NEWS & LETTERS, February-March 2006

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

Marx and the Black World


In Black History Month in 2006, the racist face of U.S. capitalism and the Bush administration has been exposed in the abandonment of New Orleans in the post-Hurricane Katrina flood. The outrage worldwide, which has not dissappeared, calls on us to restate Karl Marx's liberatory vision. Towards that perspective, we reprint part of Raya Dunayevskaya's essay, "A 1980s View of the Two-Way Road Between the U.S. and Africa," first published in 1983, the 20th anniversary of the mass March on Washington for "Freedom Now!" That also was the 20th anniversary of the Marxist Humanist statement, AMERICAN CIVILIZATION ON TRIAL: BLACK MASSES AS VANGUARD. Also called an "Introduction/Overview," the second and third sections are included here. A new edition of the book is available from N&L. To order, click here

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What AMERICAN CIVILIZATION ON TRIAL reveals is both Marx's deep American roots and his Promethean vision. Take the succinct way in which Marx pinpointed the situation in the Civil War at its darkest moment, as the war dragged on and the Southern generals were winning so decisively as to produce a defeatist attitude in the North. Where others looked at the military forces, Marx looked at the forces of revolution: "A single Negro regiment would have a remarkable effect on Southern nerves...a war of this kind must be conducted along revolutionary lines" (Letter from Marx to Engels, Aug. 7, 1862).

From his very first break with capitalism, as he discovered a whole new continent of thought and of revolution which he called "a new Humanism,'' capitalism is what Marx critiqued and fought against throughout his life. Here is how he described the origins of European capitalism:

"The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of Black skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production" (CAPITAL, Vol. 1, p. 823, Kerr edition).

The unmasking of Western civilization's racism by its Black dimension in revolutionary moments of mass upsurge makes imperative a most serious return, on this centenary of Marx's death, to his critical, revolutionary unmasking of Western civilization's capitalist foundations...

Frantz Fanon was absolutely right when, in our age, he wrote: "Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the U.S. became a monster..." The extreme urgency of dealing with that global monster today demands that the struggles be tightly woven together with a total philosophy. As we work it out for our age, what is needed is a concentration, at one and the same time, on 1) the trail to the 1980s from Marx's last decade, and 2) revolutionary Black thought.

It was in his last decade that Marx discovered still newer paths to revolution. Present-day existing state- capitalisms calling themselves Communist, like Russia and China, have totally abandoned both the philosophy and the actuality of Marx's "revolution in permanence." Marx, on the other hand, began introducing fundamental changes in his greatest theoretical work, CAPITAL, which disclosed his new perceptions of the possibility of a revolution in technologically underdeveloped lands before the technologically advanced West.

Take the simple word "so-called" placed by Marx in the title of the final part of CAPITAL: "The So-Called Primitive Accumulation of Capital." Though that word has been disregarded by post-Marx Marxists, it touches the burning question of our day--the relationship of technologically advanced countries to the technologically underdeveloped Third World. Marx was saying with that word, "so-called," that it wasn't true that capitalism's carving up of the Asian and African world characterized only the primitive stage of capitalism.

To further stress that technologically advanced capitalism has not at all left behind the so-called primitive stage of turning Africa into "a warren for hunting black skins" and forcing them into slavery in "civilized" countries, Marx subordinated the whole section of Part 8 and made it integral to Part 7, "Accumulation of Capital." There it reached its highest point--the concentration and centralization of capital. Thereupon, Marx added a whole new paragraph to the 1875 French edition of CAPITAL, which showed that this continued outreach into imperialism "successively annexed extensive areas of the New World, Asia and Australia."

As Marx then turned to study pre-capitalist societies, be it of the Native Americans, the Indians in Morgan's ANCIENT SOCIETY, or the Australian aborigine designated by Marx as "the intelligent Black", he hit out against anyone trying to transform his chapter, "The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation" into a "Universal." Marx insisted that he had been describing the particular, historic stage of Western capitalism; that other societies need not follow that path. If they did, they would "lose the finest chance ever offered by history to a people and undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist regime.''


Marx's projection of the possibility of a revolution coming first in technologically underdeveloped lands achieved a new meaning for our age with the emergence of a whole new Third World, as well as new mass struggles and the birth of new revolutionary forces as reason. The Black dimension in the U.S. as well as in Africa showed that we had indeed, reached a totally new movement from practice to theory that was itself a new form of theory. It was this new movement from practice--those new voices from below--which we heard, recorded, and dialectically developed. Those voices demanded that a new movement from theory be rooted in that movement from practice and become developed to the point of philosophy--a philosophy of world revolution.

Our very first major theoretical work, MARXISM AND FREEDOM, cast in the context of that movement from practice, was followed by a series of pamphlets in which the voices of all the revolutionary forces --workers, Blacks, women and youth--could be heard: from WORKERS BATTLE AUTOMATION to FREEDOM RIDERS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES, and from THE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT AND THE NEGRO REVOLUTION to WORKING WOMEN FOR FREEDOM. Indeed, it was not only the voices of the Freedom Riders we heard in 1961, but the story of the magnificent Black women in Mississippi who called themselves "Woman Power Unlimited" and came to the aid of the jailed Freedom Riders.

