From the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Permanent revolution and the dialectic

August 31, 2019

From the September-October 2019 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: In our time of total crisis, many are reaching for total change. In Marxian terms, that is spelled out as revolution in permanence. With the new collection of Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings, Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day, coming out in paperback in October, we excerpt a writing that relates the concept of revolution in permanence to the dialectic, especially dialectical mediation, the negation of the negation, the forces of revolution as reason, and the integrality of philosophy and revolution. Dunayevskaya first made a category of Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence in writing her book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. Shortly after finishing that book, she wrote the piece excerpted here, her October 1982 Political-Philosophic Letter, titled “On the Battle of Ideas: Philosophic-Theoretic Points of Departure as Political Tendencies Respond to the Objective Situation.” The full text can be found in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #7486, and a longer excerpt was published in The Power of Negativity.


…It is necessary now to trace what dialectic mediation achieves—precisely because it was in the middle, between the movements from practice and from theory; how it requires a double negation before it can reach a new society. All of it is seen first in the final syllogisms of Absolute Mind, not as any sort of God, or as evasion of all responsibility by dumping all responsibility on “the masses.”

III. Hegel’s Absolute Mind (¶575, ¶576, ¶577 of Philosophy of Mind); The Forces of Revolution as Reason, as Analyzed in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution

¶575 [of Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind] seems merely to state the obvious, the sequence of the books Hegel wrote—Logic, Nature, Mind. The second paragraph (¶576) is Nature, Mind, Logic. And since Mind is the mediation there, you first get the full impact of Hegel’s concept of mediation as he lunged out against “systems” and for mediation, because philosophic mediation is the middle that first creates from itself the whole.

In a word, Hegel has now departed from both the system as well as spontaneity, or practice, or nature as if these were the whole. He could still keep away from making his dialectic into any sort of system because, in the final paragraph (¶577), he doesn’t finish that as a syllogism, that is to say, he refuses to follow the “sequence” which would have led to Logic being the mediation. What we are confronted with, as replacement for Logic, is the self-determination of the Idea and the self-bringing-forth of liberty. In each case, mediation, as a transition point to something else, stops as we have reached the totality of both inwardizing and spontaneity (Nature). Hegel replaces Logic, but will not tell us what to do. Self-knowing reason (¶577) is that self-bringing-forth of liberty which is concrete, which is everywhere present, which is constantly developing.

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For any to whom it may seem incongruous to have included “Forces of Revolution as Reason” in this Section III on Hegel’s Absolute Mind, it becomes necessary to return to Marx’s 1844 “Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic” to see why Marx refused to stop where Ludwig Feuerbach allowed Hegel to chain the dialectic by refusing to recognize the revolutionary nature of “negation of negation.” Marx unchained that most revolutionary dialectic—“negation of negation”—by demystifying it and revealing its objectively revolutionary nature. As Marx kept developing his own continent of thought and of revolution, he situated “negation of negation” by declaring that the 1848 Revolution needed further development as a “revolution in permanence.” It is this which Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution declared to be “the absolute challenge to our age.” This Section III on Absolute Mind extends this by disclosing how the self-thinking Idea is moving toward a new unity with the self-bringing-forth of Liberty—that movement from practice that is itself a form of theory and thus becomes a revolutionary force that is Reason.

WHERE FORCES OF REVOLUTION are Reason, Marx’s demystification of double negation and its articulation as “revolution in permanence” demands that it not be left just in the field of theory but becomes ground for a new organizational form—indeed, for self-development of the Individual. It is for this reason that in all three books—Marxism and Freedom and Philosophy and Revolution as well as Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution—I traced those forces of revolution through three decades, as they centered around a new generation of revolutionaries, both as Youth and as Labor from under totalitarianism calling itself Communism; or the Black dimension in the U.S. and in Africa; or a whole new Third World; or the new world force of revolution—Women’s Liberation, having leaped from an Idea whose time has come to a Movement.

