From the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya:
May Day as a birthtime of history
On the occasion of May Day we
reproduce excerpts of a letter written by Raya Dunayevskaya on April 8, 1980.
It previews a talk she was to give on May 4, 1980 in commemoration of May
Day and Marx’s birthday (May 5). The talk was given as she was completing her
third major work—ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF
REVOLUTION. The full letter as well as the outline of her lecture can be found
in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 6454-6456.
Our age has one advantage, that
of knowing more of Marx's writing than did Rosa Luxemburg's age. We as
Marxist-Humanists, again by drawing no distinction between "the young"
and "the mature" Marx, made philosophy, economics and politics into a
totality. The objective situation helped us since it was the period of a new
type of revolution (Hungary 1956) against Communism's transformation into
opposite, state-capitalism, thus creating a movement from practice to theory and
compelling revolutionary theoreticians to constantly create anew.
Nevertheless we must never
forget Hegel's warning about knowing something so well as to take it for
granted: "In general, what is well known, precisely because it is well
known, is not known. The most common mode of self-delusion and of creating
illusions for others is, in knowledge, to presuppose something as being well
known, and to accept it as such. Such knowledge, without being aware that this
is happening, refuses to budge despite all discussion" (PHENOMENOLOGY OF
Take, for example, the fact
that all of Marx's works have the word "critique" in them. We
certainly know that from the time he was working with Arnold Ruge and trying to
start a new magazine Marx wrote him in September 1843 that the purpose of the
journal must be "the relentless critique of everything that exists.” But
has "critique" been made the equivalent of “revolutionary" and
"practical" as totally as it was with Marx, beginning with the
ECONOMIC-PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRIPTS which he completed the next year?
Those manuscripts didn't, after
all, come to light for some 84 years. They needed nothing short of the November
1917 Russian Revolution to bring them out of the Second International's vaults,
and another 38 years before a new generation of revolutionaries, rebelling
against the new monstrosity of Russian state-capitalism, brought them onto this
period's historic stage and thereby also to the English-speaking world.
Nearly a quarter of a century
has passed since then, and while we have produced more of that whole new
continent of thought Marx had discovered in 1844 than either the Old Left or the
so-called New Left, it is first now that we are scheduling, at one and the same
time, a new book AND projecting the transformation of NEWS & LETTERS into a
theoretical as well as an activist organ.
So again I say the fact that
"we know," and indeed "live by" the fact that Marx was a
revolutionary does not yet mean grasping in full Marxism as a whole new
continent of thought.
Luxemburg certainly was a
revolutionary, and so was Lenin, and so was Trotsky, and even some
Social-Democrats who later turned out to be counter-revolutionaries were
revolutionaries when they first established the new, Second Marxist
International. None of them saw it as a new continent of thought (except Lenin—who
had to break with his philosophic past and have the world fall about him in the
First World War before, by returning to Marx's deep-rootedness in Hegel, he
recognized that not a single Marxist, himself included, had understood Marx's
CAPITAL, especially its first chapter).
What I'm driving at is that, if
you recognize Marx only as founder of a socialism and not as the founder of A
new continent of thought, your ATTITUDE is such that of necessity you recognize
also [Ferdinand] Lassalle as a founder.* As for Engels, who was also not only a
founder but the only one capable of issuing Volumes 2 and 3 of Capital, didn't
he also nevertheless first rush to issue his own ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE
PROPERTY AND THE STATE, as a "bequest" by Marx? And here was a man, a
founder who knew that Marx was "one" and he was only "two"!
Let me try to stress that point
from a different direction. That point is crucial...for the whole march of
history to that point of unity of philosophy and revolution. For otherwise, we
would always have a DUALITY—philosophy and revolution—instead of philosophy
Let me state first, on the
question of Lassalle as a founder, that THAT type of attitude is exactly what
led inexorably to the revolutionary, super-erudite scholar and author of the
first (and still, unfortunately, one of the best) biographies of Marx—Franz
Mehring—shutting all doors to any conception of what a new continent of
thought Marxism was. Class struggle, yes; brilliant, yes; a founder, yes; but
that shouldn't keep "the new generation" (I'm referring to August
Bebel) from writing rather angrily about the "two old men in London"
not really understanding "the new." The "new" Bebel was
referring to was the need for a "unified Party" predominating over
Reconsider this: 1) In 1875,
the Lassalleans and the Eisenachists (supposedly full Marxists) are uniting to
form a new party at Gotha. Lassalle is dead, but its program is fully Lassallean.
2) Marx and Engels hit the ceiling, want to disassociate themselves from that
Party, but instead feel that the movement is so important that they should limit
themselves to criticizing it in lengthy letters to the Eisenachists. 3) Marx
writes "marginal notes" on that program; the CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA
PROGRAM is one of the greatest of the shorter historical political writings
ever, but it doesn't get published. 4) Sixteen years pass, a new, mass, “genuinely
Marxist Party" [the Second International] is headed by Karl Kautsky, Bebel,
Eduard Bernstein—and they write a new program, the Erfurt Program. Engels is
still alive and when he sees that program, he writes a critical letter and
insists that Marx's CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM now be published. When
they finally can resist no longer, they publish it with an editorial note which
says that it is "a contribution to the discussion."
