An Exchange of Letters

Rowan Fortune and Twilight O’Hara continue the dialogue with News and Letters. See the bottom of the page for links to the other posts in this series.


Dear Terry Moon and News and Letters Committee,

Thank you for your response, which was published on the Anti-Capitalist Resistance website. And thank you for removing the review of Julie Bindel’s book from your website. We consider both the willingness to engage in open dialogue and your editorial choice a highly welcome and important example of solidarity, one that should be a model for any other socialist organisation.

We agree with your statement, but still wish to make clarifications. In particular, while we admit there are some senses in which the need to be contemporary would be bourgeois, that would only be the case were that need framed as ahistorical. (And what could the contemporary mean without a theory of history?) To be contemporary for us is only to stay in step with all movements for freedom as they cohere together in a new humanism.

Anything else would be a retreat from history (which is always the agentive striving for the realisation of human potentialities) into the mire of myths bereft of philosophy. (For example, the liberal myth of Whiggish so-called history, incrementally improving according to a mechanistic notion of human utility that obscures relationships of power and domination as embodied in productive forces.)

In our original letter we are therefore careful not to make a moralistic critique of Dunayevskaya’s work. Our point was foremost that she was limited to her epoch, as we all necessarily are; she could not see prophetically beyond the concerns articulated at that time, and we wished to stress that we hold no opposition to “Dunayevskaya’s positions in their original context and do not intend to stain her reputation”. On this we are in agreement.

Dunayevskaya’s engagements with Franz Fanon and G. W. F. Hegel culminating in the critique of the fixed particular is a good way to frame the central problem with which we are concerned. The problem as we see it is that merely introducing such a concept, or adding a philosophy of revolution to liberationist currents, does not guarantee avoiding the peril of the fixed particular. So long as our humanity is divided from itself, and we are thereby divided from one another, fixed particularities will be an attractive prospect to those among the oppressed able to seek a space within bourgeois society.

Moreover, so long as the fixed particular arises again and again in engagements with oppression, many who imagined themselves to be dualistically outside of an oppression will be drawn into engaging with those particulars rather than with the universal possibilities of liberation. That will cement them in their dualism, as they can see the fixed particular as removed from the concern of their own humanity. Some will do so cynically, to preserve unhealthy organisational dynamics, and others unwittingly, but the results are the same.

This can be clearly seen in how much transphobia pervades marxist theory (and, unfortunately, practice and praxis) today, as has been extensively documented and rebuked.[1] It is in this context that we do as non-binary marxists feel left out in the cold by many marxist currents. We expect that of some, such as those who knowingly reject anything even akin to the radicalism Dunayevskaya so splendidly teases out of marxism in what we consider her seminal contribution to theory, Marxism and Freedom. But in both of our experience socialist transphobia is a more pervasive issue.

But beneath that, and perhaps more troubling, there is a lack of the type of critical, humanist engagement between socialists and the transgender struggle that characterised Dunayevskaya’s own engagements in her times with the anti-racist and women’s liberationist movements, and which still (rightly) characterise many socialist organisations engagements with those currents. We are in complete agreement about the “power of the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism” to take on this task, but while work has been done, we do not believe it has risen to that challenge.

That task remains abstractly the same as what is set forth in Dunayevskaya’s Philosophy & Revolution, “Ours is the age that can meet the challenge of the times when we work out so new a relationship of theory to practice that the proof of the unity is in the Subject’s own self-development.” It is a problem for all of marxism that this has not occurred along any of the predicted or hoped for lines, that we still live in a world marked by estrangement, oppression, exploitation and in which the retreat into the fixed particular is a constant temptation from struggle.

Transgender marxism is a flourishing field of study (as a recent book by that title shows), but the meeting of theory and practice is rarely apparent. A few organisations are noticing the problem, but the struggle to act while the forces of liberation are weak is a pressing anxiety. While transgender people (women, men, and non-binary people) see in the denial of our medical autonomy a more generalised desire to deny all bodily autonomy, are voices are rarely heeded.

(It is noteworthy that attacks on trans people proceeded the recent US abortion ban. This tragically substantiates the claims made by many trans people who have long warned that we are the proverbial canaries for a wholesale attack on the gains made by the women’s movement. Perversely, some veterans of that movement have helped to bring us to this calamity.)

Our claim is decidedly not that Dunayevskaya is passé, or we would not consider her legacy worthwhile engaging in. She acted in hope that hers would be the decisive moment in human liberation, but that it was not such a moment (or that it did not become so) must now be acknowledged. We concur that permanence in revolution means the reordering of society and the open possibilities granted to all of humanity as we liberate ourselves from our own reified abstractions, embodied in capital. In this, Dunayevskaya remains an invaluable guide.

To do this task means attuning ourselves in each moment to every expression of humanity emerging against the limits imposed by class society. It also means forthrightly attending to the crisis of organisation that was Dunayevskaya’s own final preoccupation. That she did not complete this project is a loss, because never have we so needed new forms of organising, fresh approaches to the challenges of a world that (still, stubbornly) imagines the counter-revolution of stalinism to be the true face of Marx’s ideas, while liberalism has expended most of its creative energies in an eternal crisis of ecology, politics, economics and, foremost, our own humanity.

In camaraderie,

Rowan Fortune and Twilight O’Hara


[1] Red Fightback, for example, has addressed the problem in general terms, but also written more extensively on  one of the foremost marxist feminists of our time, Silvia Federici’s, particular issues.

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Rowan Fortune authored Writing Nowhere; edited the anthology of utopian short fiction Citizens of Nowhere; and contributed to the collaborative book System Crash. It writes on utopian imagination, revolutionary theory and trans* liberation.

Twilight O’Hara is a psychology student and revolutionary socialist in the United States. She is at work on a book reconstructing Marxism based on philosophical idealism.

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