Iran–philosophy and organization

July 20, 2011

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya
Editor’s note: The letter excerpted here was a reply to a discussion article on “Iran–philosophy and form of organization” by an Iranian revolutionary activist and thinker, published in the December 1979 N&L. Written during the time of the Iranian revolution, it speaks profoundly to the Arab Spring today. The letter’s full text is in the Supplement to the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #15209-10.

* * *

November 3, 1979

Dear Raha,

It’s great to welcome back an Iranian revolutionary who, as quite an original thinker, does not separate theory from organization. Quite the contrary. The result is that even when some of the ideas on form of organization are what I consider quite wrong, the profundity of the theoretical ground and the concentration on form of organization make even what is “wrong” quite evocative.

Let me concretize these generalizations. You are the first who saw anything about form of organization in Marx’s early writings. The opposite is true; the early writings are always quoted as if Marx was both “pre-Marxist” and very nearly dumb on the question of “the Party,” so when you quote what Marx said on “communist artisans form associations” and that “their association itself creates a new need–the need for society–and what appeared to be means has become an end,”[1] it is clear that you have sensed something that does indeed reconnect with Marx on the question of freely-associated men and women, and that you have every right to conclude “that theoretical result is that we should seek a kind of organization which is, at one and the same time, in unity with philosophy of the revolution and with the aim of the proletariat as a class.”

Where I disagree is that you make too quick a leap to the present with the result that, much as you want to do the opposite, you are really once again separating philosophy and organization. For example, we, of course, are not only emphasizing “new forces” but Reason, and that is absolutely indispensable. So that you cannot possibly jump to the Fedayeen[2] where every word you say is correct (both against hierarchic form of organization and guerrilla warfare, that unholy combination of vanguardism and voluntarism), and yet it would appear at the end as if it were only because they were separated from the masses instead of it being both that and completely lacking in philosophy.

I think you ask the right question–“how a theory can be materialized”–but then make that materialization only that which relates to objective conditions, as if that meant economics, whereas in fact to Marxist-Humanism, objective conditions are both economics and the masses revolting against that economics. It’s very dangerous because that’s exactly what has been wrong with the whole Second International and with Trotskyism, that somehow in the process of the economic analysis, the proletariat itself became object.[3] To Marx, however, material did not mean just economics. It meant the whole form of life, so that the need naturally was first and foremost food and shelter, but also all that was needed, by no means limited to whether you had a spoon to eat with or you were eating with your fingers, but the need for what Marx called “quest for universality.”

I disagree that the proletariat were not the first in the Iranian revolution. Of course, the so-called first, whether it’s Father Gapon[4] leading masses with icons to the Tsar’s palace, or whether it’s poets in Iran revealing the horrors of the Shah’s prisons, or whether it’s the journalist-editor in Nicaragua who was murdered by Somoza[5], precedes the actual proletarian outburst. But it doesn’t become revolution until the proletariat, both in strikes and in demonstrations, that is to say, as masses in motion, appear. When Marx, as you quote, writes that both as a “moment of enthusiasm” and when the proletariat arouses the kind of interest that is an actual universal, that it’s possible for “a particular class to claim general supremacy.”[6]

Of course you’re right, when you laugh at Khomeini for thinking that his rulership is “a gift from God,” and that you show that it has “its base in the profane world,” but it isn’t true that somehow the fact that the merchants were together with the proletariat in these mass demonstrations made it possible for Khomeini to usurp the power that belongs to the proletariat.

I believe that the really important thing is when you say, “What appears to be an end is rather a new beginning.” It isn’t true, however, that that new beginning can be only workers’ councils, even when you correctly add to them the new forces like women’s liberation, because one of the real deviations in Lukacs was his concentration on totality, but not totality as a new beginning, and that totality also meant more of a summation rather than that Absolute Idea which is both theory and practice, and that as new beginning. I’m sure the Trotskyists would be for workers’ control of production, and I’m sure that they would consider the councils “a socialist institution”–and by no means do I wish to play them down, because that definitely is the height of workers’ control of production being in their own hands rather than being in a trade union or in a state.

But again, unless they, too, do not separate themselves from philosophy; unless they, too, feel as strongly the need for work on intellectual, as the intellectual feels the strong need for the workers, and unless that “intellectual sediment” (to use a Luxemburgian phrase)[7] has philosophy and organization and revolution and Reason as well as new force, we will once again lose. And, I should add that when Marx writes “revolution is necessary also because it revolutionized the class itself,”[8] that’s exactly what he meant, the proletariat as Reason as well as force, as objective as well as subjective, as new man/woman.

Now, don’t think that my critique means I want you to rewrite this. Quite the contrary. I think that precisely because it is from a youth and is from a vantage point not just of Iran and precisely because the universality of this question we are grappling with–form of organization–is characteristic by no accident of both USA and Iran, that it is extremely important that we see not just “results” but the process. Indeed, I believe that we should have very nearly a whole year of discussion on this question before we even attempt to draw conclusions….

Yours, Raya



1. Quoted from “Needs, Production, and Division of Labor,” from Karl Marx’s 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts.

2. The Fedayeen were a Maoist guerrilla group in Iran.

3. See “The Second International, 1889 to 1914” in Dunayevskaya’s book Marxism and Freedom.

4. Father Gapon, a Russian Orthodox priest, led a procession of workers to present a petition to the Tsar. The army’s massacre of 1,000 helped spark the 1905 Russian Revolution.

5. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, editor of the Nicaraguan opposition newspaper La Prensa, was murdered under Anastasio Somoza’s dictatorship.

6. Quoted from Marx’s “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction.”

7. See Dunayevskaya’s book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, p. 19.

8. In The German Ideology Marx and Engels wrote, “this revolution is necessary…also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”

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