IV. Marx, Lenin, Marxist-Humanism, and the Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence

May 14, 2018

Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2018-2019:
Fighting Trump and his fascist allies in practice and theory

I.     Donald Trump’s war show
II.   Spreading revolt opens new doors
III. The reality and the myth of contemporary capitalism
IV.  Marx, Lenin, Marxist-Humanism and the philosophy of revolution in permanence
V.    Organizational tasks

…Continued from III. The reality and the myth of contemporary capitalism

IV. Marx, Lenin, Marxist-Humanism, and the philosophy of revolution in permanence

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 was another occasion when the Marxist Left disintegrated, with many socialist parties—including the biggest and most prestigious, the German Social Democratic Party—openly supporting their rulers in the imperialist war. True revolutionaries broke politically with the pro-war factions and tried to forge an anti-war, anti-imperialist Left. But only Lenin made a philosophical break, recognizing that he had accepted the German party and Karl Kautsky as the leader. He felt compelled to dive into Hegel’s dialectic, to rethink the philosophical roots of Marxism. It led to a break in his conception of the relationship between materialism and idealism. In Hegel’s concept of world-transforming subjectivity, Lenin saw a deeper basis for his own concept of masses as reason.

It led to Lenin’s analysis of imperialism as a transformation into opposite from competitive capitalism to monopoly, and of a stratum of the proletariat into an aristocracy of labor. It led to his concept of the toiling masses “to a man, woman and child” taking charge of production and the state if revolution was to mean liberation.


Thereby Lenin provided ground not only for total opposition to the betrayers and opportunists but for the revolution to come. It was that break with his own philosophical past that enabled him to intervene in the Russian Revolution of 1917 so that the second, October Revolution came to be, with the soviets moving from dual power to the sole power.

That point is central to the new Marxist-Humanist book of selected writings by Raya Dunayevskaya, Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution.

Who today will return to the Russian Revolution and counter-revolution and recognize this lesson? It is our responsibility to project that concretely with regard to the present split within the Left, and thereby to realize philosophy as a polarizing force that gives action its direction.

That is something we need to project, because other tendencies either dismiss the importance of Lenin’s philosophical reorganization or skip over it altogether. The Great Divide in Marxism that Lenin established becomes erased. What that means effectively is an attack on the indispensability of philosophy for revolution, since the success of the October Revolution is attributed to the leadership of a vanguard party, or Lenin’s “uncanny intuition.” Or the success is denied altogether and counted only as the advent of state-capitalism, throwing out any idea of transformation into opposite, of counter-revolution emerging from within the revolution—even though that contradiction has beset not only the Russian Revolution but every other one since—and thus throwing out the indispensable weapon, the dialectic.

Consider Chapter 17 of Russia: From Proletarian Revolution to State-Capitalist Counter-Revolution on “Battle of Ideas.” The key element of the critiques there is attitudes to Lenin’s Philosophic Notebooks on Hegel’s Science of Logic.

♦ Herbert Marcuse’s Soviet Marxism “has much to say on Lenin’s ‘Materialism and Empirio-Criticism’…without once mentioning Lenin’s break with his own philosophic past emanating from his later, profound ‘Philosophic Notebooks.’”
  In criticizing intellectuals such as Gustav A. Wetter, George Lichtheim and Eugene Kamenka, Dunayevskaya highlights “the built-in deafness to Lenin’s break with his own philosophic past which has led to the Western intellectual’s inability to cope with the deliberate emasculation of Lenin’s philosophic legacy by the Communist theoreticians….It is impossible to meet the challenge to thought, to Western thought, unless one fully appreciates the significance of Lenin’s 1914-15 break with his own philosophic past.”
♦  Lukacs’s supercilious dismissal of the Notebooks is linked to his retreat from dialectics of revolution to ontology.
  And “So weighted down is Tony Cliff with the concept of the vanguard party to lead and the ‘caliber of leadership,’ that he does not deign so much as to mention the philosophic break Lenin experienced….”

These are the same basic attitudes that persist today as intellectuals seek leadership in organization or recognition in academia, but evade responsibility for developing philosophy as ground for organization and for revolution in permanence.

