously referred to our philosophical differences with N&LC as resulting from its degeneration following the death of Raya Dunayevskaya twenty years earlier, and we said that the dialectical relationship between philosophy and organization makes it impossible to separate the two. No one ever “argued that conceptual differences were not the basis of the split, or at least were not as important as N&LC’s deficiencies on an organizational level.

On the contrary, we all agreed that the problems within N&LC, including the outrageous actions that forced us to leave that organization, were expressions of its members’ philosophic deficiencies as they lost touch with Dunayevksaya’s Marxist-Humanism. Those deficiencies became manifest and were able to predominate, however, due to lax organizational rules and standards. This is what made the work of the “structure, rules and goals” committee of the MHC particularly new and important.

How to build a new organization that did not replicate the lax philosophic and organizational characteristics of N&LC was the subject of much discussion within the MHC, but philosophy and organization were never discussed by us as if they needed to be ranked in importance, an abominably undialectical view. Never in any of those discussions did “emphasizing” organization in a particular context (such as the work of the committee designated to draft “form, structure and goals”) mean or imply that we were downgrading the force of philosophy. One has only to read our writings at the time and since to know that we were and remain in the forefront of philosophic analyses, battles and new developments in Marxist-Humanism.

Hudis places the lie that we said “conceptual” differences were not the cause of the split in N&LC within a paragraph of his essay that criticizes N&LC for its resistance to working out the meaning of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program. This looks very much like an attempt to make an amalgam of N&LC and the not-so-mysterious “some” who supposedly “argued that conceptual differences were not the basis of the split ….” Inasmuch as several MHI members were deeply involved with Hudis in attempts to get N&LC to work out the meaning of the Critique for today, his making an amalgam of us and N&LC because he now has organizational disagreements with us, is worse than disingenuous—it is despicable.

We will not speculate on why Hudis acted in such an unprincipled manner in 2008. His repeating this accusation against us now can only be an attempt to denigrate the MHI. He may be throwing mud in order to justify the fact that his faction destroyed the MHC over organizational differences and not over philosophic ones (we had none apart from those pertaining to form of organization). His faction also refused our offer to create an umbrella organization of Marxist-Humanist organizations, and ignored our offers then and since to work together on matters of common interest. Now he is trying to make our organizational differences appear to be philosophic ones by spreading outright lies about what we have said and done.

MORE LIES

His essay further maligns us by hinting broadly that our members are “preoccupied with the question of form of organization.” He writes, “…  we must not become preoccupied with the question of form of organization to the point of immobilizing ourselves by engaging in purely internal discussions that have us lose touch with the forces of revolution ….”

This insinuation is again totally untrue. He is undoubtedly referring to the period when differences emerged in the MHC, and we opposed his faction’s desire to “go public” before we had worked out a structure and rules for a new organization—or had even written “principles” for it. Readers can look at our website and publications and judge for themselves whether we are preoccupied with form of organization and immobilized.

In his final two pages, Part 3, Hudis gives some “conclusions” about what to do. His third conclusion is clearly aimed at MHI, and once again, grossly misrepresents us. There he argues against having a “two-tiered” organization, which is undoubtedly meant as a condemnation of MHI’s innovation in having a new category of friends we call supporters. What he writes is a complete distortion of MHI’s By-Laws and Principles governing members and supporters. [4]

Anyone reading our founding documents can see that our conditions for membership are far from designed or likely to “exclude workers, women, youth, Blacks and other minorities,” as Hudis suggests. Our members are required to contribute to organizationally-assigned tasks, but there are no time requirements, only the requirement that each do her or his “fair share of work” … “determined in accordance with her or his other work responsibilities, age and health considerations, family obligations, and other responsibilities.” (By-Laws C 8, 9 and 10). The point of our membership structure, as we make clear in our founding documents and elsewhere, is to prevent the proliferation of dead-wood members (like most of N&LC) who contribute almost nothing to achieving the goals of the organization, yet continue to have voting power. This can (and did) seriously divert that organization from its purposes. We are proud of our theoretical achievements in this area of organization, and resent his utter misrepresentation of it.

Also noteworthy is Hudis’ fifth conclusion, that “we need to encourage … discussion and exploration of the problem of dialectics of organization….” If he meant what this paragraph says, he would engage in discussion with MHI, especially our statement “The Self-Thinking Idea is Not YouThinking,” on Dunayevskaya’s late work on Hegel and organization, where we once again invited others to join the discussion.

TRUTH MATTERS

Hudis’ misrepresentations of MHI and its members are serious matters. At issue is not only accuracy, but also motives and ethics––those of Hudis and those of others who published his falsehoods, without comment and without inviting a rejoinder from us. They  are fully aware that we have consistently and strenuously objected to his mischaracterizations of our views.

Hudis is guilty of engaging in the “straw man fallacy.” As S. Morris Engel noted, this fallacy

consists of imputing to one’s adversaries opinions a good deal more extreme than those they have set out and are willing to defend. Distorting the position in this way makes it appear ridiculous and thus easily overthrown. If the adversaries are tricked into defending a position that is more extreme than their original one, they are in all likelihood destined to fail. Although this is a popular trick in debating, it is a dishonest one. [5]

According to Julian Baggini, editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine, there are two main motives for engaging in straw man argumentation. One is that, “If we attribute hopelessly inadequate or repugnant views to others, the virtues of our own commitments seem obvious.” The other is that,

if we win an argument, we feel that our opinions have been vindicated, even if our victory was won over an emaciated opponent. We forget that the aim of rational debate is not for us to win, but for the truth to win. That is rarely what happens when the fight is with a straw man. [6]

This, indeed, is what is so repugnant about the tactic, to us and everyone who seeks to arrive at truth––or, at minimum, to resolve controversial matters––through rational debate. As Douglas Walton notes,

a straw man argument is obstructive to, and tends to defeat the whole purpose of a persuasion dialogue. The critical discussion is a type of persuasion dialogue where the purpose is to resolve a conflict of opinions by means of reasonable argumentation. However, if arguments used by the one party do not represent the real position of the other, this will interfere with the resolution of the conflict of opinions, or even make it appear that it has been achieved when really it has not. [7]

If attempts to resolve such conflicts through critical discussion are thwarted, only more primitive and harsher alternatives remain.

