On THE Philosophic Point and Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy

March 14, 2014

From the March-April 2014 issue of News & Letters:

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya:

On The Philosophic Point and Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy


Editor’s note: This document is one of the historic-philosophic writings included in The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-HumanismOn this, the 25th anniversary of its publication, we consider that a new exploration of its contents is timely for our world struggling for the survival, deepening and spread of today’s revolutions, beset as they are by both counter-revolution and self-limiting ideologies. This makes the essay central to our process of working out perspectives in the discussion culminating in our national Convention. While in the process of writing a book, Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy: “The Party” and Forms of Organization Born Out of Spontaneity, Dunayevskaya wrote this piece as a presentation for a June 1, 1987, meeting of the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees, in preparation for that year’s national gathering. Her untimely death prevented both the completion of the book and the delivery of the presentation. The original, which indicates that she planned further revisions, can be found in theSupplement to the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #10737.

The chaotic and informal form of presentation tonight is not due to lack of deliberation and working out, much in advance of the time necessary to draw a balance sheet for the Plenum. Rather, it is because so many different and yet interrelated topics are reaching for solution, that I felt it very necessary to consult with you in this seemingly “off the top of my head” talk.


To understand today we must begin at the beginning, that is to say, as always, with Marx. Specifically the two periods are: the first and the last, the first being the philosophic moment, 1844 [Marx’s Humanist Essays or Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts]. That laid the ground for all future development. The last being the long hard trek and process of developments–all the revolutions, as well as philosophic-political-economic concretizations, culminating in Capital. Yet the full organizational expression of all came only then, i.e., the last decade, especially the 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. Why only then?

Take first another look at 1844–the philosophic moment for all of Marx’s Marxism, including organization. Throughout Marx’s life he reached to concretize it. But none of the concretizations, whether 1848 with the Communist League, or 1864 with the First International, or even 1871 with the Paris Commune, fully reached to the level of the philosophic moment of 1844. Only with the Critique of the Gotha Program in 1875 did Marx fully return to that moment as it was concretized for organization, and even then, he did not call it philosophy, but “principle.”

The specific point that I’m singling out from the 1844 founding of a new continent of thought and of revolution is when Marx articulates the great merit of Hegel in discovering the “negation of the negation,” and the great demerit of this same Hegel in enveloping it in such mysticism by dealing with it as various stages of consciousness, rather than as men and women thinking. Marx, on the other hand, declares himself not only against capitalism and “vulgar communism,” but proclaims his philosophy to be “a new Humanism.”

To this day 1844 was the philosophic moment of Marx’s discovery of that whole new continent of thought and of revolution that “Marxism” certainly lacked, and instead singled outone of the developments–economics–so that we didn’t know “new humanism” until the Depression. But in fact, it is that which was the ground for organization throughout his life, from the moment he did “experience” the philosophic moment, even if it was only correspondence (letters) soon to become international correspondence.

Seriously, however, as organization, and that organization–the Communist League–accepted the challenge to the existing capitalist world, and that not separated from all political tendencies and parties. I’m referring, of course, to the Communist Manifesto, whose second part is a critique of utopian socialism, etc. What we want to do here is to compare the 1848 Communist Manifesto to the [First International, founded in 1864] hailing the 1871 Paris Commune as the form, the working existence, the communal non-state as needing only release of all the mental, manual and emotional potentiality.

Why then is the actual concretization of a new unity, as in the Gotha Program, so sharply critiqued? That becomes the whole rub and the urgent problematic of our day which must be worked out.

First, enter history. In 1847 critique meant the ruthless critique of all that exists that he spoke of in his philosophic break with the bourgeoisie and Hegel, concretized on the level of the existing “parties” in that period. (As we were to see in 1860 in his letter to Freiligrath, when Freiligrath, in refusing to get involved in the Vogt Affair, said he didn’t belong to the party any longer. Marx’s reply was: Neither am I, to any existing party. I didn’t mean it in the ephemeral sense, I meant it in the historic. Clearly, Marx meant that no one could rewrite the history, and both the revolution of 1848 and the Manifesto that anticipated it and followed it, are historic.)1In a letter to Ferdinand Freiligrath of Feb. 29, 1860, Marx wrote, “by party, I meant party in the eminent historical sense.”

It is that historic period that changed when international workers got together to take a position on what was happening on a different continent. That too had a “manifesto,” perhaps not as bold as the Communist Manifesto, thought Marx, which was actually the preamble to the Constitution and By-laws to the First International.

