The Correspondence Booklet: Selections From a Paper That is Written, Edited and Circulated by its Readers (1984)

Given the importance of Correspondence – the group and the publishing project – it is curious that much of their material is not readily available on the internet. The Correspondence Publishing Committee marks the move of C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Grace Lee, Martin Glaberman and other key figures of autonomist Marxism away from dissident Trostkyism into a fundamentally new political effort. Rosengarten (2008) notes:

“In July 1947, James, Dunayevskaya, and others withdrew from the [Workers Party] and in September rejoined the SWP, whose membership and influence were growing at a remarkable rate at the time. This affiliation lasted for only four years: in 1951 [James] and other like-minded JFT comrades broke definitively with Trotskyism and sought to translate the ideas of the [Johnson Forest Tendency] into a program of political action committed to a renewal of revolutionary socialism. The group took the seemingly anodyne name of the Correspondence Publishing Committee. The name was inspired by Committees of Correspondence formed between 1774 and 1776 that became “the most radical political force of the [American] revolution”… The remnant of the JFT that continued to function as a more or less cohesive group after 1951` and up to 1970 was also known for the publications it produced under the name Facing Reality, which was the title of an influential book of 1958” (p. 25).

In his remarkable biography, In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives and James & Grace Lee Boggs (2016), Ward includes an enlightening chapter that explores Correspondence in depth (“Building Correspondence,” pp. 156-197). Ward begins his chapter by discussing how the newspaper Correspondence became indistinguishable from the group Correspondence:

“The group in effect became the Correspondence Publishing Committee. The group’s “chairman,” Raya Dunayevskaya, said as much in a speech to the Detroit membership just two weeks after the convention when she described the paper not just as a project of the organization or a stage in its life, “but as the organization itself. We breathe the paper all over the place now as our way of life, and all else follows.” Correspondence was to be the center of their activity and the full expression of their politics” (p. 156).

Ward identifies three “closely linked ideas [that] formed the ideological foundation of Correspondence: affirming the role of the working class as the agent of revolutionary change; rejecting the concept of the vanguard party and instead celebrating the self-activity and spontaneous mobilization of the working class; and standing in full opposition to all forms of bureaucratic control” (p. 158).

The Correspondence Booklet is the kind of text that could serve as a theoretical and historical introduction to autonomist Marxism for unfamiliar readers. In its 64 pages of pieces published in the newspaper, the pamphlet includes pieces that explore state-capitalism, unions as barriers to worker control, bureaucracy, popular culture, self-activity, anti-racism, white chauvinism, sexism, housework and various other themes. (Selma James, in early contributions of her career, writes about women’s experiences in here as ‘Marie Brent’).

This pamphlet is rare. At the time of writing we are unable to locate an institutionally-held copy in OCLC, though it’s likely held in at least a couple of collections (e.g. the Martin & Jessie Glaberman Papers at Wayne State). There is a single copy available in the trade at the time of writing (for $150). We have scanned the pamphlet and posted it to Libcom, here, for interested readers.

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