Dialectics of revolution: American roots and world Humanist concepts, Part II

From the November-December 2010 News & Letters

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

Editor’s note: For the centenary of Raya Dunayevskaya’s birth, we present excerpts from her March 21, 1985, lecture at the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, Detroit, at the opening of a three-month exhibition of the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection (RDC). The concluding part appears here, continued from the September-October issue of News & Letters. The full lecture is included in the RDC, #8394.

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The 1970s also saw the emergence of a new revolutionary force: Women’s Liberation, which had grown from an idea whose time had come to become a Movement. Its uniqueness expressed itself in women’s refusal to put off for “the day after the revolution” the questions they demanded answers to. The so-called Marxists at first would not even bother to listen to the women who proclaimed that “male chauvinism” was by no means restricted to capitalism. It not only appeared before capitalism, but is present right now and has reappeared after the revolution. It must be faced here and now. The women insisted that the Left must face the male chauvinism within that movement, and must recognize the need to grapple with this question before, during, in, and after the revolution.

To order click on book.

To order click on book.

It became the impulse for the third major philosophic work, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, which completed what we call the “trilogy of revolution.” Here is how I therefore summarized today’s Women’s Liberationists’ demands:

“Don’t tell us about discrimination everywhere else; and don’t tell us it comes only from class oppression; look at yourselves. You will have to understand that our bodies belong to us and to no one else–and that includes lovers, husbands, and, yes, fathers.

“Our bodies have heads, and they too belong to us and us alone. And while we are reclaiming our bodies and our heads, we will also reclaim the night. No one except ourselves, as women, will get our freedom for us. For that we need full autonomy.”

For me, it became necessary here to also focus on one of the inadequacies of the Women’s Liberation Movement: its disregard of Rosa Luxemburg. Indeed, this was a stimulus for my new work, though my scope was by no means limited to unearthing Luxemburg’s heretofore unknown feminist dimension.

When I began my study, it was just on Luxemburg–and the intended climax was to have been the year 1910. This was the year when her flash of genius, in grappling with the new phenomenon of imperialism, resulted in her break with Karl Kautsky, the leader of the German Social Democracy. This was some four years before the outbreak of World War I and the Second International’s betrayal. It was four years before any male Marxist, Lenin included, saw the coming betrayal.

And yet, suddenly, even this seemed to me to be inadequate, because Luxemburg remained a member of the German Social Democracy as if her break with Kautsky was “personal.” I felt the need for a decisive philosophic grappling, which I worked out as Part III of the so-called Luxemburg book: “Karl Marx: from Critic of Hegel to Author of Capital and Theorist of Revolution in Permanence.”

In a word, though she was way ahead of any great male revolutionary leader in exposing Kautsky’s opportunism and his quiescence toward the growth of imperialism, her methodology of analyzing imperialism and her critique of Marx’s Accumulation of Capital had to be characterized as a half-way dialectic. That is to say, though she was an unflinching fighter against imperialism and the Social Democracy’s opportunism, she nevertheless refused to consider “nationalism” as subject, as a new revolutionary force.

As against such a half-way dialectic, Marx’s multilinearism of human development, of paths to revolution, as they related to so-called backward countries, to Women’s Liberation, and to nationalist opposition–all made me question not only Luxemburg but all post-Marx Marxists, beginning with Frederick Engels, whose unilinearism permeated the whole German Social Democracy. Post-Marx Marxism, to me, became a pejorative.

Engels’s unilinearism was glaringly revealed in the very first work he wrote after the death of Marx–Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Engels claimed it was a “bequest” of Marx, but it expressed anything but Marx’s view either on the Man/Woman relationship or on the relationship between advanced and backward societies. Nor was there any similarity between Engels’s view of primitive communism and Marx’s.

For a moment, let us now turn away from all these philosophic-sociological-political-economic developments, to a story from my personal life. The incident I’m diverting to happened when I was 13 years old and had been but a single year in the U.S. I was leading a strike against the school principal. Her name I still remember–Tobin. And she exacted corporal punishment for so little an infraction as coming five minutes late. Also, she forced all to memorize Shylock’s speech, where he demands his pound of flesh. (I am telling this story with hindsight, of course, but my memory was refreshed by the Chicago Tribune story of that day, which had carried a sensational article and picture of the strike.)

I am doing so to illustrate the difference between an idea in embryo and in full development; between process and result, as well as the whole question of a child’s perception, when great revolutions occur and for how long these impressions last.

The story took place in 1924 in the Cregier public school in a Chicago ghetto. I credited my supposed bravery to the Russian Revolution of November 1917, which had burst upon the scene six years previously and had left an indelible impression on me of great doings, like equality and comradeship. I was an illiterate child then, living in the Ukraine, who had refused, two years previous to 1917, to engage in khabar (bribery) in order to be among the one percent of Jews who gained the “privilege” of being able to sit in the back of the school room.

Now look at an altogether different historic period, a different life, and there, too, we will see what a child’s perception is, when born during great turning points in history.

When I returned to the U.S. from being with Trotsky in exile in 1938, the one who made a great impression on me was the famous French syndicalist Alfred Rosmer. In 1919, he had switched to communism, and then, in 1937-38, had become head of the International Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky. He was returning to France via New York and I thought I would show off its beauties by taking him on a ferry ride to Staten Island.

