From the genocide in Palestine and Ukraine to the fascist threat: Working toward a revolutionary, Marxist-Humanist response

First published at The International Marxist-Humanist.

Part I: Does Today’s Objective Situation Represent the Midnight of the Twenty-First Century?

Today’s global capitalism is sinking into unimaginable levels of barbarism. It is exemplified by Israel’s genocidal war against Palestine; Russia’s escalating attacks on Ukraine; the violent suppression of mass movements in Peru, Iran, Sudan, Myanmar, and China; and in the growing threat posed by the neo-fascist far-Right in India, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Argentina, and the U.S., where the re-election of Donald Trump in November looms as a real possibility.

Nowhere is this barbarism more glaring than in Israel’s genocide in Gaza and its intensifying attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. The 32,500 officially recorded killed in Gaza as of this writing is horrendous enough; but the dehumanization visited upon Palestinians extends even further. Almost 20,000 (mainly women and children) are missing and presumably buried under rubble, while well over a million-and-a-half are facing outright starvation and disease. The devastating impact of Israel dropping 30,000 air-to-ground munitions (not counting artillery shells and demolitions by its ground troops) on an area not much larger than Manhattan has birthed a new acronym—WCNSF, “Wounded Child with No Surviving Family.” According to reports from several human rights organizations, 17,000 Palestinian children fall under this category. Israel’s totally disproportionate response to the Hamas attack of October 7 has become one of the most horrendous catastrophe ever visited upon a people in our lifetime.

This is being done by an Israeli government that includes “moderates” as well as far-Rightists and which openly broadcasts and even boasts about its murderous onslaught. As Pankaj Mishra recently wrote,

We find ourselves in an unprecedented situation. Never before have so many witnessed an industrial-scale slaughter in real time. Yet the prevailing callousness, timidity and censorship disallows, even mocks, our shock and grief. Many of us who have seen some of the images and videos coming out of Gaza—those visions from hell of corpses twisted together and buried in mass graves, the smaller corpses held by grieving parents, or laid on the ground in neat rows—have been quietly going mad over the last few months. Every day is poisoned by the awareness that while we go about our lives hundreds of ordinary people like ourselves are being murdered, or being forced to witness the murder of their children.

All of this is made possible by continuous U.S. arms shipments and financial aid to a government whose ministers make no secret of its desire to “clear” Gaza of its populace. As the war continues, Israeli settlers, aided by the state, have also been murdering Palestinians and taking over land in the West Bank, which has received little publicity in the global media. From October 7 to the end of March, over 7,000 West Bank Palestinians have been arrested and 1,100 killed by Israeli forces or Jewish settlers, leading to what some Israeli officials privately call “a volcano” ready to erupt.1

Israel’s plunge into total depravity risks setting off an even-wider regional conflagration, as it extends its attacks against Hezbollah in Lebanon while even contemplating taking on Iran.

These developments clearly represent a global political turning point. Mishra does not overstate the case: “Israel today is dynamiting the edifice of global norms built after 1945, which has been tottering since the catastrophic and still unpunished war on terror and Vladimir Putin’s revanchist war in Ukraine.”2

Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu are united when it comes to at least one thing—both insist that the peoples they are violently suppressing (Ukraine in one case, Palestine in the other) have no right to exist as national entities. For years prior to Russia’s imperialist invasion (which actually started in 2014), Putin insisted, “Ukraine is a fiction, it has never been a real nation”—the same kind of verbiage employed for decades by leading Zionists about Palestine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov let the cat out of the bag in February in stating, “Israel’s declared goals in Gaza are similar to Russia’s in Ukraine.” Ramzy Baroud, an editor of Palestine Chronicle and who supports Ukraine’s right to defend itself from Russia and also condemns the West for opposing Russia while supporting Israel’s war against Palestine responded, “Lavrov’s position is bizarre and greatly offensive…because it resembles some kind of a political nod for Israel to continue with its lethal war on Palestinian civilians without worrying about a strong Russian response.”3

Lavrov’s comment may indicate that Putin is looking ahead to a Trump presidency, which would almost certainly pull the plug on U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Toning down criticism of Israel for the sake of cementing an alliance with Trump’s white nationalism is not a big step for Putin, since he is a white nationalist himself (as is Netanyahu, who has refrained from criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine).

