Official Call for Convention: The War Against Ukraine, the Resurgent Right, and the Quest for a Humanist Alternative – Developing Our Response to a New Global Turning Point

Kevin B. Anderson,
David Black,
Heather A. Brown,
Peter Hudis,
Jens Johansson,
Rocio Lopez,
Lilia D. Monzó,
Sushanta D. Roy,
Rehmah Sufi,
Bill Young

Summary: Call to the 2022 Convention of the IMHO – Editors.

Official Call for Convention

To Work Out the Philosophical, Political, and Organizational Perspectives

of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization

Drafted by Peter Hudis, with Kevin B. Anderson, Heather Brown, Dave Black, Lilia D. Monzo, Rehmah Sufi, Jens Johansson, Rocío Lopez, Sushanta Roy, and Bill Young

 

Part I: Putin’s War Against Ukraine and its Global Ramifications

Russia’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine marks a critical historic turning point, since it has led to a breakdown of the so-called “new world order” that arose following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Vladimir Putin’s effort to reimpose neocolonial control over Ukraine is no less horrific and no more defensible than the U.S.’s imperialist wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Russia’s war against Ukrainian self-determination poses a serious test to everyone on the Left—no less so than prior crises, such as the collapse of the Socialist International at the outbreak of World War I in 1914 or the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 that gave the green light to World War II.

Putin’s unjustified war is one expression of a broader attack on democracy that is occurring throughout the world—in Europe, China, Africa, parts of Latin America, and the U.S. Many commentators, especially on the Left, are claiming that Russia’s invasion is a defensive reaction to NATO’s expansion into Central and Eastern Europe after 1991. NATO’s expansion was indeed one of the most arrogant and disastrous decisions in recent history, since it played into the hands of Russian reactionary nationalists who viewed it for what it was—an effort to prevent Russia from ever again becoming a major power. In the 1990s, even leading figures in the U.S. foreign policy establishment (such as George Kennan) argued that NATO should be dismantled now that Boris Yeltsin’s Russia had become a veritable U.S. ally. Marxist-Humanists argued at the time that while NATO should be abolished the U.S. will not allow it, since its drive for single world domination hardly comes to an end just because its main opponent has (temporarily) dropped out of the race. However, Putin’s war is driven by something far more threatening to him than NATO (which has not expanded in 20 years)—and that is the movements for democracy in Russia’s periphery as well as within Russia. This was evident from his invasion of parts of Ukraine in 2014, when a movement for democracy forced his authoritarian lackey Viktor Yanukovych from power. It is no less evident from his interventions last year to crush the pro-democracy movements with broad working-class support in Belarus and Kazakhstan, and his effort to crush pro-democracy sentiments in Russia today—as seen in the arrest of over 20,000 Russian citizens that took to the streets in recent weeks to protest the war against Ukraine.

If Putin succeeds, more will be destroyed than Ukraine’s nascent and limited bourgeois democracy; it will strengthen reactionary forces worldwide, from China to Latin America, from Africa to the U.S. As Syrian revolutionary Yassin al-Haj Saleh recently wrote, “Syria was a testing ground for Russia’s military. It used phosphorus munitions, thermobaric bombs and cluster bombs—banned by international treaty—against civilian facilities, targeting hospitals, schools and markets… Indeed, Putin was praised by Islamophobic right-wing organizations in the West, and supporters of authoritarianism everywhere, for his imperialist war in Syria.” He concludes,

A Russian defeat would be a victory not just for Ukraine, but the world. A defeat of Putin might also well end his political life, which is the best news possible for the Russian democrats who are courageously protesting the aggression in their nation’s name. This can be good news for Syrians too, because it would also weaken Assad’s barbaric and traitorous regime, along with the growing authoritarian tendencies in the whole Middle East and indeed the world. And while a defeat of our common enemy, Putin, will not necessarily be a victory for us Syrians, a victory for Putinism will be an even bigger defeat for us, as it will diminish our already meager opportunities to retrieve our own country.[1]

It is imperative to support Ukraine’s fight for national self-determination; it is a test of who does and does not stand for a truly new society based on humanist foundations. However, we cannot afford any illusion that an alternative to both “free market” and neo-fascist state-capitalism will automatically arise from the carnage produced by this war. Instead, the effort to develop such an alternative faces new and unprecedented challenges.

Foremost among these is that the war has greatly strengthened U.S. imperialism, as seen in how its European allies (as well as others) are rallying around it on a level not seen for decades, especially by dramatically increasing military spending. This is leading establishment pundits to proclaim that this new-found unity-of-purpose will breathe new life into a Western capitalism that was discredited by the U.S. defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2008 Recession, its botched response to the pandemic, and the rise of the neo-fascist Right. The so-called “Western powers” are engaged in an increasingly desperate and collective struggle to preserve military and economic dominance over the rest of the world. Their crocodile tears over Putin’s crimes in Ukraine are pure hypocrisy, given the innumerable acts of aggression they have committed in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and against their own oppressed masses at home.

