From the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: The methodology of Perspectives

May 1, 2020

From the May-June 2020 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: To address the methodology of “analyzing serious crises and acting to uproot the system that created them,” we excerpt “What to Do Facing the Depth of Recession and the Myriad Global Political Crises as Well as the Philosophic Void,” Raya Dunayevskaya’s Perspectives Report to the News and Letters Committees Convention, Sept. 4, 1982. It can be found in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #7515 and was excerpted in chapter 16 of Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East by Dunayevskaya (News and Letters, 2013). Under the title, Dunayevskaya wrote: “(‘As well as’ does not mean a third or subordinate point, a sort of ‘also ran.’ Rather, philosophy expresses, dialectically, the meaning of the other two points—economics and politics—as both their ground of being and path for the resolution of their contradictions, subjectively and objectively—Freedom.)”


Introduction: Why Being Against “What Is” Is Incomplete without the Corollary, What One Is For

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Because the economic and political crises wracking the capitalist-imperialist world are so horrendous…it is all too tempting to express oneself solely in opposition to what is, without ever specifying what one is for, so weighted down does one become by all these crises crying out for an end.

History, however, warns us of other critical periods…which give us historic proof that mere opposition to such monstrous degeneration does not lead to new societies. On the contrary. It only assures the transformation of that type of bare opposition into one form or another of a halfway house. That is true both when we look at the failure of bourgeois democracy and when we look at fascism. Both brought on World War II. Such a victory over fascism only laid the ground for the restoration of state-capitalism—Gaullism as well as Stalinism. Indeed, state-capitalism became a universal.

As we know from World War I, even the magnificent opposition that was successful—the Russian Revolution—once it didn’t spread beyond national borders, ended in the transformation of the first workers’ state into its opposite, state-capitalism.

Today, we cannot evade asking: What Now? Is the PLO1For more on the Palestine Liberation Organization, see Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East. the absolute opposite of Israel, or just one more narrow nationalism? In our age, when a nuclear war threatens civilization as we have known it, we cannot, must not, accept halfway houses as the answer. Nor do I mean only outright nuclear holocaust. Rather, the immediate crises of today are both in the “Love Canals”2Residents of the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, N.Y., learned in the late 1970s that their families had been sickened by chemicals leaking from landfill their homes had been built on. Their organizing, led by Lois Gibbs and other residents, became emblematic of struggles against toxic waste. of the world and at the point of production….

We cannot satisfy ourselves with detailing only what we are against or with enlarging atrocity stories. They surely abound in Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.3In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, and its Lebanese allies carried out massacres at two Palestinian refugee camps. See “Need for a Total Uprooting: Down with the Perpetrators of the Palestinian Slaughter,” chapter 16 of Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East.

Many atrocity stories, I’m sure, can also be told of the PLO and its fantastic covenant “to drive the Israelis into the sea.” Nor should our support of the Palestinians for self-determination and the PLO as a bargaining agent lead us away from re-examining what happens to aborted revolutions—in this case, specifically Lebanon and specifically as aided by the PLO in the 1975-76 Civil War there. Which is why we correctly entitled our Philosophic-Political Letter #6 (August 6, 1976): “Lebanon: The Test Not Only of the PLO but of the Whole Left.”4The letter is chapter 7 in Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East.

Because the Left did not meet the challenge but followed the PLO is one substantial reason for the totality of the crisis today. Just at the point when there was a near success by the indigenous Lebanese Left, and the outcome of the 1975-76 Civil War hung in the balance, the PLO insisted that the concentration must be, not on the native ruler-oppressors represented by the so-called Christian, i.e., neo-fascist, Phalangists, but on Israel alone, though at the moment Israel was nowhere present in Lebanon and Syria was all ready to invade. It is Syria the PLO had dubbed “liberators” instead of a new imperialistic force. The great tragedy was that the whole Left—indigenous Lebanese under Jumblatt, Stalinists, Trotskyists—followed the PLO lead. Here is what we wrote in that Political-Philosophic Letter:

“…the New Left, born in the 1960s, so disdainful of theory (which it forever thinks it can pick up ‘en route’), has a strange attitude toward imperialism. It is as if imperialism were not the natural outgrowth of monopoly capitalism, but was a ‘conspiracy, organized by a single imaginary center, rather as the Nazis used to refer to the Judeo-Catholic-Masonic Alliance, or Communists under Stalin to the conspiracy of the Trotskyists and Rightists in league with the imperialist secret service.’…

“[And even, it should now be added, as Khomeini now refers to the U.S. and Israel as the Great Satan.]

“Evidently nationalism of the so-called Third World is of itself revolutionary even when it is under the banner of a king, a shah, or the emirates, or the Syrian Army. Thereby they canonize nationalism, even when it is void of working-class character, as national liberation.

“It is not that class is the sole characteristic of national liberation movements that revolutionaries can support. It is that the working-class nature is its essence and it is that the revolutionary and international impact emerges from masses in motion…

“This does not mean that we give up the struggle for self-determination, Palestinian especially. It is that we do not narrow our vision of the revolutionary struggle for a totally different world, on truly new Humanist foundations, the first necessity of which is the unity of philosophy and revolution.”…

IV. The Creative Nature of Marx’s Mind and the Tasks of Marxist-Humanists Today

1. The Methodology of the Perspectives

Now then, what has philosophy, concretely, to do with the economic recession, the myriad political crises (of which we could take up only a few) and our tasks today? You, no doubt, noted that, instead of starting with the myriad objective crises, including wars, as we usually do, the Introduction barely touched them, using the references only as point of departure for posing the philosophic need for articulating not alone what one is against but what one is for….

