From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya
When News & Letters was born
In observance of the 50th year of News and Letters Committees and its publication, NEWS & LETTERS, we reprint a part of the 1986 pamphlet THE MYRIAD GLOBAL CRISES OF THE 1980s AND THE NUCLEAR WORLD SINCE WORDL WAR II, in particular the section "From the Birth of NEWS & LETTERS, 1955, to MARXISM AND FREEDOM, 1957."
"The myriad global crises," wrote Raya Dunayevskaya at the time, "have been the spur to a re-examination of the whole nuclear world since World War II. That is the reason for the title of this pamphlet." In it, she discussed the half-century of development of her Marxist-Humanism, represented in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, and in 30 years, to then, of NEWS & LETTERS.
Accompanying the excerpt are two articles, "A day to remember" and “Njeri”, a Kenyan woman freedom fighter. A third, by Charles Denby is about his 25 years as editor of NEWS & LETTERS. The pamphlet is available from N&L.
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With the eyes of 1985, the idea of a Marxist-Humanist paper beginning publication June 1955, when McCarthyism was still raging, seems, strangely enough, very todayish. The idea of a struggle for freedom that would make inseparable theory and practice, and have that relation as THE determinant, does indeed remain an imperative...
The three post-World War II decades, 1955–1985, not only tested Marx’s philosophy of liberation WHEN one must fight under the whip of counter-revolution, but also saw the emergence of new passions and forces opposing capitalist-imperialism. Thus was signified the dawning of a new epoch.
To examine the first year of our existence, especially the first issue of NEWS & LETTERS, will reveal, first, what we heard, and second, the meaning we gave to what we heard by declaring it to be "a movement FROM practice that is itself a form of theory." It is this we held to be the challenge which theoreticians must face in working out the dialectic philosophy of the age.
The uniqueness of the simultaneity of act and of thought in the 1950s--in such events as the 1949-50 Miners’ General Strike and the 1953 East German Revolt--was a spur to the publication of NEWS & LETTERS. Thus we set aside a specific section entitled "Coal and Its People," which we explained in an article in the first issue, "A Coal Section because..." That section had been born from the KIND OF QUESTIONS posed by that 1949-50 Miners’ General Strike against Automation, which was then merely known as the struggle against the introduction of a new kind of machine, "the continuous miner," into the coalfields. In battling what the miners called a "man-killer," the miners insisted they were not interested mainly in the question of wages. Rather, they asked what KIND of labor man should do. Why was there such a big division between thinking and doing?
In 1953, in a very different country, East Germany, there was a rebellion against "work norms" (speed-up). Here the workers coupled their economic demands at the point of production with the political demand for freedom. It was the first-ever general strike from under Communist totalitarianism. Their slogan was "Bread and Freedom." This new battle spread through East Europe. It came to a climax in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which brought onto the present historic stage philosophic questions that had been raised in Marx’s Humanist Essays of 1844.
Issue number one of NEWS & LETTERS demonstrated our international dimension in its very appearance in June 1955, to commemorate the second anniversary of the June 17 East German Revolt. This was discussed in our "World Comment" section of this first issue. Our editorial, "Why We Appear," expressed our relation to our readers as writers here in America. The uniqueness of our paper was manifested in the following:
1. The editors were two workers, Johnny Zupan and Charles Denby. Charles Denby, a Black production worker, was soon to become the sole editor. This was the first time ever that a U.S. Black production worker became the editor of a Marxist paper.
2. Nor was the Black dimension limited to editorship. The very first issue of NEWS & LETTERS reproduced a picture of Njeri, a Kenyan woman who was a central figure in the Mau Mau struggle for freedom from British imperialism. (Both Njeri's piece and "World Comment" are excerpted in this issue.--Ed.) It was to her that the booklet, PEOPLE OF KENYA SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.(1)
The year 1955 was filled not only with McCarthyism, but with racism of the most barbaric kind--as witness the murder of Emmett Till. Always seeing the new opposition, the absolute opposite of the barbarism, is the only way to know how to fight in a positive way. Thus, our front page article on Oct. 5, 1955, was not just a report of the horrors of Till’s murder, but of the Black mass reaction to it. When the Montgomery Bus Boycott broke out later that same year, our editor, Charles Denby, went to Alabama to meet with the participants in that bus boycott. What we presented in the pages of NEWS & LETTERS was a report of the beginnings of the Black Revolution. It became crystal clear that this movement wasn’t the act of any single individual but was masses in motion--what we would later call Black masses as vanguard.
3. The category of Women’s Liberation as Reason as well as revolutionary force was seen in NEWS & LETTERS from the start. It was not alone that a Black woman, Ethel Dunbar, authored a column she called "We Are Somebody"(2), but that NEWS & LETTERS had no less than two other women columnists--Jerry Kegg on the Labor page and Angela Terrano, who was also a worker, writing a column called "Working for Independence," first on the Youth page and later on the Labor page.