AT THE SAME TIME, Marx didn’t hesitate a second once the Paris Commune burst out, and some trade unionists didn’t share the enthusiasm, to write them out of the First International. He not only declared the need to go lower and deeper, but insisted that they didn’t represent the majority of the masses; the Paris Communards did, and it is that Idea that defines history now as both ongoing and the future.


So, what happened in 1875? Look at how the self-development of the Idea that we now call Marxism has concretized itself when its greatest theoretical work, Capital, in its French edition, is finished, and that has philosophy spelled out in the most concrete terms from fetishism of commodities to the new passions and new forces that go against the accumulation of capital. And he has the experience now of both political parties and forms of organization emerging spontaneously from the masses, plus philosophy.

Critique of the Gotha Program: There is no way now, no matter how Marx kept from trying to give any blueprints for the future, not to develop a general view of where we’re headed for the day after the conquest of power, the day after we have rid ourselves of the birthmarks of capitalism when a new generation can finally see all its potentiality put an end once and for all to the division between mental and manual labor.2Marx wrote in Critique of the Gotha Program: “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of individuals under division of labor, and therewith also the … Continue reading

Let me now state something general from Hegel on the question of “The Philosophic Point” which would also apply to us.3Dunayevskaya wrote this sentence on the outline of her talk for inclusion at this point in her presentation.

In Hegelian dialectics, the philosophic moment is a determinant; even if the person who was driven to articulate the Idea of that “moment” was very nearly unconscious as to its depth and its ramifications, it remained the element that governed the concretization that follows the laborious birth that poured forth in a torrent nevertheless.

Specifically and concretely, in our case the moment I’m referring to is May 12 and 20, 1953.4Dunayevskaya’s May 12 and 20, 1953, letters on Hegel’s Absolutes are included in The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism. The Idea is in demystifying the Absolute as either God or the closed ontology, as the unity I singled out, a dual movement, from theory to practice, from practice as well as from theory.

We were so overwhelmed with the movement from practice that we were hardly as enthusiastic or as concrete about the movement from theory, if not actually forgetting it. I therefore wish to go into great detail about those two letters in 1953, not as the small coin of concrete questions, but as the many Universals inherent in it, so that we can see what is still new in it that we must develop for the book [Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy].

Everyone has heard so much about 1953 as the stage of breakthrough on the Absolute Idea that you may think: what else is there to be said? The whole point, however, about the philosophic point that became a philosophic determinant, and not just the ground, but became so startlingly new and clear with Marx that looking at it for this age, specifically [in relation to] ourselves, it began to appear in an altogether new way. Here is what I mean:

Heretofore what we stressed when we pointed to 1953 as source was the important point of 1955, when there was an actual organizational break-up.5Dunayevskaya was co-leader, along with C.L.R. James and Grace Lee Boggs, of the Correspondence Committees, which lasted from 1951 to 1955. Prior to 1951 they existed as the Johnson-Forest Tendency … Continue reading Then what became clearer was that actually, insofar as the words “Marxist-Humanism” are concerned, we couldn’t say 1955, but as it was expressed in written form in Marxism and Freedom in 1957. Now what is clear is not that any of the other dates are wrong, but that each time it is a specific period that makes one realize that actually what wasn’t clear was what was in the philosophic moment, and only when the objective and subjective merge is it “proven.” Oh, the source, the ground, really also had a roof. But the context in between, the structure, couldn’t be controlled without the objective situation. But that, on the other hand, made it very clear that we are back to focusing on the philosophic moment.


Why did we think once we took the big step of separating, indeed breaking, with the elitist party, that it is sufficient to do so politically without doing so philosophically?

Wasn’t it because we actually had not penetrated the dialectic of organization in its relationship to dialectics of philosophy, though we certainly never stopped using the word “dialectics”? In a word, even when we used “Absolute” in relationship to method and definitely stressed that we do not mean just a tool or application, we did think that it was not just the threshold of the Absolute Idea, but the Absolute Idea as its ultimate, as if Absolute Mind was no more than what Absolute Idea was in the Logic and Hegel didn’t need to tell us that we better not stop there and instead go to Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Mind.

No wonder that when C.L.R. James said that he looked into Philosophy of Mind, he concluded that he found nothing there “for us.”6See the letter of C.L.R. James to Grace Lee Boggs of May 20, 1949, in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #1612. I must have felt dissatisfied, since that is where I went, and precisely, I might say, on the question of what we called “dialectics of the party,” specifying however, that I wasn’t interested either in the mass party, which the masses will build, or in the elitist party, which we definitely oppose, but in what happens to a small group “like us” who know that nothing can be done without the masses, and are with them, but they [small groups] are theoreticians and they always seem to be around too. So, what is the objectivity which explains their presence, as the objectivity explains the spontaneous outburst of the masses? In a word, I was looking for the objectivity of subjectivity.