However, there are serious barriers to a resurgence of U.S. power—China being the most prominent among them. For well over a decade both pro-Trump Republicans and pro-Biden Democrats have had their eyes set on blocking China’s rising economic and political power. This took shape as far back as the Obama administration, which sought to reorient U.S. strategic priorities from the Middle East to East Asia. But it is hard to see how the U.S. can reverse China’s growing power and prominence, despite its own economic and political problems. Russia and China have now drawn together, which makes it harder for the U.S. to accomplish its aims. But that doesn’t mean it won’t try—something that foreshadows a coming period of intense intra-imperialist conflict, which makes the prospect of nuclear war far from far-fetched.

There is no question that Putin has done Western capitalism a huge favor with its invasion of Ukraine. But no “new era” of peace and stability led by a refurbished Western alliance is in the offing. While all eyes turned to Ukraine in horror at Putin’s invasion, other oppressive rulers took advantage of the world’s inattention to carry out their own outrages. On March 12, Saudi Arabia announced that it had executed 81 people, many of them democratic activists or members of the Shia minority. Their public announcement suggested that they feel little pressure from any other states to relent in their oppressive policies at home.

Over the past six years, the Saudis and their allies, backed by the U.S., have bombed neighboring Yemen without mercy. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates the death toll at a quarter of a million people. Fifty percent of the surviving population faces food insecurity, in what Human Rights Watch calls “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”[2] The Saudis seemed to pull back a bit in 2020 but over the past few months have intensified their air campaign, in an attempt once again to achieve what their local proxies have not been able to do on the battlefield. There, the Iranian-backed Houthi forces, who themselves hold to retrogressive fundamentalist practices claimed to be rooted in Shia Islam, continue to hold out in most of the country’s territory. The Saudis have rejected compromise as they continue to commit mass murder from the skies. They can do so with impunity, as only their side has much in the way of air power, in this case the latest U.S. planes and missiles, plus assistance in real time by the U.S. Air Force.

Biden came into office promising to end U.S. support for this foul Saudi war, but has done nothing. He is now moving in an even worse direction, reaching out to the Saudis as part of the U.S. confrontation with Russia, in order to slow a rise in the price of oil. In the coming period, the U.S. is sure to give even further support to a power that is one of the most reactionary in the world, and which backs extreme religious fundamentalists everywhere.

At the same time, the Ukraine war has exacerbated a global food crisis that is already impacting many areas of the world, which are seeing skyrocketing food prices, on top of the inflation rooted in the drying up of supply chains in the wake of the Covid-19. In late March, one month into the Russian invasion, global prices for wheat increased by a further 21%, barley by 33%, and some fertilizers by 40%. At a global level, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus account for a substantial portion these products, perhaps a quarter overall. With the destruction caused by this brutal and criminal war, there is no prospect of a normal planting season in Ukraine. NATO sanctions and the blockade of ports will also limit what Russia and Belarus can export in terms of both grain and fertilizers. The shortage of grain will hit some of the poorest countries that also lack sufficient internal food production, like Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, and South Sudan, among others. It is already causing serious dissension in Egypt, just as the Ramadan season arrived on April 2. The holiday month involves not only fasting, but also feasting and gifts, but even middle-class families have had to cut back on treats and gifts, while the poor are suffering more deeply. The shortage of fertilizer will also affect food production, especially in large countries like Brazil, China, and even the U.S. and Canada, with both internal and global impacts.[3]

It cannot be underlined enough that global food production, like medical care and fighting pandemics, is largely a capitalist enterprise that seeks the expansion of value at all costs.  The food shortages, if not outright famine, that are sure to come are the collateral damage that is normal to such a system when under stress. And this applies to global capitalism today as much as to the famines in the age of state-capitalism in China in the late 1950s or Russia in the 1930s, or, during an earlier stage, to British-ruled Ireland and India in the nineteenth century.

Countries such as India will be especially impacted by these developments. Fueled by the consistent rampage of the far right, including the ruling Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India is probably going through the worst economic phase in recent history. At the same time, the social crises caused by new Islamophobic citizenship laws were reaching newer heights when Covid-19 struck the country, leaving it in a state of disarray. The mismanagement that was exhibited by the Indian state during Covid-19, especially during its second phase, was a testimony to the nature of the ruling BJP government.

The Kisan Andolan (Farmers’ Movement) of 2020-2021 against neoliberal agrarian laws proposed by the BJP government remains the prime hallmark of the last couple of years in Indian politics. Hundreds of thousands of farmers camped out, braved rightwing attacks, and held their position at the borders of Delhi for almost a year, in the end succeeding in winning their demand to drop the proposed laws. Meanwhile, the two-day general strike of March 28-29 called by the Central Trade Unions and their affiliated unions and associations, along with certain other independent unions, met with a resounding success. The clarion call of the general strike was ‘Farm Laws toh jhaaki thi, Labor Code abhi baaki hain’ (Getting the Farm Laws repealed was just the beginning, now it is time to get the Labor Codes repealed). The Farmers’ Movement has inspired working class and marginalized sections of the population. But it is also essential to remember that even with the movement generating an anti-BJP wave across the country, the BJP still went on to win resoundingly the elections in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state. This illustrates the contradictory nature of the present juncture in India.

