NEWS & LETTERS, August-September 2002

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

The revolt of the workers and the plan of the intellectuals

Editor’s Note

We publish here, for the first time anywhere, a historic document in American Marxism--Raya Dunayevskaya’s June 5, 1951 “The Revolt of the Workers and the Plan of the Intellectuals.” It was a defense of STATE CAPITALISM AND WORLD REVOLUTION (SC&WR) a major statement of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, and marked its complete break with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). SC&WR was jointly written by C. L. R. James (a.k.a. J. R. Johnson), Dunayevskaya (a.k.a. Freddie Forest), and Grace Lee Boggs. “The Revolt” was a response to a critique of SC&WR published in April 1951 by George Novack (a.k.a. William F. Warde) and John G. Wright, both representing the SWP majority. The original document can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 1424.

We here publish the first section of Part II. Additional excerpts will appear in our October issue. “MCK” refers to the Kerr edition of Marx’s CAPITAL; “MCF” to the more recent translation by Ben Fowkes. Notes by the author are signed “RD”; others are by the editors. We wish to thank Jesse and Jason for their help in editing the piece.


Part I

The Marxian Economic Categories, and the Class Struggle

Comrades Novack and Wright accuse “Johnson-Forest” of the heinous crime of identifying the capitalist economy with the “Soviet economy.” They mean the economy of Stalinist Russia, which since 1943-44, the Stalinist theoreticians themselves have admitted operates according to the law of value. The admission was forced upon them by the Russian reality.

Long before the admission was made, “Johnson-Forest” had demonstrated that the existence in Russia of the economic categories analyzed in Marx’s CAPITAL was not a matter of coincidence. Rather it was due to a fundamental kinship between the Russian economy and capitalism.(1) In summarizing the facts and conclusions of the extensive study, “Johnson-Forest” used the concise original formula Marx created for analyzing specifically capitalistic production relations: C/V, THAT IS TO SAY, THE DOMINATION OF CONSTANT CAPITAL (OR DEAD LABOR) OVER VARIABLE CAPITAL (OR LIVING LABOR).

For this, “Johnson-Forest” is taken to task. “In dealing with the C/V relation,” write Comrades Novack and Wright, “one remains in the general sphere of productivity, equally applicable in this abstract form to any and all economic systems.”


Reflect on this a moment. Marx transformed the entire science of political economy. From a study of THINGS, it became an analysis of PRODUCTION RELATIONS. He wrote some 4,000 pages, or 2,000,000 words, in his analysis of the economic system of capitalism. And for all that, except in three instances, he could use the categories of classical political economy. For those three, however, he had to create NEW CATEGORIES ALTOGETHER.

Now Comrades Novack and Wright take two of these three new categories and assert that they are applicable “to any and all societies.”

How is it possible for Marxists to go so completely off the class rails THEORETICALLY? The error is no accident. It never fails to appear among Marxist theoreticians who have failed to grasp the essence of Marxism for their SPECIFIC epoch in STRICT RELATIONSHIP to the revolutionary activity of the masses. Each stage of capitalist production has posed only two alternatives: EITHER THE SELF-ACTIVITY OF THE WORKERS OR THE PLAN OVER THE WORKERS. A terrible trap awaits those who do not hold tight to this.

Marx’s CAPITAL and ‘the Planners’

The theoretical axis of Marx’s CAPITAL is the question of plan--the plan of the capitalist against the plan of free, associated workers. Chapter XIII(3) in particular is unmistakable in its dialectical opposition between the despotic plan inherent in capital and the plan of the proletariat in the cooperative labor process. The cooperative form of the labor process unleashed a new productive POWER. The attempt to control this power within capitalistic confines is the basis of the despotic plan of capital. Marx affirms that there can no longer be any doubt about this: The workers’ RESISTANCE has disclosed that what appeared ideally as plan was in practice the undisputed authority of the capitalist.

We say that today ONLY the actual revolution of the proletariat in the process of production itself can save society. We have written and repeat: future generations will stand in amazement at the equivocal but relentless resistance that the Fourth International carries on against this.

Yet it is one of the unique contributions to the analysis of human society that this very REVOLT, this and no other, saved society in the middle of the last century. Capital, in its inherent tendency to appropriate the 24 hours of the laborer’s day for itself, had broken all bounds of morals and nature, age and sex, day and night. Marx tells us that society itself was threatened. The revolt of the workers established the shortening of the working day. This revolt and its consequences led to the intensive development of machinery.

Bourgeois scientists, as usual, claimed the legally limited working day as a result of their science, their intellect, their plan. The bourgeoisie claimed the invention of machinery as their contribution to human welfare and progress.

Marx poured scorn on these Pharisees. The determination of what is a working day “presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labor, i.e., the working class” [MCIK, p. 259, MCIF, p. 344]. It was “the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working class” [MCIK p. 327; MCIF, p. 412]. The influence of the workers’ revolt on the development of machinery should be studied in Volume I [MCIK, pp. 447-457; MCIF pp. 533-543]. But even that revolt, because it did not overthrow capitalism, meant increased despotism.

Marx categorically asserts that since ALL labor under capitalism is FORCED LABOR, plan can be nothing but the organization of production under the domination of the machine. To try to bring order, therefore, into the anarchy of the market of a society based on the factory plan, could only mean subjecting society to “one single master.”

