1. Where to begin: Laying New Theoretical and practical foundations and establishing new international relations

THE UNIQUENESS OF our original contributions to Marx's Humanism was first manifested in catching a direct link to it in 1955, at the very time when we were most concrete about the negative features of our state-capitalist age.

It is true that the germ of Marx's Humanism was present from the very beginning of my break with Trotsky at the outset of World War II and my subsequent study of the class nature of Russia as a state-capitalist society. An unpublished section of that analysis "Labor and Society", did root itself in an 1844 essay by Marx on the role of labour as the very essence of the class nature of any society. However, I did not then single out Humanism as the focal point, nor did the State-Capitalist Tendency, when it enjoyed a brief, six-week, independent existence in 1947 and published the 1942 essay in one of its mimeographed bulletins (See Vol. IV, Sec. III of the Marxist-Humanist Archives).

The major document of the Tendency, State-Capitalism and World Revolution, dismissed Humanism because, in the late 1940s, it had appeared in the forms of Existentialism and of Christian Humanism. It was only after the final break with Johnson; it was only when new forms of workers' revolts sprang up - that the Humanism of Marx was brought unto the historic stage of our own age.

The year 1980 is an especially relevant vantage point from which to view the birth of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S., both because a quarter of a century is a serious enough period of time to measure the political-philosophic analyses against the objective world events: and because wars, even when they are but distant clouds on the horizon, do form the Divide also within Marxist groups - if, within those groups, there is an element unable to meet the objective challenge.

At our birth we were at once put to the test; not only because of the McCarthyite listing of our Tendency, which the Johnson faction sought to escape, but because, especially because, of our attitude to objectivity on three very different levels: determining how to fight McCarthyism when war clouds formed; recognizing the movement from practice which was itself a form of theory - in East Berlin: in Detroit: in Montgomery, Alabama: and testing, in the philosophic sphere, Russia's attack on Marx's Humanist Essays during the undercurrent of proletarian revolts.

No doubt, great illumination on Carter's 1980 drive for war (with the old Cold War warrior, Reagan, still further to the Right) could be gained from a look back at what happened with the appearance of war clouds over Formosa in the mid-1950s, when McCarthyism was still prevalent both in the form of the reactionary old China lobby's jingoistic refrain: "Who lost China?", and in the form of attacks on the Left so virulent as to cause splits within it as well, including the break-up of the State-Capitalist Tendency. But the crucial point of reference for the birth of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. is embedded in the philosophic capacity to recognize the genius of the masses from below in a way that records its movement from practice as itself a form of theory.

Beginning with the very first issue of our new publication, News & Letters, in June, 1955 in commemoration of the second anniversary of the East German Revolt, we related that revolt to the new, 1955 forms of revolt at home. There were growing wildcats against automation in Detroit and by the end of the year the Montgomery Bus Boycott had erupted in Alabama. Because we saw that event not as some isolated incident against discrimination in a benighted Southern city, but as the beginning of a whole new age of Black revolt, our editor, Charles Denby - to this day the only Black production worker to edit a Marxist journal - decided to revisit his Alabama home. The second part of his autobiography, Indignant Heart: A Black Worker's Journal,5 begins with "Visiting Montgomery".

In a word, both nationally and internationally, and not just locally, the revolts and wildcats were recorded not alone as militant happenings, but as those new forms of workers' revolt that signified a new stage of cognition as well. And, indeed, the third testing came in the philosophic sphere.

It is not that the leading Russian theoretician, Karpushin, had any such goal in mind. The very opposite was the case. In launching his attack on the young Marx's Humanist Essays (the now famous 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts), Karpushin was banking on the fact that the article would be taken in the guise in which he presented it: freeing the "materialist" Marx from the abstruseness of the "idealistic" Hegelian phrase Marx was using - "negation of the negation". American pragmatists fell into the trap; "negation of the negation" became the butt of their jokes.

Convinced that what the Russians were attacking had nothing whatever to do with the alleged abstruseness of "negation of the negation" (which, for Marxists had always stood for revolution): that it had everything to do with the here and now, specifically in East Europe - I criticized both the Russian state-capitalists calling themselves Communist theoreticians and the American pragmatists.6 I insisted that, far from the polemic being a matter of dogmatic hair-splitting, it hid a fear of revolution, and that Russia must be sensing a new revolution in East Europe similar to the East German revolt they had driven underground.

The great Hungarian Revolution broke out the following year. Five months before that historic occurrence, we held the first Convention of News and Letters Committees. So firmly grounded were we in the totally new movement from practice for freedom and so confident were we that the 1955 Russian attack on Marx's Humanist Essays did signify more revolts to come, that my July 8, 1956 report to that first Convention, "Where to Begin", stressed that the "active relationship of theory and practice is the essence of Marxism", and concluded that the "continuous thread from history is a sort of wireless communication that will first be decoded in our age which will see to it that the idea of workers' freedom is not so feeble that it will not actually come to be in our day" (See Vol. VI, Sec. II.2).

