NEWS & LETTERS, August-September 2004

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

From Marx to Marxist-Humanism


Catching "the quintessential importance and continuity of philosophic moments," from Marx to Marxist-Humanism, was the concern of Raya Dunayevskaya when she addressed her colleagues in News and Letters Committees in 1969. In the talk she discussed "philosophic as well as practical responsibilities" of Marxist-Humanists. At that time, she was in the process of writing PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, later published in 1973. The lecture, not yet in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, contains one of the first known references to "the philosophic moment" of Marxist-Humanism. This same phrase she used in 1987 when stating that her 1953 Letters on Hegelís Absolutes were the "philosophic moment" of Marxist-Humanism (see "Presentation of the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy" in THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY (Lexington Books: Lantham, Md., 2002.) Her shortened title for the talk was "Philosophy and Leadership."


Let us go back to the beginnings of the history of Marxism, its philosophic origins, and see why there was only one founder--MARX ONLY, NOT MARX AND ENGELS, but Marx alone. It has nothing to do with the idiocies of the state-capitalist age and the "cult of personality." The anti-cultists are invariably the ones who start out with being for "collective" leadership--thatís how Stalin started his campaign against Trotsky. Trotsky, in turn, fell into Stalinís trap of talking quantitatively about one versus many and vice-versa, instead of catching the PHILOSOPHIC MOMENT when a whole epoch is SUMMED UP so totally that it has in it all the TENDENCIES that will keep developing its contradictions, and, out of them, its new leaps forward.

Thus it was in 1844, when Marx first established the new Humanism. So it has remained--and will remain until we have done away, root and branch, with ALL ramifications of exploitative capitalism. We all, beginning with Engels, are FOLLOWERS. (I donít, as you know, very often agree with Jean-Paul Sartre, but he did catch what is meant by philosophic moment, how rare these creations are, when he said that from the start of modern philosophy, that is, the start of capitalism, from the 17th century and Descartes to the 19th century and Marx, there were only three periods for nearly three centuries: Descartes-Locke, Kant-Hegel, and Marx.)

Again, when we say there was only one, not only do we mean philosophic moment, and not "personality," but we are aware that there were hundreds--and sometimes, at the revolutionary moment of transformation, millions--of talented, creative human beings. 

The important thing is to catch the question of SUMMATION. Summation means so total a conclusion of what is happening in this epoch, that it includes the tendencies for the future, i.e., anticipates what will happen when it does get transformed into actual revolution.

And yet there is only one person who does the summing up. It sounds especially shocking when that refers to the truth that it was only Marx, not Marx and Engels. How could it possibly be just one, when these two men were both breaking with bourgeois thought--in economics Engels, in fact, was the "superior," knew more--and no philosophy known as Marxism had yet been evolved. No greater friendship exists in intellectual history, and at no time was Engels separated from Marx. What Marx had left for him to edit--Volumes II and III of CAPITAL--couldnít have been done by any other, and without Engels we would have been deprived of Marxís greatest heritage.

And yet--and yet--because he was the talented co-leader but follower, not originator, it was precisely Engels who, in "rewriting" the 1844 critique of Feuerbach into his 1888 LUDWIG FEUERBACH AND THE END OF CLASSICAL GERMAN PHILOSOPHY, laid the basis for the Second Internationalís mechanistic materialism. (We cannot go into this here, and I have heretofore not even mentioned it because the "learned" who have discovered the differences between Marx and Engels MISUSE them for their own purposes. [This is true for] none more so than Sartre, who had the audacity to attribute "todayís Marxists"--that is to say, Communist perverters with whom he collaborated all too easily--to, as he put it, "that unfortunate meeting of Marx with Engels in 1844." All that concerns us here is to catch the quintessential importance and CONTINUITY of the philosophic moments.)


The whole point, insofar as our age in our pragmatic America is concerned, is that the Humanism which Marx laid down as THE foundation of Materialism, Historical Materialism, is the Humanism which we singled out THEORETICALLY, PHILOSOPHICALLY, in the mid-1950s. The fact that the East European proletariat, in a full revolution [in Hungary in 1956], and the American proletariat, in its battles with Automation, were both doing IN PRACTICE what we were doing in theory, is no accident. What we were doing had been done by none other, and made it necessary to break not only with Stalinism and Trotskyism, but also with those with whom on the economic-political plane, we were as one--the state-capitalist tendency.

In a word, the theory of state-capitalism without the Marxist-Humanist philosophy, like materialism without dialectics, ENDS BOTH IN VULGAR MATERIALISM AND PURELY NEGATIVE OPPOSITION TO THE BOURGEOISIE WITHOUT THE LIVE REVOLUTIONARY SUBJECT TO DO THE REORGANIZATION OF SOCIETY. Organizationally the state-capitalist tendency, as we all know, was broken up in a most unprincipled manner, verging not only and not merely on cliquism but actual betrayal [by C.L.R. James and Grace Lee in 1955]. It was ONLY AFTER that that we could spell out the Absolute Idea--the unity of theory and practice, the movement from practice--as Black production worker (as well as white, at first) as editor, as columnists, as the new voices to be heard above the din of the glib, and which we spelled out in our Constitution as worker, youth, women, and that extra dimension of Black as color ....

And Iím sorry to have to add that if Engels had published Marxís 1844 MANUSCRIPTS instead of bringing it "up to date" and "simplifying" or "popularizing" dialectics (we all loved his LUDWIG FEUERBACH AND THE END OF CLASSICAL GERMAN PHILOSOPHY; whole generations were raised on this one booklet) we would have had a foundation with which to fight Kautsky and Plekhanov. Instead, the heritage was left to Kautsky. All the rest of the story of the collapse of the Second International and Leninís need to return to Hegel for himself need not be gone into here. But let us not forget that it took a revolution as great as the Russian, with scholars as great and persistent as Ryazanov, to pry those manuscripts from those vaults. AND IN OUR AGE IT TOOK AS GREAT A REVOLUTION AS THE HUNGARIAN TO MAKE THAT HUMANISM LIVE.

