Now off the press: The Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East by Raya Dunayevskaya

February 5, 2013

Now off the press:

Excerpts from the Foreword:

Nobody, least of all Marxists, foresaw the great historic divide which would be opened by the Arab Spring beginning in 2010. When Mohammed Bouazizi and Hussein Nagi Felhi killed themselves to protest the miserable conditions of life for Tunisian youth, they set off a year of revolutionary struggle that has shaken the world to its foundations. The region, where politics and everyday life had been delimited by the Cold War and the politics of oil, has been redefined by an uncompromising demand for human dignity.

This demand was key to lifting the incubus of contempt for the masses that allowed state-capitalist regimes like that of the Baathists to represent themselves as “Arab socialism.” In truth they were bizarre mixtures of Stalinism, fascism, and hereditary monarchism, imposing the “stability” of unfreedom to keep themselves in power, and to keep capitalism’s lifeblood commodity, oil, flowing to America, Europe and China.

The recognition of this profound change was expressed by one Lebanese student this way: “We are not used to seeing something like this in this part of the world. It is bigger than a dream in a region where people keep saying, ‘What can we do?’ Young people across the Arab world should go to the streets and do the same. It is time that we claim our rights.” This is exactly what has happened in country after country. The movement has created consternation among the world’s rulers. It has inspired worldwide freedom movements.

In response, powerful forces of counter-revolution have been arrayed against this new movement, both from without and, at times, from within. There has been a tremendous effort to limit the revolution in Egypt, for example, within the bounds of neoliberalism and bourgeois democracy. The U.S.-funded military remains a pillar of reaction. At the same time, reactionary religious elements have attacked women physically and denied their revolutionary role.

Within the Western Left, the crisis is manifested as ideological pollution when so many insist that enemy number one is U.S. imperialism and therefore Syrian President Assad must not be opposed. This lays bare the fixation on first negation, what one is against–and that opposition is not even directed at the capitalist system, but rather at one of its manifestations. Where is Karl Marx’s vantage point, the freedom of the masses? In fact, Syria today has become the test of one’s attitude to revolution itself, as were Spain in the 1930s and Bosnia in the 1990s.

These obstacles spell out the need for a revolutionary philosophy–specifically, Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence as it has been recreated in Marxist-Humanism. This publication is a contribution to this new moment when Marxism needs to be recreated, not applied mechanically in any reductionist manner, but realized in its fullness as a philosophy of history.

This is for no abstract or academic reason, but because without such a vision even the most unavoidable compromises can open the doors to a return of the old, oppressive forms of life that bide their time within the mysteries of the commodity form.

What must tower above all struggles against exploitation, nationally and internationally, is the perspective of a totally classless society; the vision of its ground would be “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Raya Dunayevskaya

Raya Dunayevskaya spelled out Marx’s Marxism as the “philosophy of revolution in permanence” in her 1982 book, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. It is that book’s central philosophic category. As she was writing it, she was also involved in working out and projecting that concept in support of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It was a joining together of philosophy and organization that allowed her to develop a new view of Marx’s Marxism in its entirety, including his late work on women and revolution in non-industrial societies.

It was through Dunayevskaya’s participation in the discussions among Iranian revolutionaries that Marxist-Humanism became indigenous to the region. She insisted on the leading role of the working class, which, by placing the human being over the commodity, oil, raised a profound challenge to the entire state-capitalist world. She also pointed to the movement of Iranian women for their own liberation as essential to the dialectics of the revolution. Women’s freedom was not a nice, “democratic” extra, but was both the Iranian women’s own demand and the exact measure of how deep the uprooting of the old, oppressive social order needed to be to avoid the backward pull of reactionary religion embodied by Khomeini.

The essays and letters on Iran included here represent Marxist-Humanism’s fundamental contributions to an ongoing struggle that sprang to life again after Iran’s stolen election of 2009. The roots of revolution remain alive in Iran in the struggles of women, workers, youth, and national minorities, among others. Iranian revolutionaries are watching the Arab Spring with the greatest interest and in the sure knowledge that their day will come again.