The one thing I did not mention in discussing 1953 is that the letter of May 20, where I suddenly speak on the Philosophy of Mind, came after James had said in his Notes on Dialectics–or the letter accompanying his Notes–that he had looked into Philosophy of Mind, and found nothing there “for us” (naturally that means Johnson-Forest Tendency). So why did I go to the Philosophy of Mind after connecting the end of the last few pages of Science of Logic with Philosophy of Mind? What is further to be noted is that [Dunayevskaya’s May 12, 1953, letter concluded that], just as Lenin had noted that Chapter One [of Marx’s Capital] bore resemblance to Hegel’s syllogistic Universal-Particular-Individual–and we [the Johnson-Forest Tendency] noted that Chapter One includes [the section on] fetishism [of the commodity]–so the accumulation of capital, its General Absolute Law, was based on the Absolute Idea, holding that just as that meant the dialectic of bourgeois society, its end by the revolt of the workers, so Marx “also set the limits to the dialectic of the party, which is part of bourgeois society and will wither away with the passing of the bourgeoisie….” Therefore, what we were working on was not just a book, but a philosophy, a whole new philosophy of dialectics for our age of post-World War II, and that, of course, meant cracking the Absolute. That is where we all stopped. C.L.R. James promised he would do it, but he didn’t. Instead, he said he had looked into the Philosophy of Mind and found nothing in there for us.

So, whatever it was that was driving me in 1953 to write those letters of May 12 and May 20, it suddenly became the whole of Hegel’s work, beginning, as always, with what Marx said was most important in Phenomenology of Mind, going through the Science of Logic with Lenin, but refusing to follow either Lenin [on its] last paragraph, or James on the fact that he found nothing in Philosophy of Mind. I delved not only into that work, but into [its] last final syllogisms that nobody, including bourgeois academia, had seriouslytackled [until] the next decade. I was not debating them or what they did or did not do; in this case, my “ignorance” saved me from having to argue with them or anybody, but, again it was Marx who, though he broke off his manuscript [of his 1844 “Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic”] before the final section of Philosophy of Mind, his very sharp digging intoCapital, especially the general law of capitalist accumulation and the new passions and new forces, led me to conclude suddenly that the dialectic of the Party as well as of the contradictions in the Absolute Idea itself, resulted in my seeing what I called “the new society,” i.e., the end of the division between mental and manual.

Thus, that philosophic moment was the core for those heretofore formative years of News and Letters Committees which ended with the completion of Marxism and Freedom, where we saw that the little phrase “the movement from practice” set the whole structure of Marxism and Freedom. Not only that; it served both as ground and roof for the analysis of the contemporary world, both theoretically and practically, including the altogether new voices from both the proletariat and the new revolts in the Communist world, as well as the Black Revolution right here in the U.S. I’m sure I don’t have to repeat that to this day that first edition had one banner-raising event of world historic importance, by including the first translation both of Marx’s Humanist Essays and Lenin’s Philosophic Notebooks.7Here Dunayevskaya said from her hospital bed on June 5 that she wished to include parts of her “Theory/Practice” column written that day. She called special attention to the following six … Continue reading

I returned to the final Chapter 12 of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. Its penultimate paragraph read:

“It isn’t because we are any ‘smarter’ that we can see so much more than other post-Marx Marxists. Rather, it is because of the maturity of our age. It is true that other post-Marx Marxists have rested on a truncated Marxism; it is equally true that no other generation could have seen the problematic of our age, much less solve our problems. Only live human beings can recreate the revolutionary dialectic forever anew. And these live human beings must do so in theory as well as in practice. It is not a question only of meeting the challenge from practice, but of being able to meet the challenge from the self-development of the Idea, and of deepening theory to the point where it reaches Marx’s concept of the philosophy of ‘revolution in permanence.'”

It was at that point that I asked that the following paragraph be added:

“There is a further challenge to the form of organization which we have worked out as the committee-form rather than the ‘party-to-lead.’ But, though committee-form and ‘party-to-lead’ are opposites, they are not absolute opposites. At the point when the theoretic-form reaches philosophy, the challenge demands that we synthesize not only the new relations of theory to practice, and all the forces of revolution, but philosophy’s ‘suffering, patience and labor of the negative,’ i.e. experiencing absolute negativity. Then and only then will we succeed in a revolution that will achieve a classless, non-racist, non-sexist, truly human, truly new society. That which Hegel judged to be the synthesis of the ‘Self-Thinking Idea’ and the ‘Self-Bringing-Forth of Liberty,’ Marxist-Humanism holds, is what Marx had called the new society. The many paths to get there are not easy to work out….”

