From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya, MARXIST-HUMANIST ARCHIVES
From PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, Dialectics and the Black dimension
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Published by News and Letters Committees