While the Ukrainians fight on, they have clearly been set back their heels in recent months by declining military support from the West. Russia on the other hand is obtaining huge amounts of armaments from Iran and North Korea while evading the impact of U.S. and EU sanctions by expanding economic links to China. Last year, China’s exports to Russia increased 54% and half of Russia’s oil was exported to China. Overall trade between the two countries has increased 64% since the 2022 invasion. As a result, Russia’s economy is expected to grow 2.6% this year, outpacing each of the major industrial economies in the G7.

If Ukraine is defeated by Russia, it will embolden the far right everywhere—not only in Europe but also in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, where Putin is providing support to military regimes in Libya, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and the Central African Republic after having enabled Bashir Assad to crush the opposition in Syria.

The global far-Right includes forces allied with U.S. imperialism and it includes forces opposed to U.S. imperialism. It is a ubiquitous political phenomenon that has deep roots in the economic morass that increasingly characterizes contemporary capitalism.

Although the global economy has avoided for now the major recession that was widely feared only a year ago, it is expected to slow for the third straight year in 2024 and is headed for its weakest half-decade since the early 1990s. Rising levels of debt and lower than average rates of labor productivity are the main culprits. And the (relatively meager) economic growth that is occurring is accompanied by ever-growing levels of inequality, as millions of rural laborers are forced off the land, rising number of migrants cross international borders in response to the impact of climate change, and tens of millions of workers worldwide are displaced by labor-saving devices (such as robotics, AI, etc.). Economic distress and insecurity are not the only factors driving the growth of the far-Right, but they are clearly one of the determinants.

The growth of the far Right is being enabled by the pitiful effort of neoliberals and social democrats to counter it. Neoliberals have no solution to the economic morass afflicting global capitalism—and this has a lot to do with why the far-Right is on the rise.

This was demonstrated on a political level earlier this year when Biden proposed a bill on “immigration reform” (supported by most Democratic and some Republican senators) that adopted virtually word for word Trump’s anti-immigrant policies—even though these same Democrats denounced them as cruel, inhumane, and racist when he was in power. Senator Chris Murphy, who helped write the bill, confessed: “They—the Republican Party—told us what to do. We followed their instructions to the letter. And then they pulled the rug out from under us in 24 hours” when Trump chose to not let Biden get credit for his own policies.

This is typical of neoliberals and social democrats everywhere: They often seek to meet rightists “halfway” by attempting to steal their thunder only to have such weakness further embolden them. Given this, it is not a stretch to recall the fate of Germany’s Weimar Republic of the 1920s and early 1930s: the compromises and vacillation on the part of some claiming to support bourgeois democracy inadvertently paved the way for its destruction.

Trump and his supporters have made no secret of their plans if they win the November U.S. elections: the immediate deportation of millions of immigrants, the annulment of innumerable health and safety regulations, a push for a national ban on abortion, prohibiting discussions of race and racism in schools, gutting the NRLB to make it harder to unionize, unleashing the police against Black people, and restricting gender-affirming care for transexuals. And they have worked out detailed plans to make it harder for workers and minorities to vote—and to annul the results of any election that threatens their all-consuming drive for total state power.

Especially serious is the threat posed by climate change. Last year was officially the hottest one on record and temperatures in July broke the record as well, according to NASA.4 The Biden administration has touted its Inflation Reduction Act as key to solving the climate crisis, but its programs to develop clean energy and help workers transition to new jobs is too little and too late. It is too late because the effects of climate change are already apparent, and we may be at or very close to a tipping point of no return to “normal.” It is too little in the sense that the bill operates under a capitalist logic, providing subsidies to businesses to invest in clean energy, for example, while at the same time allowing fossil fuel production to continue.