FIRST AND FOREMOST, we considered it of the essence to assure the continuance of News & Letters as a workers' paper ... which is at the same time a new form of unity of theory and practice". To that end we made sure that a Black production worker, Charles Denby, would be its editor.

The Constitution we adopted, at one and the same time singled out four forces of revolution - rank and file labor, Black dimension, youth, and women's liberation - and held that, since each generation must interpret Marxism for itself it is up to us to re-establish both the American and the Humanist world roots of Marxism, and to do so in comprehensive, theoretical-historical "book form". Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 until today was completed the next year.

It was structured on the movement from practice, by no means limited to our age. Quite the contrary, Chapter I begins with "The Age of Revolutions: Industrial, Social-Political, Intellectual". But where the first revolutions of the industrial age are followed by the birth of classical political economy and the Hegelian dialectic, Marx's "New Humanism" leads to the Communist Manifesto, which anticipated the 1848 revolutions. Nevertheless, as Marx's new continent of thought develops and deepens, it is clear that the great historic events like the Civil War in the U.S., followed by the struggles for the 8-Hour Day, and the Paris Commune, exercised so strong an impact on Marx as to change the structure of his greatest theoretical work, Capital.

In our own age I felt strongly, as I put it in the Introduction to Marxism and Freedom, that: "No theoretician, today more than ever before, can write out of his own head. Theory requires a constant shaping and reshaping of ideas on the basis of what the workers themselves are doing and thinking... Because we live in an age of absolutes - on the threshold of absolute freedom out of the struggle against absolute tyranny - the compelling need for a new unity of theory and practice dictates a new method of writing. At least, it dictated the method by which this book was written".

I thereupon undertook a tour in which I submitted drafts of various chapters to groups of workers (miners especially) and student youth, discussing the book with them in more than one stage of the writing. I then began to submit outlines of the book to intellectuals. It was no easy matter to find a publisher in the mid-1950s for a book on Marx's Humanism that also included, as Appendices, the first English translation both of Marx's 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts and Lenin's Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic. Even if you disregard McCarthyism's brainwashing, it is still a fact that academia had nothing to say of youth except to describe them as "the beat generation", failing to recognize that a new generation of revolutionaries was, in fact, emerging. In general, American intellectuals were busy declaiming an "End of Ideology" even as a new Third World was struggling to emerge. One intellectual, however, to whom I had submitted an outline long before I had completed Marxism and Freedom, wrote enthusiastically: "Your ideas are an oasis in the desert of Marxist thought". It was Herbert Marcuse.

He also, however, deeply disagreed with me on the role of labor, writing that "the composition, structure and the consciousness of the laboring classes", were not as revolutionary as my analysis claimed. Nevertheless, he did feel strongly the need to broaden the dialogue among Marxists, and agreed sufficiently "with the theoretical interpretation of the Marxian oeuvre"7 to write the Preface.

ONCE MARXISM AND FREEDOM finally came off the press in January, 1958, intensive tours were undertaken both here and abroad. Where in West Europe there were signs of such retrogression as the coming of De Gaulle to power, in Africa, a whole new Third World was emerging. The transformation of the Gold Coast into the Republic of Ghana, the first fully independent state in Africa, so inspired those, like Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, who were still in the throes of colonial subjugation, that the whole map of Africa was soon redrawn.

In 1958-59, however, the pitfalls of our state-capitalist age were soon revealed, not only in the retrogressive movement in West Europe, but in the new independent states of Africa which were being sucked into the Imperialist world market both economically and ideologically - as if there really was a fundamental difference between the two nuclear Titans fighting for single world control.

Where Marxism and Freedom had concentrated on the Western world, I now wrote a new pamphlet, Nationalism, Communism, Marxist-Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions. It was not only a question of remembering a Camerounian I had met in France in 1947 who had told of a magnificent spontaneous revolt in which the entire population, literally, "every man, woman and child", was involved in trying to establish independence the minute World War II was over, only to have the French Navy rush in to crush it, just as De Gaulle had massacred the 1943 rebellion in Madagascar.

It was, above all, the need to recognize that the African revolts had preceded the successful national revolution in Asia, but, being unsuccessful then, were now being fought over in a titanic struggle between imperialisms.

For that matter, the same was true of the newly unfolding Latin American revolts initiated by the first great successful rebellion against U.S. Imperialism by Cuba. Here, again, we were witness to a spontaneous revolution that had gained its freedom without any aid from Russia and had declared itself to be against both U.S. imperialism and Russian totalitarianism.8 The very next year Castro found himself in the Russian camp.

By the end of 1959, when Eisenhower and Krushchev, "in the spirit of Camp David", were busy talking of peaceful co-existence, China acted as a special pole of attraction for the Third World.