Now return to our own situation, and think of the attacks that we will be facing in 1987, when we state openly that even the one post-Marx Marxist revolutionary who did reach deeply into philosophy–Lenin–nevertheless did not do so on the question of organization. In truth, he never renounced his position on the vanguard party set out in 1902 in What Is to Be Done? though he often critiqued it himself. He profoundly extended his new breakthrough in philosophy to a concretization of the dialectics of revolution, and yet never changed his position on the need for the ‘thin layer of Bolsheviks’ as a vanguard party organization. In 1982 in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, we critiqued Lenin politically. To fully work out the dialectics of philosophy and organization for our age, it is now clear that that critique must dig deep philosophically.

The whole truth is that even Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, which remains the ground for organization today, was written 112 years ago. What is demanded is not mere “updating,” after all the aborted revolutions of the post-World War II world. “Ground” will not suffice alone; we have to finish the building–the roof and its contents. This is what I am working on now in the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy. I would appreciate hearing from our readers on their thoughts on this.

Now, then, it seems to me that in a certain sense we could call it a shock for me to have experienced this in this year, when a great deal of research was done by others…on the many ways that spontaneity appeared in the forms of councils, soviets, committees, communes, and so forth, not only to say the generalization: Yes, the party and the forms of organization born from spontaneity are opposites, but they are not absolute opposites. The change in the title to Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy8Dunayevskaya’s proposed title for her new book developed from “Dialectics of the Party” to “Dialectics of Organization” to “Dialectics of Organization and … Continue reading really means that the absolute opposite is philosophy, and that we have not yet worked out organizationally. Because9The ellipsis is in the original here and at the end of the next paragraph.

Take [Anton] Pannekoek. The Council Communists were certainly earlier on the scene and directly opposed Lenin in a friendly way, on the question of a single form of organization, insisting that when it comes to production, the people at the point of production must maintain their power after the revolution. But, did they ever give up their party? Didn’t they think, along with Rosa Luxemburg, that spontaneity is no substitute for the wholeness of internationalism and theory? On the contrary, they took that for granted. What not only was not taken for granted, but never even approached in any way whatever, unless one calls “approached” a total rejection, was philosophy. Except, except, except…

The except of course, refers to Lenin. But he too kept to the old and Plekhanov when it came to Russia.10Here Dunayevskaya crossed out a paragraph: “It took all the way to the aftermath of World War II before the question of philosophy was reached seriously enough to become conscious of the … Continue reading

One must not hem in a new duality into an old reality because of the similarities of abstract opposites colliding. It is the collision of concrete opposites that demands a new unity. Without that philosophic moment there is no way to hew out a new path. And for Lenin there was no philosophic moment insofar as organization was concerned.

In the case of organization, every Left was grabbing at some old contradictions, and with them, some old solutions. Which is why the most cogent moment for our problematic, and for showing up more than ambivalence in Lenin, was the fact that Pannekoek (and Gorter), with that creative, new concept of council communism, i.e., power in the hands of the workers at the point of production, came the old, vulgarized, abysmally narrow, materialistic philosophy of Lenin’s 1908 Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, as against Lenin’s great new philosophic breakthrough on the Larger Logic, and as if that self-movement of ideas and of people was a “betrayal” of the class struggle. And to this day, that is what Council Communists are swearing by (see Lenin as Philosopher).

Lenin, too, never raised philosophy directly in relationship to organization. It was at most a phrase, like the famous reference in the Trade Union Debate, where he brings in, in a general way only, dialectics and eclecticism (see page 65 of Volume IX of Lenin’s Selected Works, on “a glass cylinder”).11See Lenin’s 1920 speech “Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin.”

And the epigones have been busy trying to say that whereas it was correct for Lenin not to touch the question of the party when there was the great phenomenon of Soviets, “we” must no longer avoid the question of party. Whereupon, they end up just with two more reasons for being in favor of the vanguard party.


In a single word, we must go into these untrodden paths. We must not, I repeat must not, look for a crutch just because a new epigone is using the word “democracy” to mean more than one party, and a Mao is espousing at one and the same time, “bombard the headquarters” and “the Party remains the vanguard” (+ vs. bureaucratization…).

Since Marx himself laid the ground [in 1875]–and that, remember, is 112 years ago–the whole of post-Marx Marxism beginning with Engels has not built on that ground. And Engels, you must remember, did fight hard to have the Critique of the Gotha Program published, if in a “moderated” form, and yet assented to the establishment of the Second International. And the German Social Democracy had been forced to publish it, but only as a “contribution to the discussion,” not as ground for organization.

