NEWS & LETTERS, January-February 2003

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya, MARXIST-HUMANIST ARCHIVES

From PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, Dialectics and the Black dimension

Editor’s Note

We offer readers a preview of the new 2003 edition of Raya Dunayevskaya's work, PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION: FROM HEGEL TO SARTRE AND FROM MARX TO MAO, first published in 1973. See the announcement of the publication.

These excerpts--from Chapter 9, "New Passions and New Forces"--reflect the book's grounding in dialectics and the revolutionary Black dimension, selected also to celebrate February's Black History Month 2003.

This spring News and Letters Committees will host a series of meetings on both PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION and THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY.

Black was the color that helped make the 1960s so exciting a decade. We became witness simultaneously to the African Revolutions and the Black Revolution in America. By their self-activity, self-organization, self-development, the Black youth struck out against white supremacy in the quiescent South, and with unparalleled courage took everything that was dished out to them--from beatings, bombings, and prisons to cattle prods, shootings, and even death--and still, unarmed, continued fighting back. They initiated a new epoch of youth revolt, white as well as Black, throughout the land. There was not a single method of struggle, from Sit-ins, teach-ins, dwellings, wade-ins, to Freedom Rides, Freedom Marches, Freedom Schools, and confrontations with the Establishment, Bull Connor's bulldogs and whips in Alabama, or the smartly uniformed soldiers on the steps of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. that did not have its origin in the Black movement. Moreover, this was so not only as strategy and tactic but also as underlying philosophy and perspectives for the future.

By February 1965, when the government's rain of bombs on Hanoi produced the anti-Vietnam War movement here, the students who had gone South and then returned to Berkeley to confront the multiversity talked a very different language than when they had left. As Mario Savio, a leader of the Free Speech Movement, put it:

America may be the most poverty-stricken country in the world. Not materially. But intellectually it is bankrupt. And morally it's poverty-stricken. But in such a way that it's not clear to you that you're poor. It's very hard to know you're poor if you're eating well. . . .

Students are excited about political ideas. They're not yet inured to the apolitical society they're going to enter. But being interested in ideas means you have no use in American society . . . unless they are ideas which are useful to the military-industrial complex. . . .

Factories are run in authoritarian fashion—nonunion factories anyway--and that's the nearest parallel to the university. . . .

In contrast, Savio kept driving home about his fellow students the point that "they are people who have not learned to compromise."

The fact that the first important schism in the movement itself arose at the very moment when it did become a mass anti-Vietnam War movement was not due to any differences over the slogan, which indeed a Black spoke first, "Hell, no, we won't go." There was alienation from the white students who all too quickly migrated back North without so much as a "by your leave" to the civil rights movement. To the Blacks it was a manifestation of just how all-pervasive racism was in the racist U.S.A., not excluding its white revolutionaries who considered themselves, and not the Black masses, as "the vanguard." Blacks and whites moved separate ways and, once again, the OBJECTIVITY of their struggle for freedom was inseparable from a self-developing subjectivity.

Black consciousness, Afro-American roots, awareness of themselves as a people, a nation, a race: "Black is beautiful." Black is REVOLUTIONARY. Many a youth was memorizing Malcolm X's records. That they identified with him most after he broke with Elijah Muhammad's Black Muslims, when he was moving toward a new revolutionary universalism, is no accident whatever. In 1966, when Stokely Carmichael (on that famous march through the South, alongside Reverend King and James Meredith) first raised the slogan "Black Power," he signaled more than the end of Dr. King's predominance in the leadership of the Movement. It was also the beginning of the division between ranks and all leaders, himself included. It is true he electrified the crowd, when he first expounded on the slogan...

But as the slogan caught on, Stokely himself was off elsewhere. Neither he nor any other Black leader was around when the 1967 explosion burst on the U.S. stage. Neither he nor any other Black militant leader was listening to the voices that came from below, least of all from Black workers.

