From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives
Marx's new moments and those in our age
Editor's Note: Raya Dunayevskaya presented the sixth and final lecture in a series of
workshop/classes on "Current World Events and the Dialectic Method" in
April 1986. It came in the wake of Ronald Reagan's attack on Libya in March
1986, and in it she deepened her view of Marxist-Humanism's historic right
to exist because of its half-century of world development in a "Changed
World." We reprint excerpts from this lecture in light of Bill Clinton's
recent imperialist cruise missile bombardments on Sudan and Afghanistan
followed by his declaration of war (see editorial, page 1) and as ground
for restating today's need for an absolute opposite, that is, new
revolutionary beginnings and the re-creation of Marxist-Humanism.
Bracketed phrases were added by the editors. The lecture can be found in
The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, 11532.
Today, what faces us in these crisis-ridden counter-revolutionary times is
not just "terrorism in general," and not just in a single country, but
nuclear terrorism. On a global scale, then, which new beginnings-in the
absolute opposites of revolution and counter-revolution-will determine the
end, not of humanity but of establishing totally new human relations?
We have, on the one side, the undeclared, ongoing civil war in apartheid
South Africa, and, on the other, the magnificent Black struggles, which
just established the first-ever national Black trade union, COSATU. At the
same time, there were great revolutions in Haiti and the Philippines, as
well as a new awakening here of the divestment movement and the great mass
movements in Europe-as well as the opposition here-against the abysmal
depths of Reagan's Retrogressionism.
What is as disastrous as Reagan's criminal actions in his attack on Libya
is the Reagan ideology that pollutes the air. Here is the President of the
U.S., unashamedly saying, "I am also a contra," and following this up with
a blitz on Libya which he dares to call "self-defense" against "terrorism,"
as if he wasn't committing a state-terrorist act.
With this bombing of Libya, Reagan Retrogressionism has reached such an
abyss that the whole of today's talk is entitled:
Which new beginnings will determine the end-the new developing revolutions
or the Reagan counter-revolution and its putrefaction of thought?
There are two opposing worlds in each country-the rulers and the masses.
The Reagan degenerate chauvinistic super-patriotism pollutes our air. Long
ago, Samuel Johnson had the right description of such patriotism when he
said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
Just look at the concrete disgusting rationale with which Reagan followed
the attack in the Gulf of Sidra with an actual attack on Kadafi's living
quarters, killing his 15-month-old infant and severely wounding two others
of his children, three and four years old. Eighteen bombers flew from
England to drop the bombs. If anyone can be lower as a terrorist than
Kadafi, then Rambo-on-the-loose, Ronald Reagan, is the one.
It is this type of pull from the gutter imperialist politics of nuclearly
armed capitalism that makes it important to struggle against all rulers.
And it is the enemy at home that Marxist-Humanism must struggle against,
not only by being active in all mass movements and by solidarizing with
international movements, but by the specificity of a totally opposite
philosophy of revolution. The philosophy of classless new human relations
is also a force to be projected in our daily lives journalistically as well
Here are the three Marx principles that form the ground of 1986 analyses,
whether they relate to Workshop/Classes; or to News & Letters; or to Volume
XII of the Marxist-Humanist Archives [The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection]
that was being finished in the same three months; and, of course, to the
events themselves as they will affect our 1986-87 Perspectives [giving
direction to News and Letters Committees]:
1.) Marx's concept of history in the making. That is to say, recording an
event both as the masses in motion are shaping and reshaping history and as
the Marxist philosophy of revolution practices the Idea as a force, even as
action itself is force. First, then, is history in the making.
2.) Inseparable from it is Dialectics. It is not something restricted to
any one historic period. The Dialectic Method examines every event in the
context of both historic continuity and discontinuity, as well as the
perspective for tomorrow.
To put it another way, while there is no substitute for action, action like
theory is in itself one-sided. The unity of action and thought is what
motivated Marx from the very start when Marx designated his philosophy "a
new Humanism" and unfurled a banner not only for the overthrow of
capitalism but for the creation of totally new human relations.
Whether an event happened in Marx's lifetime, specifically, his founding of
a new continent of thought and revolution in 1844; or whether the event
happened in Lenin's time, 1914, and he issued the call for the
transformation of an imperialist war into a civil war-what all Marxists
singled out from Hegel was the "materialistic" statement that wherever
there is life, there is movement, there is the Dialectic.
