As the worst economic slump since the Great Depression calls into question the viability of the capitalist system, people are increasingly doubting whether capitalism is desirable or even necessary. At this moment, we found the Marxist-Humanist Initiative in order to work for a total break with the operation of capitalism’s economic laws that infect every aspect of life today, and for building a new society of freely associated human beings who can carry out their own liberation. We believe new beginnings in thought and organization on the grounds of Marxist-Humanism contain germs for humanity to re-make all relations – relations of work; relations among women, children, and men; relations among racial and ethnic groups; and relations to nature – into genuinely human ones, which Karl Marx called a “thoroughgoing naturalism or Humanism.”
The totality of the world crisis today makes apparent that the capitalist system cannot bring peace, economic security or social justice to the vast majority of people. Instead, working people are faced with continued poverty, exploitation, degradation, imperialist domination and war. Past revolutions have changed forms of property and political rule, but have failed to go on to uproot capital, abolish alienated labor and hierarchical society, and establish a truly new, human socioeconomic system.
The Marxist-Humanist Initiative holds that an important cause of the failures and incompleteness of past revolutions was the lack of internalization of Karl Marx’s philosophy of revolution. We have constituted ourselves as a new organization in order to contribute to the transformation of this world by projecting, developing and concretizing Marx’s philosophy and its further development in the Marxist-Humanism articulated by Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987).
Dunayevskaya built upon Marx’s interpretation of the Hegelian dialectic as a dialectic of revolution. She theorized two moments of revolution, the first negation or negation of what exists (the overthrow of the old), and the second, positive negation of that negation (the creation of the new). While making this dual rhythm of revolution explicit, she contended that the second moment is not automatic. That is because it is not just a cancellation or modification of the old, but a new beginning that requires creative development. Dunayevskaya called this process “absolute negativity as new beginning.”(1) Without such “new beginnings,” revolutions remain infected by, and therefore cannot transcend, the limitations of the old. They fail to break with the economic laws of capitalism, and fall back into capitalist relations. These philosophic concepts need to be worked out anew for our time and place as theoretic preparation for a revolution that goes on to create a new society.
The concretization of philosophy takes place in the realm of ideas; it is theoretical. Marxist-Humanist philosophy cannot continue to be significant if we treat it as a set of abstractions or simply attempt to translate its concepts into practice. Rather, ideas undergo their own self-development through rigorous theoretical labor. Theoretic preparation was a missing element in prior revolutions that we strive not to see repeated.
We make no pretense of being a political party. Nor are we trying to lead the masses, who will form their own mass organizations to transform society, and whose emancipation must be their own act. But we have seen that spontaneous actions alone are insufficient to usher in a new society. We seek a new unity of philosophy and organization in which mass movements that look for a path to freedom lay hold of Marx’s philosophy of revolution and recreate society on its basis. The interests of working people and freedom movements as a whole guide our thoughts and actions, as well as our structure and rules. We have no interests separate and apart from these.
We hold that the present period continues to be part of the state-capitalist stage of capitalism analyzed by Raya Dunayevskaya. In her concern to answer the question, “what happens after the revolution?” in the wake of the failed and aborted revolutions of the 20th century, she developed a theory of state-capitalism in the 1940’s on the basis of Marx’s Capital. She applied this theory both to countries in which state property was dominant, e.g. the Soviet Union and China, and to other countries in which state intervention into the economy on behalf of capital had become a permanent feature of life – as it remains in the U.S. We are still trying to expose as misconceptions the notions that state-capitalism is or can become socialism, and that nationalization or regulation of the economy or financial system changes the nature of capitalism. We oppose capitalism regardless of its particular property form and regardless of whether the economy is a “market” or “planned” one.
Since capital’s drive toward concentration and centralization, expressed through inter-capitalist competition, inexorably leads to war, we find moral calls for peace to be utopian. The opposite of war is not peace, but social revolution. As did Dunayevskaya, we look for the absolute opposite of capital in what she called “the totality of Marx’s Marxism”- his philosophy freed from post-Marx Marxists’ distortions and truncations – as well as in the self-activity of revolutionary mass movements.
