We are writing to alert all readers and friends of a serious crisis afflicting News and Letters Committees (N&LC)—a crisis that places its very existence in jeopardy.
In response to philosophic disputes within N&LC over the past several years, an organized group within N&LC has usurped control of the organization and is acting in complete disregard of the democratically approved perspectives and principles that have defined it since it founding in 1955 as a decentralized, non-hierarchical group based on the unity of worker and intellectual, theory and practice, and philosophy and organization. Those wanting to continue our democratic and humanist heritage have formed the Marxist-Humanist Tendency of N&LC. It constitutes almost half of the membership of N&LC, and we appeal to you to support us in our effort to reverse the crisis that threatens America’s only Marxist-Humanist organization.
During the past five years, theoretical discussions within N&LC have made significant progress in exploring one of the most important questions facing today’s radical movements—“what happens after” the revolution. Our effort to develop a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism flows from the work of Raya Dunayevskaya. As she wrote in 1987 in the course of her work on a planned book on “Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy”: “The burning question of the day remains: What happens the day after? How can we continue Marx’s unchaining of the dialectic organizationally, with the principles he outlined in his  Critique of the Gotha Program? The question of ‘What happens after?’ gains crucial importance because of what it signals in self-development and self-flowering—‘revolution in permanence.’” In recent years we produced important theoretical work in focusing on this issue in the pages of News & Letters, in participating in numerous conferences, in editing and writing several books devoted to Marxist-Humanism, and in engaging in active dialogue with participants in the movements against global capital and in the anti-war, women’s liberation, gay and lesbian, labor, prisoner support, and Black liberation movements. This collective work represents an important step forward, since it marks the first time that a Marxist group has made a serious effort to reconnect with Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program by thinking out “what happens after” in a way that avoids the false alternatives of state plan vs. market. As a result, N&LC is becoming increasingly known in the U.S. and around the world as an organization that takes seriously the perspective of envisioning “what happens after” the revolution before it occurs.
Despite this important work, in recent years a small number within N&LC has opposed the perspective of working out a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism on the basis of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program and other writings. Although these critics have never articulated a coherent position or alternative to the organization’s effort to address alternatives to capitalism, they have undoubtedly been affected by the objective movement of the U.S. Left towards giving up on the possibility of revolution. Those in N&LC who oppose our perspectives have been united by one thing—an increasing lack of interest in revolutionary theory in general and Marxism in particular.
The problem is not the mere existence of theoretic disagreements. N&LC is a democratic organization that has always encouraged the freest discussion and debate, and we have never sought to impose a single interpretation or approach upon anyone. However, since our founding in 1955 it has been a principle in N&LC that its members are obliged to project and let the world know about the democratically approved perspectives adopted by the organization.
This principle is now being violated. During the past six months, the opponents of the organization’s perspectives have joined forces with some members who no longer believe that N&LC should be based on a specific set of ideas that have as their aim catching the historic continuity with Marx’s Marxism as well as working it out for our age. Voting for the organization’s annual Perspectives Thesis has for them become a mere routine that does not involve their actually working to develop Marx’s Marxism and Marxist-Humanism for the 21st century, and now they are actively interfering with the work of those of us who do take such development as our task.
Those who have moved away from the need to develop a viable Marxism for the 21st century have acted to prevent N&LC from functioning in such a way that its philosophic perspectives can be promoted, concretized, and developed. This is seen in a couple of local committees going off on their own without making even a minimal effort to project the democratically approved positions of the organization. It is seen in those who have launched personal attacks on those responsible for promoting the organization’s philosophic and political direction. And it is seen in a disdain on the part of some for creative theoretic work itself—as if repeating conclusions and phrases from Dunayevskaya substitutes for thinking out what Marx’s Marxism means for today.
The various critics of the philosophic direction of N&LC have not formed a tendency to promote their views. Nor have they—despite repeated requests to do so—ever proposed alternative perspectives for the organization to deliberate upon, and then approve or reject. Instead, in the past several months they have intrigued secretively to take control of N&LC in complete disregard for the democratic and consultative procedures by which it has always functioned.
Although N&LC has always been based on the principle that major decisions affecting Marxist-Humanism are to be discussed with the body entrusted with the day-to-day development of N&LC, the Resident Editorial Board, no member of the REB was informed until October, 2007 that a co-trustee of the Raya Dunayevskaya Memorial Fund (RDMF) had resigned his position four months earlier and that a new co-trustee had been secretly appointed by Olga Domanski without any consultation. Although N&LC and the RDMF are legally separate entities, the members of the REB and both elected national co-organizers (Olga Domanski and Peter Hudis) had always been consulted about developments concerning the RDMF since it was established in 1987. The co-trustees of the RDMF are now claiming that they have the power to make decisions regarding the publication and distribution of Dunayevskaya’s work without any input from or consultation with the members of N&LC.
This new practice of making unilateral decisions without even informing the membership has carried through to an assortment of actions regarding N&LC. Whereas the two national co-organizers of N&LC have always had mutual input into all issues regarding N&LC, in recent months one of the national co-organizers, Olga Domanski, has made a series of decisions without consulting or informing other members of the REB or the other elected national co-organizer, Peter Hudis. In February the finances of N&LC were hijacked when a few people flown in from another city stacked an REB meeting to vote down a motion that “both national co-organizers have full knowledge and control of all aspects of N&LC’s finances.” Incredibly, the claim is now being made that the organization’s finances are the property of one person, Olga Domanski!