Marx's transformation of the Hegelian Dialectic from a revolution in
philosophy into a philosophy of revolution led him, when the 1848
Revolutions were defeated, to call for "revolution in permanence." The
second principle, then, is Dialectics.
3.) The third principle is the relationship of objective to subjective,
neither as mere generalization nor something that stops at the first
negation-that is, the overthrow of private capitalism-imperialism, the
uprooting of capitalism, private or state. Rather, it analyzes the concrete
events inseparable from a vision of the future. This isn't something Marx
said only in 1844 or 1848. It is something Marx experienced; he lived it.
The "new moments" in the very last decade of his life, with his dialectical
attitude to the so-called new science of anthropology-i.e., his new
appreciation of pre-capitalist society, what we now call the Third
World-are proof of this.
We all know what the Communist Manifesto projected as the world outlook of
the newly named Communist League: "Let the ruling classes tremble at a
Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their
chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!"
Why, then, don't we remember as well that the Communist Manifesto was
practicing Marx's 1844 proclamation of "revolutionary, critical-practical
activity," not only against the ruling state-party, but by separating
himself from "the varying existing opposition parties"?
In a word, why don't we remember the battle of ideas in all periods?
* * *
It is high time to detail Marxist-Humanism's development because what
becomes imperative in this crisis-ridden capitalistic-imperialistic
world-and that of course includes both nuclear Behemoths-is Marx's
multilinear concept of human development, be it of the industrialized world
or what he called the pre-capitalist world, and we know as the Third World,
as well as the whole concept of organization for that final battle, that
would be inseparable from Marx's philosophy of revolution. This of course
is what we point to when we say that Marx's new moments make it clear that
the 1880s is the trail to the 1980s. But this requires concretization by
this new generation. First we broke with all post-Marx Marxists and worked
this out explicitly in Chapter 12 of Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation,
and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution. The turning point in the global
struggle for freedom was the recognition that the Absolute Method is the
philosophic ground for the present world struggle for freedom.
In a word, we must face what we consider the burning question of
today-ORGANIZATION AS INSEPARABLE FROM THE IDEA, i.e., MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF
REVOLUTION, VS. THE VISAGE OF HITLER AND THE ONGOING REALITY OF REAGANISM.
The visage of Hitler in South Africa extended itself to producing the
Lesotho coup which didn't stop Reaganfrom rolling out the red carpet for
the most notorious mercenary, Savimbi, financed by apartheid South Africa
which is getting very substantial help from Reagan to intensify their
counter-revolutionary work in Angola and in Mozambique. This turned out to
be just a "curtain raiser" for the imperialistic, savage onslaught against
Libya-which Reagan dared to call ''self-defense'' against terrorism. In
truth, he is the greatest terrorist. He must be stopped. Nor can the
activities in opposing him be separated from the battle of ideas against
this new form of counter-revolution.
The relationship between the battle of ideas and our actions against the
reactionary age we are living in may not seem to be connected with what
sounds like such a mystical abstraction as Absolute Method. The truth is
that 1953, when the world witnessed the very first ever revolt against
totalitarian Communism, was the very period when I broke through on the
Absolute Idea. I said that signified that there was a movement from
practice as well as from theory, and this involved the whole struggle for
total freedom in the specific post-World War II period. That is exactly
why, in a similar period of Prussian reaction more than a century ago, Marx
called his ideas "a new Humanism." All this we spelled out in our first
major theoretic work, Marxism and Freedom, which worked out the continuity
with Marx's Marxism and the discontinuity which was an actual
concretization for our age's battle for freedom. Indeed, the very first
chapter ended with a section called "Hegel's Absolutes and Our Age of
Absolutes." In a word, Absolute Method, far from being any metaphysical
abstraction, is actually the process of concrete dialectical development in
The ceaseless movement of human development, through ever-reappearing
contradictions, signifies that an end is really the ground for new
beginnings. And new beginnings determine the end.
When the turbulent 1960s ended with an aborted revolution, it became clear
that Youth activity alone, with its disregard for theory as if it could be
"picked up en route," would only end in more and more aborted revolutions.
We concretized this in Philosophy and Revolution, from Hegel to Sartre and
from Marx to Mao.