These collected writings on the Middle East also provide an extensive analysis of Palestinian/Israeli relations. The Arab Spring has created an opening for the creation of new human relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Part of this would require a new comprehension of history that can be released through a philosophic confrontation with Marx’s philosophy. As Dunayevskaya pointed out, it was in Marx’s essay “On the ‘Jewish Question'” that he first formulated his concept of “revolution in permanence.” It is where his philosophic critique of bourgeois society came together with his recognition of the unfinished character of the bourgeois revolution, thus determining his attitude toward revolution itself:

At times of special self-confidence, political life seeks to suppress its prerequisite, civil society and the elements composing this society, and to constitute itself as the real species-life of man devoid of contradictions. But it can achieve this only by coming into violent contradiction with its own conditions of life, only by declaring the revolution to be permanent, and therefore the political drama necessarily ends with the re-establishment of religion, private property, and all the elements of civil society, just as war ends with peace.

Today, in the context of recognizing Palestinian self-determination, nothing could release greater practical energies than the concretizing of this philosophy.


The Arab Spring can become a real turning point in human history. Against the backdrop of a state-capitalist world in a deep and intractable crisis, the vision of self-determination, courage, dignity and creativity can raise itself into an absolute opposition to the degraded reality of endless cutbacks, austerity, and accompanying bigotry that is all capitalism is offering humanity.

It is nothing less than phenomenal that this most concrete of historical movements demands, of its essence, a confrontation with Marx’s philosophy in its entirety. It is not enough to state his or our own conclusions.

Rather, it is necessary to recreate what Marx began as an investigation of the “riddle of history” in the 1840s and developed as the vision of revolution in permanence that was spelled out as a classless society in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. This was Raya Dunayevskaya’s political and organizational project from her philosophic breakthrough on Hegel’s Absolutes in 1953 through to her work on organization and philosophy of the 1980s that was informed so concretely by the Iranian Revolution.

It is the masses making history that clarifies the role of revolutionary organization. That role is the comprehension of history as the human struggle for self-determination and freedom, in order to project in the course of struggle the necessary conditions for a truly free human society–the many paths to reach that needed new society will not be easy to work out.

From the revolutions in the Middle East to Occupy Wall Street that they inspired, masses of people are searching for those paths to a new society, in reality as in thought. At such moments second negativity, far from a “mere abstraction,” becomes the most concrete, pressing need of humanity–that revolution in permanence that carries humanity toward greater freedom.

In publishing this collection of Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on the Middle East and revolution in permanence, we hope to be part of the worldwide dialogue that will move the revolution, and humanity, beyond the inhuman system of capitalism with its eternal threats of war and deprivation, its racism, sexism and heterosexism. In no respect are we willing to be passive spectators at yet another wrong turning of history.

Gerry Emmett, for the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees, September 2012


Foreword by Gerry Emmett

1. The Syrian Revolt: The Cold War in the Middle East

2. The Arab-Israeli Collision, the World Powers and the Struggle for the Minds of Men

3. Anti-Semitism, Anti-Revolution, Anti-Philosophy: U.S. and Russia Enter Middle East Cockpit

4. Middle East Cauldron Explodes

5. The Middle East Erupts

6. The UN Resolution on Zionism – and the Ideological Obfuscation Also on the Left

7. Lebanon: The Test Not Only of the PLO but the Whole Left

8. Iran: Unfoldment of, and Contradictions in, Revolution

9. Letter on Organization to an Iranian Revolutionary

10. What Is Philosophy? What Is Revolution? 1789-1793; 1848-1850; 1914- 1919; 1979

11. Religion in General and Jerusalem in Particular in This State-Capitalist Age

12. Special Introduction for Iranian Edition of Marx’s Humanist Essays

13. What Has Happened to the Iranian Revolution?

14. The Struggle Continues: What Kind of Revolution Is Needed in the Battle against the Khomeini-IRP Counter-revolution?

15. Begin’s Israel Moves Further and Further Backward to His Reactionary, Terrorist Beginnings

16. Need for a Total Uprooting: Down with the Perpetrators of the Palestinian Slaughter

17. The Changed World

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *