NEWS & LETTERS, MayJun 10, Marxist-Humanism's originatlity

NEWS & LETTERS, May-June 2010

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevska

Marxist-Humanism's original contribution

Editor's note: This text is excerpted from a transcript of Dunayevskaya's April 18, 1976, speech titled, "Our Original Contribution to the Dialectic of the Absolute Idea as New Beginning: In Theory, and Leadership, and Practice." As an explicit discussion of what Marxist-Humanism's original contribution is, it is central to our projected new work of selected writings by Dunayevskaya on Marx. See our "Draft Perspectives Thesis," this issue, for more on this. The full document can be found in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #5622-30.

We have to begin with what is new in our contribution, because we have been so anxious to stress we are a continuity from Marx and Lenin (and we certainly are), and we've been so anxious to stress that we couldn't possibly have been without Marx and Lenin (which again, we couldn't have been), that we have underplayed what is absolutely new, not just in relationship to a lot of nobodies who call themselves Marxists, but in relationship to our founders themselves. And because we have overemphasized their contribution, without which we couldn't possibly have been, it is necessary to then think backwards right now.

No one was greater than Marx. No one needs to be convinced of that fact. However, when it comes to the Absolute Idea, it isn't only that the young Marx got so thoroughly disgusted with Absolutes by the time he discovered his new continent of thought, that he said that's the end of that, I'll return to it some other time. It is that when he did return--and in his greatest work he did--it was already as practice, and not as something that would help us grasp it by having a foundation.

For example, at the height of Capital, we see him breaking up the Absolute Idea by speaking about the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. But its opposite was always taken to be only the unemployed army--and not the absolutely, totally opposite which we take it to be now. Marx only mentioned it as "the new passions and new forces for the reconstruction of society." The negation of the negation at that point certainly wasn't spelled out.[1]

Lenin certainly paid a lot more attention to Absolute Idea. We have that chapter commented on more than any other chapter in Science of Logic. But he, too, had to concentrate, as all of us have to concentrate, on what is concrete for our age. What was concrete for his age was, as we know, the transformation into opposite. But he threw out the last half of the last paragraph of Absolute Idea and said, That doesn't make any difference. It did make a difference, and my Letters on the Absolute Idea of 1953 spend something like 12 pages arguing against him for leaving out that last half paragraph.

Even more important, Chapter 1 of Capital was always in Lenin's mind as he was reading.[2] We have stressed that Lenin says that Universal, Particular, Individual was exactly what Marx had in mind when he wrote Capital. But Lenin never says anything about fetishism. When he was referring to Universal, Particular and Individual, he was referring to the section just before the fetishism of commodities, when Marx explains how we came from barter to sales to money to capital.

In other words, the fetishism of commodities, as the dead labor sucking the living labor, and as the fact that you not only were exploited, but you actually had become an appendage to a machine--that was not concrete for Lenin. In fact, at one point--even though it wasn't at the stage where he was working with the Absolute Idea--he was "taken in," so to speak, by the Taylor system.[3] He wondered whether that was just capitalistic, or whether it could be used if you had soviets and you saw that it wasn't exploitative, and so forth.

So that whether we take our very founders, Marx and Lenin, or any of the Hegelian Marxists: Lukacs when he was at his best, Marcuse when he was at his best, Adorno when he was at his best, the East Europeans when they were at their best--in an actual revolution--no one, no one, had formulated or even given us any indication that if you are going to break your head over Absolute Idea, it would be as a new beginning. That's our original contribution.

It isn't only that we did this great thing by saying Absolute isn't absolute in the ordinary sense of the word--it's the unity of theory and practice; Absolute isn't absolute in the bourgeois sense of the word--it's the question of the unity of the material and the ideal. But who ever said Absolute was a new beginning? None but us. And if we don't understand that original contribution--that we have to begin with the totality--then we won't know what a new beginning is. A new beginning could just be that we discovered the four forces of revolution. We're certainly very proud of that--but that isn't all we're saying.

In fact, I would say that if there's anything we do understand, it's the movement from practice. We certainly have that embedded in our being. We do understand that part of the Absolute. We do not understand the other part, Absolute Idea as second negativity. And until we do understand it, we will not be able to project. Therefore we must return to Chapter 1 of Philosophy and Revolution, and read it with altogether new eyes. It is not just that we're challenging, or threatening, or saying something that sounds great and philosophic, but all the ramifications of that.

Hegel died in 1831. He was the greatest philosopher that ever lived. It is now 1976, and it was 1953 when I broke through on the three last syllogisms in Hegel's Philosophy of Mind. I never bothered to look up the philosophic scholars. I was sure they had dealt with it in their bourgeois way. I found out that nobody in the world had done it. It was then I found out that Hegel himself hadn't put them in until 1830, the year before he died. He had left it at Paragraph #574 in 1817.[4] I think the first time I saw anything written about it was in the 1960s and that was a whole decade after I developed it.

Paragraph #574 says, "This is a summation of what I did, and what I did explains my conclusions, Absolute Idea."[5] So why did he suddenly decide to add three paragraphs? To say "a summation" evidently didn't satisfy him the year before he died. In the first of the three, Paragraph #575, Logic, Nature, Mind (the three volumes of Hegel's Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences) are not simply the names of what Hegel wrote. Nature, the center part, is not just the second book. The center part, the middle, contains the whole; it looks both forward and backward, and therefore, that is really the key point.

