Founder of News and Letters, and a Marxist philosopher whose praxis focused on the revolutionary potential of youth, women and black workers and the anti-war movement.
I cannot recommend highly enough Eugene Gogol's historical biography of her life and work which she termed Marxist Humanism. Raya Dunayevskaya: Philosopher of Marxist-Humanism, Wipfandstock Publishers: Eugene, Oregon, 2003. This extraordinarily accessible work covers the development of her ideas and theories in relation to her life which was a revolutionary praxis.
I can think of no higher praise then the fact that I lent the book to a friend who while a Leftist had not heard of Dunayevskaya. He read the whole work in week, and while the work deals with Hegelian and Marxist Philosophy, Gogols presentation, within the context of her life and political development, my friend was suitably impressed that he went in search of her works online. He returned the book, and related to me that not being as computer literate as some, this was the first time he had downloaded her papers to read later. If you know nothing of her, then this is the political biography to read.
This philosophical comprehension of Marx's mature work of political economy needs to be reckoned with by today's "anti-globalization" movement. That movement is largely motivated by the injustice of the huge disparity in wealth between the northern, advanced capitalist nations and the nations of the south. The rallying cry is for a more just distribution of the world's wealth. Marxism and Freedom moves beyond this politics of equity. It illuminates how deeply capital must be uprooted in order to transform labor into an activity for human development and the realization of individual potentialities.
Dunayevskaya highlights the question, "What are we for?" Typically it is more immediately clear what we are against-capital's globalized reach, or imperialism. The question of the kind of society we are working for is usually ducked as too remote or potentially divisive. Dunayevskaya nonetheless insists on the need for full-fledged discussion within the movement and a collective focus for working it out.
This orientation comes out of Dunayevskaya's embrace of Hegel's method of the negation of the negation. She likens it to Marx's concept of "revolution in permanence," which "made it clear that the revolution does not end with the overthrow of the old but must continue to the new, so you begin to feel this presence of the future in the present" (12). The revolutionary impulse thus seeks the creation of a new human being beyond the uprooting of the old society. Only this ceaseless negation, including the negation of the initial attempts at negation, can lead us beyond a reshuffling of the cards so as to achieve an equitable redistribution of the world's wealth.
For Dunayevskaya the dialectic of negativity is the notion that forward movement emerges from the negation of obstacles to freedom. Negation needs to go further than the refutation of the given, because the first negation is still imprinted with the old. Only when negativity goes on to become self-directed, self-related, or in Hegelian terms "absolute," does it create the positive and the truly new.
While the aim of a humanistic transformation of society has this dialectical philosophical basis, it emerges out of actual human struggles. Dunayevskaya anticipates the focus on fighting for "new human relations" that later became central to the women's, Black liberation and workers' struggles. She quotes a young worker from Los Angeles who asked: "What skill do you need in this day of Automation? What pride can you have in your work if everything is done electronically...? What about the human being?"
She was raised in the Ukrainian diaspora in Chicago. Amongst the immigrant workers who shared the ghetto and jobs in the meat packing plants with their African American neighbors. It was in this community that Raya began as a young Communist to identify the indigenous class struggle in America as dealing with the Negro Question and Womens Liberation. They were not side issues, or matters simply of oppression, for her they were were key to class struggle.
"Those who have dedicated their lives to the creation of more just societies stand back now and take stock of the disintegration of so many of the socialist experiments. Feminism was palpably missing from those plans drawn up by men. Raya Dunayevskaya knew the importance of a feminist vision and hers informed the Marxist-Humanism she explained so well. Women's Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution is as relevant today as when it was written, perhaps more so. This is necessary reading for all who want to know what went wrong and how to do it better next time."— Margaret Randall
While many will point to others as founders of the New Left, in reality it was her and her comrade's C.L. R. James and Grace Lee Boggs that really gave birth to the American Marxist New Left. While much of the New Left in America was shaped by the baby boom and subsequent proletarianization of post secondary education and the consequences of the draft which created a youth revolt, it was the change in production that is Fordism that really was key to Dunayevskaya's work.
under capitalism machines exploit labor. “Capital is then a material thing which exploits labor” (p. 13). Instead of analyzing the capitalist labor process and thus discovering how a material thing becomes an exploiting force, ........that the thing, means of production, has become the social relation, capital, because of what Marx calls “the contradiction between the personification of objects and the representation of persons by things.”
The focal point of Marx’s analysis of capitalist society is his critique of capitalist production. The ideology which flows from this historic mode of production is enveloped in the perverted relation of dead to living labor. Marx pointed out that the very simple relation—capital uses labor—expresses “the personification of things and the reification of people.” That is to say, the means of production become capital and are personified as capitalists at the same time that the workers become reified, that is, their labor becomes objectified into the property of others.Marx’s critique of capitalist society, based primarily on this inverted relation of dead to living labor at the point of production, extends also to the surface of society (the market), where the social relation between people assumes “the fantastic form of a relation between things.”This is the fetishism of commodities.
Marx proceeds to analyze the capitalist mode of production. Now that the worker is in the factory, the “social relation” becomes a production relation.
By virtue of that fact his relationship to the boss is very clear; it in no sense assumes the fantastic form of a relation between things. On the contrary, there the worker overestimates the capitalist’s might. He thinks that the capitalist alone is responsible for his plight instead of seeing the cause in the mode of production which the capitalist represents. There the worker personifies things: the means of production used as capital become the capitalists. We are here confronted with what Marx called “the personification of things and the reification of people.” Marx was most emphatic in laying bare this “reification of people” because that is the very heart of his critique of political economy. He grasped this very early. “When one speaks of private property,” wrote the young Marx in 1844, “one thinks of something outside of man. When one speaks of labor, one has to do immediately with man himself. The new formulation of the question already involves its solution.”Dunayevskaya Outline of Marx's Capital--volume one
In evolving through the Communist party to Trotskyism, Dunayevskaya and James became the Forrest Johnson Tendency after Trotsky's death as a political crisis shook the Fourth International. They articulated the earliest State Capitalist critique , within Trotskyism, of the Soviet Union and subsequently of historical capitalism as it evolved through WWII and the Cold War.
She became Leon Trotsky’s Russian-language secretary in 1937 during his exile in Mexico, but broke with him in 1939 at the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Her simultaneous study of the Russian economy and of Marx’s early writings (later known as the 1844 Humanist Essays) led to her 1941-42 analysis that not only was Russia a state-capitalist society, but that state-capitalism was a new world stage.
It was this articulation plus their emphasis on women, blacks and youth as part of the class struggle, culturally as well as politically and economically that set them apart from the rest of the Left. They were part of a movement known as the third way, but different from its other proponents because even though they were steeped in Leninism, they confronted the failure of the Vanguard of professional revolutionaries and their parties, to really speak for the whole of the class.
News and Letters, Dunayevskaya's organization evolved out of the post war Cold War as the Left faced the crisis of Imperialism and Stalinism. Those who came out of the Trotskyist movement created a new force on the Left called the Third Way, neither supporting Stalinism or American Imperialism. In Europe they moved beyond Trotskyism into Libertarian Marxism and Socialism.
When we reach state-capitalism, one-party state, cold war, hydrogen bomb, it is obvious that we have reached ultimates. We are now at the stage where all universal questions are matters of concrete specific urgency for society in general as well as for every individual. As we wrote in The Invading Socialist Society:
“It is precisely the character of our age and the maturity of humanity that obliterates the opposition between theory and practice, between the intellectual occupations of the ‘educated’ and the masses.” (p. 14.)
All previous distinctions, politics and economics, war and peace, agitation and propaganda, party and mass, the individual and society, national, civil and imperialist war, single country and one world, immediate needs and ultimate solutions – all these it is impossible to keep separate any longer. Total planning is inseparable from permanent crisis, the world struggle for the minds of men from the world tendency to the complete mechanization of men.
State-capitalism is in itself the total contradiction, absolute antagonism. In it are concentrated all the contradictions of revolution and counter-revolution. The proletariat, never so revolutionary as it is today, is over half the world in the stranglehold of Stalinism, the form of the counter-revolution in our day, the absolute opposite of the proletarian revolution.
It is the totality of these contradictions that today compels philosophy, a total conception. Hence the propaganda ministry of Hitler, the omnipresent orthodoxy of Stalinism, the Voice of America. The war over productivity is fought in terms of philosophy, a way of life. When men question not the fruits of toil but the toil itself, then philosophy in Marx’s sense of human activity has become actual.
World War I plunged the world into complete chaos. Lenin between 1914 and 1917 established in theory: (a) the economic basis of the counter-revolutionary Social Democracy (The economic basis of imperialist war had been established before him.); (b) the Soviet democracy in contradistinction to bourgeois democracy. But before he did this, he had to break with the philosophical method of the Second International. He worked at this privately in a profound study of the Hegelian dialectic applied to Marx’s Capital, the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Thirty years have now passed. Lenin’s method of economic analysis is ours to use, not to repeat his findings. His political conception of complete abolition of bureaucracy and all ordering from above is today to be driven to its ultimate as the revolutionary weapon against the one-party state. But today the problems of production which Lenin had to tackle in Russia in 1920 are universal. No longer to be ignored is the philosophical method he used in holding fast to the creation of a new and higher social organization of labor as "the essence” of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is not the Marxists who have compelled society to face this issue. Today in every layer of society, the great philosophical battles that matter are precisely those over production, the role of the proletariat, the one-party state, and many of the combatants are professed dialecticians.
The crisis of production today is the crisis of the antagonism between manual and intellectual labor. The problem of modern philosophy from Descartes in the sixteenth century to Stalinism in 1950 is the problem of the division of labor between the intellectuals and the workers.
Source: State Capitalism and World Revolution, by C.L.R. James in collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya & Grace Lee; with a new introduction by Paul Buhle. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 1986. Chapter XI, pp. 113-135. Original publication: 1950. Note: Asterisks were changed to numbered footnotes for greater clarity.
Like News and Letters, these organizations were small and centered around the need to build radical rank and file based proletarian organizations, like the ICC and Socialism and Barbarism in France and England. These organizations originated out of the crisis of the Fourth International as well as the Left/Council Communist movement.
What made News and Letters unique, was they did not give up on class struggle, instead they focused on the new wave of post WWII Fordist industrialization and the new proletarianization of African Americans, women and youth.
While originating out of Leninism, James and Dunayevskaya's praxis made them critical of the Leninist, Trotskyist and Stalinist left, and its failure to see the working class as a broad based movement of race, sex and class. Most of the left had identified with the white industrial working class, rather than understanding the key to class struggle in America was the self organization of the most oppressed and exploited proletarians.
The New Left would mistakenly identify this later as groups who were the revolutionary vanguard, always looking for a vanguard to be the vanguard party of. Third Worldism, support for Black Power and the Black Panthers, the very origins of todays 'identity politics' by the New Left saw youth, blacks, the oppressed in general as revolutionary and rejected the white industrial working class as reactionary.
Such was not the case with Dunyaveskaya and her group News and Letters. In fact one of her collaborators for many years was Martin Glaberman. Together they identified with and worked in building rank and file movements in the Detroit area unions, the very heart of modern and post modern Fordism.
In 1953, Dunayevskaya split with Lee and James, leading to the formation of Marxist-Humanism by Dunayevskaya (later solidified into the group News and Letters), while James and Lee would go on to form a new group, Facing Reality, which would eventually see the split between James and now Grace Lee-Boggs. James' work would continue to influence other people through the journal started by longtime co-revolutionary Martin Glaberman called "Radical America", whose writers are a virtual "Who's Who of the Marxist critique of racism and white supremacy, including George Rawick and David Roediger. The group Sojourner Truth was influenced by James' work and took up the name of autonomist Marxism, but independent of James' practical organisational efforts. The work of Noel Ignatiev and Race Traitor would form the other well known tendency within the Marxist critique of white supremacy through the theory of 'white skin privilege.'
Dunayevskaya and News and Letters have been influenced by the early Hegelians and the Frankfurt School and themselves represent one of the more vocal defenders of a Hegelian Marxism which they refer to as Marxist-Humanism, having made theoretical contributions to the study of Marx and Hegel and the post-Marx Marxist world, as well as innovative readings of Lenin and issues of race, gender and sexuality. The group is also influenced by Rosa Luxemburg and did much to resurrect her in the English-speaking world as a major theorist.
Rank and file organizing against the union bosses and bureaucracy, self organization, the need for revolutionaries to recognize all struggles of the oppressed in America as part of the class struggle took News and Letters and Glaberman and Dunayevskaya, into a different non-Leninist non-vanguard form of revolutionary organization and praxis. As their detractors have pointed out; There is also a close internal relationship between Dunayevskaya and the morality of anarchism.
What they overlooked was that they were the proletariat, whether in school or in the factory. Many went to work in auto plants in Southern Ontario, but by far the vast majority went to work at the Post Office. The Post Office struggles became the class struggle for the left in Canada, every one of Canada's socialist groups had a cell in the Post Office, and still do today, their influence is felt in CUPW the postal workers union they helped build in practice. Which is why CUPW still to this day uses the slogan Lotta Continua, the Struggle Continues.
That praxis was far more in keeping with the class struggle as Glaberman and Dunayevskaya saw it than the ideologies of the Heinz 57 varieties of Leninist organizations that headed back to the factories.
I was introduced to their works from having heard CLR James speak in Edmonton, in the Seventies, and we carried their books at our anarchist bookstore Erewhon Books.
All her life as a revolutionary Dunayevskaya was an optimist, she saw the revolution not as armed struggle, or a mere moment in history, she like Marx saw class struggle as the evolution of society towards a better more human future.
And her view of that class struggle was inclusive formulated as it was in the Chicago ghetto where she grew up.
Her work is approachable, important and still relevant.
MARX AND CRITICAL THOUGHT.
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