From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: The meaning of revolutionary archives

June 27, 2015

From the July-August 2015 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: In celebrating the online publication of the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, we present excerpts of the Introduction/Overview she wrote to the last volume she donated. Besides describing the volume’s contents, this piece takes up the Marxist-Humanist concept of archives as not only retrospective but perspective, in the quest to establish “continuity with the historic course of human development.”



Counter-revolutions have a way of repeating themselves during world crises, whether in the Palmer Raids in the 1920s, or in the rise of McCarthyism in the post-World War II period following the 1949 revolution in China and the creation of apartheid South Africa. The struggle now makes it imperative to trace the absolute opposite of the counter-revolution—the revolutions in thought as well as in fact. Our epoch is crucial, not alone because that challenge is the task of this generation, but because in those three decades of the post-World War II world there arose a movement from practice that was itself a form of theory.

That movement challenged the theoreticians to work out so new a relationship of practice to theory as to have that unity achieve a totally new stage. To get a feeling for the revolutionary opposition in the 1920s, see Section I, Part A, especially the documents on the Negro Champion, the organ of the American Negro Labor Congress, on which I worked. Thus, America’s Black Dimension, far from being broken by the post-World War I riots against them, gave rise, at one and the same time, to both the largest mass movement of Blacks ever in the U.S., Garveyism, and to the American Negro Labor Congress, which expressed the Russian Revolution in its internationalism.

Amy Jacques Garvey, early feminist and editor of the Negro World and Marcus Garvey’s works.

“BLACK/RED” WAS ALSO PIVOTAL in the labor struggle of the 1930s, which transformed the industrial face of the nation with the creation of the CIO. Before the CIO, however, the labor struggles reached their highest point in the San Francisco general strike of 1934. While San Francisco had always been a union town, the strike posed not just a union question or a strike in a single industry—the longshoremen—but a political, revolutionary, general strike in which I was very active. I was then the organizer of the Spartacus Youth Club in Los Angeles. In order to show that these types of revolutionary strikes, far from being “foreign,” as the Hearst papers were screaming, were very American, I wrote an article for the Young Spartacus (June 1934) which went back to the railroad strikes of the 1870s, concentrating on the very first General Strike in St. Louis—1877—when “the strikers took possession of the city and ruled for an entire week.”


By 1936, when I was living in Washington, D.C., I became active in support of sharecroppers’ struggles in the South. Interracial relationships became a key question during the Depression. In Washington, D.C., for example, which was still a “Jim Crow” town except for streetcars, Ralph Bunche…was instrumental in establishing, with the Communists, a new National Negro Congress, and helped the socialists, who had organized the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, to establish the Washington Committee to Aid Agricultural Workers as a support group for the 1936 Arkansas sharecroppers’ strike. (See my “Two forgotten pages of Ralph Bunche’s life story,” N&L, March 1972.) I was a member of this committee, which included Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Journal of Negro History, and Prof. Emmett Dorsey, a political economist at Howard, who was to become the Washington chairman of the International Defense Committee for Leon Trotsky in 1937. The Black Dimension here opened the two-way road between the U.S. and Africa for me, especially since Nnamdi Azikwe was then in the U.S. writing his Renascent Africa.


From right, Raya Dunayevskaya, Natalia Trotsky, Jean Van Heijenoort, Leon Trotsky and Joe Hansen, in Mexico, 1938.

Along with these new findings from the 1920s and 1930s first being introduced into the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, I want to add also to the section on my work as Russian secretary to Leon Trotsky in 1937-38. The three pieces I translated on the Spanish Revolution, and Leon Trotsky’s letter of Jan. 5, 1938, to Max Shachtman, which informed Shachtman that I was translating part of Trotsky’s work, How the Revolution Armed Itself, were all part of making the 1917 Russian Revolution so relevant to the 1937 Spanish Revolution that Trotskyists should become both active participants and theoreticians. In a word, what the Trotsky letter doesn’t say is that it was done for the Spanish revolutionaries so that they could have the 1917 ground for the 1937 Revolution.

On the other hand, the shock of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939, followed by the outbreak of World War II and Trotsky’s call for the defense of Russia, signaled the beginning of the end of world Trotskyism. The many tendencies that sprang up within Trotskyism questioned the very nature of the Russian state and the Russian economy, rather than just the political bureaucratization that Stalin introduced and that Trotsky had fought.