This is not a just a question of understanding the history of 1917. It is a question of making a new beginning for our age—a new philosophical beginning to set the ground for a new beginning in reality, in revolution, in the achievement of a new human society. Thus Dunayevskaya wrote after publishing Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution that “the Great Divide in Marxism that Lenin represents in history became a point for further theoretic departure. Note that I say this not in the sense of a single issue as I did when I considered how wrong is Lenin’s concept of the vanguard party for our age. This time the point of reference is to philosophy itself, which Lenin did finally see as ‘dialectic proper’ but nevertheless stopped his Abstract of Hegel’s Science of Logic half a paragraph short of the end of the Absolute Idea.”[1]

Without grasping Lenin’s philosophic break and how it led to a Great Divide in Marxism, one cannot fully grasp the other concepts needed to comprehend the Russian Revolution and counter-revolution, from the problem of what happens after the conquest of power to Lenin’s philosophic ambivalence and stopping at the threshold of the Absolute in Hegel, and from the theory of state-capitalism to its development into the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism.

That collection was, of course, never meant to replace, or be separated from, the trilogy of revolution—Marxism and Freedom, Philosophy and Revolution, and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.

Soon, Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day: Selected Writings by Raya Dunayevskaya will be off the press as well. Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence was something Lenin did not fully grasp in terms of philosophy but did to an extent recognize as politically crucial.


Karl Marx in the 1840s

From when he first broke with bourgeois society in 1843, Marx counterposed revolution in permanence to political revolution that does not continue to deepen but ends in counter-revolution. Permanent revolution represents a second negation, negating political revolution as the first negation of oppression, in order to achieve full human emancipation.[2] That Marx developed this into a whole philosophy is elaborated in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, and shown in a new way in Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day.

That new book projects that permanent revolution is not just a strategy of moving immediately to the second stage of revolution but rather a whole philosophy. It projects the need for freedom struggles to continue until human relations are fundamentally transformed, encompassing many facets of human relations, not limited to relations in production.

None of Marx’s works, from his writing on civil rights of Jews to the new moments of his last decade on the non-capitalist world, women’s liberation, and organization, can be fully grasped except as concretizations of that philosophy.


Dunayevskaya singled out Marx’s 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts as his philosophic moment,[3] where he called for a new humanism. This was the birth of permanent revolution as a philosophy, though without using the term. His triple break with classical political economy, with vulgar communism, and with the dehumanization of the dialectic by Hegel shifts the focus from things to the human being, the worker, as revolutionary subject and the heart of the contradiction of capitalism.

In response to rising proletarian revolt, Marx’s critique and recreation of the Hegelian dialectic developed its “negation of the negation” as a humanism. Second negation is worked out as the need to go beyond communism, to keep from stopping at first negation—the overthrow of the exploitative society—and to go on to transcend alienation through the appropriation of the wealth of human capacities and needs, or “the actual appropriation of his objective essence through the destruction of the alienated determination of the objective world” so that there arises “positive Humanism, beginning from itself.”

Marx held absolute negativity to be Hegel’s “moving and creating principle,” which the old materialism failed to match. By concretizing that dialectic of negativity as alienation and its transcendence through class struggles and the relationship between the sexes, Marx in 1844 created a philosophy of revolution in permanence.

Dunayevskaya saw women’s liberation as a dimension of Marx’s concept of permanent revolution as early as his 1844 Manuscripts. There he brought up the Man/Woman relationship as measure of both existing society and the defectiveness of what he called vulgar communism. She made explicit that it was a measure also of how deep and total the social uprooting needs to be.