This has created a situation in which some people now control N&LC while others have no control but are expected to work. Such a situation, which is completely unprecedented in the history of N&LC, is contrary to the philosophic principles of Marxist-Humanism.
In order to defend and implement the current Perspectives of the organization, democratically approved by an overwhelming majority six months ago, a large number of the members of N&LC have constituted themselves as The Marxist-Humanist Tendency of N&LC. The Marxist-Humanist Tendency of N&LC includes one of the two national co-organizers (Peter Hudis), half of the members of the Resident Editorial Board, almost half of the members of the National Editorial Board, majorities in the two largest and most active locals, Chicago and New York, and almost all of the youth in N&LC. The members of the Marxist-Humanist Tendency have done by far the most work over the past 20 years since Dunayevskaya’s death in 1987 to develop the political positions, theory and philosophy of Marxist-Humanism itself; edit and produce collections of Dunayevskaya’s writings, such as The Power of Negativity; write articles and books for outside publications; make foreign trips and carry on international correspondence; write the organization’s Perspectives Theses; and organize the work of the two largest locals in the organization. It is no accident that the vast majority of those responsible for developing Marxist-Humanism over the past 20 years have joined the Marxist-Humanist Tendency of N&LC, as have almost all of our newest members.
The intransigence of the opponents of the Marxist-Humanist Tendency, who have refused to listen or take into consideration our views in violation of socialist democratic norms, suggests that they are intent on pushing the members of the Marxist-Humanist Tendency out of N&LC.
In late February they sent a letter to the membership that hints at our expulsion. And they have refused to rule out expulsion as an option they might implement at a Convention that will take place at the end of May, an unprecedented “special Convention” that they called hastily and without any organizational discussion having taken place beforehand.
The group within N&LC that has usurped control of the organization has created an intolerable situation for the organization as a whole. It is despicable that only one, instead of the two, national co-organizers should have knowledge and control of N&LC’s finances, as well as to assert ownership and control over all of Dunayevskaya’s writings through the RDMF. To protest this situation, brought to a head when an REB meeting was stacked on February 3 to deny the organization control of its own finances, the members of the Marxist-Humanist Tendency decided not to write for or help edit the February-March issue of News & Letters. Those who boycotted this issue of News & Letters include the Managing Editor of News & Letters, Jim Mills, the “Our Life and Times” co-columnists, Kevin A. Barry and Mitch Weerth, the national co-organizer, Peter Hudis, and many others. We ask all readers of News & Letters to make your voices heard by protesting the actions of the clique that is threatening to destroy N&LC and to support the work of the Marxist-Humanist Tendency of N&LC.
We are convinced that the important philosophic work that has been accomplished by N&LC in recent years—most of it by those who are now affiliated with the Marxist-Humanist Tendency—provides a firm basis from which the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism can and will be continued. We cannot achieve this, however, without your support.
We are all being tested by this crisis, and it has been tremendously uplifting to see so many of our members and friends, especially those who have contributed in such a major way to our political-philosophic-organizational development in recent years, rise to the occasion by opposing the recent efforts to pull apart the body of ideas of Marxist-Humanist from organization. We cannot allow N&LC to be destroyed for the sake of some private enclaves. We must not allow a clique to undermine two decades of vital theoretic, political, and philosophic work. We must begin anew, and we are determined to do so—not just for the short term but for the long haul. We call on your solidarity and support, by sending messages of support to the Marxist-Humanist Tendency and expressing your shock and dismay at these recent developments to N&LC (firstname.lastname@example.org )
Kevin Anderson, author of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism and co-editor of The Power of Negativity and The Rosa Luxemburg Reader
Dan Beltaigne, longtime anti-war and labor activist
Dave Black, author, Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist and Philosopher in Mid-19th Century England and member of London Corresponding Committee
Peter Hudis, national co-organizer of News and Letters Committees and co-editor of The Power of Negativity and The Rosa Luxemburg Reader
Anne Jaclard, News & Letters writer on feminism and international solidarity and member of National Editorial Board of News & Letters
Andrew Kliman, author of Reclaiming Marx’s ‘Capital’ and co-editor of the journal Critique of Political Economy
Ian MacDonald, London Corresponding Committee
Alex Maktoob, youth activist and co-founder of the Anti-Capitalist Theory Project at Purdue University
Ray McKay, longtime activist in the Black liberation movement and member of National Editorial Board of News & Letters
Jim Mills, Managing Editor of News & Letters
Marilyn Nissim-Sabat, Department of Philosophy, Lewis University; member of the founding board of the Caribbean Philosophical Association; member of the advisory board of the Radical Philosophy Review’ and author of numerous publications and a forthcoming book
Tony Rayan, student activist
Ali Reza, activist and organizer to defend the progressive movement in Iran
Seth Rosen, youth activist
Carlos Saracino, anti-sweatshop activist and co-founder of the Anti-Capitalist Theory Project at Purdue University
George Shaw, London Corresponding Committee
Joshua Skolnik, News and Letters Youth Committee Representative
Heather Tomanovsky, youth activist
Mitch Weerth, member of National Editorial Board of News & Letters
Steve Williams, youth activist
Marxist-Humanist Tendency of News and Letters Committees
A statement from News and Letters has been put out in response to the MHT statement. This can be seen and debated at La Bataille Socialiste
Toward a New Marxist-Humanist Organization, After News and Letters Committees
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