I plunged into the study of all the Russian Five-Year Plans. What the new additions to documents on the theory of state-capitalism reveal is that, at the same time I was engaged in research on the Russian economy of 1928-39, I was translating for myself philosophic works of Marx, those that were listed by David Ryazanov as “Preparatory Works for the Holy Family” and which we now know as the famous Humanist Essays [also known as Marx’s Paris Manuscripts or Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844], as well as Lenin’s Abstract of Hegel’s Science of Logic. My translations have now been found in their very first form. (See #8845.) In a word, the relationship between philosophy and economics was intensified. Indeed, by the 1940s I saw philosophy as inherent in new revolutionary forces—labor, Black, women, youth.


Thus the studies in state-capitalism were integral to the intensified activities in the 1940s with, once again, the Black Dimension being pivotal. See especially the documents on my debate with David Coolidge (Ernest Rice McKinney), #9008. The Schomburg Collection in New York was the place where I did much of my research on Black America, which was reflected in my 1948 article, “Maintain the Schomburg Collection!

In 1947 the Fourth International allowed me to present the theory of state-capitalism at their world conference in France. I debated Ernest Mandel (Ernest Germain) there. What is most memorable from that trip was, however, not the Trotskyists but the meeting with a Camerounian who told me of the revolution they had when the Germans left and the “Free French” were going to return. (See my 1947 letters, #661.)

WHEN I COMPLETED THE TRANSLATION of Lenin’s Abstract of Hegel’s Science of Logic in 1949, I looked for a publisher for it, knocking on many doors and meeting with the Columbia University Russian Department, but publication had to wait until 1957 with my Marxism and Freedom. The many letters in this period disclose the relationship of philosophy and economics—specifically of Hegel’s Science of Logic to Marx’s Capital—and connect those studies to the letters I wrote to miners on the general strike in 1950. These reveal that I was changing the form of my work on state-capitalism and Marxism to what became Marxism and Freedom. (See Section III for the letters of this period.)


It all resulted in the breakup of the state-capitalist tendency known as “Johnson-Forest,” and the critique of all post-Marx Marxists. I called for a reorganization of Marxist groupings, and the theoretical work that resulted in 1957-58, Marxism and Freedom, spelled its aim out as re-establishing Marxism in its original form, which Marx called a “thoroughgoing Naturalism or Humanism.” That period saw my first attempt to make an outline of what would become the Marxist-Humanist Archives. (See #9357).

The whole question of the relationship of any ongoing event with the past, with the very concept of Archives, depends on the two opposite words–continuity and discontinuity. Whereas only great divides in epochs, in cognition, in personality, are crucial, and may relate to turning points in history, no discontinuity can really achieve that type of new epochal “moment” unless it has established continuity with the historic course of human development.

NATURALLY, THE SIGNIFICANCE of archives for any Marxist-Humanist has, as ground, what we learned from Marx’s Archives, especially from the writings in his last decade, and especially the Ethnological Notebooks which were first transcribed in 1972. That work cast a totally new illumination both on Marx’s multilinearism as it relates to his studies of pre-capitalism and indeed the whole course of human development. These Notebooks so integrally related the “new moments” of Marx’s last decade that it made it possible to grasp Marx’s Marxism as a totality. In a word, the new moments of his last decade, and the very first writings of his break from capitalism and his founding of a whole new continent of thought and of revolution in 1843-44, were one continuous development of what Marx called a “new Humanism.” This is the reason why we considered the 1880s a “trail to the 1980s.” Put differently, neither the first nor the last of Marx’s new moments were a question of something that happened in the 19th century, but became an imperative for our age.

To return to 1958, that was the year DeGaulle came to power in France and I saw, at one and the same time, a new form of fascism and the imperative need for new international relations of those who opposed both poles of capitalism—U.S. and Russia—whether they held fully to the theory of state-capitalism or not. A correspondence developed with Battaglia Communista in Italy (Onorato Damen); Grandizo Munis, a Spanish exile; Chaulieu [Cornelius Castoriadis] and Vega [Albert Masó], as well as Jean Malaquais in France; and Harry McShane in Britain. An International Conference was held in Milan, Italy, in November 1959, and I made a trip to Europe to attend and hold other discussions. I had in my hand for the trip Marxism and Freedom as well as our new pamphlet, Nationalism, Communism, Marxist-Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions, and I insisted that all those who attended had to focus on the new revolutions in the Third World. I asked that the African comrades be invited. (I continued corresponding with Africans until I went to Africa in 1962, and they helped map my trip to Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, and the Gambia.)


The European International Conference itself, while not grounded in philosophy, Marxist-Humanist or otherwise, and not agreeing with my analysis of the very new African Revolutions, did approve my motion to continue discussion on a regular basis in the Italian journal, Prometeo. Out of this trip, a Marxist-Humanist group was established in Britain, headed by Harry McShane.