We base ourselves on the totality of Marx’s writings, from his doctoral dissertation of 1841 until his death in 1883. We also base ourselves on Marxist-Humanism as developed in the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya, principally Marxism and Freedom (1958), American Civilization on Trial (1963),Philosophy and Revolution (1972), Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (1983), and The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, her archive of Marxist-Humanism’s development over more than half a century.(2)
It falls on our generation to prove that a liberatory alternative to capitalism is possible by showing theoretically that socialism can be realized. With the collapse of “Communism” (Stalinism), masses of people and intellectuals alike gave up on the prospect of socialism. Yet since 1999, with the mass protests in Seattle and around the world, a movement against global capital has demanded to know if an alternative to capitalism is possible. We have recently seen the beginnings of what might develop into an explicit challenge to capitalism – occupations of factories and housing, and demonstrations of workers and students against new austerity programs and lay-offs – all around the world. This is an opportunity for Marxism to be reclaimed by the masses, and we endeavor to help.
But it is not an easy task to prove that a liberatory alternative to capitalism is possible, when the vision of socialism has been eclipsed by the false identification of socialism with “Communism” and by the idea that capitalism is permanent. In the absence of an emancipatory alternative to capitalism on the horizon, opposition to capitalism has taken the forms, on both the Right and Left, of politicized religious fundamentalism, authoritarianism, reactionary forms of nationalism and anti-imperialism, populism, nostalgia for past social forms, and romantic anti-capitalism of various stripes. We are encouraged to see capitalism in crisis revealing its inherent contradictions and instability, but the moment of crisis also presents new dangers, since not all alternatives to capitalism are emancipatory. Some can be worse, such as increased starvation, fascism and warlordism. We aim to challenge the workers’ and other liberatory movements, as well as Left intellectuals, to develop Marxism with us in order to lay the groundwork for a socialist outcome.
We reject the notion that Marx was exclusively a theorist of capitalism rather than socialism. In theCritique of the Gotha Program (and in the Poverty of Philosophy, the Grundrisse, Capital, and elsewhere), he dealt with the question of an emancipatory alternative to capitalism. He showed that the alternatives proposed by Proudhonism and similar tendencies would not be viable and would lead back to capitalism. And he worked out to some extent what would actually be needed in order to transcend capitalism and its indirectly social labor, alienated labor, commodification of labor-power, and “law of value,” and what would actually be needed for socialist society to develop to the point at which it can finally operate according to the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Along with Dunayevskaya, we hold that this pathbreaking work of Marx is “new ground” for organization. It is the basis of our organization’s opposition to capitalism and our vision of a socialist future, and it is the foundation upon which we build in order to work out the problem of an emancipatory alternative to capitalism.
Our theoretical work is engendered and informed by our opposition to this capitalistic, racist, sexist, heterosexist, class-ridden society. We participate in many class and other freedom struggles, nationally and internationally. We aim to solidarize through words and actions with working people and with oppressed minorities and peoples throughout the world. We support movements that are genuinely for national liberation, but we oppose reactionary trends that cloak themselves in anti-imperialist rhetoric while actually promoting only an anti-U.S., anti-Western, or anti-modern agenda. We base ourselves on the self-activity of movements of workers, women, African-Americans, youth, national minorities, neo-colonialized peoples, and others who are struggling for self-determination in order to freely develop their own human natures.
We strive especially to include workers, women, African-Americans, Latinos, other minorities and youth in our project. We base ourselves on the identification of multiple forces of revolution that has been part of Marxist-Humanism’s legacy since the 1950s. We note and support the leading role in challenging existing society played by the U.S. African-American masses when their mass movements question the basis of this society, as they did in the Civil Rights Movement. We emphasize not only the power of the working class to bring down capitalism, but its creativity in developing new, human relations of production. We stand with workers against the union bureaucracies, politicians, and others who try to hem in their self-activity and integrate them into the existing order. We look for the return of the movement for women’s liberation born in the 1960s and 1970s, which spread around the world and deepened the concept of freedom by challenging sexism in nearly every aspect of every nation and culture. We look to the idealism of youth to help change the world. They have been in the forefront of the last half century’s social movements, particularly the movements against racism, nuclear war and imperialist wars, globalized capital and environmental destruction.