Marx said that any proletarian could have told Hegel that he should have begun with material things first. Everyone says it's a good thing Lenin didn't know that's what Marx said, because he wouldn't have dared say, "Isn't that great that Hegel goes from Logic to Nature--he's extending a hand to historical materialism. Therefore, that chapter is the most central. The most ideal is really the most practical--terrific and magnificent!"[6]

I came to this part and said, if it turns both backward and forward, it isn't just the remembrance of things past, but Hegel's also seeing the future embedded in there. That means there must be a movement from practice to theory that is itself a form of theory. This was on May 12, 1953. There hadn't yet been the June 17, 1953, revolt [in East Germany]. Everybody thought I was crazy--all this worry about what Stalin's death meant and that it wasn't going to stand still. It is the period from March to June when Stalin died and when the East German revolt broke out that we're concerned with--these few months. When I broke through on the Absolute Idea, May 12 and 20, it was in anticipation of what was actually occurring.[7]

In the next paragraph, #576, Nature becomes first, Mind becomes second, and Logic is the end. So now Mind is the middle, the mediation, the center, the greatness from which the whole flows. What did that mean to us in the Johnson-Forest Tendency? I said it meant we had to dig deeper into philosophy; we couldn't stop with state-capitalism. We must see that this was new--this movement from practice and this movement from theory are a unity.

Paragraph #577 is even crazier than #575 and #576 were. Hegel has lived all his life on Logic, but when he comes to #577, instead of turning it to let Logic now become the center, Hegel just throws it out altogether. He says what we're dealing with is Self-Thinking Idea. In the whole thing, he has one single tiny sentence on eternity after the Self-Thinking Idea which has thrown out, replaced, Logic.

Nown if that's what it means--and Hegel throws out his Logic--what could be greater? He says the Self-Thinking Idea is the self-bringing forth of liberty. That's when we already have it, the revolution is here, and everything is ready for not putting things off for the day after. It's right here and you better go do it and think it and everybody be part of the dialectic.

* * *

What do we mean by the cogency of dialectics of negativity for our period of mass revolutions? What do we mean by Absolute Idea as new beginning? When we keep stressing, correctly, that it's a unity of theory and practice, we do not know the double negation as being within each one....I have stated many, many times that second negativity is not just when you come to the Absolute Idea, but that you experience second negativity at every single stage--and since everybody's always saying, "Don't give your first reaction, wait for second negativity," you would think we certainly understand second negativity. But until it becomes concrete, we don't.

There is one thing that I want to include here, in relationship to Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon on the question of Particular. We've always talked against the fixed Particular, nationalized property=socialism.[8] But Universal, Particular and Individual are the three main categories of the Doctrine of the Notion.[9] Particular is your first negation of the Universal when it's abstract, and Individual is the total concretization when it's Individualism which lets nothing interfere with its Universalism, that is, Freedom.[10]

The idea is that when it's not fixed, Particular is the way to get to the second negativity; there is no other way to get to it. And what Fanon expressed so passionately was that he did not mean that Negroes are not a Particular. He meant that Negritude is the Particular which is Universal. That is what he meant by "national consciousness that is not nationalism but is a form of internationalism."[11] He certainly did some very beautiful things on the difference between national consciousness that makes you proud of the heritage or makes you realize that this is a contribution, and nationalism which he absolutely rejected because he was a total internationalist and revolutionary.

...The fixed particular is absolutely wrong and will kill you. But when it's not fixed, when it's a stage in the development of the concretization, that is the only way to get to second negativity.

What I'm trying to stress here are certain stages in Chapter 1 [of Philosophy and Revolution] which must be grasped as concrete. You have to say to yourself: If Absolute Idea means new beginnings, it means that in talking to such and such a person, I have to present the whole of philosophy and Marxist-Humanism. It is not enough to say, "We agree with you on the question of welfare or whatever." The question of welfare or whatever becomes a way not only of you learning something from them, but of them having an awful lot to learn from you, because they get an entirely new interpretation of the problem that had been bothering them.


1. See Marx's Capital, Vol. I (Penguin, 1990), pp. 928-29.

2. Lenin's notes on Hegel frequently refer to Marx's Capital.

3. Frederick Taylor developed a system of scientific management based on time-motion studies. In another context, Lenin referred to the Taylor system as "man's enslavement by the machine." See Lenin's Collected Works, Vol. 20, pp. 152-54, and Vol. 27, pp. 258-59.

4. The 1817 first edition of Philosophy of Mind contained a different version of the last three paragraphs, #575-77. They were dropped in the 1827 edition and appeared in their final version in the 1830 edition.

5. This is not a quotation but a paraphrase of Paragraph #574.

6. From Lenin's abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic. See Dunayevskaya's English translation in the first edition of Marxism and Freedom (Bookman Associates, 1958), pp. 349, 352.

7. Dunayevskaya's "Letters on Hegel's Absolutes" of May 12 and 20, 1953, are available in The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism (News & Letters, 1989) and The Power of Negativity (Lexington Books, 2002).

8. Dunayevskaya argued that Leon Trotsky made an "abstraction of the Russian state, even after Stalinism had transformed it into its opposite, a state-capitalist society," thereby making a fixed particular of Russia's nationalized property, equating it to a "workers' state." See Philosophy and Revolution, pp. 139-45.

9. This refers to Book Three, "The Doctrine of the Notion," in Hegel's Science of Logic.

10. In Paragraph 481 of Philosophy of Mind, Hegel wrote of "individuality…purified of all that interferes with its universalism, i.e., with freedom itself."

11. In The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Press, 1963), Frantz Fanon wrote: "National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension" (p. 247).

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