From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives

Lesson of Grenada for today


To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the murder of Maurice Bishop by his own comrades and the U.S. invasion of Grenada, we publish excerpts from a Political-Philosophic Letter written on November 28, 1983 by Raya Dunayevskaya. Its original title is "Grenada: Counter-Revolution & Revolution. The Caribbean Today & the Challenge from 30 Years of Movements from Practice that were Themselves a Form of theory."

The letter speaks to the central problems that continue to confront the revolutionary movement today. The text is in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 8036.

* * *

The fact that the first shot of counter-revolution in Grenada on Oct. 19 [1983] was fired by the "revolutionaries" themselves, its Army, politically and militarily headed by Gen. Austin (plus Coard), demands that we take a deeper look at the type of revolution that erupted in Grenada in 1979. It is impossible not to be moved by the last words spoken by the leader of that revolution, Maurice Bishop, as, in utter shock, he looked at the Army shooting into the masses who had just released him from house arrest: "My God, my God, they have turned the guns against the people."

That does not free us from facing the stark fact that the first shot of counter-revolution came from within the revolutionary Party-Army-State. That first shot opened the road for the imperialist U.S. invasion that, it is true, lay in wait from Day One of the revolution. This, however, in no way absolves the "Party" of its heinous crime. The fact that Castro--though an "internationalist" who spelled out his solidarity in concrete acts such as sending Grenada doctors and construction workers, teachers as well as military advisers--nevertheless failed to develop the ideas that were at stake, and left the masses unprepared for ways to confront the divisions within the leadership that would have gory consequences on Oct. 19...

The ramifications of Grenada are by no means limited to the Caribbean, or even the whole Third World, but are so global that the whole question of war and peace in a nuclear world actually touches the very question of the survival of humanity...

In opposing the American imperialist invasion, and demanding the evacuation of all foreign troops from Grenada, we must not simply limit ourselves to actions of solidarity. Indeed, we must not only criticize General Austin and the whole military "Revolutionary Council," who are to be brought to account, but also look at the 1979 revolution, both positively and negatively. That becomes of the essence now, if we are ever to stop counter-revolutions from arising within revolutions. In the half-century since the transformation of Russia into a state-capitalist society we have become witness to such degeneracy that an ideological debate is ended by murder.

The fact that these horrors can happen even where there is no material base for counter-revolution as there was in Stalin’s transformation of a workers’ state into a state-capitalist society, and where, as in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, counter-revolution is spelled out as outright genocide against your own people--and that in the name of revolution!--demands that we never shut a relentless critical eye to all aspects of revolution and not just leave it at opposing imperialism. Nor must we limit it "internally" to bringing a General Austin to account, but also look at revolutionaries who, though they are now reaping the whirlwind, had helped shroud the void in philosophy with the absurd reductionism of "non-interference in internal affairs."

What history shows is that once the road to revolution seeks shortcuts, the revolution itself remains unfinished. What we see when the philosophy of revolution is separated from actual, social revolution is the attempt to force the concept of revolution through the barrel of a gun. That is what we saw in Grenada. This cries out for a totally different attitude to a philosophy of revolution; without that no revolution can fully self-develop. What happened in Grenada can illuminate the contradiction of contradictions--counter-revolution from within revolution. It becomes necessary to trace the Grenadian Revolution from its start in 1979--the year also of the Iranian Revolution, which likewise ended in a Khomeini-type of counter-revolution!...


Theoretically, the most important of the statements Bishop delivered when he was in the U.S. May 31-June 10, 1983, related to the two points he raised in the interview with THE VILLAGE VOICE.(1) One concerned the question of "consciousness" of workers: "We tried to tell the people to use their own consciousness." The other point, in contrast to this, was the question of the consciousness of the leaders which had no such ambiguity as the one relating to the workers.

While we do not hear the thoughts of the workers, Bishop does trace the development of the leadership’s consciousness in the 1950s and 1960s:

There have been periods when I was attracted to a lot of the cultural nationalist material, frankly Frantz Fanon, Malcolm, various people like that... I would say that the entire leadership of the party and the government came out of a black power tradition, all of us...I don’t think we moved beyond that until the early 1970s...

Certainly by that time, outside of the cultural nationalist question, we were beginning to read a lot of the most classical socialist works, and beginning to move outside just the question of blackness, around to a materialist conception of the world.

Q: He’s having an anniversary this year. [laughter] The cursed name has not passed your lips. I think it begins with M.

A: [Laughter] I’m trying not to say his name.

Laughingly or otherwise, consciously or unconsciously, what came through from "trying not to say" the name of Marx was not the simple matter of "tactics" when visiting the imperialist land they rightly feared might be planning an invasion. Rather, it was first to become clear that critical week between Oct. 12 when the majority of the Central Committee voted to put Bishop under house arrest, and the savage, unconscionable, dastardly murder on the 19th of October as the masses struck for him and freed him from house arrest. That is what was inherent in what I referred to in the early part of this letter, on what both he and Castro called "non-interference in internal matters" as a "principle," when what was actually involved, however, was a battle of ideas on the decisive question of Marx’s Marxism, instead of acting as if Cuba or Russia are the Marxists.

In this way revolutionary methodology--the dialectics of revolution--gets reduced to "conception of leadership methods," and that is expressed as if a unified view permeated the entire leadership: "We feel that in many respects, Grenada is a true experiment in the whole theory and practice of socialism... If we succeed in this path...there are going to be a number of lessons for other small developing island states coming after us."

It is nearly impossible to gauge the great shock Maurice Bishop must have experienced Oct. 19 as he became witness to...the Great Divide between leaders and ranks and within the leadership itself as the Party "turned the guns against the people" soon after they had freed him from house arrest. Soon his voice, too, was stilled by murder....