We have come together as an organization because we believe that an organization is needed to fulfill our foremost aim, that of contributing to the transformation of this world by promoting, developing, and concretizing Marx’s and Marxist-Humanism’s bodies of ideas. This aim cannot be fulfilled by individuals working separately.
The organization created and headed by Dunayevskaya was capable of developing and concretizing Marxist-Humanism during her lifetime, but no organization currently exists that can fulfill these tasks. We seek to renew Marxist-Humanism by rebuilding an organization that can do so. We recognize that our small group is not that organization, but we hope to be a bridge to such an organization. That is why we call ourselves the Marxist-Humanist Initiative. We
are distinguished from the other organizations calling themselves Marxist-Humanist in this: we have the goal of rebuilding an organization capable of renewing Marxist-Humanism by concretizing and developing it as a collectivity.
A primary task of an organization with this perspective must be to create a collectivity of people capable of meeting this challenge. In contrast to other organizations since Dunayevskaya’s time that have called themselves Marxist-Humanist, we make the creation of such a collectivity a top priority. Further, we try to end the division between mental and manual labor in our own organization to the extent possible, and to build a non-hierarchical yet effective and sustainable organization.
We recognize the integrality of the Marxist-Humanist philosophy of revolution and a Marxist-Humanist organization. These are not distinct matters; organization is an objective expression and concretization of philosophy. Thus neither philosophy nor organization can be privileged over the other; we reject efforts to unite on matters of philosophy without there being unity on organizational perspectives, and vice-versa. Such unity is unstable and abstract, and risks replicating destructive tendencies from which previous organizations suffered.(3)
In particular, we regard it as imperative that organizational structures and rules–or the lack thereof–not serve to deter people from the aim of renewing Marxist-Humanism through the rebuilding of an organization capable of developing and concretizing this philosophy. Safeguards must exist to protect the organization’s accomplishments and help prevent it from being hijacked by cliques or diverted by individuals who foster other agendas. Only if such safeguards exist will members be willing to freely contribute the hard work, time, and thought needed to rebuild such an organization. This is a particularly pressing problem when attempting to build a democratic organization, since democratic organizations risk becoming ones that serve the purposes of their individual members. It is therefore necessary that organizational structures and rules help ensure that the organization not serve purposes other than those of the organization.
For these reasons, the Marxist-Humanist Initiative has a collective form of organization. That is, those who work for the organization make the decisions, and members freely assume the responsibility of contributing their fair share of work to accomplish the organization’s tasks, as spelled out in our By-Laws. 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.
We consider it important to examine the histories of Marxist-Humanist and other revolutionary organizations as part of working out difficult questions concerning the relationship of philosophy to organization, and to help prevent bad experiences from being repeated. We recognize, as a major task, the need to fill the void in the history of revolutionary organizations by theorizing and working to create a democratic, non-hierarchical organization that is also efficient, fair, the least likely possible to be derailed from its purpose, and the most capable of continuing into the future regardless of who its individual members may be.
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.
Those who join us do so freely by accepting our general principles, agreeing to support and carry out decisions of the majority, and pledging to do their fair share of organizational work, as stated in our By-Laws. We invite others to join in this new initiative.
(1) The concept is elaborated in her book, Philosophy and Revolution (1972), and a posthumous collection of her writings, The Power of Negativity (2002).
(2) microfilm available from Wayne State University Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit.
(3) Many of the founders of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative were members of News and Letters Committees, the organization founded by Raya Dunayevskaya in the 1950s, and then participants in the Marxist-Humanist Committee (2008-09). Those experiences are discussed briefly in “Why a New Organization?”, April 2009; further analysis and documentation will appear on the Marxist-Humanist Initiative website.