From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives
October 2000

Can humanity be free? The new MARXISM AND FREEDOM

by Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.

Editors Note: A new century of anti-capitalist youth revolt opens with the publication of a new edition of MARXISM AND FREEDOM, FROM 1776 UNTIL TODAY by Raya Dunayevskaya. Its today-ness is remarkable.

When it was first published in 1957, MARXISM AND FREEDOM marked a new direction for liberatory movements seeking a genuine and independent socialism. Since then it has been published in total or in part in six English editions and in French, Spanish, Persian, and most recently Chinese.

The author's introduction to the first, 1957, printing presents a view of the book's original contribution to revolutarionary social transformation. To introduce readers new to this contemporary classic and reacquaint those familiar with it, we publish it here, and invite you get a copy. A free subscription or renewal to NEWS & LETTERS comes with it. News and Letters Committees invites you also to join us for Fall classes that will discuss the relationship between today's struggles and MARXISM AND FREEDOM. Go to "How To Contact News and Letters Committees" for the classes nearest to you.

Today, in the face of the constant struggle of man for full freedom on both sides of the Iron Curtain, there is a veritable conspiracy to identify Marxism, a theory of liberation, with its opposite, Communism, the theory and practice of enslavement. This book aims to re-establish Marxism in its original form, which Marx called "a thoroughgoing Naturalism, or Humanism." (1)

Hitherto, the American roots of Marxism have remained hidden. It is known, although not widely, that Marx aided the North during the Civil War in the United States. Less well-known is the fact that the paths of the Abolitionists and Marx crossed at that time. What is not known at all is that under the impact of the Civil War, and the subsequent struggles for the eight-hour day, Marx completely reorganized the structure of his greatest theoretical work, CAPITAL. This is analyzed here for the first time.

Our epoch has been characterized by "a struggle for the minds of men." Unless this struggle begins with a concept of totally new relations of men to labor and man to man, it is hollow. The today-ness of Marxism flows from this: no philosopher has ever had a grander concept of humanity than did Marx, and yet no philosophic conception was ever rooted more deeply in the first necessity of human society-labor and production. The fact that the H-bomb has put a question mark over the very survival of civilization does not change this. The answer to that problem is not in today's headlines. It is in production. That is what makes Marx so contemporary. The problems he posed 100 years ago are battled out today as concrete matters in the factory and in society as a whole.

Until the development of the totalitarian state the philosophic foundation of Marxism was not fully understood. Only today is it possible to comprehend that Marx's rejection of the Communism of his day was not a nineteenth century humanitarian adjunct to his scientific economic theories. Far from being a vulgar materialist, Marx based his perspectives, of the inevitable collapse of capitalism and the rise of a new human order, on a realization that workers would seek universality and completeness in their actual social lives as producers. Because Communism was a mere rejection of private property, Communism to Marx was "not the goal of human development, the form of human society."

Marxism is a theory of liberation or it is nothing. Whereas Marx was concerned with the freedom of humanity, and with the inevitable waste of human life which is the absolute general law of capitalist development, Russian Communism rests on the mainspring of capitalism-paying the worker the minimum and extracting from him the maximum. They dub this "the Plan." Marx called it the law of value and surplus value. He predicted that its unhindered development would lead to the concentration of capital "in the hands of a single capitalist or a single capitalist corporation."

Marx foresaw the present trend toward state capitalism not because he was a prophet but because of his dialectical method of tracing through to the end all trends of social development. It is impossible to understand Marx's major theoretical works if one begins by thinking that the particular method, Hegelian dialectics, is an absurdity. The absurdity would be if the method were the proof. The proof can only be in practice, in the actual development of society itself. This book therefore covers the modern machine age from its birth in the Industrial Revolution to its present-day development in Automation.

Three leading strands of thought are developed here: (1) The evolution of English political economy, French revolutionary doctrines, and German idealist (Hegelian) philosophy, in relation to the actual social development of the period of 1776 to 1831. (2) The development of Marxism in Marx's day and since, in relation to the actual class struggles in the epoch of the Civil War in the United States and the Paris Commune, as well as World War I and the Russian Revolution. (3) The methodology of Marxism applied to the problems that arise from the trend towards state capitalism, on the one hand, and a movement for total freedom, on the other. The unity of theory and practice, which characterized the forty years of Marx's maturity (1843-1883), is the compelling need of our own epoch as well.

The impulse for writing this book came from two sources: (1) the American workers, and (2) the East German workers. It was the period of 1950-1953, the period of the Korean War and of Stalin's death. During those years, the American workers, specifically the miners and auto workers began to come to grips with the realities of Automation by moving the question of productivity from one dealing with the fruits of labor-wages-to one dealing with the conditions of labor and the need for a totally new way of life. It was the period when the East German workers challenged the Communist regime in their Revolt of June 17, 1953. A revolt in the slave labor camps of Vorkuta, inside Russia itself, followed within a few weeks. Thus, in the wilds of Siberia as well as in the heart of Europe the tocsin had sounded for the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism.

From the philosopher in the ivory tower to the man on the street, the world is preoccupied with this question: Can man be free in this age of totalitarianism? We leaped generations ahead to the affirmative answer with the 1953 Revolts and again with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The road to a new society was no less illumined by the Negro struggles of 1956-57. At the same time, the "little war" over Suez brought us close to the brink of World War III. Nevertheless, out of the totality of the world crisis there emerged a search for a new philosophy on both sides of the Atlantic.

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. The research for this book, for example, on the transformation of Russia from a workers' state into its opposite, a state capitalist society, began at the outbreak of World War II. Scholars, some who did, and some who did not, agree with my conclusions, took part. In its beginning, this work was a Marxist analysis of state capitalism. But it did not take its present form of MARXISM AND FREEDOM until the new stage of production and of revolts was reached in 1950-53. 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.

A tour was undertaken to present orally the ideas of the book to groups of auto workers, miners, steelworkers and student youth. In their own words and out of their own lives they contributed a new understanding. A West Virginia miner, for example, modest about his own understanding of "Marxism," took freedom out of its abstraction and gave it concrete meaning.

"I've listened to you discussing that fellow Marx," he said. "I can't word it like him but I know exactly what he means. I lay there this morning about a quarter of six. I looked out the window. I said to myself, 'You just got to get up there and go down, whether you feel like it or not.' I didn't even speak it to my wife. I just said to myself, 'Now you call that a free man?"'

After these discussions, the first draft of the book was written. The manuscript was then submitted to some of these groups for study and, over a period of three months, their discussions were taped. Again, the author studied the discussions carefully, revised the first draft, and undertook a second tour for extensive personal discussions some of which are reproduced in the text. Only after these extensive discussions was the book in its present form finally written.

This work is therefore dedicated to the auto workers, miners, steelworkers and student youth who have participated so fully in the writing of this book. They are its co-authors.

Raya Dunayevskaya

Detroit, Michigan
May, 1957

POSTSCRIPT: In reading the galley proofs, the author took the liberty of adding a few footnotes on events (such as Mao Tse-Tung's speech "On Contradiction") that happened between this book's going to press and its actual publication.

R. D.
September, 1957


1. The first edition of MARXISM AND FREEDOM contained the first translations of Marx's "humanist" 1844 manuscripts as well as Lenin's notebooks on Hegel's SCIENCE OF LOGIC. Owing to publications of new translations by others, subsequent editions did have have these, but they are available from NEWS & LETTERS.

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