On the other hand, the cooperative form of the labor process discloses the socialism imbedded in capitalism. The discipline, unity, cooperative action of the proletariat proves once and for all 1) that its existence as a class presupposed that the fundamental types of ALL the productive forces of the future have been developed. What is now required is a new method of uniting them. And 2) that the SELF-DEVELOPMENT of the proletariat is the new method of uniting them. WITHOUT THIS NO HIGHER FORM OF PRODUCTION IS POSSIBLE. Do Comrades Novack and Wright agree with this or not? In THE INVADING SOCIALIST SOCIETY we asked Ernest Mandel(4) that question. He did not answer.

Marx’s point is that under capitalist production, on the other hand, the only way a rise in productivity can be achieved is the ever-greater domination of machines over living labor. “Johnson-Forest” did not discover this. That is what CAPITAL is about.

The consequence of the complete inversion in the relationship of machines to men, with its misery for labor and anarchy of the market, could not help but impress the intellectuals. They were ready with plans for everything except the reorganization of the productive process by labor itself.

Consistently Marx posed the cooperative form of the labor process in opposition to these intellectual planners who could not comprehend THIS NEW POWER. Marx warned: not to see the plan inherent in the activity of the revolutionary proletariat MUST force one to pose an EXTERNAL factor to do the planning.

He dismissed with utter contempt Proudhon’s plan to do away with exchange. For the practical and violent actions of the proletariat, Marx wrote, Proudhon substitutes the “evacuating motion of his head” [Letter to Annenkov of Dec. 28, 1846].

Proudhon was neither the first nor the last of the planners. Planning is not limited to idealists. The ABSTRACT materialist who views technological development OUTSIDE of the class relationship also slips back into considering the CAPITALISTIC factors of production as mere factors of any social form of production. That is why Marx created new categories--constant and variable capital--to describe the manner in which machines and labor united under a capitalist economy. In opposition to all the planners--abstract materialist as well as idealist--Marx elaborated his analysis of capitalist production.

In Volume I of CAPITAL, the socialistic nature of the cooperative form of the labor process is held out in sharp contrast to the hierarchic structure of capitalist control. In Volume II Marx isolates the capitalist nation and analyzes it as unit:

...we must not follow the manner copied by Proudhon from bourgeois economics, which looks upon this matter as though a society with a capitalist mode of production would lose its specific historical and economic characteristics by being taken as a unit. Not at all. We have in that case to deal with the aggregate capitalist. [MCIIK, p. 503, MCIIF, p. 509].

It is not “Johnson-Forest” who preach that piece of Proudhonism. It is the Fourth International.

The whole of Volume II is built not on individual, private capital, but on aggregate, national capital.(5)

In Volume III, Marx returns to the creative plan of the workers as the plan most adequate to their human nature and most worthy of it. So that the creative plan of the workers in opposition to the authoritarian plan of the capitalist runs like a red thread through all three volumes of CAPITAL.

Now Lenin in 1915 realized that there were aspects to CAPITAL that no Marxist, including himself, had understood for 50 years. We, in 1951, can see still further, for the problem posed THEORETICALLY by Marx in CAPITAL is the very one posed so forcefully in a CONCRETE manner by our epoch. The Marxist theoretician who has failed to grasp this has invariably fallen into the same trap as the abstract materialist, and singled out some basic element of CAPITALIST production as a mere TECHNICAL problem. The inescapable next step is to spirit away the class content of the economic categories Marx created. This happened to the great revolutionary martyr, Rosa Luxemburg.

Where Proudhon poured forth all his wrath against the machine but had nothing to say about the modern workshop, that is, the factory, Comrade Luxemburg poured forth her wrath against the modern workshop but let the machine stand as if that could be divorced from its factory environment.

Having divided what Marx had united, she followed the pattern as if she had been stage directed. She said that there is nothing specifically capitalistic in the categories C/V. These, she contended, were merely expressions of machine production in “any and all” societies. That is how she BEGAN. She ended by revising the Marxist theory of accumulation.(6)

The same, in different circumstances, was true of Bukharin, and precisely, I might add, on the questions of state capitalism and of the economy of the transition period. Both errors were inevitable. The crisis at each new stage of capitalist production needs some solution. There is always a radical bourgeois solution which, of course, only intensifies the crisis.

Let the Marxist theoretician beware. He must find in the specific circumstances the basis for the specific revolutionary action of the masses. If he does not, he is drawn fatally toward the solution posed by the radical bourgeois.

By her theory of accumulation, Rosa Luxemburg anticipated the underconsumptionist theory of Keynes. By his theory of state capitalism and the economics of the transition period, Bukharin anticipated Stalin....


1. Fundamental kinship does not mean identical twins. As STATE CAPITALISM AND WORLD REVOLUTION puts it: “We have never said that the economy of the United States is the same as the economy of Russia. What we say is that, however great the differences, the fundamental laws of capitalism operate.”--RD

2. Labor power--and with it the split of the category of labor into abstract labor and concrete labor--is the third original Marxian category. (We’ll deal with this later.) Commodity, value--and with it surplus value--Marx refined, but the categories themselves he took over from classical political economy. Characteristic of Marx was this insistence of his upon crediting classical political economy with a theory of surplus value it had never elaborated just because it was implicit in their labor theory of value.--RD

3. A reference to the chapter on Cooperation in CAPITAL, Vol. I.

4. Ernest Mandel was a leading Trotskyist economic theorist, here referred to under the pseudonym “Germain.” THE INVADING SOCIALIST SOCIETY was a 1947 pamphlet written by James, Dunayevskaya, and Lee.

5. Anyone aware of the voluminous debates around Vol. II will count 1,000 and 1 before he abandons himself to the assertion that the society Marx dealt with was only an “abstraction.”--RD

6. See “Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation,” by F. Forest [Dunayevskaya], NEW INTERNATIONAL, April and May 1946.--RD

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