To this day, neither post-Marx Marxists nor activist pragmatists have
wrestled with the Dialectics of Organization: Philosophy, the "Party" and
Opposite Forms of Organization Born Out of Spontaneity. That is the topic
of my next book. Unfortunately it will take another two years to complete.
All I can do here is touch with where I begin-with Marx's Critique of the
Gotha Program, written in that last decade of his life when he experienced
all those "new moments."
No Marxists understood fully this critique as it relates to organization,
not even Lenin, who achieved the greatest leap on concretizing Marx's
analysis of the need to destroy the bourgeois state in his State and
Revolution which unfurled the banner for the actual November 1917 Russian
Revolution. But insofar as the Party was concerned, he omitted entirely
that question of Organization, leaving himself confined within his 1903
concept of the vanguard Party, notwithstanding the changes he introduced in
1905 and 1917, and hailing the spontaneous new forms of organization, like
the soviets in 1917.
Rosa Luxemburg, who had made a category of spontaneity, likewise remained
"orthodox" on the question of the Party and criticized Lenin only on the
point of centralization and decentralization. Who, then, took
organizational responsibility for Marx's philosophy, not just of revolution
"in general," but specifically the question of what happens after the
overthrow of capitalism? What Marx was pointing to concretely was that both
those who called themselves Marxists (Eisenachists) and those who were
Lassalleans considered that what was of the essence was unity, putting off
or "taking for granted" the philosophic ground.
In actuality, what "taking for granted'' achieved was to make a principle
of the specifically German General Workers Association that was
nationalistic, as against the First International Marx headed.
Put differently, what Marx was aiming at in the Critique was to tell
Marxists they must not forget the Universal of freedom as what happens
after overthrow, in their preoccupation with immediate activity, activity,
activity. It is true that those last three words were from the 1960s, not
from 1875. But the essence of what Marx was aiming for was expressed in
that simple word that everyone "took for granted" they understood-labor.
There Marx "repeated" at the very time he completed the French edition of
Capital what he had been saying on labor since 1844: that labor must not
remain alienated, that it must become a total human activity, never
separating theory from practice.*
The world in which we live now confronts us with all its
counter-revolutionary actions, with the Reagan Retrogressionism on all
fronts, including the U.S. itself and its "ideology," which we must never
forget that Marx designated as false consciousness. The putrefaction of
thought that the Reagan Administration is exuding is polluting the air for
That makes it all the more imperative to grasp what has happened in this
post-World War II period since the movement from practice was so creative
as to be a form of theory itself. Let us not forget that a form of theory
is not yet philosophy. Rather, it is a challenge to the theoreticians to
end the one-sidedness of theory, as practice is challenged to end its
one-sidedness so that theory and practice can create a new unity, the new
relationship of practice to theory in order finally to reach the
realization of philosophy. This is what Marx was working out in his last
decade, after the defeat of the revolutions in his period, and the fact
that the 1875 attempts at organization put a priority on the unity rather
than the principles which they supposedly "took for granted."
What is an imperative for our age is never to "take for granted'' the Marx
principles, Marx's Universals, the philosophy of revolution, as the age
grapples with its immediates.
New forms of theory that have arisen from the spontaneous mass revolts,
with its challenge to the theoreticians, are exactly where Marxist-Humanism
started when working out a new newspaper where the production worker
[Charles Denby] became the editor.
News and Letters Committees at the same time assigned the completion of the
first major theoretical work, Marxism and Freedom, and that it be done by
submitting the draft for discussion with workers and Youth. (See especially
Chapter 16, "Automation and the New Humanism" as well as the Introduction.)
In a word, the combination of worker and intellectual was not limited to
the journalistic form, but was for all our major theoretical works in
The point is that objectively the new passions and new forces of
revolution-whether they be rank-and-file labor, Black, Youth, women's
liberation, peasant-are present both as force and as Reason, all aiming to
see that the new revolutions are not aborted but create the ground for new
This is exactly what we are aiming at with what we call organizational
responsibility for Marxist-Humanism. The doors are open, wide open.
April 22, 1986 (Lenin's birthday)
* A conversation with Herbert Marcuse in the late 1970s in a way revealed
the whole relevance of that for our age, when he asked me what did I think
of that specific paragraph in the Critique of the Gotha Program.
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