Spontaneity and new beginnings

November 11, 2011

From the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

Editor’s note: As the world experiences a new stage of revolt–from the Arab Spring to Wall Street–and seeks ways to make it a revolutionary new beginning, we present excerpts of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Perspectives Report to the 1977 national gathering of News and Letters Committees. Originally titled, “IT’S LATER, ALWAYS LATER–except when spontaneity upsurges and you realize it is here and now, and you aren’t there and ready,” the full report can be found in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection #5726-5748.

Introduction: Facing reality on the question of the difference between totally new beginnings, and a new stage

Today, our task is overwhelming. We need to work out what to do to uproot this imperialist-capitalist, exploitative, racist, sexist, degenerate system with its dehumanized thinking that declares the latest, most monstrous ever mass killer–the neutron bomb–“humane” since it leaves property intact and kills only people!

More than a mere refusal to think the unthinkable–nuclear war–is needed for this staggering mass job when you have as few as are in this room. And yet the very totality of the task demands each be a whole–mind as well as body, heart as well as grit; in a word, Reason as well as force, that is to say, philosophy andrevolution. At the same time, we need to know where we came from–not genealogy, but history; and where we are going to–perspectives of totally new human relations.

In turning to this most concrete year and the one ahead, we need, therefore, to hold before us, at one and the same time, the past 25 years in a time when the new epoch of revolts first started in East Germany on June 17, 1953, and then go forward 25 years from today, not because we believe in prophecy which Hegel had, some 200 years ago, designated as the “arbitrary caprice of prophetic utterance,” but because the year 2000 is what Mao’s China (as well as post-Mao China) had, ever since 1975, designated as the year China will be “fully modernized,” i.e., become a goliath industrial nation.

Now, whether you turn the clock back a whole quarter of a century to East Germany, when the first revolt from under totalitarian Communism erupted, or go back only a decade to Paris, May 1968, when the Western proletariat which had been “written off” appeared a million-strong with the students and created that high-point of the 1960s revolts; whether you consider Soweto, South Africa, now, or go back to the Johannesburg demonstration in 1960, when I entitled my description of that great event as “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in South Africa” because “In a society where revolt walks always in the shadow of massacre…change and revolution have become finally inseparable” (Africa South[1])–the whole point is that not all great events which mark new stages of revolt are also epochal new beginnings, initiating an historic new in thought as well as in fact, and cannot be driven out of history even when defeated.

Thus, whereas East Germany not only achieved the first revolt from under totalitarian Communism, but also raised the question of the Humanism of Marxism for our age, Paris, May 1968 (which certainly was a dramatic high-point as a near-revolution), did not initiate a new epoch in thought. Rather, it ended the epoch of the 1960s, which held that activity, and more activity, and still more activity, will bring about the new society without any need for “old theory.”

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution of those East European Revolts took place as Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 until Today went to press. I immediately included those revolts as well as the Vorkuta uprising in Russia itself and the Montgomery Bus Boycott as the three new pages of freedom. (For that matter, we had turned our eyes to East Europe, specifically Poland, [in the great ghetto uprising of 1943 and] when Stalin’s army stood outside the gates of Warsaw and let [the 1944] uprising be slaughtered by the Nazis. It is then that we began talking about the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarian Communism, and the rise of a new generation of revolutionaries to overthrow it.)

The 1960s signaled the birth of a new generation of revolutionaries on every subject, from anti-Vietnam War to Women’s Liberation, with the Black Dimension making it global both in Africa and in the U.S. Nevertheless, once the near-revolution in Paris 1968 aborted, it became necessary to draw a balance sheet between what were truly new, epochal beginnings, and what were only new stages of revolt.

The very fact that we had to declare that “1969 is not 1968” meant that not only had near-revolutions sans philosophy proven their incompleteness, but that responsibility for unfurling the new banner was ours. The wait for co-authorship of the fusion of philosophy and revolution in all the places–from West Europe to Hong Kong, and from Africa to Japan–was over.

We had to take revolutionary responsibility for picking up the link with Lenin’s philosophic reorganization and height of both activity and theoretic production in 1915-24 that we pointed to in Marxism and Freedom. We had to get down to this place, this time, this world, this era, singling out the new not only from the movement from practice (as we had done ever since 1953) but also the development from theory to the philosophy of revolution.