The pivotal points of my address to the International Conference were further developed in the 1960 Thesis, “The World Crisis and the Theoretic Void,” which was published in Italian and French in Prometeo, the publication of the International Center of Correspondence. (Onorato Damen had introduced me to the publisher La Nuovo Italia, which published the Italian edition of Marxism and Freedom.)


The new correspondence that is now being added includes communication with Leopold Senghor, Sekou Toure, and Nnamdi Azikwe, as well as the letter to Thomas Kanza, UN Ambassador from the Congo, on the death of Patrice Lumumba. The trip to West Africa in 1962 is thus now more fully documented and shows more than just the fact that Présence Africaine published my article “Marxist-Humanism,” which I had originally titled “African Socialism: Why Not a New International?” That didn’t impede my activities and writings on the American scene, as witness the new contributions we now make of my articles for The Activist, the student journal at Oberlin College for which I was both sponsor and writer, as well as a critic of some of their writings, like that of Tracey Strong on China.

Silvio Frondizi.

THE THIRD WORLD WAS naturally not only Africa, but also Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Most relevant and important here is my correspondence with Silvio Frondizi, the great Argentinian independent Marxist who was murdered by the fascist regime. He had in fact translated Marxism and Freedom, but was unable to publish it. Nearly all of my major works have now been translated and published in Spanish. Erich Fromm was instrumental in introducing my work to the publishing house, Siglo XXI.

The section on the battle of ideas speaks well enough for itself, whether it is correspondence with Silvio Frondizi or Alasdair MacIntyre, with Erich Fromm [1959-61, 1963-65, 1965-66, 1967-68, 1971-75, 1976-78] or Peter Bergmann, Jean Malaquais or Paul Piccone, Dixon Colley or John O’Neill, or even C.L.R. James and Grace Chin Lee [#9209, #9224, #9234, #9250, #9291, #1595] or whether it was with Leon Trotsky [#2211 and #2226] or Yoshimasa Yukiyama. Indeed, the correspondence and some of the interviews would result in a chapter within a book itself. I am referring to a 1965 Hong Kong interview, which became a part of a chapter of Philosophy and Revolution. The Chinese refugee I interviewed, “Jade,” was so taken with my chapter “The Challenge of Mao Tse-tung” in Marxism and Freedom that she translated it into Chinese and sent it to the underground at Peking University, where she had been a student. That was in 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

THE TRIP I MADE TO JAPAN has been reported in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection before, but the new that is added now is especially important for two reasons. It wasn’t only my Marxism and Freedom that was translated and published in Japan, but also News and Letters Committees pamphlets like Charles Denby’s Workers Battle Automation and other new voices from the Black Revolution. The Zenshin (the Japan Revolutionary Communist League) sponsored my many lectures throughout the Islands. Also new is the typescript of my talk in Japan on Hegel.


What is of the essence in the 1970s were the new open doors in academia in the U.S. In 1970, the year of the 200th anniversary of Hegel’s birth and 100th of Lenin’s, the battle of ideas kept crisscrossing between the Left and academia. The specific essay which was to attract special attention was “The Philosophic Ambivalence of Lenin,” which became the basis for my talk to a conference of the then young New Left philosophic journal, Telos. The Yugoslav journal Praxis then reprinted it, and so did the Italian journal Aut Aut. That work was not just on Lenin, but on Hegel, and it became a part of the section in Philosophy and Revolution on “Why Hegel? Why Now?” This allowed me to present a paper at the 1974 conference of the Hegel Society of America. What is new in Volume XII is the documentation of the critiques of my views on Hegel that came from old radicals like Peter Bergmann (1974) as well as a critique of my interpretation of Hegel’s Absolute Method by George Armstrong Kelly in his Hegel’s Retreat from Eleusis (1978). I answered Kelly in the introduction to my 1982 edition of Philosophy and Revolution. Also new is my letter to Bertell Ollman in critique of the academic classes in socialism, especially Marx’s Capital.

Raya Dunayevskaya

Raya Dunayevskaya

THE 1970S WERE IN GENERAL characterized by a new passion for a philosophy of revolution. On the one hand, it was spurred by the fact that the 1960s revolutions had been aborted at their highest point, 1968. On the other hand, it was the very counter-revolution of the early 1970s against Vietnam, when both Russia and China were rolling out the red carpet for Nixon, that made the youth, the Black Dimension, and even some old radicals, begin to ask questions serious enough to have them attempt to work out a new philosophy of revolution for their age. At any rate, they were ready to listen and not to dismiss theoreticians on any superficial basis of age. Rather, they themselves wanted to see a continuity as well as a discontinuity in Marxism.