The Ukraine war is also leading to more oil production, as various countries seek alternatives to Russian oil. The U.S. is ramping up domestic oil production and asking Middle Eastern potentates to do the same, and in the process taking back even its token objections over human rights. Meanwhile, antiwar protestors in Europe and elsewhere are demanding that their countries stop importing Russian oil and also see the crisis as one more reason to move away from fossil fuels. But that is not the direction in which either camp of the global bourgeoisie is going, whether that of the U.S./NATO, or the incipient one of Russia and China. All this foretells putting on the backburner even the extremely modest plans made thus far to limit climate change.

As the climate crisis escalates and we struggle through the third year of a global pandemic, the “regular” catastrophes of political and economic disasters across the globe have not slowed down. Even at the height of the pandemic, as millions were dying in terrible conditions, the interests of states like the U.S. and the UK dictated that the profits of the pharmaceutical industry were more important than making life-saving vaccines and technologies available to the rest of the world. Whether it is the global crises in childcare, healthcare, or refugees, the current moment clearly shows that the pandemic and the new stage of inter-imperialist rivalry set off by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have only made them worse.

At another level, the Ukraine war has shown the lethal dangers of the nuclear age, evident ever since the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 but frighteningly prominent again in 2022. Not only has Russia openly­—and the U.S. implicitly—threatened the use of nuclear weapons over Ukraine and Eastern Europe, making the danger of outright nuclear war more visible than at any time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The Ukraine war has also again laid bare the danger of nuclear power plants, as Russian troops have attacked them, including at Chernobyl. Should servicing be cut for any of these plants or one of them hit at the right point by an errant shell or missile, a nuclear meltdown way beyond Chernobyl or Fukushima could occur.

What underlies all of these crises is the effort by a significant section of the global elite to limit or eliminate what is left of political democracy, regardless of which pole of capital they happen to be allied with. Political democracy is not a gift created by and/or handed down from the bourgeoisie to fool the masses. On the contrary, it is a product of the self-activity of the masses—indeed, the poorest and most downtrodden among them—over course of the last two centuries. Many ruling elites know this well and that’s why they want to eliminate what remains of political democracy. They have lost confidence in the ability of their systems to satisfy the needs of masses of people and are moving to protect their power and privilege by denying them any democratic input into deciding their fate. This is the foremost barrier facing every freedom movement today—be it those against war and militarism, struggles for racial justice and against police abuse, efforts to promote the rights of women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ peoples, and a nascent labor movement. As Marx and the greatest Marxists insisted, a democratic republic—despite its obvious flaws and limitations—is the terrain best suited for waging the class struggle to a successful conclusion. Its very existence is in serious jeopardy around the world today.

The Far Right has thoroughly embraced the agenda of a version of state-capitalism that centers on racism and misogyny, as made painfully clear by the effort of a neo-fascist mob to stage a coup to prevent Trump’s removal from power on January 6, 2021—which by now has become embraced by virtually the entire the Republican Party. Nor is this limited to the U.S., as seen in the growth of neo-fascist tendencies in Europe as well the global South. While often critical of neoliberal capitalism, which it rightly sees as a soulless system which seeks only its self-aggrandizement, it is when its “positive” vision of what should replace late-stage capitalism appears, that this Far Right vision shows its true colors. In the U.S., this movement seeks to return to an idealized form of the family to create its own version of “social cohesion” that would be subsidized by the state. On one hand, Far Right commentators are calling for social spending such as paid family leave, tax credits for children, and a “nationally instituted family wage,”[4] all short-term measures that if implemented universally, could do much to raise many families above the poverty line.

The goal behind these programs is much more sinister, however. For example, as Far Right commentator Gladden Pappin writes, a single wage should be enough to support the family. Further, he is very clear in his definition of what this family consists of: “While family must by natural law mean that of a husband, wife and children, legislators must positively use state power to make family life possible and choice-worthy.”[5] In addition to the clear (if unspoken) point that men would be the breadwinners, Pappin perniciously points to the “natural law” basis of the family. The message is clearly that LGBTQ individuals and families, single parents (especially mothers), and childless individuals and families will be left out in the cold to “naturally” lose in the struggle of the “fittest” for state support and protection. This is already the state agenda in Hungary, where Viktor Orban has just been re-elected.

This becomes especially clear with the recent increase in legislative measures to curb LGBTQ rights. The most widely discussed is Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which limits discussion of LGBTQ issues to the vacuous concept of age appropriateness, all but ending any discussion of sexuality and gender identity in K-12 schools. After all, if everything but the nuclear family is “unnatural,” then it is a very short step to saying that any discussion of LGBTQ history, rights, and discrimination is not appropriate for youth.