On June 18, 1957, while I was reading the galleys of Marxism and Freedom, Mao Tse-tung had caused a world sensation with his speech, "How to Handle Contradiction Among the People", and I had felt the urgency to include a new footnote,9 which read:

"The lowest of all today's sophists is the head of the Chinese Communist Party and State, Mao Tse-tung who... has ridden this single tract, which he calls "Contradiction" ever since 1937. At that time he directed his attack against 'dogmatists' who refused to reduce all contradictions in the anti-Japanese struggle and submit to 'the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek' ... By June 18, 1957, after editing with a heavy hand the speech he delivered on Feb. 27th... he reduced the struggle of class against class to a contradiction among 'the people' while he became the champion, at one and the same time, of the philosophy of a hundred flowers blooming and one, and only one Party, the Chinese Communist Party ruling. Outside of the exploitative class relations themselves, nothing so clearly exposes the new Chinese ruling class as their threadbare philosophy".

It was the same period in which the intellectual abdication of Johnson, the co-founder of the State-Capitalist Tendency, had led him to devise the following enthusiastic apologia for Nkrumah:

"In one of the remarkable episodes in revolutionary history, he singlehandedly outlined a programme based on the ideas of Marx, Lenin and Gandhi..."10

To which, I replied:

"I admit that combining Marx, Lenin and Gandhi is quite a feat. But for a pamphleteer like J. R. Johnson, who thundered so for the Soviet United States of Europe, Soviet United States of Asia, world revolution, the struggle against bureaucracy 'as such', the self-mobilisation of the masses and for new passions and new forces to reconstruct society on totally new beginnings - to end with Nkrumah as the representative of the new, the new, is rather pathetic. There is nothing to add but to say, with Hamlet, 'Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him".11

IT WAS THAT VERY pamphlet on the Afro-Asian revolutions that attracted an altogether new Left Group at Cambridge University in England, Peter Cadogan, who was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament with which we, of course, solidarized and collaborated,12 volunteered to bring out a British edition with a new Introduction by myself and new Preface by him.13

So many new relations were opened both here and abroad that by the end of 1959 we not only had participated in an international conference in Milan of independent Marxist tendencies that opposed both poles of world capital, U.S. and Russia, but had established an international forum for further dialogue, through a section of Onorato Damen's Prometeo,14 printed on a different color of paper to distinguish its independent character. In England I had also established the relations with West African revolutionaries which would lead to my trip there in 1962. And soon after my return from Britain a young group in London actually began writing a special page of "British Labour News" in News & Letters which they distributed as their front page.

The important gain for Marxist-Humanism, of course, came when Harry McShane - the outstanding revolutionary Scottish fighter and Marxist, who had been one of the original founders of the Communist Party when it stood for the Russian Revolution of 1917 but who had broken with the Party in 1953 - declared himself a Marxist-Humanist in 1959.

Whether one begins with the new spontaneous revolts in East Europe, or the U.S., or Africa; or with the philosophy of Marx's Humanism which inspired a great outpouring of new energies, nationally and internationally, one thing was beyond any doubt: we were face to face with a new beginning that would determine the end.


5 The 1978 edition of Indignant Heart: A Black Worker's Journal (South End Press. Boston) reproduces Part I, first published in 1952, and the new Part II as one continuous revolutionary life story. Nevertheless, there is no way not to see the difference between what was written before the break with Johnson and the 25-year self-development that came with becoming the editor of News & Letters.

6 See my letter in Philosophy of Science, July, 1956, Vol, 23, No. 3, objecting to the manner in which Americans had reported on the International Congress for the Philosophy of Science, See also Marxism and Freedom, pp. 62-66, on Karpushin's first attack in Questions of Philosophy, No. 3, 1955.

7 See Preface to Marxism and Freedom by Herbert Marcuse, p. 12.

8 In a speech during the summer of 1959, Castro had declared: "Standing between the two political and economic ideologies or positions being debated in the world, we are holding our own positions. We have named it humanism... This is a humanistic revolution because it does not deprive man of his essence but holds him as its basic aim. Capitalism sacrifices man: the Communist state, by its totalitarian concept, sacrifices the rights of man..." See "History Will Be My Judge", published in The New Left Review, Jan-Feb., 1961.

9 At considerable expense to myself, I should add, since the publisher could see no reason for my insistence on adding yet another "footnote" when the book was already on the presses.

10 J. R. Johnson, Facing Reality (Detroit, Correspondence Publishing Co., 1958), p. 77.

11 Nationalism, Communism, Marxist-Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions, ftn. 2, p. 9.

12 The dialogue with other activists, like the libertarian-anarchist Laurens Otter, around the question of war and peace, war and revolution, included exchanges and publication of each other's views with many groups and journals.

13 The U.S. edition was published in August 1959: the British in May, 1961.

14 Before we had even reached our first Convention, the report of the split of the State-Capitalist Tendency in the U.S. was noted abroad among Marxist groups. The Italian State-Capitalist Tendency of Onorato Damen published my report to our first Conference, in the Spring 1956 issue of its theoretical journal, Prometeo, under the title of "An American Experience". It was the beginning of the international relations which would result in this international conference of state-capitalist tendencies in West Europe in 1959, prompted by the need to fight neo-fascism, signalled by the 1958 rise of De Gualle to power.