And that, dear youth and
others, is what the whole International lived on until its total collapse in
1914. How much clearer would the road have been for all of us had we known
Marx's analysis not only of the Lassalleans, but of his first meeting with
Kautsky: "A small-minded mediocrity, too clever by half (he is only 26),
industrious in a certain way, busies himself with statistics but does not derive
anything intelligent from them, belonging by nature to the tribe of
philistines" (Letter of Marx to his daughter Jenny, April 11, 1881).
The question, the serious
question, is the attitude of the serious revolutionaries, serious in the sense
of their acknowledging “orthodox Marxism"—could they also be just
egotistic and "correctly" non-cultist regarding Marx when they acted
No, it's a great deal worse,
for it was not only those who deviated but those who were "orthodox,” “sincere,"
and revolutionary. No wonder Lenin said there is no such thing as a "sincerometer."
What made them believe otherwise is that they were not petty-bourgeois
individualists. They "sincerely" believed they were REDUCING their own
individuality to the Universal of socialism, as was “proven" by the fact
that the most important thing for them was to "popularize Marx" AND
"apply" it to the concrete situation as they saw it.
So it wasn't just that they
didn't know the 1844 Manuscripts, or that their understanding of the 1850s and
[Marx’s] CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY was inadequate because they didn't have
the GRUNDRISSE, but that WHEN THEORY WAS SPELLED OUT IN ORGANIZATIONAL FORM,
they felt free to disagree on "little" organizational questions.
Let's take another look at
those 1844 MANUSCRIPTS and deal this time with a still newer generation of
intellectuals that discovered them. One of the finest analyses of the 1844
MANUSCRIPTS was one of the first—Herbert Marcuse's—when it was finally
published in Germany in 1932. The very title of his review essay, "The
Foundation of Historical Materialism," shows that the young Marcuse, far
from separating the early philosophical Marx from the mature economist, actually
made the early work the foundation for Marxism and for aspects summarized in
historical materialism. He certainly was also the one who saw revolution as
inherent in the very first writings of Marx. This 45-page essay is quite
comprehensive in the economic, political and philosophic aspects.
And yet there is not one single
word of Marx's profundities on the Man/Woman relationship, though it's in the
very same paragraph that Marx speaks against vulgar communism which is what
Marcuse did recognize as central. Nor is it only a question that there was no
movement from practice as a Women's Liberation Movement. Marx first had the
vision and the philosophy and the "new humanism" which he declared was
both a compelling need and had a revolutionary force.
Clearly, it isn't only the last
few years of Marx's life when he was working on the Ethnological Notebooks that
need to be brought back to life, to theory, and made into a challenge for our
generation. For that matter, the very year, 1871, which supposedly every Marxist
understood, and certainly always celebrated—the Paris Commune—remained
nothing but a celebration. It wasn't until Lenin, on the eve of revolution,
"rewrote"** The CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE as STATE AND REVOLUTION that the
Paris Commune was studied seriously as both theory and practice, as well as
foundation for new revolutions.
Let's not forget that to this
day, the anarchists keep saying that Lenin wrote STATE AND REVOLUTION as pure
demagogy whereas they followed the true intellectual forebearers of the Paris
Commune—Proudhonists and Bakuninists. In a word, it is not only Lenin they
oppose but Marx they slander as an alleged "statist" though the whole
of The CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE , as the whole of STATE AND REVOLUTION, is directed
to the destruction of the bourgeois state, to establishing "no state"
but the commune form of existence, since, said Marx, the greatest achievement of
the Paris Commune was "its own working existence."
Marx's May 5 birthday follows
by four days May 1. The two [dates] give that new continent of thought its
American roots as well as its Black dimension. I hope we never consider as a
cliché Marx's statement that "Labor in the white skin cannot be free so
long as labor in the Black skin is branded." It was, after all, not only as
an oppressed race that Marx embraced the Black dimension, but as that creative
revolutionary force which opened a new epoch for the whole world. It is in this
sense that this year's May celebration opens up a new stage for us both as the
year of ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION
and as the period of the transformation of N&L into a 12-page
theoretical as well as activist organ...
*Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of
the first major workers’ party in Germany in the 1860s, was later denounced by
Marx as “a future worker’s dictator.”—Editors.
**The so-called independent, erudite Marxists who think State and Revolution is no more than a "rewrite" of Marx's analysis of the Paris Commune should study very carefully how Georg Lukács and Karl Korsch, the very Marxists who did reintroduce dialectics as the indispensable revolutionary element in Marxism, nevertheless stopped short, far short, of identifying dialectics of the Idea with the dialectic of liberation; whereas Lenin went, directly FROM Hegel's SCIENCE OF LOGIC and its principle, that "man's cognition not only reflects the world but creates it," TO the National Question as the dialectic of history that would help transform the imperialist war into a civil war, and his very last Testament where he characterized Bukharin as not fully a Marxist because he did not understand the dialectic.—RD
Published by News and Letters Committees