NEWS & LETTERS, March-April 2005

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

Marx's 'Grundrisse' and women's liberation


Raya Dunayevskaya wrote and lectured on Marxís extensive work known as the GRUNDRISSE. Her PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION is one of the first discussions, once the GRUNDRISSE was translated into English in the 1970s, which delved into "Progressive Epochs of Social Formations" and the "Automaton" and the worker. In a lecture after its publication, Dunayevskaya spoke at the New School for Social Research in New York on "The GRUNDRISSE and Womenís Liberation," a topic requested by the sociologists and womenís liberationists who invited her. The March 1974 talk was published later in the October and November issues of the DETROIT WOMEN'S PRESS. Excerpts were published a decade later in WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND THE DIALECTICS OF REVOLUTION by Dunayevskaya (available from us and on our web site).

Those excerpts are reprinted here in honor of Womenís History Month and because of its relationship to our winter meetings on "Beyond Capitalism: Marxís Concept of an Alternative" which embrace the themes from Dunayevskayaís lecture. The chapter has been edited for publication, including added headings.   To order PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION and WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND THE DIALECTICS OF REVOLUTION go to www.newsandletters.org/literature.htm

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It is true that the GRUNDRISSE had nothing to do with the "Woman Question"; it certainly didnít deal with it in the form in which Marxís 1844 Humanist Essays did. That was where Marx first explained why he called his philosophy of liberation Humanism, stressing his opposition to vulgar communism--the idea that all you had to do to have a new society was to abolish private property. He insisted that until we did away with the division between mental and manual labor that characterizes all class societies, we could not be whole persons and have a new society, no matter what it was called. He pointed out that the most fundamental relationship is that of man to woman, and vulgar communism would not mean any change in that...

You have none of that in the 1857 GRUNDRISSE, and yet the methodology is there. At this specific point when Marx was finally an "economist," finally "scientific," and supposedly freed from Hegelian idealism, he was at his deepest in the Hegelian dialectic. I want to begin today with what I used from the GRUNDRISSE as the frontispiece to PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, on the "absolute movement of becoming"--and then carry it through both on the level of dialectics and on the level of womenís liberation:

"When the narrow bourgeois form has been peeled away, what is wealth, if not the universality of needs, capacities, enjoyments, productive powers, etc., of individuals, produced in universal exchange? What, if not the full development of human control over the forces of nature--those of his own nature as well as those of so-called Ďnatureí? What, if not the absolute elaboration of his creative dispositions, without any preconditions other than antecedent historical evolution which makes the totality of this evolution--i.e., the evolution of all human powers as such, unmeasured by any PREVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED YARDSTICK--an end in itself? What is this, if not a situation where man does not reproduce himself in any determined form, but produces his totality? Where he does not seek to remain something formed by the past, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?"


There is absolutely no expression in Hegel that is so deeply dialectical and so deeply the new humanism of the unity of the ideal and real as "the absolute movement of becoming." Letís take that at the point when it led Marx to what was new as compared to what it was in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, or in the 1844 Essays. Yet we will have to see why the dialectic of thought, as great as it was, could only come up to a certain point at which Marx, in turn, had to break with his own past and begin an entirely new dialectic of liberation--that is, the actual activity coming from below, the actual activity of class struggles.

Hegel said that if he had to put his entire philosophy into a single sentence, it would be that in contrast to all other philosophers, he held truth to be not just substance (whether that substance was God or Absolute or whatever you wanted to call it) but Subject. Marx concretized that Subject as the proletariat, the masses. The point was that you were not just the product of history; you were also the creator and the shaper of history. In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO Marx supposedly had dropped all his Hegelianism and thrown the gauntlet to the bourgeoisie by claiming: "A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of Communism." The MANIFESTO had hardly got off the press when there was a revolution.

Now look at how we cannot help but be a product of the age we are living in. When it came to the Orient, at the time when he was writing the MANIFESTO, Marx said that the Orient was "vegetating in the teeth of barbarism." But in the GRUNDRISSE the Orient is presented not only as the longest continually existing civilization, but as in advance of us Westerners. Why were they in advance? Because after the 1848 revolutions in Europe were defeated there was retrogression everywhere. But in the 1850s in China there was the Taiping Revolt. Marx began saying that maybe the revolution could come through the Orient. In other words, here was an activity, an actual revolt; and while the American and British imperialists rushed gun boats to bring "law and order" to China, Marx kept saying that the Chinese IDEAS were bringing DISorder to the West and hurrah for that!


In the sections on Pre-Capitalist Formations in the GRUNDRISSE Marx brought in the new idea that not only were the Chinese revolutionary, but they were great as artisans. And whereas India, for example, had also fought British imperialism but imperialism had won, China had absolutely endless peasant revolts, and imperialism couldnít conquer them. So we see Subject as Orient.

Now let us look at Subject in the history of womenís liberation, at what was new and great from its start in America--the Black Dimension. While the white women Abolitionists were busy making sandwiches to raise money, the Black women were speakers and "generals," were great Reason and not only force or muscle...

Take Sojourner Truthís choice of her very name. Take how she handled the ministers who were taunting her, when she asked, "Donít you believe in Jesus?" And, when they said they did, how she told them, "Well, Jesus is the son of God and Mary. MAN had nothing to do with it!" You may or may not believe in the immaculate conception, but the idea that a Black woman in the 1840s and 1850s could tell the white clergy they had nothing to do with religion--that is one of the most revolutionary things you could think of...

It was because of this Subject, this Black dimension, that the philosophic concept in the fight against slavery wasnít just that you would get rid of slavery, but that you would have entirely new human relations. The whole concept of absolute movement of becoming was there...

What is different and unique in the Womenís Liberation Movement of our age is that it came from the Left. The women were saying: "Weíre all supposed to be socialist and free. How is it then that we women keep cranking the [mimeograph] machines and you men keep writing the leaflets?" And because you couldnít say these women werenít really political, werenít theoreticians and hadnít figured out the law of value, you had to begin posing that, if there was going to be a new relationship of theory to practice, the men had to start proving it right now. The women were demanding: "Donít tell me to wait until after the revolution; too many revolutions have soured. I want new relations right here, right now, right in my organization if I have one, right in my philosophy if I have a philosophy." So that what had begun in the 1960s--and was related this time to the Black dimension on a different level--was a question of what is the relationship of theory to practice when it is grounded in philosophy and when it isnít grounded in philosophy.


Letís now return to the GRUNDRISSE on another level. The first was "absolute movement of becoming." Now letís see absolute in relationship to the new economics that Marx was discovering--the law of value and the law of surplus value, the relationship between constant and variable capital, the fact that it was always a question of dead labor, your own materialized labor, oppressing and sucking dry living labor. Why did Marx have to return to Hegel? Well, Marx complained to Engels that he didnít quite like the way the GRUNDRISSE was going. The GRUNDRISSE has 890 pages, and on the very last page Marx says that he really should have begun with the commodity, whereas he had only two pages on it at the end. Marx said the GRUNDRISSE was shapeless--he called it "sauerkraut and carrots."

In other words, you had APPEARANCE--commodities or money, the market; and you had ESSENCE--the exploitation right at the point of production. And everything was mixed up together; the appearance and the essence werenít separated. What was even more important because Marx had been talking of the fact that equality in the market means nothing since that appearance is exactly what hides the actual exploitation and unpaid hours of surplus labor--was that Marx suddenly saw that the form and the dialectic of both appearance and essence and what would be the Absolute meant a relationship of theory and practice...

When it comes to our age, as we have said, what is unique is what has arisen from the fact that the new womenís movement came from the Left. We have to ask: Was the Left really considering woman as Reason and not just as muscle? The relationship of all the other forces for revolution--labor, Black dimension, youth--how are they going to coalesce? What will be the philosophy that will bring them together?


Let me tell you about Simone de Beauvoir in the 1950s. De Beauvoir had written THE SECOND SEX and we, Marxist-Humanists and others, were trying to fight that question out because a new element had arisen with World War II when the women were driven into the factories and were now proletarians, fighting not just for equal wages but as part of the workersí revolt. Yet Simone de Beauvoirís conclusion, after she exposed how horrible men are, is that since itís the manís fault that we havenít got as far as we should be, the men must free us. When I described this to the Black factory women I was working with they told me: "Itís just like Ďwhite manís burden.'" It was fantastic because the women were saying, no sir! If we let man do the emancipating, we will never get emancipated. Itís our job to do it. You couldnít build a mass movement, in the factory or out, whether itís the proletariat, or women, or any nationality, asking someone else to free you, instead of seeing the job as self-emancipation.

In the 1960s, the NEW LEFT REVIEW tried to impose Althusserism on the women. In his READING CAPITAL, Louis Althusser says you have to read "into" Marx; you have to do the same thing Freud did in listening to his casesí problems. Where does it all wind up--this listening but reading into? This overdetermination--that one single thing can suddenly be the important thing, instead of what Marx was really talking about, the actual class forces that are fighting to overthrow the old and create totally new foundations? It all ends up by Althusser saying to skip Chapter One of CAPITAL.

To the contrary, Marx had said the last two pages of the GRUNDRISSE, on the commodity, is exactly what had to be brought forward. In many respects GRUNDRISSE is greater than CAPITAL because when you first speak out, itís with everything that is in  your  head. CAPITAL doesn't take up other forms of production like pre-capitalist forms, or art--but CAPITAL remains the greater because of what Marx brought forward there: the commodity and the fetishism of commodities. We have to dig into that to bring us both to our world and to what the NEW LEFT REVIEW is trying to do with womenís liberation.

Some women--the latest is Juliet Mitchell in WOMAN'S ESTATE--are trying to say that what Althusser had done with his interpretation of contradiction and overdetermination makes it possible to think that labor isnít pivotal. But what they donít openly say is that what they want you to do is follow that particular chauvinist, Althusser. What is important now, in relation to womenís liberation--and particularly so in America, because both the Black dimension in the women, and the Black dimension in labor, and the Black dimension as a national question, are right here, not only in 1861 but in the 1960s and right now--is to begin to see that women must have the philosophy of liberation in general, in particular, in essence, and in mind. It is critical not ever to separate theory from practice or philosophy from revolution, because unless you have that unity you will just end up once more feeling good because you have told off the men, but not having established anything new for woman as Reason.

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