Ever since I began preparing for the celebration of May 5 as the birth-time of history - Marx's new continent of thought - I have been rethinking the birth of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. There was no way to sum up 25 years of the birth and development of the News and Letters Committees as well as News & Letters as paper, without taking account of the philosophic breakthrough on the Absolute Idea as containing a movement from practice as well as from theory. That occurred in 1953. Once the split in the State-Capitalist Tendency, known as Johnson-Forest,1 was complete in 1955, our very first publication reproduced my May 12-20, 1953 Letters on the Absolute Idea along with the first English translation of Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks.
In a word, while 1955 saw the birth of News and Letters, both as Committees and as our paper, 1953 saw at one and the same time, the emergence, in the Johnson-Forest Tendency, of open divergencies towards objective events (be it Stalin's death, the East German revolt, the Beria purge, or McCarthyism), as well as towards the subjective idea of what type of paper Correspondence was to be and what was its relationship to Marxism.
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In reaching back to 1953, a new illumination disclosed that we were really talking, not about a, single year, but about the period 1949-1954. After all, nothing short of the Second Industrial Revolution had emerged with the introduction of Automation in the mines. The actual word, Automation, was not invented until five years later during the wildcats in auto in Detroit. The truth, however, is that Automation did initiate a new stage in Industrial production.
And since our age refuses to keep the objective and the subjective in totally separate compartments, it was during that period that I was working on three things at one and the same time: 1) I was active in the Miners' General Strike of 1949-50 during the day and evening; 2) Late at night I was translating Lenin's Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic, sending these translations with covering letters to Johnson; 3) I was working on a book on "Marxism and State-Capitalism". These three activities led to a three-way correspondence between myself, Johnson, and Lee (Grace Lee Boggs).
Furthermore, insofar as the year 1953 is concerned, something new has just emerged in re-examining that year. Although we had long ago known that Lee and I had totally different analyses of the March 5th death of Stalin and what we were to do about it, it is only now that I can see the link that connects those differences in 1953 to the period, 1949-51. Because philosophic beginnings, the native ground for Marxist-Humanism which emerged in 1949, didn't become manifest until 1953, and because the Letters, in turn, contained what politically didn't come to fruition until the actual split of the Johnson-Forest Tendency in 1955 (at which time they were first mimeographed). It is necessary to begin at the beginning in 1949-51.
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IT IS IMPORTANT that we look at the new stage of production, Automation, and the-form of the workers' revolt against it - the 1949-50 Miners' General Strike - in the same way as, in 1953, we looked at the first revolt against state-capitalism and its work-norms in East Berlin. The point is that both stages of production and both forms of revolt were every bit as crucial for the re-emergence of Marx's Humanism in our age, as had been the outbreak of World War II for the birth of the State-Capitalist Tendency. To grasp the divide within the State-Capitalist Tendency as it grappled with the Hegelian dialectic and the historic re-birth of Marx's Humanism, it is necessary to look at the three-way correspondence on Lenin's Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic as Lenin grappled with the Hegelian dialectic at the outbreak of World War I. Let's follow the sequence of letters that accompanied the various sections of Lenin's work I was sending to Johnson and Lee.2
On Feb, 18, 1949 I sent the translation of Lenin's notes on the Doctrine of Being. The covering note refers to the "Notes on the Dialectic" Johnson had written in 1948, which had then impressed me very much, but which in 1949 made me call attention to the fact that Johnson "practically skipped over the first book". The same note focused on Lenin's new appreciation of the "self-development of the concept", no matter how "Idealistic" that sounds. Lenin had written: "Hegel analyzes concepts which usually appear dead and he shows that there is movement in them. The finite? That means movement has come to an end! Something? That means not what Other is. Being in general? That means such indeterminateness that Being=Not-Being... ".
It is with this new appreciation I felt for Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks that a philosophic division started to emerge between the two founders of the State-Capitalist Tendency - Johnson and Forest. My letters to Johnson continued all the way to June 10 before I ever got an acknowledgement of the receipt of any part of the translation. The silence did not stop me from continuing either with the translation or the covering notes.