The U.S. is now producing record amounts of fossil fuels for domestic and international markets. It has approved new drilling in Alaska, liquified natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, and greenlighted the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia,5 illustrating yet again how the needs of capital and its denizens for “cheap” oil and big profits eclipse the long-term survival of human beings.

Moreover, the Biden administration is touting the purchase of one million new electric vehicles in 2023 as a major ecological and economic success.6 Certainly, for purposes of future greenhouse gas emissions, electric cars are better than gas powered ones. However, the productivist logic remains in place. Electric cars produce less greenhouse gas in their lifetimes, but new vehicle production is still environmentally costly regardless of the type produced. More electric vehicle production is not in and of itself carbon neutral. Only by overcoming the productivist logic that greater output is inherently better for humanity and the environment will we begin to overcome this ecological crisis. That productivist logic will surely be further implemented if rightwing authoritarian nationalism consolidates its hold on state power.

Brazil offers a dramatic example the inability of neoliberalism and social democracy to counter such threats. After the coup d’état in 2016, Michel Temer and especially Jair Bolsonaro promoted a destruction of the environmental laws and institutions that have been helping to protect Brazilian forests. Bolsonaro’s administration (2016 to 2022) protected the criminals who followed his orders: the former Environmental Minister, Ricardo Salles, who was convicted of fraud against natural reserves;7 the secretary for agrarian questions, Luiz Antônio Nabhan Garcia, onetime leader of a militia that killed 21 militants of the Landless Workers Movement (MST)8. Then, with Bolsonaro’s help, a group of landlords in the 2022 elections won most of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, even as Lula won the presidency.

Two of The Bolsonaro administration’s most iconic symbols were the “day of fire,” when a group of landlords managed to burn down large portions of the Amazon Rainforest,9 changing almost 50% of the Nature Reserves into a pasture,10 and an attempted genocide against the Yanomami people.11 After Lula of the Workers’ Party (PT) won the 2022 election, the federal government tried to help the Yanomamis by providing food, healthcare and police protection. However, the gold prospectors continued to attack and invade their lands; the efforts of the PT to end this environmental and human crisis ended up a huge failure.

The PT and Lula can try anything they want to improve environmental protections, but the landlords, many of whom are deputies in the Brazilian Congress, won’t approve any laws that don’t benefit them. It’s a kind of mafia-ization of politics. Ever since Dilma Rousseff’s administration (2011 to 2016), Brazil has witnessed a massive commodification of nature, such as with REDD+, which pays farmers to “protect” a small area of their lands. Bolsonaro further developed this law and institutionalized payment for environmental services. And now Lula is trying to approve the newest version of a Brazilian carbon market. Since most laws approved and developed by the PT to protect the environment are subsumed under the interests of capital, it becomes hard to fight back against the landlords and the far-Right trying to set fire to the Rainforest and invading the Yanomami’s land.

Massive threats also loom regarding gender and sexuality. After the Dobbs decision in the U.S., abortion is either greatly restricted or completely illegal in 23 states, making it difficult or sometimes impossible for women to get the procedure. But as was indicated by a ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court, the goal of Christian fundamentalists is much broader. Using a law that grants a fetus personhood at the moment of conception, the Court ruled that an IVF clinic was liable for the destruction of embryos stored at their facility, causing a number of clinics to close their doors until the law was clarified. After much backlash, legislators carved out an exception to fetal personhood for IVF providers. However, the concept of life originating at the moment of conception remains in place, all but eliminating women’s reproductive choice in the state. It is far from surprising that other rightwing-dominated states are looking to Alabama as a model.

Along with anti-LGBTQ legislation and violence in the U.S. we have witnessed an effort in many African nations to criminalize LGBTQ individuals. In fact, 30 of 54 countries in Africa criminalize homosexuality.12 Many of these laws date back to colonial times, yet a new wave of legislation is being enacted. Last year in Uganda, a law was passed that made “aggravated homosexuality” a capital offense. Included in this category is any sexual activity involving people with HIV,13 a policy that is not only egregious, but one that is likely to have a horrifying effect on containing the AIDS crisis as people will go without testing and treatment to avoid criminal prosecution.

In Ghana, a bill has been passed by parliament that would increase penalties for same sex acts, criminalize organizations that advocate for LGBTQ rights, and criminalize the “failure to report an LGBT person to the authorities and to report anyone who uses their social media platform to produce, publish, or disseminate content promoting activities prohibited by the bill.”14 This draconian law has been criticized by many prominent Ghanaians including Samia Nkrumah, a former member of parliament, chair of a prominent political party, and child of Kwame Nkrumah, who has called for the president to veto it.

Despite these human rights setbacks, we shouldn’t lose sight of the other side. Since 2015, six African nations have decriminalized same-sex acts.15 Moreover, despite the repression that they face, LGBTQ advocates are continuing to pressure governments to change the laws while at the same time showing their humanity to the world at large. For example, as the #Endsars protests took off in Nigeria against the brutal tactics of a special police unit, LGBTQ activists joined in, pointing out the ways in which this police unit targeted them as well. They continued to protest even as many in the #Endsars movement were openly hostile.

Also, the recent mass protests in Senegal show a democratic opening, albeit one fraught with opportunism and other dangers.16

In light of these and other crises, does the rapaciousness of today’s global capitalism-imperialism signify that we are entering the midnight of the twenty-first century—that is, a plunge into utter darkness? And what does our organization need to do and become given that question?

Part II: Subjective forces of resistance — Accomplishments and contradictions

The development that provides hope that we are not plunging into utter darkness are the massive protests worldwide against Israel’s ongoing war against Palestine. These protests, sometimes consisting of half a million at a time, have brought a new generation into the streets. Hundreds of thousands in the UK and U.S. alone, and many more worldwide, are becoming radicalized through these actions; the Israel-Palestine issue has for many become a baptism of fire for questioning existing society.

It is already having a palpable effect—as in compelling many governments, including ones that have long uncritically defended the Israeli state, to distance themselves from it by providing at least verbal support for a ceasefire to end hostilities.

The protests are facing enormous push-back, especially from those claiming that any substantive criticism of Zionism constitutes antisemitism. The latter is on the rise today and it is hardly unknown among leftists. But its most predominant expression in the U.S. is coming from the far right, whose attacks on “East Coast elites” is a not-so-veiled version of stereotypical complaints about “Jewish cosmopolitans” who allegedly control the media, finance, and education. That nothing stops such reactionaries from fully embracing Israel for serving as the U.S.’s major military partner in the Middle East shows that support for it long ago ceased to have much to do with defending Jews.17

In the U.S., where this new McCarthyism is strongest (and has even toppled the president of Harvard University), opposition to it is being led by some courageous intellectuals, which owes a lot to the solidarity of Black intellectuals with the Palestinians and for democratic rights. Labor unions and Black churches have also spoken out courageously, in contrast to the shameful silence of the heads of universities, the cultural establishment, and the NGO sector, dependent as they are on corporate and state support. Also of note is the solidarity of two countries that have experienced forms of colonialism that blatantly touted ethno-racial domination, South Africa and Ireland.