4. The Youth column was then written by Robert Ellery, who edited the page and called his column "Thinking It Out." He later wrote the front page article which clearly showed that, far from the youth being a "Beat Generation," they were in fact a new force of revolution--"Rebels With A Cause" (Feb. 5, 1957).
5. To be noted as pivotal as well was the section devoted to "Readers’ Views" which was created to give priority not merely to letters to the editor, but also to unwritten letters, i.e., to views of non-members, often only spoken. The purpose of this section was to reveal what people thought and said of the world, and of their own lives, which would not depend on whether or not they were writers. Rather, it was a question of our members needing to be alert to what the masses said to each other, what they thought, how they felt, whether at work or just on public transportation. Involved here is the whole concept of oral history...
6. An "MD" column was written by a doctor. It did not limit itself to medical problems, though central to the column would be specific questions about industrial illnesses and about the social nature of illness. Thus, the MD column dealt with such other topics as a review of Herbert Marcuse’s EROS AND CIVILIZATION (Feb. 5, 1957); and a series of four articles developed a view of "The Biological Basis of Marxist-Humanism" (April to October, 1960).
7. Finally, there was my column, "Two Worlds," which had an overline, "Notes from a Diary," and was, at first, unsigned. My first column dealt with "Letter Writing and the New Passions" that signaled the birth of a new epoch.
In 1955 our very first conference, which had decided to publish this paper, NEWS & LETTERS, edited by workers, had at the same time assigned me to complete the study of Marxism that I had been working on for a decade. It would be called MARXISM AND FREEDOM and would articulate both the American roots of Marxism and Marx’s world Humanist concepts. It would not be completed until 1957. Before its appearance, however, we did issue our very first pamphlet, which reproduced in mimeographed form my translation of Lenin’s PHILOSOPHIC NOTEBOOKS, which had never been available in English before. That same pamphlet contained, as well, my May 1953 Letters on Hegel’s Absolute Idea. It is in these letters that I held that inherent in Hegel’s Absolute Idea as a unity of theory and practice was the presence of a MOVEMENT FROM PRACTICE.
I felt that in our age, when the workers’ movement from practice had manifested itself as a form of theory, it was the task of Marxists to face this new reality in such a way that all relations between workers and intellectuals change. One manifestation of that was that workers became editors. But that did not mean that there would be no work for the intellectuals who were revolutionary and who participated with the workers in all their actions. Here is what I wrote in my "Two Worlds" column of Aug. 5, 1955, about the unique combination of worker and intellectual that NEWS & LETTERS was establishing. We insisted that this was "the PRACTICE of the breakdown of the most monstrous division of all--the division between mental and manual labor...The intellectual must be attuned to hear that movement from PRACTICE to theory. THIS IS THE NUB...Theoreticians cannot be bystanders to a paper that mirrors the workers’ thoughts and activities as they happen."
This conception became historically as well as currently alive as the East European revolts reached their first climax in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Along with establishing Workers’ Councils at the point of production, instead of the state-controlled unions, that revolution, as well, saw the appearance of innumerable newspapers AND, as I mentioned above, the 1844 HUMANIST ESSAYS of Marx were brought onto the historic stage as a cogent point of discussion. It was precisely those Essays which we had translated in the 1940s, had been unable to find a publisher for, and which we had decided to include as an appendix to MARXISM AND FREEDOM, which was just then being completed.
Just as my breakthrough on the Absolute Idea, where I had singled out the movement from practice, set the structure for MARXISM AND FREEDOM, FROM 1776 UNTIL TODAY, so the Hungarian Revolution gave a todayness to Marx’s HUMANIST ESSAYS, while the Montgomery Bus Boycott made inseparable the Black Revolution and its international dimension. In the Introduction to this work I made clear the indispensability of a new type of relationship of practice to theory, a new unity of theory and practice: "No theoretician, today more than ever before, can write out of his own head. Theory requires a constant shaping and reshaping of ideas on the basis of what the workers themselves are doing and thinking." It was this which led me, in dedicating the work to "the auto workers, miners, steelworkers and student youth who have participated so fully in the writing of this book," to declare them to be "its co-authors." NEWS & LETTERS further deepened this new relationship between workers and intellectuals on the basis of what MARXISM AND FREEDOM had established.
Before the 1950s would end, all of us would be put to a new test, which, on the one hand, showed the emergence of a Third World in its colonial revolutions and, on the other hand, a new COUNTER-revolution in the coming to power of DeGaulle.
1. I have read innumerable "erudite," "scholarly" studies that speak of Koinange’s book as if the date it was finally published commercially was the time when the story of the Mau Mau struggle was revealed. The truth is that we had tried very hard to get an established publisher before we undertook our own publication. Koinange thought he had Nehru’s promise to do so. But indeed, other than ourselves, none were willing to undertake publication.
2. How long was it before Jesse Jackson made a category out of "We Are Somebody"? By then Dunbar had changed the title of her column to emphasize its international dimension, calling it "Way of the World."
Published by News and Letters Committees