Thus, on Feb. 25, I sent him a translation of Lenin's notes on the Doctrine of Essence, singling out three new points for a "historical materialist" to be concerned with: 1) Suddenly Lenin was emphasizing very strongly the 'sequence of dates of publication which showed Hegel's Logic (1813) to have preceded Marx's Communist Manifesto (1847), and that to have preceded Darwin's Origin of the Species (1859); 2) Furthermore, Lenin was now emphasizing the genius of Hegel's appreciation, not just of Essence but also of Appearance as against the Kantian impenetrability of the "thing-in-itself": 3) Lenin was breaking fully with his previous stress on the theory of the primacy of "Causality", now seeing that what is cause becomes what is effect, and vice versa. Instead, he was stressing totality, insisting that: "totality, wholeness, is richer than law". At that point he was underlining the language of certain "definitions" of totality by Hegel, such as "sundered completeness", and the definition of Identity as "separated difference".
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WHEN, ON MARCH 12, I concluded the translation of Lenin's work and sent Johnson the section on the Doctrine of the Notion, my covering note for it no doubt shocked him: "Let me say at the start that although you have entered into this 'conspiracy' with Lenin, the outstanding difference between the two versions (of the Dialectic) is striking. You will note that Lenin's notes on the Notion are as lengthy as those on the Introduction, and Doctrines or Being and Essence combined... although you spent that much time on Notion, and included its practice, the thing you chose most to stop at and say: hic Rhodus, hic salta to was the Law of Contradiction in Essence... (but Lenin) chooses to single out the section on the Idea".
I concluded that Lenin no longer "feared" the Absolute, seeing it both as unity of theoretical and practical idea, as the method of absolute cognition, and as criticism of all Marxists, including himself. Here is how Lenin had put it: "Aphorism: Marxists criticized the Kantians and Humists at the beginning of the 20th century more in the Feuerbachian (and Buchnerian) than in a Hegelian manner".
Contrast this to what Johnson and Lee drew from my translation when they discussed it between themselves on May 27: "Previous to 1914 the whole revolutionary movement, the Second International and all the rest or them, were essentially in the Realm of Being. Even Lenin before 1914 was not very conscious of Essence, although the objective situation in Russia drove him to the Logic. The key to Lenin's notes on Logic is this relation to Essence. We today have not only to do Essence, but also Notion, the dialectic of the party". Lenin, they claimed, "is more concerned with self-movement than he is with Notion".
It is very nearly beyond comprehension to find how they could make such a claim in the face of the fact that Lenin's commentary on the Doctrine of the Notion was more comprehensive than what Lenin had written on all the rest of the Logic combined. In truth, as early as the Preface and Introduction, before he ever got into the Science of Logic "proper", Lenin called attention to the fact that the three categories of Notion - Universal, Particular, Individual - were precisely where Marx "flirted" with Hegel, especially in Chapter I of Capital. Which is why, when Lenin made his own leaps, he insisted that no Marxist had understood Capital, "especially Chapter I", unless he had studied the whole of Logic.
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PERHAPS WE CAN UNDERSTAND part of the reason why when we read the letter in which Johnson finally (on June 10, 1949) first acknowledged the translation of Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks and my commentaries. He wrote: "You are covering a lot of ground and it is pretty good. But after conversations with G3 & reading (carefully, this time) your correspondence, I feel that we are still off the point..." Clearly, it is not I with whom they disagreed as hotly as they did with Lenin. Indeed, they had not the slightest notion of what Lenin was talking about until July 9, when finally Lee did get down to the Doctrine of Notion as Lenin worked it out. They continued to be, preoccupied with their own great philosophic knowledge, Johnson stressing to Lee, "After weeks of painful back and forth, in and out, you and I bearing the burden... ".
Whatever "burden" they were bearing it certainly wasn't comprehension of Lenin's Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic, though Johnson continued to tell me precisely how many words I was to write on Capital, how many on Logic (1,000 words on each topic!). I plunged into a concrete study of differences in Lenin, pre- and post-1914, and then into how the dialectic affected the varying structural changes in Capital, as well as the objective development of capitalist production from the end of the 19th century to the present.
Finally, on July 9, 1949, Lee began seriously to go at Lenin's Notebooks as well as Hegel's Doctrine of the Notion: "In the final section on Essence (Causality) and the beginning of the section on Notion, Lenin breaks with this kind (Kantian) of inconsistent empiricism. He sees the limitation of the scientific method, e.g., the category of causality to explain the relation between mind and matter. Freedom, subjectivity, notion - those are the categories by which we will gain knowledge of the subjectively real".