Even more important has been the steely resilience of the people of Gaza. To date, there has been not one report of a Gazan turning in a Hamas hideout or hostage location, something Israel surely would have bragged about had it occurred. Many Gazans remain in or keep returning to the center and the north, despite the danger, in order to continue claiming their homes and land. This is rooted in a deep sense of national solidarity and the refusal of a people to be extinguished. The social formations involved at the village level deserve notice here. As Peter Linebaugh has shown, the Palestinian people have for centuries maintained a communal system of land tenure and village self-administration—similar to what Karl Marx described in his late writings on Russia—which they have retained, albeit in weakened form, through British and Israeli occupation.18

Even as we condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate violence on October 7, it is clear that it changed utterly the world situation, placing the decades-long resistance of the Palestinian people back on the agenda, not only as a factor the imperialist powers cannot count out, but also for the global mass movements for social justice and liberation.19 From the U.S. to France and from Germany to the UK, the new movements of and for the Palestinian people have exposed, in ways not seen in decades, the bankruptcy of so-called “liberal democracy” and especially what remains of reformist social democracy, whose leaders, from UK Labor Party leader Keir Starmer even to “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, have refrained from a strong, unequivocal support for Palestine even in this hour of genocide, all the while trumpeting support for Ukraine.

Despite the enormous destruction Israel continues to wreak upon Gaza—the ramifications of which will be felt for years and even decades to come—one thing is clear: Israel has lost the battle of ideas. Once that happens to any regime, it is only a matter of time before it loses the battle in material terms.

In the Call for our 2022 Convention, we called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 of that year a global turning point. It was a geopolitical turning point, since it initiated a new Cold War between Russia and the U.S., the solidification of a Russo-Chinese axis, and resulted in a refurbished and expanded NATO following Russia’s invasion. Israel’s response to Hamas’s brutal attack of Oct. 7 also marks a global turning point—but not only in terms of geopolitics. It also marks a potential subjective turning point, since Israel’s actions has been met with a mobilization of millions that is breathing new life into social movements around the world.

This is reflected in the support extended to Palestinians by many Indigneous people, Latinx and Blacks in the U.S. and elsewhere. The issues raised by the 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement—especially the police murder of young people of color—may be less visible in 2024, but they are smoldering under the surface, especially given the fact that both Trumpist fascists and mainstream liberals have blocked the passage of laws that would in any meaningful way restrain the police or even limit their budget.

The counterattack against BLM got seriously underway by 2022, with vicious campaigns against the teaching of Critical Race Theory or the use of books like The 1619 Project in schools. Although these anti-racist efforts may have limitations, such as their tendency to downplay the significance of capital and class, it’s important to note that they are not being targeted by racist reactionaries for this reason. Instead, they are outraged that these educational tools, which dare to speak of “systemic racism,” are moving the public discourse toward a more historical and materialist interpretation. Black intellectuals have been at the forefront of this struggle and have paid the price. This was seen in how the rightwing was able to force the resignation of so highly placed a person as Harvard’s President Claudine Gay, the first Black woman to hold that post. This was accomplished by an unholy alliance of neoliberal cheerleaders for the State of Israel and reactionary racists complaining of alterations in the curriculum and affirmative action.

Outside the universities, a key development in the Black struggle in the U.S. has been the new Poor People’s Campaign, organized by Reverends William Barber and Liz Theoharis. Their call for a Third Reconstruction states, “We must simultaneously deal with the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the denial of health care, militarism and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism that blames the poor instead of the systems that cause poverty.”20 Similarly, Black legislators in California introduced a groundbreaking reparations bill aimed at providing compensation to the descendants of enslaved Black individuals. The proposed measures encompass affirmative action initiatives to combat poverty and enhance educational achievements, restitution for families affected by discriminatory policies leading to property loss, the prohibition of forced prison labor, and the allocation of resources to community-driven alternatives to traditional policing methods.21

The searing anger in impoverished communities of color burned its way to the surface in another bourgeois democracy, France, as seen in the June-July 2023 urban insurrection. In the wake of police killing Nahel Merzouk, an unarmed 17-year-old of North African descent, youth expressed their outrage toward both the police and the system, staging 240 attacks on police or gendarme stations and injuring 700 police officers. What France’s leading newspaper called “an unprecedented” level of destruction is a sign of the times, and not just in France.22

These and other ongoing struggles have the potential to develop into movements and campaigns that oppose occupation, repression, and racial exclusion wherever they occur. Potential, however, is not the same as actuality. We are still a long way from an anti-capitalist alternative which opposes all form of capitalism-imperialism—whether generated by the U.S. or its adversaries—on behalf of universal human emancipation.

