Hobgoblin 1 1999


A handful of people who take it upon themselves to produce, on a shoestring, a new journal of radical theory and practice, need to face certain questions. Does their effort have any real significance, apart from their own sectarianism or egoism? Are their ideas serious and distinctive, and relevant in time and place? Can they communicate those ideas to a widening circle of readers, in an interesting and accessible way? If a positive answer can be found to these questions, then (if things go well) the new journal may sooner or later emerge from its obscure origins to influence mass consciousness and play some part in shaping the future. Otherwise its fate will be to disappear without trace or remain ineffective on the outer fringes of political life.

The theme of our new journal Hobgoblin is revolution. We reject both the ruling ideological assumption that capitalism is a benign and rational system, synonymous with freedom and prosperity; and the fatalistic acceptance that capitalism is here to stay, whether we like it or not. We believe that revolution is desirable and possible. By revolution we mean a conscious movement of working people and the dispossessed poor all over the world, to end the power of the capitalist state and the capitalist business corporation; to replace these with their own forms of self-government; to establish control of the world's natural, agricultural, industrial and technological resources and to apply to these their own intelligence and creative energies in order to meet the needs of all humankind.

To us, revolution also means dissolving all forms of oppression, such as racism and sexism, until freedom becomes the universal human condition. We assert the real possibility of a future, established on the overturn of capitalism, that will bring to each person a more expansive freedom and a truer prosperity - in the sense of sustainable wellbeing, quality of life and self-fulfilment. Deepening and refining the meaning of revolution in today's world will be the task of the magazine as a whole, a project in which we invite our readers to join us. Now, to advocate the idea of social revolution in all seriousness, we need to have a sober awareness of the difficulties involved. Capitalism, as an ideology, is going strong, even though the system is shaken by crises. Worldwide, much of the opposition to the prevailing 'global market economy' looks not to the Left, but towards reactionary and authoritarian alternatives, from religious fundamentalism to narrow nationalism. The socialist vision has receded. The reasons for our current predicament lie in the history of the twentieth century. At many times, in many countries, movements of the Left (reformist or revolutionary) have come to power. States have been declared 'socialist', means of production taken into state ownership, economies subjected to state planning, yet everywhere the essential relations of capitalism have reappeared in a new form. The worker, the human being, has remained alienated, dominated, exploited - however much the form and degree of severity may have differed between places and times.

The historic experience of so many 'false socialisms' - in our view, so many forms of state-capitalism - followed by the fact that, when the 'collapse of Communism' did occur, nothing truly new was born, but Western capitalism rushed in to fill the vacuum, has put in doubt the very possibility of a genuinely classless society, such as was envisaged by Karl Marx, and inspired countless socialists over many decades. On the threshold of a new century, how can a new beginning be made? We think that future progress must depend on working out a philosophy of revolution. This cannot be any complete and finished set of answers. Rather, it is a continuing endeavour to comprehend the full potential of the human being, the ways in which this potential is blocked by existing social and ideological structures, the passions and forces that keep arising to seek revolutionary change, and the scope of the transformation required. It means comprehending the tragedies and failures of the past, so as not to be burdened by them, but to avoid repeating them. It involves a self-critical attitude to our own praxis, so that we do not reproduce the alienating features of capitalist society - the treatment of people as instruments and not subjects, the separation of mental and manual labour - within our own movement. It is a unifying vision of a new society, that can link together the unceasing struggles against the system, great and small.

We are Marxist-Humanists. We find the foundations of our outlook in the ideas of Karl Marx. Unlike many other Marxists, we do not regard Marx as only an economist and political theorist, however great. We see the whole of his life's work, from the Communist Manifesto through the classic study of Capital to the study of non-capitalist societies undertaken in his last years, as a continuation of the philosophy that he termed a 'new humanism' in his early manuscripts of 1844.

For many years (since 1955) there has been an organisation of Marxist-Humanists in the USA, the News and Letters Committees. We recommend our readers to discover their monthly paper, News and Letters, and range of publications, especially the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya (1910 - 1987), the remarkable revolutionary and philosopher who gave shape to Marxist-Humanism in the modern world. The editors of Hobgoblin are a group of people who have an affinity with the ideas of News & Letters and have contributed articles to the paper over the years. With Hobgoblin we hope to bring a Marxist-Humanist perspective to England, and an English perspective to Marxist-Humanism. An important aspect of our work will be to connect to the history of revolutionary subjectivity in our own country, its traditions of protest and rebellion, its labour (note the small 'l') and feminist movements, and the important role of its successive waves of immigrants: the Irish, the European Jews, Afro-Caribbean Black people and Asians. Of course, this does not prevent us from either writing about international issues, or welcoming contributions from comrades and co-thinkers in other countries.

The problem facing us is to find a mode of expression for Marxist-Humanist ideas that is appropriate to the English context, and also viable when there are so few of us to do the work. To start with, publication will be irregular - as and when we can manage it - and therefore we cannot respond directly to the flow of events, as a monthly can. We must have a content that is not likely to go out of date while the magazine is on sale (or even before), so there will be an emphasis on theory and on history. Inevitably, the subject matter will also reflect our individual areas of knowledge and interest. We have no wish to be merely a "theoretical journal" (and we regard the traditional left division of "the paper" and "the paper" as reflecting the division between mental and manual labour in class society). We regret the lack of diversity. We would want our journal to include representative voices from people in different kinds of employment - and unemployment; Black, white and Asian; men and women; gay and lesbian as well as heterosexual; all who feel the need to reach out to a future of human freedom. We hope that some of our readers will want to become contributors themselves, and help us put right this deficiency.