The following is adapted from the Call that preceded our July 2014 Convention in Chicago. It takes up several issues of key importance to those struggling to overcome the stranglehold of capitalism, from the economy and Ukraine to the dialectics of race/class/revolution and the contributions of Marxist-Humanists to the fight for a new humanist society. We also call attention to our July statement of the IMHO on Gaza and to our August analysis of Ferguson, Missouri, as well as to our June statement on the challenge of ISIS. – Editors
Building our organization anew has become of critical importance, now that the crises of existing society (as well as of much of the Left) persists, and when a new generation of thinkers and activists are searching for an organizational expression of genuine Marxism that does not separate issues of class, race and gender from the articulation of a comprehensive alternative to global capitalism.
To formulate our specific tasks and perspectives for the coming period, we must begin by facing reality—especially in terms of what we are confronting in the aftermath of the economic crisis of the past six years.
In some respects, the U.S. and Europe have begun to recover from the 2008 recession, a crisis of such vast proportions that it raised serious questions about the ability of capitalism to renew itself economically. However, the recovery, such as it has been, is proving quite anemic. Unemployment rates in many of the major industrialized countries—24 million are unemployed in Europe alone—remain far above pre-2008 levels, while the level of under-and-unemployment in much of the developing world has only barely improved. Despite pumping over eight trillion dollars into the economy to restore investor confidence since 2008, the U.S. Federal Reserve admits that “continued slow growth” and high unemployment—coupled with increased drives for austerity and cutbacks of government programs—is bound to remain with us for the foreseeable future. This goes hand in hand with a remarkable increase in levels of social inequality. While real wages for most U.S. workers have stagnated since 1975, wages of the top 1 per cent have risen 165 percent and 362 percent for the top 0.1 percent. As one recent study shows, this level of inequality will only increase in coming years as the ratio of capital to income continues to grow at a disproportionate rate at the expense of labor.[i]
What many economists call “secular stagnation”—a dearth of sufficient investment capital to enable the economy to make up ground lost since 2008—appears to have become the specter haunting global capitalism. Growth rates even in such powerhouses as China, India and Brazil have come down markedly in the past two years. The World Bank recently reported that economic growth in the developing world—where 90 percent of the populace lives on less than $10 a day—will be significantly lower in the next decade than in the last 25 years, creating a serious drag on economic development in the world as a whole.
Despite the impressive growth rates that some parts of the global economy reported prior to 2008, most—especially in the developed countries—were achieved through a massive robbery of the earned assets of working people, not by significantly expanding the scope of expanded reproduction through productive investment. Privatization of industries, gutting of pension plans, redistributing vast amounts of value from labor to capital through give-backs and global competition has enabled capitalists to reap significant profits, but not on the level that it proved capable of prior to the global economic crisis of the mid-1970s. It is one thing to cannibalize value from existing sources, and quite another to create significant amounts of new capital through productive investment. In short, there has been no sustained “boom” on a global level sufficient to return capitalism to anywhere near what it experienced from the late 1940s to the early-1970s. Marx’s prediction that the replacement of living labor by capital would reach the point where the reproduction of the value of accumulated capital on an ever-expanding scale would run into a persistent decline in the rate of profit seems to sum up the reality we have been experiencing for the past 35 years.
This continues to have profound effects on women and minorities. In the U.S. and internationally, governments have responded with strict austerity measures to deal with budget shortfalls. For example, in the U.S. from 2007 to 2011, state and local governments eliminated about 765,000 jobs. Of these job losses, 70% were women and 20% were African American.[ii] This clear disparity has much to do with the fact that state and local governments have tended to provide greater job opportunities to these groups than has the private sector. The question remains, what happens to these workers once they lose their jobs?
For many African Americans and Latino/as in the U.S., the answer is clear—they are swept up into the juggernaut of criminal justice system, which now serves as a warehouse for the permanent army of the unemployed. Nothing has changed in terms of the “new Jim Crow” that defines the life of African Americans in the U.S. since Obama came to power: if anything, racist-inspired “stand your ground” laws and incarceration of African American youth for even the most minor infractions continues largely unabated. The past two years, however, has witnessed a powerful pushback against these conditions by a new generation of activists—especially in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin—that has the potential to bring forth a freedom movement that challenges U.S. racialized capitalism.
While many economists and the press are touting the fact that women have fared better since the recession and actually have had greater job growth than men, the fact is that a good portion of job creation has come in the form of service sector jobs. Those jobs tend to traditionally fall to women because of the gender division of labor that places them in “caring” roles. As such, in most cases they tend to provide less remuneration and labor unions are more difficult to organize because of a lack of centralized work environment. This is in addition to the fact that a lack of wage growth in nearly all sectors of the economy has meant that many at lower income levels cannot afford childcare or nursing care for the elderly. As a result, women have disproportionately taken on these roles, either in addition to their jobs, or facing the costs associated with private care options, have opted to stay home. This, of course, is also related to the gender pay gap that remains in the U.S., where women make about 77 cents on the dollar to men.