Again, Section I, on [Israel’s 1982 war on Lebanon] and the opposition against all halfway houses, did not satisfy us just with descriptions and analyses of “what is,” but proceeded to the concretization of philosophy, its politicalization, which revealed the transformation into opposite, not in the usual way we project that as the transformation of the first workers’ state, Russia, into a state-capitalist society, but this time as it was manifested in the difference between Palestine/Israel 1947-48 and Israel, 1982-83. At the same time, we warned the capitalist-imperialist ideologues not to forget the presence of a Third World….

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Sections II and III, of course, did analyse the deep global economic recession anchored in Ronald Reagan’s retrogressionist recession, including religion, as well as its imperialist outreach—and did it so dialectically that you never saw it separate from the revolutionary opposition against it, whether that be Namibia today or in 1904. This Rosa Luxemburg had sensed that early, both as Black dimension and as that new degenerate stage of capitalism—imperialism—which not only Blacks fought against, but so should Marxists….We here got a whiff of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution—and, at the same time, rejected Luxemburg’s position on Poland and gained from Marx’s position when revolutionary nationalism is internationalism. We could also trace the movement from practice in Bolivia, 1952/1982. Again, the objective situation made us also remember the “subjective” Marxism and Freedom, which first projected that original, dramatic, new category—movement from practice to theory—when we broke through on the seemingly stratospheric Absolute Idea, integrating it with the actual movement from the 1950s as those three new pages of freedom opened in the U.S., East Europe/Vorkuta, and Montgomery, Alabama.

Altogether too many crises and wars abound and there is no way to know which one will be the next to erupt, which will have repercussions to which we will have to turn at once. But if we do practice our dialectics, we should not have to ask: 1) how does the hieroglyphic “three books, not one” illuminate these crises?5Dunayevskaya was arguing that her then new book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution should be considered in the context of her two earlier books, Marxism and Freedom and Philosophy and Revolution. 2) how does the challenge to post-Marx Marxists affect our facing the objective situation now? In a word, Marx’s philosophy is no abstraction and because that philosophy is concrete, it expresses the methodology needed for both analyzing serious crises and acting to uproot the system that created them.

First and foremost, we should keep in mind that every production crisis (as our age with its movement from practice has proved) produces also the crisis in theory—whether it is automation, which made workers ask the questions: What kind of labor should men and women do? Why should there be this gap between mental and manual labor?—or whether it is the peasantry, and not only the Bolivians just referred to, but in India. Even the World Bank (no radical it), in its World Economic Report this year, while admitting that “800 million live in absolute poverty,” also had to say: “Far from being tradition-bound, the peasant farmers have shown that they share a rationality that far outweighs the differences in their social and ecological conditions.” That is a great deal more to the point than Trotsky’s great theory in nothing less important than the Manifesto for the Fourth International, where he speaks only of the backwardness of the peasantry, and Mao is not mentioned once.

At the same time, the non-Hegelian, non-Marxist concept of contradiction that Mao expounded with his “Bloc of Four Classes” has only proved that that type of alternative halfway house, even when it reaches its height in the Cultural Revolution, leads to still one more halfway house. More precisely put, it misleads. That is to say, instead of making a philosophy of revolution the alternative to the party-to-lead, Mao simply asked for “new” leaders like himself. As we showed in Nationalism, Communism, Marxist-Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions, that type of non-alternative, that type of voluntarism, adventurism and administrative mentality has offered itself as leader of the Third World—and left it in a halfway house.

Which is why Philosophy and Revolution exposed and abandoned so-called revolutionary Alternative Marxisms, whether Trotskyist or Maoist, both politically and philosophically by diving deep into Hegelian dialectics “in and for itself.” Even Lenin, who did return to Marx’s origins in Hegel and thus created ground for us, had not carried through, in his reorganization, to the party-to-lead which our age demanded be ended, and to Women’s Liberation. What was needed was to recognize that Marx alone could transcend the Hegelian dialectic because he had not satisfied himself when he “translated” the Hegelian contradiction as class struggle, but had dived further into it after his 1844 discovery of a new continent of thought and of revolution—not only in the Grundrisse but in Capital.

In a word, Marx never departed from the Hegelian negativity as “the creative principle.” That’s how, after the defeat of revolutions as in victory, Marx called for “revolution in permanence.” This is what Marx developed both in theory and in practice, in organization and in a philosophy—a global philosophy. He went so far with his new moments in the last years of his life that he concluded that what we would now call the Third World need not follow the West’s “Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation.”


What are Marxist-Humanism and Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence, and why are they urgent for today?

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References   [ + ]

1. For more on the Palestine Liberation Organization, see Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East.
2. Residents of the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, N.Y., learned in the late 1970s that their families had been sickened by chemicals leaking from landfill their homes had been built on. Their organizing, led by Lois Gibbs and other residents, became emblematic of struggles against toxic waste.
3. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, and its Lebanese allies carried out massacres at two Palestinian refugee camps. See “Need for a Total Uprooting: Down with the Perpetrators of the Palestinian Slaughter,” chapter 16 of Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East.
4. The letter is chapter 7 in Crossroads of History: Marxist-Humanist Writings on the Middle East.
5. Dunayevskaya was arguing that her then new book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution should be considered in the context of her two earlier books, Marxism and Freedom and Philosophy and Revolution.

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