NEWS & LETTERS, October 2002

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

The revolt of the workers and the plan of the intellectuals

Editor’s Note

We publish here the concluding installment of an excerpt from Raya Dunayevskaya's June 5, 1951 "The Revolt of the Workers and the Plan of the Intellectuals." (For the first installment, see our August-September 2002 issue.) "The Revolt" 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 had been jointly written by C. L. R. James (whose party name was J. R. Johnson), Dunayevskaya (Freddie Forest), and Grace Lee Boggs. "The Revolt" was a response to a critique of SC&WR published in April 1951 by George Novack (William F. Warde) and John G. Wright, both representing the SWP majority. "MCK" refers to the Kerr edition of Marx's CAPITAL and "MCF" to the more recent translation by Ben Fowkes. Footnotes are the editor's except where noted. The original document can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 1424.


Part II

...Comrades Novack and Wright accuse "Johnson-Forest" of shifting the whole axis from the class struggle to the question of productivity. But what is the class struggle if it is not the never-ending struggle in the factory against what Marx called "the strictly regulating authority of the social mechanism of the labor process graduated into a complete hierarchy" [MCIIIK, p. 1027; MCIIIF, p. 1021].

How far removed is that from the academic play of words, "agents and principals!" The agent MARX has in mind is the agent of capital, that third force that stands in the way of labor united with means of production in a natural way, and not by the intervention of an outside force, the hierarchy capital creates, a relation of CLASS. The hierarchy built up in the factory has little to do with the "ownership" of a "principal." It is something a great deal more basic, with a more solid foundation and deeper roots.

The "agent" that Marx is analyzing is that tough bureaucracy which he compares always to a military hierarchy which has a stranglehold on the workers as they work cooperatively. This hierarchy is no simple "agent of a principal." It is the division of labor which makes of the workers mere automatons who must not move from their niche in the assembly line, while everyone from the "principal" to the "agent," that whole gang of foremen, disciplines the worker.

This discipline forces from him ever-greater amounts of surplus value through more machines and through the greater intensity with which they are operated. Marx's point was that so long as there is a group of "special agents" in opposition to the direct producer, that is how long that "social mechanism," C/V [dominance of constant over variable capital], will continue to dominate. That is why Marx, from the very first draft of Capital, never tired of reiterating that "The mastery of the capitalist over the worker is in reality the mastery of dead over living labor" [MCIF, p. 990].(1)

Marx says the same thing in a thousand different ways throughout the three volumes of Capital and Theories of Surplus Value, because it is this which sums up the whole essence of capitalism.

It is for this reason that Marx had not divided, as Comrades Novack and Wright had divided, the class struggle from the question of productivity. Far from being anything abstract, productivity is the most concrete, the most oppressive way of making workers sweat the more. That is precisely what Marx was saying with his formula C/V. Comrades Novack and Wright, however, who THEORETICALLY had stripped these categories of their class content, and PRACTICALLY spoke of some abstract "Soviet economy" instead of the specific class relations in the factory, saw, and can see, "nothing in common" between the Russian economy and capitalism.


Comrades Novack and Wright stand everything on its head. Where Marx says the property relationship is nothing but a legal expression for the production relationship, they make the productive relationship nothing but an expression of the property form or relationship.

Where Marx says that outside the production relationship, property is nothing but a juristic illusion, Comrades Novack and Wright say: "Productive relations of the economy transitional to socialism is contained in collectivized property" [p. 6].

Where Marx says that IF you understand bourgeois private property to be but a legal expression for CLASS ANTAGONISMS, then "IN THIS SENSE” (my emphasis--RD) “the theory of Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property," there Comrades Novack and Wright leave out the phrase, "In this sense," altogether, and, with a century of capitalist development behind them, equate the abolition of class antagonisms with the abolition of private property.

Marx, on the other hand, found, with less than two decades of development separating the writing of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO from the writing of the RULES of the First International, that he had more reason to emphasize the word, "monopolizer" then the word, "private."

Thus the RULES proclaimed "the economical subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor, that is, the source of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence" [MECW 23, p. 3]. And when a few years later the Paris Commune came out of the revolutionary activity of the proletariat, Marx, far from shouting, private property, private property, private property, WARNED against even "cooperative production" becoming a mere "sham and snare” [MECW 22, p. 335].

The only way to prevent that, wrote Marx, in THE CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE, is to see that all control remains in the hands of "free and associated labor” [MECW 22, p. 335]. All the emphasis now shifts to "free and associated labor" for the state is being smashed up and in its stead is to be a Commune. And, on the eve of October, Lenin puts his stress on the fact that the [Paris] Commune was "not a state at all." Is Stalinist Russia with its ubiquitous army, with its ever-expanding prisons, forced labor camps "not a state at all"? Or in transition to that? Does its property form really contain "the productive relations of the economy transitional to socialism?"

Even where Comrades Novack and Wright state a simple Marxist truth, it somehow gets transformed into its opposite. They state, for instance, that the real contradiction is between productive forces and production relations. Absolutely true. But where Marx includes the revolutionary proletariat as the greatest productive force, the productive forces with them are only the simple material means of production.