One sign of this is that many leftists oppose Ukraine’s fight for its national existence because the U.S and EU have provided it with arms—at least until recently.23 It is of course completely hypocritical for the West to send weapons to aid Ukraine’s fight for self-determination while providing Israel with weapons to suppress Palestine’s fight for self-determination. But it is no less hypocritical to take their ground by supporting the national liberation of the struggle of Palestine but not Ukraine. It is surely possible to defend the right of those resisting imperialism to get arms from wherever they can without endorsing either its leaders (Zelensky in the case of Ukraine, Hamas in the case of Palestine) or the regime that supplies them (the U.S. with Ukraine, Iran and Qatar with Palestine).24

At issue here is not simply taking “the right political position” but the fate of a humanist alternative to capitalism. It cannot be advanced by opposing U.S. imperialism while writing a blank check for Russian imperialism; nor can it be advanced by doing the reverse. sSerious revolutionaries don’t get to pick and choose which forms of statist oppression are more agreeable than others. Refraining from targeting all forms of class society necessarily results in an impoverished vision of human emancipation.

It therefore bears noting that the parts of the organized Left that is presently growing most rapidly are Marxist-Leninists and other vanguardist tendencies. In a way this is understandable: the move of many leftists into social democracy has become highly problematic given political developments in recent years. But that does not mean it isn’t a problem.

In this context, as many are returning to the writings of V.I. Lenin, it is important to note what his real contribution was: Though he is known for his many contributions as a revolutionary leader, his deep study of Hegel from 1914-1915 marked a turning point in his intellectual development. Through this study, Lenin moved beyond the confines of mechanical materialism, embracing dialectical principles like “transformation into opposite” that would inform his theory of imperialism. Lenin’s dialectical understanding enabled him to grasp the contradictions inherent in imperialism, particularly the emergence of new forms of oppression and resistance from outside the European working classes. Imperialism had created an internal differentiation of the proletariat in oppressor and oppressed nations and the need to connect their struggles for a successful social revolution. Through his analysis, Lenin illuminated the interconnectedness of class struggle and national liberation, laying the groundwork for a revolutionary praxis that transcended the Marxist orthodoxy of the Second International. His writings provide unique insight into the aspirations of oppressed groups striving for an alternative to capitalism. For Marxist-Humanists in an era marked by resurgent imperialism and colonialism, Lenin’s original contributions to dialectics and analysis of imperialism remain as relevant as ever. Nevertheless, while Lenin, as well as Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, deserve to be studied anew, their limitations as “post-Marx Marxists, as pejorative,” also needs to be discussed in depth.

What also bears noting is the reactionary character of Middle Eastern states and militias that trumpet their support of the Palestinian resistance, as does the kind of conservative nationalism represented by Hamas, which originated as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.25 These forces, which are key components of what Iran calls the Axis of Resistance, are reactionary and fundamentalist in their internal politics: the Houthi regime in northern Yemen that is attacking Red Sea shipping, the counter-revolutionary Syrian regime, and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian regime, both of which played major roles in repressing the Syrian revolution.

It should not be forgotten that the Islamic Republic of Iran experienced a near revolution in fall 2022. Young women and members of the Kurdish and Baluchi oppressed minorities spearheaded this movement, which was touched off by the police murder of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa (Jina) Amini, for not covering her hair to their satisfaction (improper hijab). Despite massive repression, women have carved out hijab-free public spaces in the cities that they and youth continue to defend over a year later. In an interview smuggled out from prison on the occasion of International Women’s Day, leading feminist and Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi declared, “The Iranian people have turned the page on this regime,” adding that “women constitute the most radical, the most powerful, and the most widely engaged force opposing the authoritarian theocracy.”26  Along with oppressed minorities and the working class, they may yet give the regime another jolt, even as it attempts to identify itself with the Palestinian resistance. Again, this shows that there are two worlds in every country, that of the dominant classes and that of the working classes and oppressed groups.