*   *   *

THE FACT THAT IN MY LATEST WORK, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, I trace a trail to the 1980s from the 1880s and focus on Marx’s “translation” of absolute negativity as the revolution in permanence, calling that the absolute challenge to our age, will draw still greater criticism from academia and outright attacks from post-Marx Marxists. This makes it necessary to be prepared, not only for that encounter, but for further concretizing that challenge….For while it is true that the actual events of the 1970s—Women’s Liberation on the one hand, and the publication of Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks on the other—are what first led to a renewed interest in Rosa Luxemburg; and while it is true also that the Women’s Liberation Movement helped disclose the feminist dimension in Luxemburg never before recognized; it is not true that that is the goal of the new book.

The need to see all post-Marx Marxists in strict relationship to Marx’s Marxism is what revealed that even so great and independent a revolutionary as Rosa Luxemburg did not fully comprehend Marx’s dialectics of liberation and thereby committed her biggest error—disregard of the revolutionary nature of Polish desire for national self-determination. Put simply, the determinant of the new book is Marx’s philosophy of revolution. This is not for any academic reason, or any sort of orthodoxy, but the fact that his works disclosed a trail to the 1980s and revealed the problematic of this age. The totally new question that Luxemburg posed—socialist democracy after gaining power—pointed to a new aspect of Marxism itself.[1] The new moments in Marx that the book discloses and that center around what we now call a Third World are not limited to the manner in which Marx revealed an “Asiatic mode of production” in the Grundrisse. Rather, this is extended to the 1880s as Marx [in his Ethnological Notebooks] was commenting on Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society and other then-new anthropological works on India, on the Australian Aborigines, as well as in his letters both on his visit to Algeria and his correspondence with revolutionaries in Russia on the ancient commune there and its possible transformation into an altogether new type of revolution. In a word, it is to revolution in permanence that the book keeps returning, whether the subject is Luxemburg, or Lenin, or Women’s Liberation, or the Hegelian dialectic. At the same time, we must keep in mind that, whereas it is Marx who transformed Hegel into a contemporary, and transformed the Hegelian dialectic into the Marxian dialectic of liberation, the revolution is also present in Hegel. Hard as Hegel tried to confine this to a revolution in thought alone, he made his presence felt in history, even as he spoke of The Philosophy of Mind and History of Philosophy. As Hegel put it:

“All revolutions, in the sciences no less than in general history, originate only in this, that the spirit of man, for the understanding and comprehension of himself, for the possessing of himself, has now altered his categories, uniting himself in a truer, deeper, more intrinsic relation with himself” (Philosophy of Nature, ¶246, remark)

*   *   *

ONCE I VENTURED out in 1953, and confronted the actual world movement from practice, the integrality of philosophy and revolution showed itself to be (or should we say, aspired to become) the solution to the problematic of the modern world. The one thing we know as fact in this centenary year is that—once we do know the Marx oeuvres as totality, and once we do have our ears to the ground of both new voices from below and the creative nature of Marx’s mind (and Marx’s alone)—then we do perceive in Marx’s new moments a trail to the 1980s, be that as new Third World, or global theory reaching philosophy, a philosophy of revolution that is to become preparation for actual “revolution in permanence.”


[1]. Dunayevskaya discusses this in Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, pp. 58-65, 72-74, 189. —Editor

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Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution in Permanence for Our Day
Selected writings by Raya Dunayevskaya

What is Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence, and why is it urgent for today?

This new Marxist-Humanist book takes up

  • †  Marx’s transformation of the Hegelian dialectic
  • †  The inseparability of Marx’s economics, humanism, and dialectic
  • †  The battle of ideas with post-Marx Marxism
  • †  Marxist-Humanism, Black liberation, internationalism, and women’s liberation
  • †  The relationship between spontaneity, organization, and philosophy
  • †  The emergence of counter-revolution from within the revolution
  • †  The problem of what happens after the revolution

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