Lenin did return to Marx’s roots in Hegel, and did see that the Critique of the Gotha Program had never really been concretized as the smashing of the bourgeois state, without which you could not have a revolution. In a word, he certainly worked out the dialectics of revolution, and made it be in Russia. But, but, but–he too didn’t touch the question of the party. On the contrary, it didn’t even go as far as his own varied critiques of What Is to Be Done? once the Bolsheviks gained power.

With Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, especially chapter 11, we alone showed that Marx had created the philosophic ground for organization. But we need not only ground but a roof. And we have all these 112 years of void on organization and philosophy. There is no time in a nuclear age to put it off for another day.

1988 is the year of the book, and not as in 1980 just as challenge to post-Marx Marxists, but the actual presentation of the dialectics of philosophy and the book as one, and for that it needs a whole organization, and not just the author. The whole does not mean…

The real point is the meaning that this is not a question of the “author,” but the whole organization. I want to stress the word, “the whole,” not in the sense that each one is going to write a chapter, but rather that the context of each person’s activity and special point of concentration–be it labor, Women’s Liberation, youth, Black, etc.–will be inseparable from the meaning of that activity, and that meaning, whether of an objective event or the subjective activity, will be projected to those not-yet Marxist-Humanists, because in meaning, i.e., philosophy, is both ground and roof of all we do, survey, strive for, as we prepare for that “revolution in permanence.”

The philosophic nucleus, the attempt to become “practicing dialecticians,” did have a good beginning in the 1980s. But the test is very different now, not because that is not what we need. We certainly do. But because the type of need involves first the whole organization, which this year has been so preoccupied with making a success of the biweekly that the organizational growth from which it was supposed to be inseparable was very much separated. It suffered that because what got put very much on the back burner, and back to only me writing it, was philosophy.

I want to repeat, because philosophy had not permeated the paper, therefore, it didn’t permeate the organization.

Therefore, I would very strongly suggest that the Plenum consider that beginning in January 1988 we become a monthly twelve-page paper in a very new way, where the book–The Dialectics of Philosophy and Organization–becomes the dominant force not only in essay articles, but in every activity we undertake, especially in discussions with subscribers, with not-yet Marxist-Humanists, not just as the recording of the events and their experiences, but the meaning of those events and experiences and their direction in a global context. That is what we will have to project when we have conversations with subscribers. That is what has been missing–the whole new concept of “post-Marx Marxism as a pejorative”–it just lay there in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.

To assure that such essay-articles would be forthcoming, we ought to suggest or have people volunteer in September at the Plenum, on what they would do for the issues beginning in January 1988. I have had a chance to speak to some on this already. By raising it this early, it means I not only want to hear from you today, but we will continue the discussion at the next Resident Editorial Board meeting, when I will bring in a draft of the Plenum Call. And once the Call is out, then the full Plenum discussion is open to all.

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1 In a letter to Ferdinand Freiligrath of Feb. 29, 1860, Marx wrote, “by party, I meant party in the eminent historical sense.”
2 Marx wrote in Critique of the Gotha Program: “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of individuals under division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor, from a mere means of life, has become the prime necessity of life; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly–only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!”
3 Dunayevskaya wrote this sentence on the outline of her talk for inclusion at this point in her presentation.
4 Dunayevskaya’s May 12 and 20, 1953, letters on Hegel’s Absolutes are included in The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism.
5 Dunayevskaya was co-leader, along with C.L.R. James and Grace Lee Boggs, of the Correspondence Committees, which lasted from 1951 to 1955. Prior to 1951 they existed as the Johnson-Forest Tendency within the Trotskyist movement. In 1955, Dunayevskaya founded News and Letters Committees.
6 See the letter of C.L.R. James to Grace Lee Boggs of May 20, 1949, in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #1612.
7 Here Dunayevskaya said from her hospital bed on June 5 that she wished to include parts of her “Theory/Practice” column written that day. She called special attention to the following six paragraphs.
8 Dunayevskaya’s proposed title for her new book developed from “Dialectics of the Party” to “Dialectics of Organization” to “Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy: The ‘Party’ and Forms of Organization Born out of Spontaneity.”
9 The ellipsis is in the original here and at the end of the next paragraph.
10 Here Dunayevskaya crossed out a paragraph: “It took all the way to the aftermath of World War II before the question of philosophy was reached seriously enough to become conscious of the significance of the movements from practice as a new opening in philosophy itself, which was directly related to that movement from practice. Indeed, arose because of both the self-determination of the Idea and the movement from practice. Jamming up against each other in a way that the duality was on the road to a new unity.”
11 See Lenin’s 1920 speech “Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin.”

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