Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) launched activities in the UK with two public meetings in London on March 17 and 21. They are described in the fliers which announced them (click here for meeting announcements). Videos of the meetings appear below.
“Do We Need Marx’s Humanism Today?” featured talks by Andrew Kliman and Anne Jaclard of MHI, who argued that Marx’s humanism remains vital to class struggle and social-economic transformation, while Enlightenment humanism stops short of laying a path out of capitalism. In opposition were Michael Fitzpatrick and Alan Hudson of the former Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in the United Kingdom. Fitzpatrick favored Enlightenment humanism, finding Marx irrelevant on the grounds that the working class has been dead ever since the defeat of the 1984-85 miners’ strike and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Key questions turned on the condition of the working class and its role for those who aspire to social transformation. The speakers from the former RCP had concluded that the working class has been finished as an agency for revolutionary change, and has no existence as a political force, so they were extremely pessimistic about the relevance of Marx’s aspiration to see society remade. The MHI speakers challenged such a thorough-going rejection of Marx’s view of the working class as necessarily revolutionary. A lively debate ensued from the floor.
Points about what working-class defeats mean in terms of shaping consciousness, and how revolutionaries should understand this in order to respond effectively, were raised by both sides, but not in a manner that shifted either side. In many ways, this inability to convince the opponents stems from very different starting conceptions of the task of revolutionaries in relation to class struggle, and even of what class struggle is.
The order of the speakers was Kliman, Hudson, Jaclard and Fitzpatrick. Ravi Bali was the chair. Click here for the written texts of Kliman and Jaclard’s opening remarks.
“Theory, Activism and the Grassroots Housing Movement” was co-sponsored by MHI and the Radical Housing Network, a coalition of grassroots housing groups in London. The meeting featured talks by Ravi Bali and Jack Dean, housing activists, followed by Anne Jaclard, a Marxist-Humanist activist with 50 years’ history in US tenants’ and other movements. The chair was Ian Abley.
Unfortunately, the video ends before the end of the meeting, cutting off considerable additional discussion. Much of that focused on the speakers’ assertions that “housing is a human right,” which the chair considered to be legalistic and false. The speakers and others argued that it is a revolutionary demand because it reflects the aspirations of mass movements of working people today; while the “right” cannot be realized in capitalist society, it is an assertion of their vision of a future society that they will control.
If nothing else the discussions afterwards in the pub, were less sharp edged with regards to “Do we Need Marx’s Huminism Today” meeting. I think it has to be remembered that long before MHI, a number of ex-comrades, in our different ways had questions, doubts, concerns regarding the political direction of Spiked, which arose from the ashes of our old political party
Thus at times the relationship has at times been a tad *ahem* advarsarial (I hold my hand up to have been guilty of being hot headed online at times).
The fact is, is that they have built their political edifice on eschewing radical politics from the left, and having a more looser, milue that is only connected through hostility towards collectivity and state provision of any kind.
In addition, they have correctedly noted, the very strong, serious defeats of powerful groups of workers, here in the UK (The Miners, Dockers, Priintworkers, etc). From there, they have decided that this means that this will be a perminant state of affairs for the w/c, regardless of any historical dynamic. Thus it becomes a self-perpetuating, self-fulfilling prophecy, it also has to be said that many of them have built a very comfortable niche from such political pessimism.
There is an acknowledgement that capitalism is still rapacious and exploitative, which means that workers will still have to fight. But they also simultaneously also seem to think that such struggles will have no political consequence, that to my mind, smacks of a very narrow set of both historical and political determinism.
I was shocked and disappointed with Mike F (I think it was him), who said that we were never a vanguard party. This will have come as a shock to so many of us, when we joined and became members/supporters.
From what I can recall, our concept of the vanguard was the classic Leninist one (but in the case of the UK without snow on our boots) (this was also long before the internet). Many of us, having cut our cultural teeth on “Ten Days that Shook the World”, and “Battleship Potemkin”, “Strike”, etc, saw ourselves as playing some role in the UK version of that.
In terms of the vanguard, we were, in the heady days of being newly recruited at least, we were told we were all potential leaders. In and of itself that is no bad thing. But we talked about the working class, increasingly in abstract, but then given how small we were, this was inevitable and I suspect we shared that characteristic with the rest of the left. The masses were there to be led, not as in a herd of cattle, but more in terms of them recognising and being swayed over the logic and correctness of our politics.
My personal concept of the vanguard has changed a great deal over the years, shaped by my at times bruising experience of being on the left. Politics has gained a lot more fluidity, people are more likely to join movements now, as opposed to specific parties (the Jeremy Corbyn experienceI see as an anomaly, the last gasp of labourism).
Back in the day, we did not have to deal with either environmentalism or right-wing populism as significant political factors. There are younger generations to whom the labour struggles of even 30 years ago, seems alien, but that is not to mean they are necessarily hostile. I have come to the conclusion, that, romantic notions aside, before we can have a revolution we need to reinvent the political wheel, in which a vanguard is but one option, as opposed to the default political position.
Forgive me, I should have sent you this when I saw your Notice of a Meeting with my ex-comrades:
Mind you, I am surprised that you’all didn’t do some revolutionary snooping yourselves.
Anyway, I do not necessarily subscribe to David W.’s total package, but James Heartfield confirmed that rejection of the working class as a / the universal class when I put a question to him after I’d ‘friended’ him on FB. They always were unyielding in ‘debate’, but now, vide Spiked, they are pretty ‘toxic’, to use (some useful)psycho-speak.
Probably, the defining ur-text (impenetrable if you do not know what the real meaning is, and it has become clear only with time – I characterise them as the Billy Graham-movement for the re-birth of Classical Capitalism – Return to Risk-taking and Heroic Projects, all you capital-hoarding Sinners!) is the LM Special, 1996 – ‘The Point Is To Change It: a Manifesto for a World fit for People’.
I trust that the ‘tone’ of this message is not too sardonic – it took two decades or so, to recover from leaving the ‘old’ RCP, and its influence on my current politics is sometimes positive, sometimes inflexibility-inducing to the detriment of thought and effectiveness; and I was never even a full ‘member’!