If the global left and Palestinian support movement fail to take note of reactionary character of the regimes in Syria, Yemen, Iran and elsewhere, this will muddy the waters about what kind of resistance can actually lead toward genuine liberation, toward a humanist alternative to capitalism.

Since our founding in 2009, we have argued that the central problem facing today’s struggles is the absence of a viable alternative to all forms of capitalism—whether statist or “free market.” Much of our theoretical work has been devoted to this issue, such as the publication of a revised translation with an extensive commentary of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program. But how do we promote such an alternative in the face of the growing power of the far-Right, the ongoing genocides in Palestine, Ukraine, Myanmar, etc., and the likelihood that the ecological crisis may soon (if it has not already) reach the point of no return? Speculating about “what happens after the revolution” when revolution seems nowhere in sight can readily fall on deaf ears. So, what exactly must we do as an organization in response?

Central to this is showing that a viable concept of the transcendence of capitalist alienation is not a matter of speculating about some distant utopia but is urgently needed to adequately respond to the most pressing political realities. When an alternative to capitalist value production, patriarchy, racism, and class domination recedes from view, what results in the long run is an accommodation to the limits of the given.

To be sure, it is part of our “organizational DNA” to support grassroots movements and stress the importance of horizontal, grassroots forms of organization. But that by itself does not address the problem of how to fill the void in articulating an alternative to capitalist value production, patriarchy, racism, and class domination.

This is why our founder, Raya Dunayevskaya, stressed, “Yes, the party and the forms of organization born from spontaneity are opposites, but they are not absolute opposites…the absolute opposite is philosophy, and that we have not yet worked out organizationally.”27

This was part and parcel of her insistence, “Without such a vision of new revolutions, new individual, a new universal, a new society, new human relations, we would be forced to tailend one or another form of reformism.”28 Today we might add, and/or forced to tailend one or another form of abstract revolutionism. Radicals that cannot find room in their hearts and minds for opposing dehumanized conditions of life wherever they exist are abstract revolutionists. Needed is a concrete universalism that is rooted in all forces of revolution and their reason.

Part III: Organizational tasks and challenges facing the IMHO

Despite these contradictions, there are signs of a growing recognition of the need for a humanist alternative to capitalism. This is reflected in several new works discussing the work of Dunayevskaya and Marxist-Humanist philosophy.29 One recent essay in a major leftwing journal states,

Marxist and socialist humanism have had a lasting impact on how we think about autonomy, social transformation, and radical democracy … Today, the influence of Marxist humanism, particularly as developed by Dunayevskaya’s merging of philosophy and practice, as well as her intersectional analysis of race, class, and gender formulated long before intersectionality came into vogue, are to be traced in such organizations as the International Marxist-Humanist Organization.30

Such discussions testify to the impact, admittedly still modest, that the publication of the collection Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism is beginning to have.31 Of course, these reconsiderations of Marx’s humanism hardly predominate. And for a basic reason: the radical intellectual horizon for the last 40 years, inside and outside of academia, has been defined by the disparagement of any form of humanism. The tendency to conflate bourgeois or Enlightenment humanism with Marxist Humanism is ubiquitous, as are claims that Marx left behind any “residual” humanism when he turned his attention to the critique of political economy, that humanism reeks of “speciesism,” or that a universalist perspective focusing on the transformation of human relations is necessarily hierarchical and oppressive.32 It goes without saying that such conceptions have direct political ramifications, as noted (in part) above.

Hence, our foremost goal as an organization is to work out how we can raise a revolutionary humanist banner within today’s movements—and do so in a way that will convince those drawn to such a perspective to join and help build our organization.