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EXCEPT FOR SEVERAL letters by me on the changes in the structure of Capital (see those dated Jan. 24, Jan. 30, June 7, 1950, and Jan 15, 1951), the three-way philosophical correspondence stopped at 1950, as we prepared to face a new (and last) convention with the SWP by writing the document State-Capitalism and World Revolution. It is true that that document, dated August 1950, had, for the first time, a section directly on philosophy, written by Lee. Peculiarly enough, it centered, not on the Absolute Idea - which we had reached (but not completed) in our three-way correspondence - but on Contradiction. The following year, the Johnson-Forest Tendency left the SWP for good and all, but we did not at once declare ourselves publicly as an independent Marxist tendency. The Korean War and McCarthyism were still raging, and we were experimenting with a decentralised form of organization and a new form of paper - Correspondence - but only in mimeographed form.
By 1953, it was decided to come out with a printed, public paper, and towards that end we were preparing for the first (and what turned out to be the last) convention of what had been the united Johnson-Forest Tendency. Everything changed with the death of Stalin on March 5, when suddenly it wasn't only the objective situation that had so radically changed, but divergencies appeared between Lee and me within the Tendency. Let us look at the sequence of events that followed Stalin's death.
That very same day I wrote a political analysis which stressed that an incubus had been lifted from the minds of both the masses and the theoretician: and that, therefore, it was impossible to think that this would not result in a new form of revolt on the part of the workers. Secondly, when Charles Denby (the Black production worker who was to become the editor of News & Letters after the split) called me upon hearing of Stalin's death, I asked him to inquire about other workers' reactions to the event. When he reported these conversations, I suggested a second article that would reproduce the 1920-21 Trade Union debate between Lenin and Trotsky within the context of both Russia and the U.S., [in] 1953. Denby not only approved both ideas but the very next day brought me a worker's expression: "I have just the one to take Stalin's place - my foreman". It was that expression which became the jumping-off point for my analysis of the 1920-21 debate, on the one hand, and Stalin's death in 1953, on the other. The article was called "Then and Now".
Lee (who was then on the West Coast and acting as editor that month) had a very different view of what kind of analysis of Stalin's death was needed, because - far from seeing any concern with that event on the part of American workers - she made her point of departure the fact that some women in one factory, instead of listening to the radio blaring forth the news of Stalin's death, were exchanging hamburger recipes. She so "editorialized" my analysis and so passionately stressed the alleged indifference of the American proletariat to that event, that the article became unrecognizable. It was included in the mimeographed Correspondence of March 19, 1953 (Vol. 3, No. 12) as "Why Did Stalin Behave That Way?".
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IN DETROIT, I WAS preparing a "Special Feature" for the issue of Correspondence of April 16, 1953 (Vol 4, No. 2), devoted to the 1920-21 debate, which carried the subtitle: ''An Historical Event and an Organizational Incident". The following issue, April 30 (Vol 4, No. 3), likewise had a "Special Feature", which described the dispute over the political analysis, holding that it wasn't possible to substitute a description of the indifference of a few women in a single factory exchanging hamburger recipes for the political analysis of the ramifications of a world event such as Stalin's death. That issue then reproduced the article on Stalin's death as originally written.
Clearly, the whole month of April was taken up with this dispute and the polemical letters that accompanied it, by which time I was so exhausted that I asked for a week off. It was during that week that I wrote two things: One was a critique of Deutscher - whom I called a Stalinist parading as a Trotskyist - saying of his analysis of the "collectivity of leadership" that it had, in fact, always been the course toward totalitarianism's single maximum leader, and at no time more so than when Stalin arose out of his so-called "collective leadership".
The other was the May 12 Letter on the Absolute Idea. I returned to Detroit, and though I plunged into organizational activity, I couldn't resist going from Science of Logic and Phenomenology of Mind, with which the May 12 letter was concerned, to the Philosophy of Mind on May 20. The point that was singled out by Lee, who had called them nothing short of "the equivalent of Lenin's Notebooks for our epoch", was the fact that I had discerned a movement from practice. Johnson refused to discuss the Letters, sent Lee to Detroit with the promise that he would comment after he returned to England and after we had finished with our convention, to be held in July.