AMERICAN CIVILIZATION ON TRIAL cast a new illumination on the two-way road between Africa and the U.S. via the West Indies by showing that what, to the capitalists, was the triangular trade of rum, molasses and slaves, was, to the Blacks, the ever-live triangular development of internationalism, masses in motion AND IDEAS. This triangular development remains the dominant force to this day.

In our epoch, the dynamism of ideas in Africa comes out in sharp focus as we contrast it to the weary American bourgeois ideologues who declared the 1950s to be "the end of ideology" just when a whole new Third World emerged. As against what the capitalist ideologues wrote then, consider the 1959 speech by Leopold Sedar Senghor to the Constitutive Congress which united Mali and Senegal:

"A nation that refuses to keep its rendezvous with history, that does not believe itself to be the bearer of a unique message--that nation is finished, ready to be placed in a museum. The Negro African is not finished even before he gets started. Let him speak; above all, let him act. Let him bring like a leaven, his message to the world in order to help build a universal civilization...Let us recapitulate Marx's positive contributions. They are: the philosophy of humanism, economic theory, dialectical method."

It is true that Africa, too, has since undergone many retreats, as the Union of Mali and Senegal has broken up and Senghor has retrogressed in thought, as well. It is not true that the mass freedom struggles have abated. Nor is it true that Senghor represents all of African thought. Frantz Fanon was the opposite, both in thought and in act, and it is his philosophy that is alive as far as South Africa is concerned and, indeed, can become a foundation for today's freedom struggles worldwide. It was this new stage in the two-way road that we presented in our 1978 pamphlet FRANZ FANON, SOWETO AND AMERICAN BLACK THOUGHT.

If we return to the year 1959, when Senghor made the Address to his Congress, we find that to be the same year that Frantz Fanon addressed the Second Congress of Black Artists and Writers meeting in Rome, where he said: "The consciousness of self is not the closing of a door to communication. Philosophic thought teaches us, on the contrary, that it is its guarantee. National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension."

Furthermore, this was not philosophy for its own sake or history as past, because Fanon was contrasting the Black worker to the Black intellectual in that battle against colonialism:

"History teaches us clearly that the battle against colonialism does not run straight away along the lines of nationalism...It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps." (WRETCHED OF THE EARTH, p. 121, Grove Press edition)

In this, too, Fanon's vision saw far, which is why the final chapter of the 1973 work PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION--"New Passions and New Forces: The Black Dimension, the Anti-Vietnam War Youth, Rank-and-File Labor, Women's Liberation"--quoted the American Black auto worker who gave the philosophy of Humanism its sharpest edge:

"There is no middle road anymore. The days we accepted 'we have to take the lesser of two evils' are gone. You have to go to the extreme now. Racism is the issue here, and to rid ourselves of that, to be Humanist, we need a revolution."

The Black Consciousness Movement recognizes Fanon as a great Third World theorist, at the same time that they recognize Steve Biko's unique creativity in the Soweto uprising in 1976 and in founding their great new movement. This is precisely why South Africa's barbaric apartheid system murdered Biko in September 1977.

It was no accident that Charles Denby, the Black production worker-editor of NEWS & LETTERS since its birth, felt impelled in 1978 to add a new Part II to the story of his life which had been published in 1952 as INDIGNANT HEART. Thus, Part II of INDIGNANT HEART: A BLACK WORKER'S JOURNAL begins with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the very year News and Letters Committees was born and ends with a chapter on "The Worldwide Struggle for Freedom" which discusses "the American Black identification with Soweto and Biko, with Fanon and Caribbean thought." It becomes clear why this story of Denby's Life, North and South, which sums up a half century of freedom struggles, from the struggles of rural Blacks in the South to the wildcat strikes of Black workers in the North, concludes with this Black worker's declaration: "I consider my story as part of the worldwide struggles for freedom."

It is in Azania (South Africa) that the most exciting events are now unfolding, revealing how the mine workers there are both organizing and thinking their own thoughts. A simple word--"Amandla!" (Power)--tells how new a stage they have reached. It is this word which Teboho Noka, an organizer for the National Union of Mine Workers, used in order to stress that not only are they fighting for different conditions of labor and higher wages, but for "Amandla"--adding: "It shall be ours." It is that feeling of fighting for nothing less than freedom which transforms the struggle from a mere trade union battle to one for a whole new society.

Like Marx in his day, Fanon, in our age, declared his philosophy to be a "new humanism," as he developed it most originally in his WRETCHED OF THE EARTH: "Comrades, let us flee from this motionless movement where gradually dialectic is changing into the logic of equilibrium. Let us consider the question of mankind" (p. 254). "For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man" (p. 255). "This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others" (p. 197).

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American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard

by Raya Dunayevskaya

"The unmasking of Western civilization's racism by its Black dimension in revolutionary moments of mass upsurge makes imperative a most serious return, on this centenary of Marx's death, to his critical, revolutionary unmasking of Western civilization's capitalist foundations."

To order, click here

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