We wish to inform you of the collapse of News and Letters Committees (N&LC) and of our intention to found a new Marxist-Humanist organization. This is our response to the crisis in N&LC, which has reached the point of no return. The members of its Marxist-Humanist Tendency are being forced out of N&LC by crass and undemocratic means, in violation of its constitution and all principles of socialist democracy.
Nearly half the organization formed the Marxist-Humanist Tendency in January in order to try to return N&LC to Marxist-Humanist practice. The Tendency operated openly, democratically and pursuant to the N&LC constitution, but a group who had seized control over N&LC’s name and resources maneuvered to get rid of us rather than to debate our disagreements. This group recently “suspended” some of us for our political actions, and the prospects of getting N&LC back on a Marxist-Humanist path appear nil. So we are leaving that shell of an organization today.
Members of the Marxist-Humanist Tendency have reconstituted ourselves as the Marxist-Humanist Committee, a temporary working group of individuals who seek to re-found a Marxist-Humanist organization in the United States. We call on all supporters of Marxist-Humanism to contribute to our effort to work out the Marxist-Humanist concept of the relationship between philosophy and organization for the 21st century.
The underlying cause of the break-up of N&LC is several years of differences over the philosophy and practice of Marxism and Marxist-Humanism. At the heart of these differences was that some in N&LC recoiled from working out a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism, preferring instead to simply repeat conclusions and give lip service to the ideas of Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. This is despite the fact that Dunayevskaya held that working out the question “what happens after the revolution” before it occurs is crucial for overcoming one of the most important and unresolved problems in the history of Marxism—the separation of philosophy from organization.
Over the past several years many members of N&LC have made vital contributions in addressing the issue of alternatives to capitalism. It is reflected in the work that went into creating The Power of Negativity (2002), edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin Anderson, a selection of Dunayevskaya’s writings that focused on the dialectical relation between philosophy and organization. It is reflected in the essays that members of N&LC have published in News & Letters and other journals on the dialectics of organization, women’s liberation, Marx’s legacy, and the need for an emancipatory vision that challenges the claim to “there is no alternative” to capitalism. It is reflected in Andrew Kliman’s book Reclaiming Marx’s Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2007), as well as British comrade David Black’s book Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary, Journalist, and Philosopher in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (2004). It is reflected in the series of exciting classes that many members organized and led over the past four years on Marx’s work, especially his Critique of the Gotha Program, which brought many new youth, workers and feminists to the organization. The vital work done by a large number of the members of N&LC in seriously grappling with the issue of alternatives to capitalism is especially reflected in a series of Perspectives Theses that were painstakingly developed and democratically adopted by the members of N&LC at several national gatherings in recent years.
However, the more that some members made progress in the effort to theorize alternatives to capitalism, the more this work, especially work concerning Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, came under attack by others in N&LC who have moved away from even a minimal effort to develop Marxism and Marxist-Humanism for today. These critics have never articulated a coherent position or alternative to the efforts of some of us to address what Marx’s Marxism and Marxist-Humanism mean for today. They instead acted, over the past year especially, to deny the activists and theoreticians who supported the organization’s Perspectives any influence within N&LC. Last year one of the national co-organizers, Olga Domanski, began making unilateral decisions without any consultation or discussion with her co-organizer, Peter Hudis, or the other leaders of N&LC—those who had pioneered the work in the organization to theorize alternatives to capitalism. When many members objected, they were ignored or attacked on personal grounds. Domanski and her supporters also began to assert that she had the right to unilateral control over the finances of the organization as well as legal control over many of Dunayevskaya’s writings that are contained in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection and its Supplement.
We responded in January 2008 by forming the Marxist-Humanist Tendency of News and Letters Committees (MHT), which called for N&LC to return to its long-held tradition of adhering to democratic norms. In response, the grouping opposed to us stacked meetings of the Resident Editorial Board (REB) by flying in people from outside Chicago to vote down our attempts at compromise, and in February they called for a “special” national convention in late May without any discussion of its aim or purpose (an act completely unprecedented in the history of N&LC); our questions about the aim and purpose of this special convention were ignored. On March 22, Domanski was censured by the REB for refusing to comply with a decision to share control of finances, and other measures were taken to try to break the control of the group opposing us.
The next day, a rump REB, completely undemocratically and in violation of the N&LC constitution, claimed that the National Editorial Board (NEB) reversed the decisions of the legitimate meeting and “suspended” seven members of the MHT from membership—even though the NEB has no such authority and the full NEB did not vote; in fact, some members of the NEB were not even informed about the matter! All this was done without even presenting those “suspended” with any charges—in clear violation of the Constitution of N&LC. The clique then changed the locks on the Chicago office door, barring the duly elected co-national organizer Peter Hudis, the Managing Editor of the newspaper Jim Mills, and other MHT members from access.
These shocking actions are contrary to the entire practice and spirit that guided N&LC since its founding in 1955. An organization in which a small group controls everything while those who do the significant theoretical and practical work are denied any input and control is not a viable Marxist-Humanist organization.
Why did they so pervert the structure and functioning of N&LC so that ideas no longer mattered to what the organization did? The answer is that those who recoiled from the philosophic direction to which N&LC was formally committed decided to destroy what they could not control by trying to purge the organization of those with whom they disagreed. The grouping that now controls N&LC would rather drive out almost half of the members of the organization—including its best-known theoreticians and activists, the majorities of the two biggest locals (Chicago and New York) and virtually all of its youth—than have N&LC actually implement its declared perspectives of working out a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism. The root of the problem is that those who opposed us in N&LC have been affected by the objective movement of much of the U.S. Left towards giving up on the possibility of revolution and abandoning Marxism.
With the departure of the MHT, News and Letters Committees is a shell of its former self. The members of the MHT hereby formally resign from it.
The members of the MHT aim to create a new organization that will ensure that the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism has an organizational expression—an organization that will live up to the unique philosophic contributions that have guided Marxist-Humanism from its founding by working out a unity of theory and practice, worker and intellectual, and philosophy and organization. We aim to develop and project a truly viable vision of a truly new, human society that can give vital direction to today’s freedom struggles. This task will take much effort, but we are beginning at once by studying and discussing the historic separation between philosophy and organization and how to overcome it, the totality of Marx’s Marxism in which our philosophy is grounded, and Raya Dunayevskaya’s body of ideas—especially her writings of the 1980s which particularly focused on this subject.
Unlike the members of the rump N&LC, we will not pay mere lip service to the ideas of Raya Dunayevskaya. Their history of simply repeating phrases and conclusions from her writings, without working out Marxist-Humanism as a live body of ideas that demands concretization, has done great violence to her legacy. Much more is at issue in the events that led to this split than the mistreatment of some of N&LC’s most loyal and committed members—although that is no small matter. Worst of all is that the very content of Marxist-Humanist ideas are being vulgarized and caricatured by the rump group attempting to operate as N&LC!
The new Marxist-Humanist Committee is an interim group that over the next several months will attempt to draw up principles, direction, and goals for a new, permanent, viable U.S. Marxist-Humanist organization that we aim to establish. This is a vital task that we cannot do on our own. We invite all supporters of Marxist-Humanism to join us in this effort to create a new Marxist-Humanist organization by providing us with your input, ideas, political support, and financial contributions. We pledge to share our work with people outside our Committee who want to support us, and we urge those who agree that this task is the challenge of our times, to join in it.
May 24, 2008
P.O. Box 60061
Chicago, IL 60660