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AS WE KNOW, THE subjective movement - not of intellectuals debating, but of millions of masses in motion - transforms the objective scene totally. In this case, the June 17, East German Revolt which erupted was followed, within two weeks, by a revolt from inside Russia - the slave labor camp of Vorkuta. Both events so electrified the world that this time there was no way to narrow the question to an "internal matter". The July convention, however, proceeded without any reference to those Letters on the Absolute Idea. Thus, no one knew either that they contained an anticipation of a movement from practice, or that they had fully worked out a logical conclusion of all that three-way correspondence from 1949 to 1951. The convention proceeded to vote for preparing the first printed Correspondence in September and date-lining it October 3, 1953.
What was happening objectively in the world, however, had little regard for the fact that Lee and I had agreed to stop the polemic. The East German revolt had so shaken up the Russian bureaucracy that it brought about the first form of deStalinization. Though it was not yet designated as deStalinization, the truth is that Stalin's heir tried hard to disassociate himself from the immediate causes of the totality of the Russian crisis. Thus, the post-Stalin rulers stopped the Korean War: shot Beria, the head of the Secret Service and the most hated man of the totalitarian bureaucracy: and instituted some mild reforms, such as a turn to consumerism - without however, demurring to Malenkov as the one allegedly chosen by Stalin.
In my analysis of the Beria purge, though I called attention to the fact that when thieves fall out, the one who was "not to be forgotten, although little known at present" was Khrushchev, my main point was: "We are at the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism. That does not mean the state-capitalist bureaucracy will let go of its iron grip. Quite the contrary. It will shackle them more... what it does mean is that from the center of Russian production, from the periphery of the satellite countries oppressed by Russia, and from the insides of the Communist Parties, all contradictions are moving to a head and the open struggle will be a merciless fight to the end". What I stressed was: "There is no getting away from it, the Russian masses are not only ill-fed, ill-clad, and ill-housed. They are rebellious".
There was no way of keeping this article out of the Lead of the first issue of the printed Correspondence, because that was what was happening in the objective world and we were now public. That did not, however, mean that Johnson and Lee greeted it enthusiastically. Quite the contrary. It was met with the same hostility as was my analysis of Stalin's death, and the critique of it by followers of Johnson and Lee continued for several issues.
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THE ANALYSES OF BOTH Stalin and Beria were written while McCarthyism was raging in the country. All three events brought about a sharp conflict between Johnson and Lee on the one side, and me on the other. It was clear that in the two years between leaving the SWP and the appearance of Correspondence there had developed in the followers of Johnston a real diversion from Marxism as well as from the American revolution. Just as Lee said Marxism was Europe's responsibility, not ours, so now Johnson said that the stewards' movement in Britain rather than the American workers here could dissipate the war clouds over Formosa.
The truth is that they were not prepared to fight McCarthyism, once the war clouds began to form and we were listed in December 1954. When Johnson could not win a majority of the organization, he broke it up.4 War and revolution have always constituted the Great Divide between Marxist revolutionaries and escapists.
Within a short month, we held our first Conference, which decided that our new publication, News & Letters, would appear on the second anniversary of the June 1953 East German revolt; that it would be edited by a production worker: and that I should complete the work on Marxism, now known as Marxism and Freedom - From 1776 Until Today. At the same time that we singled out the four forces of revolt - rank and file labor, Blacks, women and youth - we projected the calling of a Convention within a year to create, for the first time, a Constitution for the committee form of organization we were working out as against a "vanguard party to lead". In November, 1955, we published as our first pamphlet the translation of Lenin's Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic, along with my Letters on the Absolute Idea.
1 Johnson (C.L.R. James) broke with Forest (Raya Dunayevskaya), co-founder of the State-Capitalist Tendency, in March, 1955. News and Letters Committees began functioning at once as Marxist-Humanists.
2 The letters from Feb. 18, 1949 through Jan. 15, 1951 are included in Vol. XIII of the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, "Marxist-Humanism, 1941 to Today: Its Origin and Development In America", available on microfilm from the Archives of Labor History and Urban Affairs, Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich. 48202. Parenthetical references in this article refer to specific Volumes In this Collection.
3 G was Grace Lee.
4 See "Johnsonism: An Appraisal" by O'Brien, a 1956 Bulletin which is included in the Archives.