The Recession and its Aftermath; Workers’ Revolts and Marx’s Capital
The “Youthquake” in the Middle East and North Africa: What Happens After the Revolution?
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August 2, 2011
Thank you everyone for an excellent first class. I’m still trying to catch up with readings. I enjoyed learning more about dialectical method, as this was my aim in taking the class.
I guess I do have one question. Please forgive me if it appears too broad or too general. I’ll introduce myself first, as someone who has spent years amidst independent media artists, attempting to make news of events which was socially participatory citizens’ journalism. Paper Tiger TV, Indymedia, etc.
Could anyone please describe what it is meant, in the context of this course, as “radical journalism”. This would assist me in understanding how the dialectical method can be or is applied in context of “doing journalism.”
Thanks for putting this on line.
One question, are we supposed to be writing and commenting on each others articles following on from the readings?
With regards to alternatives to capitalism and production without monetary calculation some of these articles may be useful:
I liked the comments about on how not to end Klimans article also..
All the best..
The citaton regarding Sharia law and its planned constitutionalization comes from the “Draft Constitutional Charter for the Transitional Stage”, Article (1). Whether this becomes finalized is another matter.
Given the widespread prejudice for “common sense” thinking in the English-speaking world (and the US in particular), it is unfamiliar to many to talk about the dialectical method in general terms and not simple to realize it successfully in a piece of journalism. Hence the importance of the workshop/class series to practice such journalism.
But it is still necessary, I think, to get a sense of what the hallmarks of a dialectical standpoint might look like as they emerge from thinking and writing about a current event. And while I do not want get into an abstract discussion over the idea that “…the dialectic cannot be applied. Rather, it has to be re-created in every writing.”, I think that it is safe to say that if the dialectic can be seen as a method of inquiry and a method for the identification (abstraction) of key features and relational processes of the real world (informed by Marx’s materialist conception of history) and a method of exposition, then the dialectic can not only be used as a thought-guide but that it will also be re-created in a manner specific for the topical writing being done. The dialectic can be viewed as a way to grasp relationships, context, emergence and the history and process of becoming. I do not think that it should be looked at as any sort of algorithm or cookie-cutter template.
What, then, might some aspects of dialectical thinking be?
First, there is a notion of change and development, a notion of process. And by development is meant not merely/only slow, uniform, incremental evolution, but also rapid turnovers and breaks. Thus the actual human events seen within a specific context, the grasping of the direction (logic) of those events in thought and the interrelation of these elements (their potential) are thereby brought to the fore. Further, there is a recognition that such processes and developments have an uneven and combined character. Example: the MENA upheavals being informed by both 7th century Islamic and 18th century bourgeois democratic ideas, (in some cases)
communicated/organized by youthful holders of 20th-21st century electronic devices and embedded in societies with varying degrees of modern industry (oil) and relatively backward agriculture; all located in the web of world imperialism.
Second, as has been stressed, dialectical, revolutionary journalism must deal with the phenomenal surface appearances and especially the underlying aspects/relations/forces which give rise to and are expressed in the surface phenomena; both of which are real. (As opposed to the notion that one or the other of the elements of the ‘appearance/essence’ relation is the ‘more’ real.) As Hegel (1807) noted: “The truth is the whole.” And “Precisely because the form is as necessary to the essence as the essence to itself, absolute reality must not be
conceived of and expressed as essence alone, i.e. as immediate substance […] but as form also, and with the entire wealth of the developed form. Only then is it grasped and expressed as really actual.”
Third, that the social realities (social structures and relations) being written about are not homogeneous and undifferentiated. They are contradictory unities of opposites. Modern societies are split into various classes and that the basic determinant of class is its relationship to the means and process of production of material existence. It is therefore necessary to look at and identify the interests and struggles of these classes and to also analyze the class content of abstract notions (ideologies) such as ‘democracy’, ‘the state’, ‘justice’, ‘national interest’, ‘shared sacrifice’, etc., etc., which express or mystify the interests of the various classes.
The above are by no means exhaustive of the aspects of the dialectic as related to revolutionary journalism, but are probably central to it.