We endorse the principle put forward by Walton: [8] “… the exact words of a speaker (quoted in proper context), should be the ultimate evidence and guideline used to determine the arguer’s position.” [9]

A CALL FOR REPUDIATION OF LIES AND A CALL FOR COOPERATION

We call on Hudis to withdraw his false accusations, and to pledge to refrain from straw man argumentation in the future. And we call on the U.S. Marxist-Humanists and any others who have published the false accusations to publish Hudis’ retraction, and to remove the offensive text from their websites.

We expect some people will find this refutation of Hudis’ claims and our call for redress to be unacceptable. They will say “Let bygones be bygones.” We reject that position; it is an instance of blaming the victim. We have been hurt by ethically unacceptable behavior, and we are entitled to have the wrong redressed.

Finally, we note that the Hudis essay’s conclusions concerning organization fail to mention another danger: the danger of one-person rule that can result when an organization’s members are not required to make specific contributions to the goals of the organization, and they hand over all important work and decision-making power to one person. We saw this problem in N&LC and again in the MHC. Some people are content to let one person rule as long as they can enjoy certain fruits of an organization such as meetings, website, etc. This problem seems to develop in nearly every “democratic” organization. Relinquishing power to the “leader” permits him or her to do the organization’s work for it, but it does not build an organization that is lasting, effective, or Marxist-Humanist. We suggest that Hudis give some attention to that problem. And we ask readers to examine the Principles and By-Laws of our collective to see how we endeavor to prevent that situation.

As we explain above and elsewhere, [10] it was Hudis’ faction that broke up the MHC over disagreements about the form of organization. Because we had no differences concerning any other aspect of philosophy, we offered to create an umbrella organization in which our new organizations could have operated together on matters of mutual interest. Now Hudis is trying to create phony philosophic differences retroactively. Nevertheless, we continue to welcome dialogue on our ideas and on our actual differences with USMH.

As we said in our founding Principles in April of last year:

We hope ultimately to be part of a united international Marxist-Humanist organization. In the meantime, we will work with any Marxist-Humanist group or individual abroad who wishes to work with us. We will be willing to unite with others in a philosophically based organization only if it seeks to renew Marxist-Humanism by rebuilding an organization capable of developing and concretizing the philosophy. While maintaining our organizational integrity, we also hope to cooperate, on an ad hoc basis, with Marxist-Humanists and others in the U.S. outside our organization on issues of common interest.

Our October 2009 publication, “The Self-Thinking Idea is not You Thinking,” concludes:

[W]e reiterate our urgent call to all those who have not given up on the future of Marxist-Humanism and who are concerned to help it continue into the future. Join with Marxist-Humanist Initiative in a common effort to rebuild an organization capable of renewing Marxist-Humanism by concretizing and developing it as a collectivity. The need for it is great, but time is running out.

With the challenges facing us, we must decry the spread of falsehoods about us that can only mislead people around the world who are interested in Marxist-Humanism.

MARXIST-HUMANIST INITIATIVE

March 2010

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1. http://www.usmarxisthumanists.org/node/21

2. We are convinced that Hudis made the original charge in bad faith, knowing it was false, because he had worked extremely closely with some of us for many years prior to issuing the charge, and he knew our actual views very well.

3. The statement continues: “In our view, the dispute is about the following: Is there a need for unity on organizational questions, and is there a need for structures, rules, and procedures that protect the organization and those who do the lion’s share of the work, before a new Marxist-Humanist organization can be declared? Or is unity on certain philosophical questions a sufficient basis on which to establish a new Marxist-Humanist organization? We answer ‘yes’ to the first question and ‘no’ to the second. We believe that some others, through their words and/or actions, have answered ‘no’ to the first question and ‘yes’ to the second.”

4. Both documents figure prominently on our website, http://marxist-humanist-initiative.org, and are available in a pamphlet. “Supporter” status is provided for in section D of the By-Laws, and is described in our Principles thusly: “To help us achieve our aims, we also seek formal ‘Supporters.’ They have many of the privileges of membership but are not required to work for the organization, and therefore they have voice but not vote in our decision-making processes.”

5. Engel, S. Morris. 1982. With Good Reason: An introduction to informal fallacies. New York: St. Martin’s Press, pp. 138-39 (emphasis added).

6. Baggini, Julian. N.d. Bad Moves: The straw man fallacy. Available atwww.butterfliesandwheels.com/badmovesprint.php?num=41 (emphasis added).

7. P. 121 of Walton, Douglas. 1996. “The Straw Man Fallacy,” in Johan van Bentham et al. (eds.),Logic and Argumentation. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, North-Holland, pp. 115-128.

8. Ibid, p. 118.

9. This does not preclude someone from reformulating an opponent’s position after it has been quoted in the proper context. But as Damer stresses,

If a participant’s argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be expressed in the strongest [i.e., most defensible––MHI] possible version that is consistent with the original intention of the arguer. If there is any question about that intention or about implicit parts of the argument, the arguer should be given the benefit of any doubt in the reformulation.

Damer, T. Edward. 2001. Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments.Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, p. 5 (italics omitted).

10. See our April 2009 statement, “Why a New Organization?,” prominent on our website along with our Principles and By-Laws, and also in a pamphlet with them.

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