The date of publication of Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao, 1973 (which coincided with a new global economic crisis), has led to the internationalization of its publication this year in Spanish, in Italian, in German, in Portuguese, and in Japanese. By no accident at all this internationalization also led to the update with the chapter on post-Mao China which marks also new relations with the “ultra-Left” in China itself, that is to say with the very group–about the only one–we thought could be the co-author, which made us include its manifesto Whither China? in Philosophy and Revolution. Since, however, as American revolutionaries, we are most intensely concerned with the American revolution, and since this is the mammoth global imperialism (so that its crises suck in the whole world), we will begin with the objective situation here.

A. U.S. imperialism-capitalism in the throes of many crises: economic, political, labor, racial, sexist

So total is the crisis that even the labor bureaucracy, even petty-bourgeois consumer groups, even the Americans for Democratic Action, not to mention churches grouped under the name of National Full Employment Action Council, have felt compelled to plan for a whole week of meetings, rallies, demonstrations, in 300 communities, from Detroit to Newark, from Boston to Milwaukee, from Atlanta to San Diego, and, oh yes, including the State of Ohio that never gives up trying to erase its pro-Vietnam War stand and anti-American youth murderous activities from May 1970 to this very day, trying to bury the whole historic revolution under the counter-revolutionary euphemism–a gym![2]

The fact that the Employment Action Council still thinks that they could prevail upon the government to recognize, as Irving Bluestone[3] expressed it, that since “persistently high unemployment plagues our country, a Government policy of full employment is essential for our national well-being,” is their illusion, not ours.

What is important is that because the masses aren’t taking high unemployment lying down, the leaders mustat least look [as if they are] initiating a movement in opposition to the Carter administration.

From the beginning of the year when we asked “Is A New World Recession Coming?” (Jan.-Feb. 1977 N&L) and argued against Ernest Mandel’s analysis[4] that “there can be no doubt that the generalized recession came to an end in 1975” (Intercontinental Press 11-24-76), we stressed the fact that not only is this the fifth and worst of the post-War recessions, but, far from its end being generalized, what is “generalized” is its non-ending stagnation.

We held that no bourgeois phraseology, like “premature cyclical downturn,” could possibly hide the fact of the fully new stage of capitalist disintegration. That is so all-pervasive that, even when the production “grows,” it just keeps pace with population growth; the investment drought is so deep that capitalists themselves, despite the high “mass” profits, have begun worrying over Marx’s analysis of the decline in the rate of profit as the true Achilles heel of capitalist production.

Along with this Achilles heel is the one that will really bring down capitalism–labor, especially the massively unemployed that by now have become a permanent feature of capitalism….

In the Draft Perspectives we showed that there has actually been a fundamental structural transformation of the U.S. economy. First, the longest period of stagnation since the late 1950s demonstrates these hard facts: (1) slower growth; (2) lower investments; (3) higher unemployment; and (4) hard-core inflation of 6% as against the 1-2% inflation characteristic of most of the 1960s….

Secondly, and inseparable from that pivotal “investment drought” even when there is some growth, is the rise in energy cost which means that, along with the rising cost of automated equipment, too much value is invested, compared to labor productivity, when so little living labor is being used in production.

Government statistics show good cause for those capitalistic headaches: the biggest increase in poverty since 1959 occurred in 1975 and has persisted–no less than a rise of 10% in the number of the poor, totaling now 25.9 million below poverty level. That means no less than 12% of all Americans–and the government “poverty level” is $5,500 annually for a family of four!

Thirdly, they, on the one hand, keep complaining about the workers’, especially the young workers’, attitude to labor–“the blue collar blues”–and, on the other hand, admit that, with a massive 34.1% youth unemployment, the very survival of the capitalist system is in question….

What caused the double-digit inflation–the Vietnam War–remains with us in the form of the ever-expanding armaments expenditures which continue along with the decline in the rate of profit. When all is said and done, profits can come only from living labor, not from dead bodies….

Raya Dunayevskaya

Detroit, Mich., Sept. 3, 1977



1. The quotation is from Ronald M. Segal writing in the journal Africa South. “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in South Africa” was reprinted in Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution. See also “Soweto–New Stage of Revolt,” by John Alan, May 1977 N&L. For Dunayevskaya’s assessment of the near-revolution in France, May 1968, see Philosophy and Revolution, pp. 273-75.

2. On May 4, 1970, four students protesting the Vietnam War were killed at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. When the University announced plans to build a gym annex on the site, students and others who viewed it as a cover-up of that history began years-long protests.

3. Bluestone was a vice president of the United Auto Workers.

4. Mandel was a Trotskyist economist. See Dunayevskaya’s critique of him in Marx’s Capital and Today’s Global Crisis.

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