Letter from Mexico: On ‘Life’ and feminism

May 18, 2016

WL_fist_transparentFrom the May-June 2016 issue of News & Letters

by J.G.F. Hector

I loved “Revolutionary Feminism and Hegel’s Notion of Life,” by Olga Domanski (March-April N&L)! Today, many have fallen into what Domanski—following Raya Dunayevskaya—calls private enclave, which is the “attempt to escape from ‘Absolute Method,’” by taking “shortcuts” to revolution or by remaining in “fixed particulars” such as “lesbian separatism” or “women-only spaces,” criticized here by Domanski.

Yes, the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) is autonomous. Men can’t tell women what to do. Women are at the front of the struggle for their liberation. This doesn’t mean, however, that feminism can escape from “Absolute Method,” for it is the only methodology to help us reach a new society without falling short or getting stuck in incomplete revolutions.


It is Dunayevskaya who left us a methodology for revolution based on the Marxian-Hegelian dialectic. It is also a woman, Olga Domanski, who points to the need of going back to the Absolutes in order to push forward the WLM. She puts it in this awesome manner:

“If we do not take responsibility for continuing that revolutionary dialectic for today, if we think ‘philosophy’ is not our job but for someone else, if we don’t see there is no ‘organizational answer’ for Women’s Liberation or any other question that doesn’t begin with a profound organization—or a re-organization—of our thought, we will not yet have escaped the ‘private enclave’ that prevents us from finding the way out of the deadly retrogression that threatens to destroy us today.”

Domanski concretizes this need to not “escape from the Absolute Method” by recreating dialectics—more precisely, the section on “Life” from Hegel’s Science of Logic—in the history of the WLM just as Marx recreated the Hegelian dialectic to comprehend capitalist society and its uprooting by the workers.

Domanski follows the three basic categories from Hegel to understand the dialectical movement: Individual, Particular, Universal, reflected in the three moments of the section on “Life”: 1) The Living Individual; 2) The Life Process; and 3) Kind. These three moments are not separated from one another (like different species of a same “genus”), but connected through mediation, negation and negation of that negation.

Domanski finds these same three moments in the history of the WLM itself: 1) When women were drawn into the factories “to support the war effort” during World War II; 2) When they refused to be pushed back out again when the war was over; and 3) The point at which women refused to any longer consider the contradictions of life in a male-dominated society as only a private matter. In other words, when Women’s Liberation moved from an Idea whose time had come to a Movement and tens of thousands of women marched down Fifth Avenue in New York in 1970 to announce the birth of a new WLM for our age.

In the first stage, the “Living Individual” (historically speaking, women on the eve of WWII) gains consciousness of herself as an individual, but this is just an abstract consciousness, for it has as its opposite an external being: the “outside” world. However, this opposite is not just external but constitutes the essence of the subjective individual. It is its negation, and therefore, the mediation (Particular) is that through which the individual can return to itself. The struggle, or unsolved contradiction between this new consciousness of one’s individuality and the objective (oppressive) world, constitutes the second stage in Hegel’s chapter about Life: “The Life Process” (historically, the contradiction between the new consciousness gained by women during WWII and the objective opposition against them).

Finally, it is through this struggle with objectivity that the subject finds its essence, and “conciliates” with it, reaching a new phase of development: “Kind.” Historically speaking, this would be when women refused to go back to being housewives: “The personal was political.” There wasn’t any more separation between private and public, subjectivity and objectivity, but the consciousness of both being one and the same essence.


However, this consciousness is not enough. Absolute Method doesn’t stop when one seems to have reached a new point. Rather, it has contradiction as its own essence and, therefore, also the most intimate impulse to keep on developing.

“Kind,” the last part of the “Life” section, is still not the Absolute Idea—not even the Idea of Cognition, a step previous to the Absolute Idea in Hegel’s Logic. Domanski is demanding that the WLM—and, indeed, every liberation movement—not abandon Absolute Method, thinking that one has reached its climax, but to develop it to its fullest expression. That’s why feminism, Indigenous movements, workers’ movements, etc., need the Absolute Method as the way to create a totally new society, based on human foundations.

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