The fact that the transition point from Lenin--Trotsky--was not the philosophic point of continuity is what makes it so difficult. The fact of the Second Internationalís betrayal [in 1914] was easy to see. But with Lenin and Trotsky--because Trotsky did not betray, he was always a great revolutionary--the philosophic void is not easy to comprehend. Trotskyís position was "Yes, I had differences with Lenin. But the fact that Lenin and I were on the same side of the barricades in 1917 ERASED all differences between us." No, it didnít. The revolution proved that Trotsky was a very great revolutionary, and DESPITE the fact that he had not reorganized his philosophic conceptions as had Lenin, he was on the right side of the barricades. We now know that it was sufficient only because Lenin was there and Lenin had made a philosophic break with his past.

I wasnít aware of Leninís PHILOSOPHIC NOTEBOOKS when I was Trotskyís secretary in 1937, and didnít know that Trotsky had not committed himself on the PHILOSOPHIC NOTEBOOKS. There was no discussion between us on that question.

Now, for you to grasp how serious it is, and how important it is for us to see that Trotsky wasnít the philosophic continuator, AS WE ARE, means to see that Lenin himself left us a dual heritage. In other words, his philosophic notebooks were private. If you read IMPERIALISM alone, it wouldnít mean anything--he had just found the latest stage of capitalism. In fact, thatís what the bourgeoisie always tells you, that all he did was steal from J.A. Hobsonís latest figures, and then he made some concrete conclusions about what the proletariat would do about it. You would have seen the transformation into opposition in IMPERIALISM that became his new category. But what would result from the opposite?  THE NEW UNIVERSAL, the Subject, "to a man"? You have to read STATE AND REVOLUTION to see that. [Dunayevskaya's critiques of Lenin's thought can be read in THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY.--Ed.]

When you catch the economic moment of break, and the economic new stage in the world development, THAT'S ONLY THE BEGINNING. You canít do without that beginning, BUT IT'S A BEGINNING ONLY. It just wonít do, unless you get the positive, the negative, the new universal--and through the dialectic as well as through the actual movement of history. So we had 1915-1917. Lenin operated on the basis of his great new discovery, but he kept these PHILOSOPHIC NOTEBOOKS "private," unpublished. In other words, he gave us the RESULTS. We must begin anew--and show the PROCESS so everyone, "to a man" will have the dialectic as unity of theory and practice. This is the new. This is what no one caught, though the state-capitalist tendency at least tried. With the outbreak of World War II, it was clear that Trotskyism, as opposed to Stalinism, also didnít answer the problem. We were back again in a war. But we had nothing that Lenin had when the war broke out and he was betrayed. We had no one who had gone back to Hegel, who had gone back to Marx, and forward with these philosophic foundations to the new.

The first thing that evolved was the state-capitalist theory. We said that we had reached a new stage, not just monopoly, but a world state-capitalist stage; Stalinism was but the Russian name for it. But the real question was: What is the role of labor? How could such a thing happen? Not only how could a workersí state get transformed into its opposite, but how could it be that a revolutionary leader who opposed Stalin, who stood for world revolution, "permanent revolution," nevertheless did not grasp the philosophic moment both of transformation into opposite and the new CONCRETE UNIVERSAL--the Subject for total resolution of differences? [See THE MARXIST-HUMANIST THEORY OF STATE-CAPITALISM, News and Letters: Chicago, 1991--Ed.]

Seeing the error does not mean you see the new concrete universal. In part, it is because the proletariat had not yet shown it from below. In part, it is because you as theoretician had not worked out the break. So, as state-capitalists, we saw the error of Trotskyism, the NEED for new beginnings. When we finally started as an independent grouping--not just as a tendency remaining as parasites within Trotskyism, but responsible to the public, the proletarian public--with CORRESPONDENCE, the world confronted also the death of Stalin [in 1953]. The proletariat, in East Germany specifically, did have an answer, an affirmative answer, to the question: Can man win freedom under totalitarianism? And it is within that same crucial three months intervening between the death of Stalin and the East German revolt that I first wrote those letters on the Absolute Idea, and discovered the movement FROM PRACTICE some six weeks before the revolt [of June 17, 1953] actually broke out. I believe that Johnson [C.L.R. James] did understand what, PHILOSOPHICALLY, that meant, and began at once to conspire to break with me, to break the organization from England whither he had departed. Grace [Lee Boggs], with her usual hyperboles, did say that my letters on the Absolute Idea were the equivalent of Leninís PHILOSOPHIC NOTEBOOKS--but then he got her back into line precisely because we had not built leadership on philosophic foundations.

Along with our establishing NEWS & LETTERS, and working out MARXISM AND FREEDOM, we took great trouble to see that we were not known by a "name"--Trotskyite, Johnsonite, or, for that matter, Johnson-Forestite--but by that philosophic moment, Marxist-Humanist. The unique, the new, the philosophic moment, expressed itself in the Black dimension of editor of NEWS & LETTERS [Charles Denby was the editor from its founding to 1983.--Ed.] as well as Marxist-Humanism as philosophy; in CONCRETIZATION of that philosophy as FORCES OF REVOLUTION--proletariat, national minorities, youth, women, the "outside" in "Readersí Views," as well as in every facet; the INTERNATIONALIZATION of these forces of revolution by the tours (and the editions of MARXISM AND FREEDOM as well as current articles) not merely to Europe but to Africa and Asia; and the manner in which this was reflected in the leadership, and in the ranks, in relations with other organizations.

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