Moreover, the patriarchal backlash continues in the U.S from religiously based arguments opposing the birth control mandate in the Obamacare Law from companies such as Hobby Lobby, to attempts to make abortions more difficult. Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin and North Dakota have recently passed laws that may force a number of clinics to close because doctors at the clinics would be required to have hospital admitting privileges. In Texas this law has gone into effect, while court injunctions have temporarily stopped it in the other states. The closures in Texas have had significant effects on women’s ability to get an abortion.
Marxist-Humanism has much to offer those seeking to challenge this persistent sexism and racism. Philosophically, the humanism of Marx provides the ground for a theory of gender and race relations that is neither economistic nor separated from capital’s law of motion. These issues and our unique positions on them offer the opportunity for the much needed growth of the IMHO.
Capitalism will not just roll over and die because it faces an endemic crisis of profitability. It still has a lot that helps keep it going—not least the widespread impression, fueled in particular by the failure of numerous efforts to supplant capitalism, that there is no viable alternative to existing society. This, more than anything else, represents the barrier that we must help others—as well as ourselves—cross conceptually.
Surely, important efforts have been made in many parts of the world over the past two years to challenge aspects of existing society. Many of these protests had a distinctive characteristic, in creating new forms of discussion, dialog and decision-making as they reclaimed public spaces against their respective governments. This was central to both the Arab Revolutions and the Occupy Movement. It was also evident in the protests in Turkey at Gezi Park, the demonstrations this winter in Bosnia in Sarajevo, and the protest movement in Ukraine, in Kiev’s Maidan.
In many of these popular assemblies served as assemblies of direct democracy. An activist in the Sarajevo protests, Damir Arsenijevic, stated, “A plenum is an assembly of all members of the group. It is a public space for debate. It has no leaders or prohibitions…A plenum is not a political party, or an NGO, or a one-person association. A plenum is the real, and the only, democracy. A plenum makes and adopts demands to all the institutions of state power by its own declaration.”[iii] Such forms of protest—seen in Occupy and Gezi Park—transformed the lives of many of its participates by providing a sense of what a new society could be like.
The Ukrainian uprising and its aftermath constitute one of the most important events of the past year, both subjectively and objectively. At a subjective level, it showed the creativity of the masses and the fragility of state power, even when surrounded by a repressive police apparatus and enjoying the support of a foreign imperialist ally. The overthrow of the government of Viktor Yanukovich involved mass street protests of up to 800,000 people and the occupation of the Maidan, Kiev’s central square, for weeks on end in the dead of winter. Despite efforts by Putin’s Russia to prop up Yanukovich with billions in loans, and police repression that resulted in over 100 deaths, in the end the regime collapsed, with the police melting away, the army going over to the people, and Yanukovich fleeing.
Still, we cannot overlook the fact that in all the popular movements since 2011 a major limitation has been the weakness of a theoretical-political perspective within them that opposes all forms of capitalism and envisions a comprehensive alternative to the dominance of capital. So long as this lacuna remains, the movements risk being taken over by elements that are inimical to their aspirations.
In Ukraine, this is reflected in the one force that was well organized and prepared for street fighting, the hard nationalist right. While it is a figment of Russian state propaganda to call the entire uprising fascist or reactionary on this score, this does not mean that such a development is not a serious danger for the future of Ukraine. This would be the case even if Putin were not using it as a justification for his imperialist moves into Ukrainian territory.
A second contradiction concerned a major part of the agenda of the Kiev protests—affiliating with the European Union and thereby receiving a multibillion-dollar loan package. This seemed to take little account of the kind of austerity measures the EU and other international lending agencies would demand. The fact that the working class did not appear under its own banner, plus the weakness of the Ukrainian left, meant that the uprising lacked a much of social, let alone an anti-capitalist dimension.
Despite these contradictions, the Ukrainian uprising was on the whole a positive event, one that showed both the power and the creativity of a mass movement against authoritarianism and imperialism. It shook up not only Ukraine, but also Russia, and scared regimes as far away as the Iranian theocracy, which expressed its fears via feverish coverage in the state media. For Putin’s Russia, the fear is that of a Maidan in Moscow. As James Meek wrote: “Putin’s great fear is that the people of a future better Ukraine might inspire an entirely different unification with their East Slav brethren on his side of the border—a common cause of popular revolt against him and other leaders like him. The revolution on Maidan Nezalezhnosti…is the closest yet to a script for his own downfall.”[iv]
Inside Russia, the democratic opposition saved its own honor by mounting a 50,000 strong demonstration on the eve of the Crimea referendum, March 15. Slogans included “Hands off Ukraine” and “No to war.” A much smaller counter-demonstration took place under the slogan, “There will be no Maidan in Moscow.” That is probably true for now, but the specter of Maidan surely haunts Putin, even as his jingoism has temporarily jacked up his popularity ratings.
