NEWS & LETTERS, March 2002 

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives

African revolutions revisited

Editor's Note

The anti-colonial revolutions in Africa, during the decades following World War II, inspired a return to the humanism of Marx inside revolutionary movements. Among the leaders of nascent independence movements who were discussing Marxist humanism was Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal. The recent death of Senghor is the occasion for NEWS & LETTERS reprinting two critical writings by Raya Dunayevskaya. One is an Appendix to the 1961 edition of her NATIONALISM, COMMUNISM, MARXIST-HUMANISM AND THE AFRO-ASIAN REVOLUTIONS. In it she critically discusses Senghor's 1959 book AFRICAN SOCIALISM. The other is her 1960 letter to Senghor, which discusses other themes. These are available in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION and SUPPLEMENT; see below.


'The New Humanism: African Socialism' [1961]

At a time when the weary American intellectual has been so brain-washed both by the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war between America and Russia, that he declaims. " The End of Ideology,"(1) the world that is fighting for its freedom at the cost of its very life—Africa—is charged with the dynamism of ideas. As Leopold Sedar Senghor put it in his June 1959 report for the Constitutive [published as "Constituitive"--Ed.] Congress  of his Party of African Federation:

"A nation that refuses to keep its rendezvous with history, that does not believe itself to be the bearer of a unique message—that nation is finished, ready to be placed in a museum. The Negro African is not finished even before he gets started. Let him speak; above all, let him act. Let him bring like a leaven, his message to the world in order to help build a universal civilization."(2)

At a time when the African revolutions are redrawing the map of the world, the arrogance of white civilization shows itself not only in the ruling class but amongst many Western socialists. Thus Sidney Lens writes as if the Africans' theoretical contributions are comprised of Tom Mboya's "one man, one vote."(3) Leaving aside for the moment that "one man, one vote" discloses nothing short of a revolution against white domination that parades as "democratic civilization," these intellectuals have a long way to go before they equal the African's intellectual grasp, not to mention his courage, daring, and totality of devotion to the struggle for freedom.

In his speech Senghor said: "Let us recapitulate Marx's positive contributions. They are: the philosophy of humanism, economic theory, dialectical method." Senghor spoke with the simplicity that comes from a profound understanding both that socialism is humanist and that socialism is a method. The fact that he aims to combine Marxism with utopian socialism as well as with religion in order to create what he calls an "open socialism" or an "African type of socialism" is not without subjective motivations. But this does not obscure the fact that he wishes the humanism of Marx to be the theoretical foundation for a triple synthesis of: 1) traditional African civilization, 2) the results of the encounter of this civilization with colonialism and French civilization, and 3) the economic resources and potentialities of Africa and their necessarily interdependent relationship with the economies of the industrially advanced countries.

So powerful and polarizing a force is the Marxist theory of liberation that throughout the Middle East, the Orient and Africa, that there are attempts by various religions, Buddhism, Christianity and Mohammedanism, to find a bridge to it, even as there is a similar attempt on the part of Communist China and Russia. It is not here maintained that opportunism like that also characterizes the African intellectual, rather it seems to me that part of their critique of Marxism is due to the realities of present-day Africa which did not form (and could not have formed) part of Marx's thought. Other parts of Senghor's critique of Marxism, especially on present-day economics are, however, either wrong  or, as in the case of religion, overly subtle. "The atheism of Marx," writes Senghor "can be considered a reaction of Christian origin against the historical deviation of Christianity."

Oppression in Africa has always worn a white face. This weighs so heavily on Africans that they are liable to react against any white faces, even that of the worker. Thus Senghor claims that the standard of living of the European masses rose "ONLY at the expense of the standard of living of the masses in Asia and Africa," and that, therefore, the European proletariat "has NEVER really—I mean effectively opposed  it" (my emphasis—R.D.). The very fact that Senghor must himself interpret "really" as "effectively" shows an awareness of proletarian struggles and revolutions. It is certainly too easy today to use that as an excuse to appeal, not to the proletariat of advanced countries, but to the authorities. It is certainly too high a price to pay when it entails an apology for De Gaulle who is exploiting not only the white proletariat but the North African (Algerian) revolutionaries. The very fact that on all the concrete questions relating to Africa's relationship to De Gaulle's France, Senghor has had to appear as an apologist for De Gaulle, discloses the tragedy of the underdeveloped countries fighting for freedom in an automated nuclear age.

On the other hand, Sekou Touré of Guinea, where the people had dared to say "No" to remaining part of the French Community, is much bolder in his concepts:

"In the realm of thought, man can claim to be the brain of the world, but on the concrete level of real life, where any occurrence will affect both the physical and spiritual being, the world is always the brain of man. Because it is in the world that all the thinking forces can be found, the dynamic forces of development and perfection, it is there too that the fusion of energy takes place and where the true quantity of the intellectual capacity of man can be found. So who could claim to exclude any one school of thought, any one kind of thought, or any one human family without by so doing excluding himself to some extent from the total society of man?...