As we reached Staten Island, Rosmer said: “Oh, yes, I know, I was born here.” Naturally, I thought he was pulling my leg, but no, he was serious and proceeded to prove it by telling me the story of his early life. It turned out that his parents were Paris Communards from 1871, who, after its defeat, escaped to the U.S. His mother was pregnant and gave birth to him on Staten Island. He simply was never interested in claiming American citizenship. France and the Paris Commune never left his memory, not because he was there, but because of all the stories he heard from his parents.

This only released in my mind still another remembrance–this time from when I was 15 years old, and Eugene V. Debs was making his very last appearance at Ashland Auditorium in Chicago. It was 1925. He was so eloquent a speaker that he made you feel the presence of any person he mentioned in his life. He was very proud of the fact that he had known the great Abolitionist, Wendell Phillips. It was Wendell Phillips who, after the Civil War, made a transition from Abolitionism to Socialism. It is he who had said: “Scratch a New Yorker and you’ll find a Communard.”

Two points are involved in this remembrance of things past: One is that embedded in embryo in the past is the presence of the next step, whether or not one is fully conscious of it. Two is that presence of the future inherent in the “here and now” characterizes also the first instinctual reaction which is philosophically called “first negation.” What makes you move to the second negation creates a new humus for future development.

Marx’s magnificent, original, historic unchaining of the dialectic was the creation of such a new humus. This unchaining began, of course, with his refusal to consider that Hegel’s Notion was related only to thought.

Once Marx discovered a new continent of thought and of revolution, the task he assigned to himself was that of uniting Philosophy and Reality. The proof of that unity came from uncovering the hidden Subject–the driving forces of the revolutions-to-be–the Proletariat–and at the same time focusing on the Man/Woman relationship, as alienated and alienating, which must be totally uprooted as the way to full human relationships.

Marx had rejected Feuerbachian abstract materialism, not alone because it failed to see the social relationship. He opposed Feuerbach as well for rejecting the revolutionary Hegelian principle of “negation of the negation,” a principle Marx cited again even in his technical Mathematical Manuscripts of 1881-82.

Instead, his concept of revolution-in-permanence contended that only after the historic transcendence by the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism would there first begin the development of a new human society and a new Man/Woman relationship.

Now listen to Marx in his last decade, writing on his relationship to Hegel–which he left with his papers for Engels for Volume II of Capital, but which Engels left out:

“My relationship with Hegel is very simple. I am a disciple of Hegel, and the presumptuous chattering of the epigones who think they have buried this great thinker appear frankly ridiculous to me. Nevertheless, I have taken the liberty of adopting…a critical attitude, disencumbering his dialectic of its mysticism and thus putting it through a profound change….”

Between Marx and our age only Lenin seriously returned to Marx’s roots in Hegel. But while Lenin commented profoundly and brilliantly on the whole of Science of Logic–including the Doctrine of the Notion, where he embraced and concretized Hegel’s principle that “Cognition not only reflects the world, but creates it”–he nevertheless concretized only the single dialectical principle of transformation into opposite; of every unit containing its opposite within itself.

Unfortunately, other questions, especially the one on Organization, Lenin left untouched within the vanguardist confines of his 1902-03 What Is to Be Done?

Our age has focused on the dialectics of revolution as the determinant. Nothing, including Organization, the Party, can find any escape route from that determinant. Even the Absolute Method itself is but the road to the Absolute Idea, Absolute Mind. When the Self-Thinking Idea comes with the Self-Bringing Forth of Freedom, we will have actual total freedom.

To order, click on the book. See the dialectic of women's struggle unfolding.

To order, click on the book. See the dialectic of women’s struggle unfolding.

Though I have but a few moments before concluding, I do wish to give you a brief view of my new book, Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution: Reaching for the Future.

The first thing I noticed in rereading that 35-year compilation of articles–with a focus on a single revolutionary force as Reason, Women’s Liberation–is that the Dialectics of Revolution is characteristic of all the four forces we singled out in the U.S.–Labor, Black, Youth, as well as Women. All are moments of revolution, and nobody can know before the event itself who will be the one in the concrete, particular revolution.

This determined my 1985 Introduction and Overview to the new book, which culminated in what we call the “Trail to the 1980s.” In a word, no matter who the specific revolutionary force turns out to be–Labor, Black, Youth, Women–the whole truth is in the dual rhythm of any revolution: the overthrow of the old society and the creation of new human relations. It requires the spelling out of that dialectic in its totality with every individual subject.

This is true not just as a summation, but rather as a new beginning. Just as Marx’s concept of “revolution in permanence” made it clear that the revolution does not end with the overthrow of the old but must continue to the new, so you begin to feel this presence of the future in the present. This is the time when every man, woman and child feels this newness precisely because it is now rooted in such new beginning.

And here is how I’m ending my new, fourth book:

“With Marx’s first founding of his new continent of thought and of revolution, he wrote: ‘To have one basis for life and another for science is a priori a lie.’ The truth of his statement has never been more immediate and urgent than in our nuclear world, over which hangs the threat to the very survival of civilization as we have known it.”

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