At an objective level, the Ukrainian uprising touched off a regional if not a global crisis, involving Russia, the EU, and U.S. imperialism. Putin immediately annexed Crimea, a territory that Russia has long claimed and which has its most important naval bases, and threatens to destabilize or annex outright, other parts of eastern and southern Ukraine where there are large numbers of Russian speakers.
Of course, Putin is well aware that U.S. imperialism has been drained by over a decade of disastrous wars and is in no position to make any kind of military response in a place like Ukraine, to which it never gave security guarantees in any case. Also, some argue that the close economic ties now existing between Russia and the West would preclude an actual Cold War. It is true, for example, that Russia supplies a third of the natural gas for the European Union, while also serving as a magnet for exports from the EU. But pre-World War I Europe also had deep economic ties among rival powers, which many, including reformist socialists, erroneously thought would preclude a European war.
As Marxist-Humanists, we stand firmly alongside the Ukrainian people and the democratic forces within Russia. Putin’s regime rests upon a neo-Stalinist ideology that regards the collapse of the USSR as a tragedy. Reeking of Russian chauvinism, this ideology also contains elements of older versions of Tsarist Pan-Slavism, especially the notion of “protecting” Russian minorities abroad. This is why the Putin clique reveres the reactionary Slavophile Alexander Solzhenitsyn, even as it expresses nostalgia for the regime that imprisoned him.
Speaking during the 1917 revolution, Lenin castigated all such notions: “If Finland, Poland or Ukraine secede from Russia, there is nothing bad in that. What is wrong with it? Anyone who says that is a chauvinist.” Confronting this legacy will have to involve a critique, on Marxist and humanist ground, of all forms of statist communism, Lenin’s included.
The writings of our founder Raya Dunayevskaya’s colleague, the Black autoworker Charles Denby, have been taken up in the publication of a major treatment of his life and work. Jacqueline Jones’s A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America, contains a final chapter entitled “Simon P. Owens [aka Charles Denby]: A Detroit Wildcatter at the Point of Production.” The book and the chapter on Denby (Owens) received favorable treatment in reviews in the New York Times and even the Wall Street Journal and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History.
In analyzing Denby’s actions and ideas, Jones stresses the interrelation of race, class, and Marxist-Humanism. She notes Denby’s perception of white working class racism as the major impediment to social revolution in America, writing of “those workers who insisted as identifying themselves as white in opposition to their Black co-workers.” At the same time, she chronicles his lifelong quest, sometimes successful, to create working class solidarity across racial lines.
A Dreadful Deceit also chronicles with great subtlety Denby’s and Dunayevskaya’s advocacy of “the merging together of philosophy and activism” that would take workers beyond the act of rebellion and toward an understanding of “the underlying causes of their grievances” and of the need for “a bold plan to build a new society on the remnants of the old.” Fittingly, their commitment to “the role of philosophy in guiding workers to self-understanding, as opposed to simply collecting workers’ stories and letting those stories point toward the revolution” is portrayed as the major cause of their split with C.L.R. James in 1955.
Jones details Denby’s trenchant critiques of other forms of radicalism that did not measure up to the challenges of the times, among them Stokely Carmichael’s version of Black nationalism: “Deeply committed to black-white cooperation, [Denby] was appalled that Stokely Carmichael… seemed bent on turning LCFO [Lowndes County (Alabama) Freedom Organization] into not just an all-black but also an anti-white organization.” She also quotes his warning that nationalists “are called radical today” but “are conservative because their action will inevitably take them to an unconscious coalition with the politics of extremist whites.” In similar fashion, the Maoist-led Black workers’ movement of the late 1960s cut itself off from its potential base in the Detroit automobile plants, as against the 1973 wave of strikes and occupations that united workers across racial lines.
Jones’s discussion of Denby, while not fully appreciative of the importance of Marxist-Humanism’s overall philosophical contribution, constitutes a real contribution to our understanding of the history of American Black and labor struggles, and to Marxist-Humanism’s relationship to that history. Its publication demonstrates that many want to know more about how our ideas address the inter-relation of class, gender and race in such a way as to provide a basis for articulating an emancipatory alternative to all forms of capitalism.
[i] See especially Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).
[ii] See D. Cooper, M. Gable and A. Austin, “The Public Sector Job Crisis,” Economic Policy Institute. http://www.epi.org/publication/bp339-public-sector-jobs-crisis.
[iii] Juraj Karalenac, “What’s up with Bosnia,” Controappuntoblog, Feb. 14, 2014.
[iv] James Meek, London Review of Books, March 20, 2014, p. 3.