Lastly, I think that B. Ollman’s book “Dance of the Dialectic” (2003) may be a useful resource.
By popular request, I am posting remarks I made at Class 2 (slightly polished) after I read my article (which is at http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/international-news/libya-and-egypt-without-dictators-face-the-future.html).
Why and how the article came to be:
See the description of this class (http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/philosophy-organization/workshopclasses-on-current-events-and-the-dialectical-method.html); it’s impossible to address all the questions we said the topic “might” address. I was helped in choosing Libya, of course, by that rebellion’s victory in removing Qaddafi over the past 10 days, just as Andrew had his article’s topic picked for him by the debt ceiling and Wall Street near-crises. (I expect the next class on state-capitalism to be preceded by a revolution in China, and the 4th class by a revolution in Latin America.) Anyway, I’ve attempted to figure out a few points about writing that may help others:
a. The first rule of writing anything, especially journalism, is to pick a discrete, do-able topic and finish your article timely. You can’t put your life’s work into one article; the whole point of these classes is to learn to write quickly for our publication. As we said in our announcement, these classes are for ourselves to become better writers. You are invited in the hopes that you will also write for WSS. We want to learn to write quick, timely articles, not because we want to put the latest word out there for others’ edification and so they will praise us. On the contrary, we are not trying to educate others, but to prepare ourselves and any people who want to help, to contribute to moving revolutionary impulses forward through our reporting and analysis. So put your ego aside; you don’t have to have the last word in your article; pick a realistically finite topic that you can handle quickly.
b. I picked Egypt and Libya after the fall of their dictators because there’s no way to cover all the MENA revolutions outside of a long essay, and these are two revolutions that have succeeded and so are currently addressing our topic: “what happens after?” So “why this article?” is mostly pretty simple. Now, why we center our theoretical work around the question of “what happens after the revolution” is more complex, having to do with the entire history of 20th century revolutions, none of which developed into sustainable, socialist societies. Dunayevskaya made that question central to her development of the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism, which we are attempting to continue in light of today’s realities. Very little has changed since the 19th century if we stop our analyses of revolutions with the fall of dictators, like the 19th century revolutions that toppled monarchs. Nowhere is it more obvious than in the Middle East that overthrowing the old regime is insufficient, since those countries experienced nationalist revolutions that threw out colonial powers, only to end up with dictatorships and continued poverty for most people.
c. Why single out youth? Because the MENA revolutions are characterized by their youth, and because this has import for world revolution. Not only because youth today are tech savvy and internationalist in orientation, but most of all because of their idealism: their refusal to accept a horrible world they did not make. Dunayevskaya named youth as a revolutionary category in the 1950s and developed that idea right up to her death in 1987, because youth were so vital to the freedom movements of her day, from the Civil Rights Movement, to the 3rd World Revolutions, to the rebellious young workers in US industry, to the anti-war and anti-nuke movements. In her letter to youth that we included in the preparatory material, she explains that she singled out youth in the 1950s because “The new generation that rejected the world they did not make…signaled a new age of revolutions.”
d. OK, so now we’ve decided to seek out information on the activities of youth as well as workers and women and minorities, and we’ve looked especially for youth who are articulating ideals and their awareness of the difficulty they face in reaching their ideals. Then how do we discern a road forward? Here is where we get to develop the dialectic of the events. The dialectic is not only the continuous negation of what exists, but goes on to what Hegel called second negation or the positive in the negative. In other words, 1st negation is what you are against, 2nd is a transcendence of that, to what you are for. Marx termed it “positive humanism, beginning from itself,” that is, with 2nd you are no longer defined by what you were negating, but are in a new realm of creativity that is no longer based in a reaction against the old society.
A crucial dimension of Marxist-Humanism is the dialectical method, and Dunayevskaya’s writings on this are extensive, delving into the relationship between what she called Hegel’s “revolution in philosophy” and Marx’s “philosophy of revolution.” I can’t go into that here, but it is clear that her concept of “what happens after the revolution” is firmly rooted in dialectical philosophy as well as experience. I recommend Dunayevskaya’s writings on the dialectic; her books are full of them and we can supply others.