As of now the IMHO publishes a web journal, The International Marxist-Humanist, and at times holds public or zoom meetings on political and theoretical topics. Far rarer do its members come together at rallies and other events to distribute our flyers and literature and invite people to our upcoming events. As a result, many do not view us as an actual organization…because in some ways we have yet to become one.

This doesn’t mean members of the IMHO aren’t involved in important work. Vital activity has been done promoting our ideas at conferences, publications, and podcasts; the same is true when it comes to activity in Palestine and/or Ukraine solidarity, prisoner support, labor solidarity, and care work. But we are largely doing so as individuals rather than presenting ourselves as an organized tendency that poses an alternative to other variants of Marxism.

The operational goal of our 2024 convention is to work out how to move from individuals grouped around a website to becoming a real organization that can continue Marxist-Humanism. The latter is by no means assured. Ideas don’t live and develop on their own. They need living people to embody them, to commit their lives to, otherwise, they become mere footnotes to history.

There are objective barriers standing in the way of assuming such organizational responsibility. We were determined to form an international organization when we moved to create the IMHO in 2009. That we achieved this is our greatest strength, but it also means we are dispersed and rarely get together. That is why attendance at our bi-annual Conventions is vital for every member.

There are also the barriers of everyday life, where we face many obligations and responsibilities that means we must choose what commitments to prioritize and emphasize. This is important given that bourgeois society overburdens some communities more than others, such as workers, women, Trans, and BIPOC communities. This is why we strive to create a space where we can continue to challenge any and all manifestations of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism and classism inside as well as outside the organization.

Are we willing take the responsibility to maintain and build such an organization? The major barrier facing us is one that afflicts all revolutionary groups that reject the model of a vanguard party. Vanguardists have no problem explaining why others need to join their group—after all, a revolutionary seizure of power “needs leadership” and they are there to provide it. It is harder to get across the necessity for an organized revolutionary group to exist that rejects such an elitist view. This is one reason why anti-vanguardist currents (whether Marxist or anarchist) either do not last long or become insular sects (as News and Letters Committees has become).

A clear example is C.L.R James: though he was surely a serious theoretician, after breaking from vanguardism he failed to explain why an organization of Marxists needs to exist apart from the spontaneous struggles. And the reason he failed to do so is that he recoiled from making the transition from state-capitalist theory to Marxist Humanist philosophy.33 Hence, though he had a small organization following his and Grace Lee Boggs’s break with Dunayevskaya in 1955, it dissolved in the late 1960s just as the mass movements were reaching their peak and a new generation of activists were joining Marxist organizations en masse. In a way, the dissolution of James’s group makes perfect sense: what basis is there in the end to have an organization if it lacks a philosophy of its own and sees its goal simply celebrating the movements and their revolutionary creativity?

In many respects, James’ failure to sustain an alternative form of organization was anticipated in his most important theoretical work—Notes on Dialectics (written in 1948). In rejecting the concept of the vanguard party, he held, “The task today is to call for, to teach, to illustrate, to develop, spontaneity—the free creative activity of the proletariat.” He went so far as to envision “the abolition of the party.”34 So, what kind of organization would replace it? He envisions a mass party along the lines of decentralized formations like the soviets during the Russian Revolution—one created by the spontaneous actions of the masses. No role was specified for an organization of Marxist theoreticians and activists even though he was a member of one.

This lack of specificity was not just James’s problem. It is ours. Marxist-Humanism has made great theoretical strides; having them become embodied and developed organizationally remains our most unfinished task.

History does have a way of repeating itself, but we surely do not want to repeat the history of what happened to James’ organization—any more than we want to repeat the history of News and Letters Committees after Dunayevskaya’s death, when it turned Marxist-Humanist philosophy into a stale ideology.35 This is why we say that the greatest gift we can offer to those joining the IMHO is to take part in the development of a philosophy of liberation—which means working out, consciously and critically, one’s own conception of the world, and in connection with the labor of others, taking an active part in the creation of the history of a new world.