After the 1848 revolutions, Marx and Frederick Engels further worked it out as theoretical preparation for the next revolution in their March 1850 Address to the Communist League. There they pointed to the need for a proletarian movement independent of other classes, for world revolution, and for unleashing new revolutionary forces, beginning with the rural proletariat. That soon expanded to the peasantry, the Black liberation struggle in the U.S. Civil War and women in the Paris Commune. When Marx restructured his magnum opus, Capital, in response to the movement for the eight-hour day that followed the Civil War, he broke with the concept of theory as a debate with theoreticians, practicing theory instead as a history of class struggles and production relations. In so doing he singled out the underlying philosophy created by the workers.[4]


The Subject in Capital is not capital itself but the human being confronting capital, whose dialectic fuses economic theory with the need for not simply political emancipation or narrowly economic change but universal human emancipation. This is seen not only in the projection of a future of freely associated labor, but in the very analysis of the duality of labor under capitalism as abstract labor vs. concrete labor, and the dialectical inversion in which object, dead labor, dominates the subject, living labor. It culminates in “negation of the negation,” that is, proletarian revolution.[5]

It was in the last decade of Marx’s life that he most fully developed the multilinear nature of his concept of permanent revolution. Analyzing the revolutionary potential of Russia’s peasant communes, Marx saw that another path to revolution may be possible for noncapitalist societies. His search for new paths to revolution, including in technologically “underdeveloped” societies, turned to anthropological and historical studies of noncapitalist lands and precapitalist times.

To Dunayevskaya, Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks disclosed “new moments” on topics ranging from the Man/Woman relationship to societies where other modes of production prevailed, and from ancient communal social forms to revolutionary organization.[6] The discoveries of his last decade, she wrote, extended his concept of permanent revolution because they made clear how deep must be the uprooting of class society and how broad the view of the forces of revolution.

A related aspect of permanent revolution is seen in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program. In attacking the Gotha Program’s inadequate, incoherent projection of “a fair distribution of the proceeds of labor,” Marx shows that any initial stage of postrevolutionary society is incomplete, as it still bears the birthmarks of capitalism. What is needed is to project the vision of new human relations, with no division between mental and manual labor and no subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and with labor itself becoming not only means to life but the kind of self-activity that is life’s prime need.[7]

The movement of second negation is spelled out not only as moving from the first phase of revolution to the next, not only to a second revolution, but moving from the first postrevolutionary order to a new one that develops on its own basis, a positive humanism beginning from itself, as he had put it in 1844. This implies a view of organization that projects such a vision not only as a distant goal but as a moving force even before the revolution.

Dunayevskaya’s analysis of Marx’s last decade led her to view his body of ideas as a philosophy of revolution in permanence, as against what she called post-Marx Marxism as a truncated Marxism that failed to draw on the totality of Marx’s philosophy.[8] Marx’s last decade has recently received some attention, but usually as merely a development of political positions, separated from the concept of revolution in permanence. That is just another way to truncate his body of ideas, cutting off its philosophical integrity.

In contrast, Marxist-Humanism spells out a philosophy to address the problem of unfinished revolutions—a problem still haunting us—including transformation into opposite as happened to the Russian Revolution, as well as revolutions that abort, as with the Arab Spring. It shows the need for revolutionary organization to be grounded in revolution in permanence as philosophy, not only as strategy and politics.

Continued in V.    Organizational tasks

[1] From “Marxist-Humanism, 1983: The Summation That Is a New Beginning, Subjectively and Objectively,” which is excerpted on page 4.

[2]See “Philosopher of Permanent Revolution and Organization Man,” chapter 31 of Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day.

[3] Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day contains as appendix Dunayevskaya’s translation of “Private Property and Communism” and “Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic,” the first published English translations from Marx’s 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts, or Humanist Essays.

[4] See “The Todayness of Marx’s Humanism,” chapter 3 of Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day.

[5] See “The Todayness of Marx’s Humanism.”

[6] See “Marx’s and Engels’ Studies Contrasted: Relationship of Philosophy and Revolution to Women’s Liberation,” chapter 28 of Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day.

[7] See “Philosopher of Permanent Revolution and Organization Man.”

[8] See “Post-Marx Marxism as a Category,” chapter 11 of Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day.

Contents of the book


Part 1. Philosophic Preparation for Revolution: The Significance of Lenin’s Hegel Notebooks

Part 2. On the Meaning of Lenin’s “Great Divide in Marxism”; Contrast with Trotsky, Bukharin, Luxemburg

Part 3. What Happens After?—Lenin 1917–1923

Part 4. Russia’s Transformation into Opposite: The Theory of State-Capitalism

Part 5. From State-Capitalist Theory to Marxist-Humanism, 1950s–1980s

Continued in V.    Organizational tasks

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