"The science resulting from all human knowledge has no nationality. The ridiculous disputes about the origin of such and such a discovery do not interest us since they add nothing to the value of the discovery. It can therefore be said that African unity offers the world a new humanism essentially founded on the universal solidarity and co-operation between people without any racial and cultural antagonism and without narrow egoism and privilege. This is above and beyond the problem of West Africa and as far removed from the quarrels which divide the highly developed countries as are the conditions and aspirations of the African people."(4)

We cannot know in which direction these African leaders will turn in the critical 1960s. We do know that their serious concern with the theoretical foundations for the building of a new society has no parallel in the intellectual leaders of "the West." Our epoch is a "birth-time of history"(5) and the contribution of the Africans to thought as well as to revolutions is an integral part of the reconstruction of society on new beginnings.

—R. D.


1. Daniel Bell, THE END OF IDEOLOGY, New York, 1960.

2. Leopold Sedar Senghor, AFRICAN SOCIALISM, American Society of African Culture, New York, 1959.

3. Sidney Lens, "The Revolution in Africa," LIBERATION, January, February, and March 1960.

4. Sekou Toure's speeches are from those excerpted by Abdullaye Diop in his "Africa's Path In History." See AFRICA SOUTH, April-June 1960, Capetown.

5. ["A birth-time and a period of transition"], G.W.F. Hegel, PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND [Baillie ed., p. 75;  Miller ed., p. 6].


Letter of May 15, 1960

Dear Leopold Sedar Senghor:

Your June 1959 Report to the Constitutitive Congress of the Party of African Federation, published in America as AFRICAN SOCIALISM has just been made available to me. Because I was interested in giving it as wide a circulation as possible I have reviewed it for NEWS & LETTERS, which is enclosed herewith. [Now available in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 6660--Ed.] You will note that my critique centers around the positive aspects, especially on Marxism as a humanist philosophy and dialectic method, and mutes my political differences with you on De Gaulle's France or the present course of the African Revolutions.

Because the African Revolutions are the present creative force for the reconstruction of society on totally new, truly human beginnings, the destiny of the American, indeed the world's proletariat, Black and white, is indissolubly tied with the fate of the Africans. The same, it seems to me, is true in reverse. It is this which impels me to write to you.

First, if I may, I would like to call to your attention my book, MARXISM AND FREEDOM, which had, as its dual objective, the re-establishment of Marxism  in its original form of Humanism as well as the disclosure of the American roots of Marxism. In addition to emphasizing—as you have done so brilliantly in your speech—that Marx's early philosophical works are indispensable to a comprehension of his CAPITAL, I have shown that the struggle for the eight-hour day following the Civil War in the U.S. led Marx to change the entire structure of his book. At the same time I was interested in tracing through the very concept of theory for it is the warp of woof of the relationship of intellectual to worker which characterizes Marxism as the theory and practice of liberation. That this relationship of intellectual to worker also characterized the relations of white Abolitionists to the runaway Negro slaves long before the birth of Bolshevism illuminated, for me, TODAY'S need for a New Humanism and a new relationship of intellectual to worker.

Indeed, the problem of the ORGANIZATIONAL relationship of intellectual to worker (and here I include the peasantry) gains a much greater urgency in our epoch when the economically underdeveloped countries face the question, which way to industrialization, at the very moment in history when the whole capitalist world is divided into but two power blocs, nuclearly armed—American and Russia—fighting for world domination, which may very well spell destruction of civilization as we have known it. I followed up MARXISM AND FREEDOM with a special, brief pamphlet,


Writing from afar, however, I could not but write "coldly." I felt that a generalized statement was nevertheless needed to break theoretical ground where neither the founder of Marxism not its extender (Lenin) could have been. Our generation must hew out its own path. Ever since 1939 when I broke with Trotsky (whose secretary I had been), I have been acutely aware of the theoretical void in Marxism sine the death of Lenin. I do not agree that Mao is the one who has extended Marxism. His realism on the peasant question was to end as perversely as Stalin's on the proletariat. Nor do I agree that the complex problems of Africa in the present state of world technology compel appeals to the established authorities only rather than to the proletariat...

For your convenience I am enclosing one of my articles which was recently translated into French in Arguments.

—Raya Dunayevskaya


Raya Dunayevskaya on the African revolutions—Some writings

- Nationalism, Communism, Marxist Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions (1959, 1961, 1984)—British, Japanese, and Iranian youth have reprinted this pamphlet. The author's "New Introduction" in 1984 includes a discussion on Marx's last writings which "touch on the problematic of our day—the Third World." Available from News & Letters.

- Articles, correspondence, and lectures on West Africa, before and after her trip there in 1962, can be found in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection: Marxist-Humanism: A Half-Century of Its World Development (including but not limited to 3184-3250 and 9573-9677).

- "The African Revolutions and the World Economy," Chapter 7 of Philosophy and Revolution, from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao (1973, 1982, 1989). Sections are: A. "Neocolonialism and the Totality of the World Crisis" and B. "New Human Relations of Tragedies like Biafra?"

- Extensive preparatory notes for Philosophy and Revolution (12939-13008) as well as correspondence are in The Supplement to the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection.

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