Further, a flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislation is making its way through state legislatures. The ACLU reports that as of March 25, 2022, 171 anti-LGBTQ bills had been put forward at the state level.[6] Perhaps one of the most insidious of these is the anti-trans bill in Texas, which calls for a child endangerment investigation for parents who support in nearly any way their child’s wish to transition or even delay puberty and give the child time to process their situation before nearly irreversible changes occur. Given the high level of emotional strain that puberty can put on a trans child, this paternalistic law that wishes to legislate gender norms is nothing but pure cruelty leveled at an extremely vulnerable group for purposes of scoring cheap political points. Fortunately, a court has blocked its implementation before it could do significant damage; however, its specter remains for the future as the Far Right continues to grow in power.

The Far Right has certainly not stopped with policing gender and sexuality. Race and immigration have become key flashpoints for it. In the U.S., this has meant, among other things, voter suppression. Nineteen states passed voting restrictions in 2021 and there will be at least 100 bills taken up this year.[7] This is happening despite there being no evidence of systemic voter fraud. Instead, it is clear what the purpose is: disadvantaged BIPOC, Black, working class, young, and disabled voters will have a harder time accessing the ballot because of more stringent requirements to prove their identity and fewer polling stations available.

This, alongside the continuing call for stricter immigration laws, sends a clear message that true citizenship, with all its rights and rewards, should only go to the truly “deserving.” White Ukrainians fleeing war and devastation can enter through the U.S.-Mexican border to seek asylum, but Syrian and Central American refugees do not get the same opportunity. Trump spoke for much of the Far Right and conservative movement, when he juxtaposed potential immigrants from Norway and immigrants from “shithole” countries like Haiti and El Salvador. Alongside the policing of gender and sexuality, the old trope of racial superiority and Social Darwinism returns in the policies of the Right. American purity (i.e., white, Christian traditional families, with strong male heads) are for the Far Right the only thing that can save America.

This narrowing of full citizenship and dehumanization of all that doesn’t fit the Right’s dystopian worldview is not limited to the U.S.: Russia’s neo-imperialism in Ukraine alongside LGBTQ repression at home; China’s brutal suppression of Uighurs; Bolsonaro in Brazil has repressed Indigenous communities at the same time as he is pushing for a return to the “traditional” family; and Poland has been creeping further to the Right on LGBTQ and immigration issues, outside of its recent support for Ukrainians, to list a few examples.

Those on the Left who either explicitly or tacitly support those abroad who call for this return to chauvinistic and patriarchal nationalism, illustrate the failure of anti-capitalists to work out what they are for alongside what they are against. The simple act of opposing U.S. imperialism is not enough if it means support for a project that undermines the humanity of an oppressed group. In today’s world of democratic backsliding and leftist support for anything remotely anti-capitalist, it becomes essential to work out the boundaries of a post-capitalist society in a way that validates everyone’s humanity regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, or ability. Only by figuring out what we are for, can we truly fight against capital.

 

Part II: What Has Changed in the Objective-Situation Since 2020

A major reason that many leftists are failing the test of adequately responding to such events as the war against Ukraine is that they tend to assume that “free market neoliberalism,” not state-capitalism, defines today’s global economy. In fact, the state plays a larger role in the economy than ever before—not in propping up effective demand by redistributing revenue from capital to labor (as occurred with the Keynesian policies of income redistribution in the post-World War II era), but by directing monetary value to private capital through the state.

Take the following metric: From 2000 to 2008, private investment in government (by the purchase of government-issued bonds) represented 12% of total private investment, and government investment in the private sector (by states lending to businesses and corporations) made up 2% of total private investment. Compare this to 2020 to 2022: private investment in government represented 88% of total private investment and government investment in the private sector made up 87% of total private investment. This means that almost all of the monetary capital invested by businesses and corporations over the last two years in the entire world was generated by the governments of the U.S., EU, China, and Japan!

The bailouts and stimulus spending that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic are surely a major reason for this. However, it is hardly a one-time phenomenon. The state plays a pivotal, indeed an indispensable role in capital accumulation. If this is rarely acknowledged, it is because most people, on the left as well the right, focus on property forms (privatized businesses vs. state-owned ones) rather than crucial value component. State-capitalism is not incompatible with privatization: when the rate of profit declines to the point that private corporations have little incentive to engage in productive investments, the state comes in to offer them a healthy serving of fictitious capital. Who pays for this in the end, of course, is the working class—which is why during the pandemic a more massive transfer of wealth from labor to capital occurred than in all of human history. Trillions of dollars were handed out to corporations and their benefactors while living conditions for “the wretched of the earth” got worse.