Several members of the class asked us to explain how to “apply” the dialectical method to revolutionary journalism. Let me add a little to what Andrew stressed at the first class: the dialectic cannot be applied. Rather, it has to be re-created in every writing, even in a short news article. The dialectic arises from within the facts themselves (both the actions and the ideas present in the event), as they play out in dialogue with what has gone before (the writer’s background knowledge). That is why we are providing preparatory materials, for background knowledge.
This is abstract, but, having had many conversations with leftists who think that (good or bad) ideology governs much more in workers’ and students’ struggles than I think it does, I am aware of the vast gulf between looking for the “how” and “why” within an event, versus trying to answer them in terms of ideological or other “causes” that come from the outside. I can’t go into this now, but it is key to a dialectical approach.
Of course, many rebellions that arise from economic conditions and the human impulse for freedom are squashed by superior forces from the outside; that is nearly unremarkable. What we want to write articles about, and thus preserve their lessons to help people think through what to do in future events, are the development of ideas about remaking society, for whatever length of time those ideas are developed by the process of their going through the event itself.
e. Why does my article include comments on the U.S. left? MHI’s readership is international, but as an American revolutionary, my greatest obligation is to fight the ruling class and government of my own country, and I think the barriers to revolution here include certain bad ideas being put forward by the left. A common one is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, whether Qaddafi or Ahmadinajad or whatever horrible dictator. We have discussed this in at several articles in WWS already, but it bears repeating when the International Action Committee is still calling rallies to back Qaddafi even though he’s gone! I want to make sure no one draws alien political/organizational conclusions from my story. Another bad idea common in the US left is that Americans are backward and incapable of the rebellions going on elsewhere in the world. Again look at Dunayevskaya’s letter to the youth, where she criticizes Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man for giving up on American workers and youth, and she warns against separating internationalism from nationalism.
f. How do you bring in the reality of the worldwide capitalist system but not end your article with only “and so we have to get rid of capitalism,” or make the revolt you are discussing appear to be impossible to win? You are writing the article in order to preserve a struggle’s high points and expose its sticking points, to help the participants and others in future struggles. So you tease out and point out the struggle’s impulses toward freedom, and then you play them out in theory. You try to point to where they might lead, how they might contribute to overcoming capitalism.
g. Re-read, re-think, revise, cut, polish. Your story will improve if you aren’t wedded to every word you first wrote. In fact, writing has a dialectic of its own, and the act of writing may lead you to places you didn’t originally intend to visit. Or it may lead you to delete the whole thing and start over. And even when you’ve expressed a great truth, the amount of polishing you could do to make your story clearer and better approaches infinity. Don’t hold onto it forever, but do allow time for “second negativity” to hit you and for it to improve.
Oct. 14, 2011
Dear Class Participants,
The subject of Class 4’s article in our Revolutionary Journalism series is Occupy Wall Street, which is happening just downtown from where the class was held. For those of you who missed the class on Tuesday or want to review it, a video can be seem on the website of the streamer, at
That is the same place you go to watch it streaming live.
You can skip the first 4 ½ minutes, which is us discussing whether the streaming is working. Also, the video is missing the last 20 minutes or so of the discussion. (Our technical problems and lack of a private video are because our regular tech guy couldn’t make it.) Nevertheless, I think you will find it interesting and perhaps helpful to your own writing, because much of the discussion centered on how to revise the article itself, rather than on the subject matter apart from the draft we heard.
The article that Mike read in draft should be finished and up soon on With Sober Senses at http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/our-publication.
Please put your comments on the class on the class’ private page, http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/wp-video (where the videos of the first 2 classes reside). Comments on the finished article can be put after it for public viewing, or on the private page for just the class.
Please drop me a note saying, at the least, whether you are still in the class, since we can’t tell who is watching it and we will not keep sending you material if you have dropped out. We want to hear your comments, and we hope you will write for WSS as well.
We will shortly be sending out some of the hard-to-get readings that you don’t already have for Class 5, listed in the website article on the Workshop Classes at http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/philosophy-organization/workshopclasses-on-current-events-and-the-dialectical-method.html