Essay: Revolution in Permanence: Trotsky, Marx, Dunayevskaya

January 22, 2020

From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: This is an English translation of the review of the book La filosofía de la revolución en permanencia de Marx en nuestros días. Escritos selectos de Raya Dunayevskaya, published in La Jornada Semanal in Mexico City on Dec. 29, 2019.

by Eugene Gogol

La filosofía de la revolución en permanencia de Marx en nuestros días. Escritos de Raya Dunayevskaya (Casa Editorial Juan Pablos) 2019.

Leon Trotsky is justly famous for the theory of Permanent Revolution—that revolution could occur in a technologically undeveloped country prior to one in an advanced capitalist country—which he developed first with his colleague Alexander Parvus. It was a brilliant prognostication of events in Russia.

However, it is not Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution which this collection of selected writings of Raya Dunayevskaya takes up in this recently published volume.1For Dunayevskaya’s comprehensive, critical discussions of Trotsky’s theory, see two of her books, Philosophy and Revolution (Siglo XXI) and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (Fondo de Cultura Económico).

The essays, presentations, and letters in La filosofía de la revolución en permanencia de Marx en nuestros días focus on this concept in Karl Marx and its meaning for our day.


Writers on Marx who do mention his writing on permanent revolution often focus exclusively on a call for “permanent revolution” in his June 1850 Address to the Communist League, often analyzing it as Marx’s supposedly tactical/strategic call to continue the revolution after the defeat of the 1848-49 Revolutions in Europe, with Marx being “mistaken” in thinking the revolution could continue.

Dunayevskaya, however, had something quite different in mind when she took up Marx’s concept of permanent revolution. In fact, she called Marx the “philosopher of permanent revolution.” What did she mean?

First, she traced Marx’s use of the term permanent revolution, His initial expression of the concept occurred in 1843:

“Political emancipation is, of course, a big step forward. True, it is not the final form of human emancipation in general, but it is the final form of human emancipation within the hitherto existing world order…. But one should be under no illusion about the limits of political emancipation…. [T]o constitute itself as the real species-life of man, devoid of contradictions…[I]t can achieve this only by coming into violent contradiction with its own conditions of life, only by declaring the revolution to be permanent…. Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his ‘own powers’ as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.”

Thus, for the young Marx, his first mention of permanent revolution was intimately tied to human emancipation. Indeed, as Dunayevskaya strongly argued, the next four decades of Marx’s thought and action was a development of a praxis of revolution in permanence as the pathway toward the fullness of human emancipation.


That pathway encompassed finding living subjects of social transformation. The proletariat certainly, but Dunayevskaya as well pointed to Marx’s interest in other actors. In his Ethnological Notebooks he wrote of Iroquois women in North America, as well as the Australian aborigine who he termed “the intelligent black.” He studied the Russian peasant commune, the mir, as a possible source for Russia evading the vicissitudes of capitalism. But revolution was needed to accomplish this: “In order to save the Russian commune a revolution is necessary.” Women’s activity in the First International was mentioned by Marx as well.

Permanent revolution as pathway to human emancipation was also rooted in the dialectic—the revolution of Hegelian philosophy—that Marx studied, critiqued, and recreated as a philosophy of revolution. This volume contains a number of Dunayevskaya’s writings on the Hegelian and Marxian dialectics, showing both Marx’s indebtedness to, but also his separation from, Hegel.

Marx’s concept of permanent revolution was further developed in his masterwork Capital. Dunayevskaya argued that its content can be most comprehensively grasped by tracing how Humanism and the Dialectic form its foundation.

In addition to tracing permanent revolution in Marx as subjects of revolution and as dialectical thought and practice, Dunayevskaya wrote of Marx and revolutionary organization—from the Communist League, to the First International, to Marx’s writing on the Paris Commune, and his incisive critique of so-called revolutionary organization in his Critique of the Gotha Program.

She saw a Marx searching out spontaneous organizations from below, helping to forge revolutionary organizations at various historic moments, as well as building organizations that would reflect and project an emancipatory body of ideas—organizational forms of permanent revolution.


Dunayevskaya’s writings here are not only an exploration of Marx’s multidimensional construction of revolution in permanence, but also encompass a battle of ideas: a critique of a number of post-Marx Marxists, who, Dunayevskaya argued, did not grasp the fullness of Marx’s Marxism. They include critical essays on such thinkers as Eric Hobsbawn, Maximillien Rubel, Roman Rosdolski and Theodor Adorno.

Finally, an extensive section takes up the question of Marx as Philosopher of Revolution in Permanence—Reading Marx for Today. Here Dunayevskaya’s writings include sections on: “Black Liberation and Internationalism,” “Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution,” and “Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy,” among others.

The book’s title centers on Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution for Our Day. One is then compelled to ask is there a relevance of Marx’s philosophy of permanent revolution for Latin America, and if so what is it? I would argue that Marx’s and Dunayevskaya’s concept of revolution in permanence does speak to Latin America.

Marx’s Marxism and Dunayevskaya’s Marxist-Humanism stand upon a non-dogmatic revolutionary philosophic view of human emancipation, in which subjects of revolution and emancipatory philosophy are front and center.

What could be more relevant for Latin America, for Mexico, than the permanent emancipatory activity of the Indigenous peoples, of the women fighting for their liberation throughout our continent, of youth demanding a free existence? As a recent issue of La Jornada’s Ojarasca magazine (No. 270) notes, it is a question of the “permanent revolution of the original peoples.”

¡Now in affordable paperback in both English and Spanish!

Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day

Selected writings by Raya Dunayevskaya

What is Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence, and why is it urgent for today?

In this new Marxist-Humanist book:

† Marx’s transformation of the Hegelian dialectic

† The inseparability of Marx’s economics, humanism, and dialectic

† The battle of ideas with post-Marx Marxism

† Marxist-Humanism, Black liberation, internationalism, and women’s liberation

†  The relationship between spontaneity, organization, and philosophy

†  The emergence of counter-revolution from within the revolution

†  The problem of what happens after the revolution

Special offer through March 31: 
$24.95, includes domestic postage

References   [ + ]

1. For Dunayevskaya’s comprehensive, critical discussions of Trotsky’s theory, see two of her books, Philosophy and Revolution (Siglo XXI) and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (Fondo de Cultura Económico).

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