It is not enough to oppose the enormous inequalities that that flow from the state’s role in subsidizing businesses and corporations at the expense of the working class, which is the source of all economic value. We must also break from the mind-forged manacles that reduce “capitalism” to privatization and private ownership of the means of production. The common misconception that the “primitive accumulation of capital” (often called “accumulation by dispossession”) applies only to “free market” variants of capitalism ignores the history of the twentieth century, when its most deadly and violent form occurred with the forced industrialization of the USSR in the 1930s—dubbed by its Stalinist leaders “primitive socialist accumulation.”[8] And it ignores the ongoing role of the state in the twenty-first century in maintaining capitalism by generating massive amounts of fictitious monetary capital through quantitative easing, stock buy-backs, debt servicing, etc.

This phenomenon of making the economic survival of a nation dependent on its debt servicing abilities is an incredibly oppressive tool for forcing internal priorities to ensure maximum economic exploitation. It is a global phenomenon that impacts all kinds of social investments. UNICEF has criticized the way the response to the pandemic has led the vast bulk of government aid to go to businesses and not people in need: “COVID-19 economic recovery packages have, to date, directed the vast majority of resources to firms rather than to households. This can be changed through public provision of childcare, subsidies, social protection floors and tax incentives.”[9] Yet what UNICEF doesn’t tell us is that such “public provisions” run counter to the logic of capital, which prioritizes the accumulation of monetary value as an end-in-itself—regardless of how much that crowds out or excludes caring for people.

What is often called caregiving is a mystifying category since it is viewed as indispensable and worthless at the same time. This was brought to the surface in stark relief during the pandemic, as nurses, hospital and other healthcare workers, transport workers, teachers and school professionals, home healthcare workers, and others were left without basic safety equipment or any wraparound support services for their highly demanding and hazardous pandemic schedules. Moreover, we saw labor disputes in these professions escalating instead of lessening. Safety standards were fought tooth and nail by employers, hazard pay was seldom provided, and contracts were held hostage because of the economic impact of the pandemic.

The reality is, and has been for a long time, that any sort of care work, whether done by family and community without compensation, or paid care work, is severely undervalued. It is often heavy work with challenging schedules and no breaks, demanding a great deal of emotional and physical work. It is the necessary component of social and reproductive labor that allows paid and more valued work to take priority. It can be argued that caregiving is treated like a disability. You can’t run with us. You can’t sit with us. We can’t slow down for you. We can’t make room for you. If you have someone to care for, we need to leave you behind.

Yet a totally different perspective on what care-giving can mean when stripped of its value-monetary integument was provided by the massive protests in the U.S. against racism and police abuse in response to the murder to George Floyd in 2020, which involved 26 million people. What took on central importance in these protests—and which remains integral to the ongoing campaigns to abolish police and prisons today—is mutual aid. This does not simply involve the free distribution of goods and services to those in need; it represents an effort to challenge statist forces that promote oppression and violence by developing new forms of political community with people marginalized and pushed aside by existing institutions. Mutual aid remains an ongoing project; it has surely not yet had its last word. But it is a vital expression of how the struggles of masses of people opposing existing society can provide an intimation of future forms of human interaction that exist within the terrain of the present.

It is precisely the power and creativity expressed by the global anti-racism protests of 2020 that explains the persistent effort today to combat calls for the defunding of police and abolition of the prison-industrial complex. This was stridently expressed in Biden’s March 2022 State of the Union address, which never so much as mentioned race and racism and instead proclaimed “Refund Police!”—which earned him a standing ovation from Congressional Republicans and mainstream Democrats alike. This exposes not only a racial but a class divide, as numerous Black elected officials (such Mayor Eric Adams in New York City) have worked overtime to squash defunding of police by instead increasingpolice budgets—even as the number of BIPOC murdered by cops was higher in 2021 than 2020. The setback faced by defunding the police campaigns is not a result of its alleged “lack of realism” in posing radical demands; on the contrary; it is a sign of its success over the past two years in bringing an idea whose time has come into widespread discussion and debate. Corporate interests and their political allies know full well that demands to defund the police call into question the very basis of the state’s ability to maintain their property, wealth, and privileges; that is why they are working so hard to discredit them. That demands for defunding and abolition have run up against the integrality of race and class is in this sense a sign of progress insofar as it exposes the illusion that society as presently constituted can willingly adhere to such demands.

Another critical development arose in the last two years, which is virtually unique in the history of capitalism: tens of millions of workers around the world quit their jobs or looked for alternative ways of making a living. Never before have we witnessed such widespread and explicit rejection of alienated labor, as workers young and old asked why devote their time to servicing the needs of a labor process that so disregards their basic human needs. In so doing, they implicitly took aim at capital’s central dynamic—its effort to deny us control of our time through a system of value production governed by abstract universal labor time rather than “time as the space for human development.” As diverse and uncoordinated as this “great resignation” may be, it is a measure of dissatisfaction with the system.

This has coincided with an uptick of protests and unionization drives by those on the job. On March 17, P&O Ferries in the UK announced the sacking of 800 seafarers and their replacement by non-resident agency workers, working for as little as £1.80 an hour, or whatever the going rate is in their countries of origin. The company has admitted acting illegally in not consulting the unions beforehand, but regards the legal costs in the criminal and civil investigations it is facing to be outweighed by considerations of profitability and survival in a climate of cut-throat competition amongst ferry operators. Although there have been some protests by the unions (Rail, Marine, Transport and Nautilus) these have not as yet been effective: an initial occupation by workers of the ferries was broken up by taser-armed security guards. The company has now effectively succeeded in the sackings, as nearly all the workers have been blackmailed into signing “take it now or never” redundancy agreements. Being “competitive” in today’s economy does not, however, equate to previous notions about private ownership such as “shareowner democracy.” Formerly a public limited company, P&O is now owned by DP World, a state-owned company based in the United Arab Emirates, controlled by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. DP World made profits of £2.9 billion during the pandemic and paid out dividends of over £270 million to shareholders.

In the U.S., important gains have been made by public-sector workers like teachers and Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, who won the vote for a union—the first time it has succeeded in the U.S.—against one of the largest companies in the world. They not only won against overwhelming odds; most significant is that it came about through a multi-racial coalition of workers who formed an independent, grassroots union. As one report put it, “The win by a little-known, independent union with few ties to existing groups appears to raise as many questions for the labor movement as it answers: not least, whether there is something fundamentally broken with the traditional bureaucratic union model that can only be solved by replacing it with grassroots organizations like the one on Staten Island.”[10]

It is significant that such new labor organizing is occurring at firms that are responsible for the increasingly digitalized and atomized nature of social relations. The accelerated involuntary harvesting of our psyche, needs, and wants through commercial algorithms is becoming more aggressive and pervasive. The state and commerce are encroaching on spheres of “private” human activity with such an alarming abuse of power that processes of democracy are obviated in the march towards greater integration, automation, and virtuality. We have implicitly “opted in” for extremely invasive control and expropriation. These avenues of capitalist accumulation are extremely hard to fight even as they undermine the very democratic freedoms we’re fighting for. This calls for an expansive notion of democracy and self-determination as it relates to labor, joy, rest, and reproduction of our bodies and selves, along the lines of what Marx called “true democracy.”[11] For Marx, it means going beyond representative democratic structures that are compatible with capital’s property and class relations in order to achieve actual democratic control of the entire processes of social production and reproduction. It will be all the harder to achieve this, however, if the limited political space provided by bourgeois democracy is closed off.

The movement that may have brought the dimensions of class, gender, and ethnicity most closely together over the past two years is the citizens movement in Chile. Like other parts of South America, Chile has moved left at the very time that much of the rest of the world is going to the right. In a series of protests between October 2019 and March 2022, great masses of Chileans self-mobilized at unprecedented levels. During one single week in October 2019, more than 3.7 million took part, proportionally 2.5 times the share of the U.S. population that took part in the epochal Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Chileans won a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the neoliberal constitution imposed and enforced through state violence, and subsequently inaugurated a leftist President of their choosing, Gabriel Boric, on March 11, 2022.

The subjective forces driving the process in Chile are dispersed intersectionally throughout the population. These include high school and university students, marginalized urban workers, a militant feminist current, fighters for Indigenous rights, defrauded middle class pensioners, and environmental activists. Key characteristics of the Chilean movement are that, ideologically, it is decidedly pluralist, politically highly decentralized, feminist, and increasingly plurinational, with an affirmation of Chile’s mestizo and Indigenous roots.

The popular movement in Chile has produced cultural expressions which sustain it at each step. These include songs, music, street slogans, chants, graphic arts and murals reflective of local struggles and produced by local participants. It may be said that the Chilean movement is driven by a visceral affirmation of life in the face of death, the death of an equitable economy, the death of people’s dreams, death by pandemic, and death through climate collapse. Moreover, the resistance will have no problem in asserting its class independence and opposing the Boric administration when it becomes necessary. In this, it is fulfilling Marx’s belief in socialism from below, in the real possibility of self-activity leading to self-emancipation. The movement will have to do so in the face of challenges from local capitalists and from a large rightwing faction openly nostalgic for the brutal Pinochet dictatorship. It will also have to do so in face of U.S. imperialist pressure, if not worse. Above all, it faces global capital.

The radical ferment in Latin America is especially seen how women there have made monumental gains in bodily autonomy and reproductive rights in the last few years. After years of mass protests, Argentina legalized abortion at the end of 2020. Over a million women (and others) took to the streets to demand abortion rights at the end of 2018 and led to the legalization of abortion in one of Latin America’s most populated countries. Movement victories build on one another, a victory quickly followed when Colombia decriminalized abortion in February 2022 after its highest court struck down the criminal penalties against it. Abortion is now legal until 24 weeks of pregnancy in Latin America’s third most populated country. As abortion rights are quickly being rolled back in the U.S., and Texan women currently have no access to abortion in their state, it will be crucial that U.S. American women pay attention to feminist movements in Latin America to see how to fight against powerful anti-abortion foes.[12]

 

Part Three: The Tasks of Marxist-Humanism in Light of the Changed World

The present moment makes urgent a return to the Marxist-Humanist theory of state-capitalism. Its roots go back to the work of revolutionaries such as Raya Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James in the 1940s, who sought to respond to the USSR being heralded by many leftists around the world as “socialist,” even though it was one of the most exploitative regimes in the world. The theory of state-capitalism defined the “Johnson-Forest Tendency” (JFT) within the U.S. Trotskyist movement of the 1940s; it was often called the “State-Capitalist Tendency.”

Dunayevskaya was the first to prove the USSR was state-capitalist through a detailed Marxist economic analysis.[13] She argued that the law of value that Marx held characterizes capitalism and capitalism alone applied to the USSR (Stalin himself admitted this in 1944). It meant that just as in any capitalist society, the value of a commodity in the USSR was determined not by the actual amount of labor time needed to produce it but by the average amount of time that is socially necessary to do so on the world market. Thus, although it abolished the free market through the nationalization of private property, the USSR did nothing to abolish alienated labor and “production for the sake of production.” Like elsewhere, its workers performed labor that was measured by an abstract standard outside of their control.

This had clear political implications. The JFT’s contention that the USSR was state-capitalist did not depend on which pole of world capital was stronger or weaker (the U.S. was clearly far stronger at the time)—since such a stance ultimately leads revolutionaries to capitulate to a section of the global ruling class. It centered on refuting the notion that a change in property forms ensures an exit from capitalism. Few Marxists grasped this at the time, since they were raised on the notion that capitalism is defined by “market anarchy” and private ownership while socialism is defined by a planned economy and nationalized property. This was true not just of Stalinists but also many of their opponents, such as Leon Trotsky, who denied that the USSR was socialist but still defended it on the grounds that it had ended capitalism by abolishing private property. Trotsky’s error challenged revolutionaries to develop a deeper critique of capitalism that goes beyond opposing such phenomenal features as property and market relations. The alienation of the producers from direct democratic control of the means of production must be ended, otherwise the system is capitalist, regardless of what anyone calls it.

Dunayevskaya analyzed state-capitalism as a new global stage that took on different forms in the USSR, Hitler’s Germany, and FDR’s New Deal. Unlike other theories of state-capitalism (such as by Tony Cliff), she did not view it as a stabilizing factor; she instead pointed to the inherent instability of a “planned” system of value production, which suggested that new mass revolts were bound to arise against state-capitalism. This was confirmed in the post-World War II era, when a whole series of new movements from practice arose that reached for an alternative to both Western capitalism and statist “communism.”

In response to such developments, Dunayevskaya returned to the humanism of Marx that had become lost sight of in post-Marx Marxism. Marx’s critique of political economy goes much further than property forms and market relations; instead, it consists of a critique of alienated forms of human praxis—beginning but by no means ending with those the point of production. A Marxism that is adequate for our time has to be defined by opposition to all social formations—whether at work, in the family, or in everyday life—in which human relations take on the form of relations between things. This became integral to her development over the following decades of an intersectional Marxism that view struggles against racism and women’s oppression as no less integral to challenging the dominance of capital than the “general” class struggle.

While the theory of state-capitalism remains of critical importance, it is insufficient if it stops short of a philosophical reconstruction of Marx’s humanism for our time. It is central to developing a viable alternative to capitalism. We cannot know what a truly new human society is until it arrives; but we can conceive of intimations of it through a dialectical critique of the capitalist mode of production that is attentive to how struggles of masses of people at specific turning points aspire for non-alienated human relations. But as the history of the past century shows, the alternative to capitalism does not arise spontaneously; it takes hard theoretical labor.

Today’s state-capitalism is not the same as that of a century go—even though it is more closely connected to it than many presume. Our challenge is to respond to contemporary forms of state-capitalism, whether of the neo-liberal or neo-fascist variety, by addressing what kind of revolutionary transformation is needed to escape the capitalist law of value and surplus value. Sadly, this question remains largely unanswered, despite all the creative freedom movements from the 1950s to today. This is not the fault of the movements; it is due to the failure of radical theoreticians to fill the philosophic void in articulating an alternative to all forms of capitalism—either by not listening to the reason that comes from mass revolts or saddling them with the entire task of developing a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism. This evasion of theoretical responsibility must be overcome. There is no reason to assume that an alternative will automatically arise from the carnage produced by economic crisis, war, or environmental collapse. “Is there a viable alternative” remains the critical question.

This is where the role of our organization comes in—to become a philosophic nucleus of activist-theoreticians who can help work out, in dialogue with others outside our organization, a conception of what represents a genuine alternative to capitalism. No one organization can accomplish this by itself. But no organization can help accomplish it if it is bereft of a body of ideas capable to providing such a conception. The body of ideas of Marxist-Humanism is capable of providing such a conception. But we have to prove that by having an organization that is committed to exploring, working out, and articulating it, through on ongoing process that involves not just intellectuals but workers, women, BIPOC people, LGBTQ people, and youth.

