Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya
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
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
* * *
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:
ĎABSOLUTE MOVEMENT OF BECOMINGí
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!
WOMEN, CHINESE AS REVOLUTIONARY SUBJECTS
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.
HEGEL AND THE LAW OF VALUE
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?
DE BEAUVOIRíS RETREAT, ALTHUSSERíS SPIN
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.
Published by News and Letters Committees