No wonder that the "quest for universality" [MECW 6, p. 190] is to them "an ideological, not a material force.” No wonder that, though they quote from Marx's POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY so often, they failed to grasp its essence: "But from the moment that all special development ceases, the need for universality, the tendency towards an integral development of the individual begins to make itself felt" [MECW 6, p. 190].

This was not "just" the young Marx of the early PHILOSOPHIC ESSAYS, nor "only" the Marx of POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY. Nor is it absent from the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO which Comrades Novack and Wright see as a manifesto for the abolition of private property IN ORDER to institute state property. The aim is better stated by Marx who writes that the abolition of class antagonisms means to have "an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all" [MECW6 p. 506].

I put it bluntly. "Johnson-Forest" say that this free association is the new material force, the greatest of all productive forces. "Johnson-Forest" have asked the question often enough, and I ask it again: Do Comrades Novack and Wright accept this or is it for them idealism?

It is the mature Marx of CAPITAL who says that even for the simple task of getting rid of the fetishism of commodities, it is not enough to see labor as the source of value and "know" that class relations are involved. Thus we see that Marx from the first chapter of CAPITAL poses the question of the plan of FREELY associated laborers. This time it is posed in opposition to the fetishism of the COMMODITY-FORM.

What is needed is clear: it is to see labor not as SUBSTANCE, that is to say, thing, but as SUBJECT (2) that is to say, an active, developing human being. Hence, where the political economists began their analysis of capitalism with labor as the source of value, Marx began CAPITAL with the concept of labor-power, the worker as creative subject. With this new concept of the worker as a human being, he could see what the political economists could not see--that under capitalism human relations assumed the form of material relations, social relations assumed the form of relations between things. Marx says that such relations between men MUST assume "the fantastic form of a relation between things” because that is, in truth, what they ARE. Under the perverse relationship of dead to living labor characteristic of capitalism, social relations, writes Marx, “really are material relations between persons and social relations between things” [MCIK, pp. 83–84; MCIF, pp. 165–166]. Indeed, the product of labor under capitalism CAN HAVE NO OTHER FORM BUT THAT OF THE COMMODITY. Tens of millions of workers in Russia, in their own way, know this. That is why the Stalinists are so anxious to have Chapter I of Volume I omitted from the study of CAPITAL.

The fetishism of commodities expresses on the market level what the C/V relationship expresses at the level of production--that the human being does not control the thing, but the thing controls the human being. It was only by beginning with this new universal concept of the worker as creative subject that Marx could pose the fundamental negations inherent in capitalist production: (a) the negation of the fetishism of commodities, and (b) the negation of the workers as part of the mechanism of capital. That is why, as has been shown above, Marx called the worker VARIABLE capital. For Marx the negation of both of these could take place only by the workers becoming freely associated. To substitute for this, nationalized property and "planned economy," is to turn Marx into nothing more than the vulgar materialist the bourgeoisie say he is.

It was because Marx had this general concept of the worker that he could have the more concrete concept of the socialized workers--freely associated men.

Marx's whole point is that the commodity-form only became GENERAL when it extended to the particular commodity, labor itself or rather the capacity to labor. To this end Marx created his third original economic category: LABOR POWER. In Volume II he reiterates once again:

"The peculiar characteristic is not that the commodity, labor power, is saleable, but that labor power appears in the shape of a commodity" [MCIIK, p. 37, MCIIF, p. 114].

Now read this:

"An economic system is first of all determined by its class structure…And capitalist society--by the sale of labor power to the capitalist class which owns the means of production."

It is by Comrade Weiss(3) in his report to the National Convention.(4)

Where Marx made the COMMODITY-FORM appearance of living labor the quintessence of capitalism, Comrade Weiss made the SALEABILITY that quintessence. Marx's point is that the FORM of appearance of living labor as mere labor power reveals the class structure of society and thus belies the equality of exchange. Comrade Weiss's point seems to be that the ownership determines the class structure. Comrade Weiss thus leaves the fetishism inherent in commodities where classical political economy had left it. Marx was most categoric on the matter. The only way that the fetishism can be stripped off is through the workers' revolt against the conditions which have produced it and thenceforward as freely-associated men planning their own lives. Should an intellectual ever lose sight of this TYPE of plan in strict relationship to this revolt and this self-activity of the workers, Marx concluded, it would be impossible to advance from the position of the classical economists who, despite their discovery of labor as the source of value, "remained more or less prisoners of the world of illusion which they had dissolved critically…" [MCIIIK, p. 967; MCIIIF, p. 969].

THEORETICALLY there is no other road. That is why Comrade Weiss could not help but fall into the trap that always lies waiting for the Marxist theoretician who leaves out this central point of CAPITAL.


1. This is from “Results of the Immediate Process of Production,” the so-called “Sixth Chapter” of CAPITAL, an 1860s text that was not incorporated into published versions of CAPITAL. Then unavailable in English, Dunayevskaya translated it from the Russian text that had been published in ARCHIVES OF MARX-ENGELS, Vol. II (VII).

2. Probably an allusion to Hegel’s “Preface” to the PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, where he wrote, “everything turns on grasping the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject” (PhgB, p. 80; PhGM, p. 10.)

3. Murray Weiss, a member of the SWP majority.

4. "Discussion Bulletin No. 6," January 1951, p. 13. --RD

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