NEWS & LETTERS, June 2002 

Toward a new concept of organization

Editor's Note

Raya Dunayevskaya travelled to West Europe in 1959, seeking new international relationships with groups that rejected both poles of state-capitalism, the U.S. and Russia. In preparation for the trip and an international conference in Milan, Italy, she penned a draft resolution in June 1958, titled "World Outlook." In it she discussed the philosophic grounding needed for working out an alternative to the concept of the vanguard party. Details of the trip can be found in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection and in 25 Years of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. The resolution, excerpted here, is in the collection, beginning at page 2625. The headline, notes, and bracket material were added by the editors.

There can be no genuine unification of theory and practice in the tradition of Marxism unless we face boldly 1) the utter bankruptcy of thought of the existing vanguard parties, 2) the spontaneity and maturity of the revolutionary movement from practice toward not only theory, but a new society, and realize 3) that neither the constant repetition of the need of a vanguard party nor the in toto rejection of that concept will answer the need of our epoch, which is nothing short of a new unity of theory and practice based on the movement from practice. An indispensable prerequisite of that is the theoreticians' acceptance of their responsibilities.

A constantly changing concept of vanguard, based on the relationship of the masses to the party, and the party to where the masses stood, is the essence of Leninism. The 1905 Revolution changed Lenin's 1902-3 concept of vanguard. Again on the eve of October 1917, he threatened to go to the sailors and resign from the [Bolshevik] Political Committee because the masses were more revolutionary than the party. Once again in the last years of his life he pointed to the need of "the non-party masses checking the party."

The repetition of the "need of a vanguard" did not turn the Fourth International into a mass movement that led the revolutions following World War II. On the contrary, they have ended as a tail-end to Stalinism. But neither did the rejection of "the party to lead" become a theoretical focal point for revolutionary regroupment or even do away with the total isolation of these groupings from the mass movement. It is time to draw a balance sheet on the basis of the actual world situation....

Responsibilities of Theoretical Groupings

Any analysis of the objective situation, even one as cursory as ours, cannot fail to meet the challenge to re-examine its own foundations, principles and perspectives in the light of the objective situation. There is nothing new in the betrayal of the Communists and the Socialists, nor in the inadequacies and tailendism of the Trotskyists. We must finally come to a confrontation between the demands of the objective situation and the realities of small groupings like ourselves who have broken with all those who go under the banner of Marxism not alone Communism but also Trotskyism but have nevertheless failed to become a focal point for revolutionary regroupment.

This may be our first attempt for international contact and may be limited to information and distribution of each other's views. Yet we cannot begin any sort of new collaboration, no matter how limited, without facing the reality of the past ten years, or at least the seven years since the final break with Trotskyism1. The impelling motive for such a re-examination is precisely the objective situation: 1) the coming of De Gaulle to power [in France in 1958] shows the barbarous offensive which the bourgeoisie feels free to embark [upon] when it sees the impotence of the established workers' parties; 2) the Marxist opposition to these established parties cannot constantly limit itself to criticizing others; it must answer why the state capitalist tendency the world over2 has itself not become a greater force either theoretically or in the class struggle.

As with all Marxist analysis, we must begin with production and the specific stage of workers' revolt. The new stage, technologically, began with Automation and the 1949-50 [U.S. coal] miners' strike. Since the workers themselves had moved the question of labor productivity from the question of fruits of labor wages to the kind of labor, this demanded a re-examination of our philosophic foundation.

Three years later the tocsin sounded for the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism. The East German Revolution [of 1953] which was followed by a revolt in the slave labor camps of Vorkuta within Russia itself shook the whole theory of the alleged invincibility of state capitalism to its foundations. Yet Correspondence3, which began on the basis of state capitalism and workers' revolt and considered its very manner of writing, editing and publishing this workers' organ a blow to bureaucracy "as such," fell apart when the war clouds over Formosa [Taiwan] led the American bourgeoisie in its McCarthy-induced hysteria to make its listing.4

Even before then, the truth is that with the break of Yugoslavia from Moscow [1948] and the emergence of Mao's China [1949], the state capitalist theory had come to a standstill, limiting itself merely to summarizing and repeating what had been said. The only thing new that we added was that philosophy should become integral. How could it achieve this transformation if the grand result of all the "oughts" was that philosophy cannot any longer answer these philosophical problems only the proletariat can? This is one of those truths that has always been used by theoreticians to avoid and evade their specific responsibilities. Of course only the class struggle will give the final answer; the point is what is your responsibility as a grouping that functions and supposedly has a raison d'etre whether the class struggle is out in the open or is quiescent.

Lenin has left the indispensable measuring rod for the Marxist theoretician in the method by which he met the challenge of the collapse of the Second International. The re-examination of the philosophic foundations meant that from then on dialectics was not "philosophy" but the essence of politics. Still 1915 allowed him to keep his Philosophic Notebooks to himself. We can no longer do so. Where, in 1915, the core of the dialectics was the unity of opposites, to us, in 1958, the core of the dialectic is nothing short of a materialist reading of the Absolute Idea, or the unity of theory and practice based on the movement from practice. The responsibility of the theoreticians must begin precisely here, and must be stated openly.