This became the more intense when finally Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks were transcribed in the 1970s and the whole question of the relation of technologically advanced countries to underdeveloped countries was seen in a new light—the multilinearism of Marx—as he turned anew to the idea of pre-capitalist societies and the then new science of anthropology. Just as this new objective/subjective situation led us to create the category of “post-Marx Marxism” as a pejorative in the 1982 publication of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, so the 1983 Marx Centenary Tour, with this work in hand, opened new doors, especially in the Black Dimension and Women’s Liberation.

THE BLACK DIMENSION, which was central in News & Letters from its birth with a Black production worker, Charles Denby, as its editor, remains intrinsic to our body of ideas and has just been spelled out again in our latest publication, a new expanded edition of Frantz Fanon, Soweto and American Black Thought. This booklet includes appendices on Negritude and Language by René Depestre and Ngugi wa Thiong’o as well as my Political-Philosophic Letter, “Grenada: Counter-Revolution and Revolution.” It as well includes this recent communication we received directly from a group of South African revolutionaries:

“We can understand why the Marxist-Humanists felt a need to call themselves not just Marxists but Marxist-Humanists, because the humanism has been removed from Marx to such an extent that people thought they could come with certain theories and ideas just from the top—the intellectuals theorizing and telling the people how to liberate themselves.”

Raya Dunayevskaya, February 28, 1986


Postscript, April 10, 1986

Between the time (February) when Volume XII was handed in for microfilming, and its release for public view by Wayne State University Walter Reuther Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs (April), News & Letters has created a new cover for the Guide to the entire twelve-volume collection. This new title for the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection—“Marxist-Humanism: A Half-Century of Its World Development”—reflects the range of the new discoveries of old manuscripts predating 1941, as well as extending the collection to 1985/86. Put differently, the 1930s are the focal point now. The Depression signaled the end of private capitalism, while out of the Spanish Civil War there emerged a new kind of revolutionary who posed questions not only against Stalinism but against Trotskyism, indeed against all established Marxists. The 1981 Introductory Note to the Archives repeats what we said when we first handed in the Collection in 1969: “The entire collection is divided into two parts. Part One covers Marxist-Humanism in its origin as State-Capitalist theory… Part Two … covers the period 1955 to 1981, and details the development of Marxist-Humanism” as organization and as philosophy. With the addition of Volume XII, the new cover more fully reflects the whole range, “Marxist-Humanism: A Half-Century of Its World Development.”

One thought on “From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: The meaning of revolutionary archives

  1. “No discontinuity can really achieve [a] new epochal “moment” unless it has established continuity with historic course of human development”. This quote from Raya’s introduction to volume XII of her archives summarizes the essence of dialectics, this is: self-development throughout opposites. Continuity and discontinuity are not absolute opposites, but opposites that transform themselves into its other. This dialectic concept help us to understand, of course, the MH significance of archives, but specifically, the continuity within the discontinuity of the two parts in which the archives are divided: 1) MH in its origin as the State Capitalist theory, and 2) the development of MH as organization and as philosophy.

    Raya tells us that, in the 40’s, when she was studying the Russian Five-Year Plans, she was at the same time deeply involved with philosophy, which she saw “as inherent in new revolutionary forces: labor, Black, women, youth”. This is: just as Marx did, Raya did not stop in the economic analysis or critique of capitalism, but saw within it the self-development of the masses who will destroy it. In other words: just as Hegel in his Science of Logic, Raya let the subjectivity come out dialectically from the objectivity, without separating both, or seeing them as absolute opposites. Raya did not stop, like much of the “progressive” Left does, in the stage of objective social critique, analysis of reality, but formulated a complete philosophy of human emancipation based on the actions and thoughts of the masses giving brith to a new world.

    “We can understand why the MH’s felt a need to call themselves not just Marxists but MH’s, because the humanism has been removed from Marx to such an extent that people thought they could come with certain theories and ideas just from the top: the intellectuals theorizing and telling the people how to liberate themselves”.

    This constituted not just the break with the Johnson-Forest Tendency in the 1940’s (which had formulated the concept of State capitalism as a tool to describe the “objective reality”, but remained at the threshold of Marx’s fully developed Humanism), but the creation of the whole philosophy of liberation that we know nowadays as MH. The “discontinuity” or new ephocal moment of MH came out from the “continuity” of all previous historic attempts of humanity, both in theory and in practice, to reach full freedom. It couldn’t have been otherway. Furthermore: MH is not just a personal “breakthrough” done by Raya, but an historical need: a new discontinuity within the continuity of mankind in its search for abolute liberation.

    The second part of Raya’s archives: the development of MH as organization and as philosophy speaks to us precisely about the further development of this “discontinuity”: how it concretizes in an organization rooted in dialectical philosophy and, at the same time, in the actions and thoughts of the revolutionary masses.

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