We may not be on the threshold of revolution, but the fact that the IDEA revolution simply refuses to be silent even when we are not in a prerevolutionary situation speaks volumes about the philosophical-political maturity of our age. We may not have a Hegel or a Marx or a Lenin, but we do have what no other age has had in such depth--the movement from praxis whose quest for universality does not stop with practice but hungers for a uniting of theory to practice. It is this--and therein lies the uniqueness of the dialectic--which resists any retrogressionism WITHIN the revolution. Retrogressionism seeks to particularize tasks, to "fix" the universal, to confine the tasks of the masses to "making" the revolution and not bothering their heads about "self-development."

What the movement from practice has revealed over these last two decades of revolt and striving to establish new societies--whether via the African revolutions against Western imperialism and private capitalism, or through East European struggles for freedom from state-capitalism calling itself Communism, or within each land, be it the bastion of world imperialism, the U.S., or one as different as China--was that the masses wish not only to overthrow exploitative societies, but they will no longer accept cultural substitutes for uprooting the old AND new managers over their conditions of labor AND life. Anything short of a total reorganization of life, totally new human relations, was now retrogressionist. That is what was new in these revolutions as against the revolutions following the First World War, when it seemed sufficient to overthrow the old and not worry about what came after the revolution succeeded. If any such illusions were still left when World War II ended and the Afro-Asian-Middle Eastern-Latin American Revolutions created a Third World, the 1950s ended them. The new frontiers opened with the end of illusions, with the start of revolutions WITHIN the successful revolutions, with the permanence of self-development so that there should end, once and for all, the difference between the Individual and the Universal. Philosophic-political maturity marks the uniqueness of our age. The need for "second negativity," that is, a second revolution, has become CONCRETE.

Take Africa again. It faced the reality that political independence does not mean economic dependence has ended, but, on the contrary, the ugly head of neo-imperialism then first appears. Yet equally crucial were the new divisions that arose between the leaders and the led once national independence was achieved. At the same time new divisions also arose between Arab leadership and the "uneducated masses." Whether we look at Zanzibar, which did succeed in overthrowing its Arab rulers, or to the southern Sudan, which had not, the need remained the same: a second revolution.

Or take China, which certainly during the "Cultural Revolution" never seemed to stop espousing the slogan "It is right to revolt." Why, then, did it turn to a "cultural" rather than an actual, a proletarian, a social revolution? Hegel and Marx can shed greater illumination on that TYPE of cultural escapism than can the contemporary "China specialists," who bow to every revolutionary-SOUNDING slogan. It was no "pre-Marxian" Marx who insisted that Hegel's philosophic abstractions were in fact the historic movement of mankind through various stages of freedom, that the stages of consciousness in the Phenomenology were in fact a critique of "whole spheres like religion, the state, bourgeois society and so forth." Hegel himself saw that "pure culture" was "the absolute and universal inversion of reality and thought, their estrangement, one into the other . . . each is the opposite of itself." Where Hegel moved from "culture" to "science," i.e., the unity of history and its philosophic comprehension, Marx stressed that thought can transcend only other thought; but to reconstruct society itself, only actions of men and women, masses in motion, will do the "transcending," and thereby "realize" philosophy, make freedom and whole men and women a reality.

The genius of Hegel, his relevance for today, is that he SUMMED up "the experiences of consciousness" in so comprehensive, so profound a manner over so long a stretch of man's development--from the Greek city-states to the French Revolution--that the tendencies in the summation of the past give us a glimpse of the future, especially when materialistically understood in a Marxist-Humanist, not vulgar economist, manner.

What we have shown throughout is this: There is a dialectic of thought from consciousness through culture to philosophy. There is a dialectic of history from slavery through serfdom to free wage labor. There is a dialectic of the class struggle in general and under capitalism in particular--and as it develops through certain specific stages from competition through monopoly to state, in each case it calls forth new forms of revolt AND new aspects of the philosophy of revolution.

Only a Marx could work out the latter. What Hegel had shown were the dangers inherent in the French Revolution which did not end in the millennium. The dialectic disclosed that the counter-revolution is WITHIN the revolution. It is the greatest challenge man has ever had to face. We are living that challenge today.

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