The idealist features of the Absolute Idea are quite secondary to the logic which historically impelled Hegel to return from nature, or practice, to mind, or theory. Whether or not this is also evident in Hegel's own works which, though restricted to thought, have as their constant points of reference the development of humanity itself as a development of stages of freedom from Greek society to the French Revolution, is not the issue. The crucial point is that it is our contemporary world, our own age of absolutes, where revolution and counter-revolution are so interlocked, that has compelled the Absolute Idea to emerge out of its abstract context and come into head-on collision with the concept of the vanguard party.

The concept of "the party to lead" has become a pillow for intellectual sloth, the actual stumbling block to a unification of theory and practice on new foundations. At the same time the opposite side of the same coin is the concept of those who reject the concept of the vanguard party in toto for it [that rejection] then has become an evasion of their tasks, their role, their responsibilities, their relationship to the mass movement. Where the impotence of Trotskyism is not alone in the lack of a mass following but in their concept "to lead," to plan "for" the workers, to substitute themselves for the capitalist class and rule in a state capitalist manner, the isolation of the opponents of vanguardism from the mass movement has contributed to the apparent apathy of the French masses. The appeal for Workers Councils can be as "sloganized" as any minimum program when it appears suddenly out of thin air, with no theoretical preparation.

It is an evasion of responsibility and perspective to think that the mass movement alone must give all the answers. A new epoch opened with World War II and the failure of fascism's attempt to centralize the European economy in preparation for world conquest. The new protagonists U.S. and Russia for world power have now "advanced" to the point where civilization itself is within the orbit of an ICBM. Our age must therefore answer with as challenging a theoretical unfoldment of perspectives as was the case with Marx in 1843, 1864 and 1871 and with Lenin in 1914 and 1917.(5) But it must be for our age. The maturity of our age demands the totality of the Marxist Humanist approach and forbids leaving the philosophy as the province of the theoretician.

A materialist reading of Hegel's Absolute Knowledge took one form in Marx's time the general absolute law of capitalist development in the unemployed army, and its opposite, the new passions and forces for a new society. That is to say, the dialectic of bourgeois society was concrete, while the elements of the new society present in the old were, of necessity, general.

The dialectic took another form in Lenin's time where the objective world connections and transformation into opposite were the predominant features of the world of World War I. The new transformation into opposite of the workers' state itself had barely begun, much less been consummated by January 1924 when Lenin died. Hence, the outstanding feature seemed to be "merely" the emergence of a new rude personality called Stalin who had a passion for bossing and who should be removed from power.

Because Trotskyism went no further than that when state capitalism had already developed, it has inevitably degenerated where it is nothing but a left cover for Communism (Stalinism first and Khrushchevism now).5

A new point of departure is in the ever deeper strata of the proletariat from America that has raised the alienation of labor in a more concrete form than ever could have been in Marx's time. A new point of departure is the Hungarian Revolution [in 1956] where the freedom fighters did not separate politics from economics. A new point of departure in theory cannot fall short of this challenge from actuality.

We in America think that Marxism and Freedom is such an attempt, the first comprehensive attempt since the death of Lenin to restate Marxism neither as dogma nor as ready-made answers to the problems neither Marx nor Lenin faced. This study, from the vantage point of the new problems of state capitalism, is done on the basis of the movement from practice, not only to theory, but to a new society. It is not, and does not pretend or wish to be , a programmatic document.

Marxism and Freedom is, and claims to present, a theoretical basis for the clarification of minds which is the first prerequisite for Marxist groups, for both serious analysis and actual activity in the class struggle. The masses will do what they will do. We cannot substitute for them. But we must know where we are bound in more comprehensive terms than has been the case for the past seven years.

We feel that there can be no vision for a new society without the total reorganization of thought, and the complementary experience of a workers' newspaper such as News & Letters as both weapon in the class struggle and the ground for continuous deepening of theory...


  1. "Ten years" refers to the period ever since the departure of the Johnson-Forest Tendency from the Trotskyist Workers Party in 1947. "Seven years" refers the period since the departure of Dunayevskaya (Forest) and C.L.R. James (Johnson) from the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in 1951, including the split betwwen Dunayevskaya and James in 1955 and her founding of News and Letters Committees, and the publication of her Marxism and Freedom in 1958.

  2. Those who adhere to the theory that the epoch is characterized as "state-capitalist."

  3. Correspondence was the publication of Correspondence Committees.

  4. The U.S. Attorney General "listed" many groups, including the Johnson-Forest Tendency, as subversive, a charge which Dunayevskaya totally rejected.

  5. Khrushchev was Stalin's successor.

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