While revolutionary theoreticians play a vital role, an organization that is not grounded in the material conditions and realities of oppressed peoples in the current moment will prove to be disconnected from reality. Those most affected by this increasingly predatory global system must be equally involved in developing these ideas. This includes workers, women, BIPOC people, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, climate activists, youth, and others whose experiences bring fresh insights to liberation. While we are a small organization, we need to develop avenues and processes for increasing the diversity of voices in our membership, in public meetings, our journal, and all spaces that may influence and add to the ideas that we are working out as an organization and with other outside organizations. While we have made some progress, we need to do better. We need explicit strategies and processes toward these ends.

Connecting with on-the-ground organizations is of critical importance to learn of the concrete struggles from first-hand observations and conversations with people, rather than relying primarily on news reports but also to demonstrate our humility in the face of the analyses that oppressed people articulate from their experiences, regardless of education levels, or perhaps because they have not worn, or worn less, the blinders that education systematically produces as an arm of the state. As Marxist-Humanists we must consistently challenge the non-dialectical binary that presents philosophy and practice as polar opposites. Dunayevskaya’s reference to the “revolutionary force and Reason” of workers, women and Black peoples is the articulation of the dialectic of practice and philosophy. The evidence of our organization’s faith in the people’s humanity may be one step to diversifying our membership.

We must also continue to further develop our members’ philosophical grounding. This is necessary to develop a revolutionary praxis that honors philosophy and action. Since we last met in a convention two years ago, we have won over a number of new members, many of them youth. We have made our web-based journal into an important source of political analyses and theoretical discussion. We have maintained a public face throughout the pandemic and have involved colleagues worldwide to an unprecedented degree. We have produced two new books: the first book-length collection of essays on Marxist-Humanism, Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism, and a soon-to-appear translation of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program with an extensive introduction, itself shaped by years of discussion in our organization. The latter constitutes our most important intervention into the debate over alternatives to capitalism and will become a major focal point in our work over the next two years.

To ensure that, it is essential that our organization conduct itself in accordance with the democratic and humanist principles that we espouse in our theoretical endeavors. Although in its infancy, we have begun this work by exploring how transformative justice can enable our organization to align our theory and practice more closely to Marxist-humanist principles. This is especially important at critical turning points in history that bring uncertainty, anxiety, and disagreements. Questions we need to explore include: how can our organization work out internal conflicts in more humanistic and non-punitive ways? Given the level of participation of women and other marginalized groups, what are some ways we can prioritize these voices that often get “left behind” because they may have a greater burden of caring labor? How can the IMHO engage more consistently in reflection, healing, and community building so that all our members can feel safe, heard and empowered in our spaces? To answer these questions, we need to move beyond a discussion circle to a group that develops philosophy organizationally.

Our organization cannot become “the” seed of the new society; that is neither possible nor desirable, since a small group cannot substitute for a social transformation by masses of people that releases new passions, forces, and ideas. But we can prepare for it by building upon the contributions that each of our members bring to the task of transforming reality.

—The Steering Committee of the IMHO

 

Footnotes

[1] “Why Ukraine Is a Syrian Cause,” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, March 17, 2022.

[2] Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2022: Yemen,” https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/yemen

[3] Jack Nicas, “War Threatens to Cause a Global Food Crisis,” The New York Times, March 12, 2022.

[4] Gregg Sargent, 2022. “Behind Tucker Carlson and J.D. Vance, A Revolt Against the GOP Unfolds,” The Washington Post, March 22, 2022.

[5] Quoted in Gregg Sargent, 2022.

[6] “Legislation Affecting LGBTQ Rights Across the Country,” March 25, 2022,  https://www.aclu.org/legislation-affecting-lgbtq-rights-across-country

[7] Timm, Jane C. “19 states enacted voting restrictions in 2021. What’s next?” NBC News, December 21, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/19-states-enacted-voting-restrictions-2021-rcna8342.

[8] Almost ten million of Ukrainians, and millions of Russians, Crimean Tartars, Uzbeks and others were killed off through this process of capital accumulation. For a new study of this, see Paul Kellogg, Truth Behind Bars: Reflections on the State of the Russian Revolution (Athabasca: AU Press, 2021).

[9] https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/IRB-2020-18-childcare-in-a-global-crisis-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-work-and-family-life.pdf.

[10] “Amazon Workers on Staten Island Give Unions a Surprise Win,” by Karen Weise and Noam Schreiber, The New York Times, April 2, 2022.

[11] For more on this, see Peter Hudis, “What is Democratic Socialism? What is Socialist Democracy?” https://imhojournal.org/articles/what-is-democratic-socialism-what-is-socialist-democracy.

[12] For more on this, see Rocío Lopez, “Latin American Women Make Monumental Gains in Reproductive Rights,” International Marxist-Humanist, April 5, 2022 https://imhojournal.org/articles/latin-american-women-make-monumental-gains-in-reproductive-rights/

[13] Many of these writings are collected in The Marxist-Humanist Theory of State-Capitalism, with an Introduction by Peter Hudis (Chicago: News & Letters, 1992).

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