Nothing is more urgent at this moment than to raise the question of dialogue...as theoretical preparation for the dialectics of revolution itself.

Therein lies the rub. That is exactly what has been missing on the part of all practitioners of instant Marxism as they become masters of substitution, and reduce a philosophy of revolution, a Marxist revolutionary praxis, to "leadership methods," whatever that means. Without a philosophic vision, much less listening to the voices from below, all the majority of the Central Committee in Grenada could come up with was being opposed to the alleged "one-man rule" of Bishop, whom they hurried to expel from the Party and put under house arrest--without any thought about the consequences, either from the masses whom Bishop had led since the 1979 Revolution, or from the imperialist enemy poised for invasion. Unfortunately, Bishop, who did enjoy the confidence of the masses and was, indeed, freed from house arrest by them, had not dug into the differing tendencies within those who held "a materialist conception of the world." He had not brought into the consciousness of the masses nor shared with international colleagues the disputes which were wreaking havoc in revolutionary Grenada.


Long before the Grenada counter-revolution Bukka Rennie had discussed "The Conflicting Tendencies in the Caribbean Revolution."(2) He goes so far in concretizing the objective situation that he not only concludes with the theory of state-capitalism, but shows that "the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) has long since become a bureaucratized elitist party which in fact is the vanguard of a new class formation."  

When one has been that comprehensive in the study of the objective world situation, developing it over 22 pages to show that Stalinism is indeed a new, non-working class, enemy "class formation"--state-capitalism--how can one nevertheless conclude that when it comes to the concrete situation in the Caribbean ("in Trinidad and Tobago"), Caribbean Stalinism and Revolutionary Marxism "are not hostile to each other..."

The theoretician had not been able to move from what he was against (Stalinism) to what he was for--how to begin anew. Though Rennie’s movement in Trinidad did call itself New Beginning, he evaded the task of philosophically restating Marxism for one’s own age, on the grounds of all the new Humanist beginnings of the Third World. Instead, he shifted the whole responsibility for that to the shoulders of the proletariat, to "practice"--when it has been precisely the movement from practice which has shown itself to be a form of theory by raising all these new points of departure, and which demands that the theoreticians meet that challenge.

Rennie does say that, instead of the elitist party, the New Beginning Movement prefers not to declare itself to be the Party. But is it just a question of form of organization as against the Single Party State that has kept us shackled? Isn’t the key to the present question of the dialectics of revolution and of thought the battle of ideas not merely among the leadership but within the masses who think their own thoughts? The new relationship of practice to theory is rooted in what workers do and what they think. The aim is to achieve a new unity of theory and practice. Not only did the 1970s’ revolts not achieve that, but in Grenada the differences among the leaders ended in outright murder.

Bukka Rennie placed the Black Power movement of the 1960s on the same level as the 1917 Russian Revolution--totally ignoring the fact that it not only never reached the profound depth and breadth of November 1917, but that none had even attempted the kind of philosophic reorganization Lenin did when he broke with his own philosophic past and articulated Marx’s view of smashing the bourgeois state to smithereens, recreating Marx’s work on the Paris Commune and CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM for his own age as STATE AND REVOLUTION.

Clearly, it is C.L.R. James’ theory which Bukka Rennie is expounding. (3) What we are now confronted with is the stark fact that in Grenada, keeping quiet about differences within the leadership was resolved with the savage, brutal, irrational, counter-revolutionary murder of the leader. It is true that a small part of the search for shortcuts reflected the workers’ impatience to do away with the exploitative, racist, imperialist society. But the greater truth is that, like all intellectuals, those leaders suffered from the preoccupation of all elitists--giving the answer "for" the workers. It meant an evasion of theory as well as of the fact that the movement from practice is a form of theory.

It is this which we traced through the actual revolts of the early 1950s as we greeted the three new paths to freedom that were seen in the Hungarian Revolution, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the revolts in the Russian forced labor camps in Vorkuta. MARXISM AND FREEDOM was structured on the movement from practice not alone in our age but from the age of revolutions 1776, 1789--and on the Hegelian dialectic from then to today. What predominated, however, was the question that tore at the vitals of all revolutionary movements: "What Happens After’’ power is achieved. The decentralized committee form instead of the vanguard "Party to Lead" seemed to be the answer. We found that, however, to be only part of the answer once the turbulent 1960s and their decentralized activism led only to unfinished revolutions because it was devoid of philosophy.

In PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, where we returned to the Hegelian dialectic in and for itself and to Marx’s dialectics of revolution, we tried to articulate "Why Hegel? Why Now?" for our age. And it was the 1970s, which finally revealed Marx’s work as a totality, that led to the return to Marx’s Marxism--Marx’s, not Engels’; Marx’s, not Lenin’s; Marx’s, not Mao’s nor its variant, Castro’s. In a word, Marx’s "revolution in permanence" is ground not alone for theory but also for organization.

There can be no successful revolution without an historic sense both of past and present, of a battle of ideas, a clearing of heads not for any academic purpose but with full realization that a serious Marxist discussion is needed as preparation for revolution and its deepening once the first act of overthrow of the old has been achieved. When, instead, revolutionary methodology is reduced to "leadership methods," individual or collective, the very basis not only of theory but of the revolution itself has been lost. That is what happened in Grenada.


1. Interview with Bishop in VILLAGE VOICE, June 28, 1983. 

2. In PAN-AFRICAN JOURNAL, issued from Nairobi, East Africa, Summer 1975, Volume 2.

3. In 1984, C.L.R. James wrote an analysis of Grenada in COMMUNIST AFFAIRS, July 1984, and gave an interview in THIRD WORLD BOOK REVIEW, Vol. 1, No.2, 1984.

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