'Philosophy and Revolution’ by Raya Dunayevskaya


Reviewed by Harry McShane

Hobgoblin 5 2003

This review by the Last of the 'Red Clydesiders' Harry McShane (1891-1988) first appeared in the Scottish Marxist-Humanist in 1974

Readers of this book will be impressed by the tone of conviction that finds expression on every page. Nowhere is there a sign of hesitancy or doubt as the author makes a determined effort to penetrate the thick wall of prejudice with which she is confronted. Convinced that what she has to say is in the interests of humanity, she throws down the gauntlet to those intellectuals who live with their heads in the clouds. The challenge is also directed, with the same force, to adherents of a brand of Materialism which ignores human self-development and blind themselves to the inner self-movement and creative faculty of the masses.

The Marxism of Raya Dunayevskaya is healthier and more acceptable than the poisonous concoction fed to trustful men and women all over the world by an intolerable army of “Leaders” who specialise in concealing all that is human, and therefore vital, in Marxist theory. The author of this book is far from helpful to the person who, dutifully, says something about dialectics and then goes on to say that the masses must be led to Socialism. It is obvious that something more must be said about this later on.The readers likely to be disturbed by what is said in this book will include those scientists and economists who keep warning us about the many dangers that confront mankind but assume that they can be averted without damage to the fabric of capitalism. The pretence that the problems they talk of can be dealt with by some kind of scientific or economic manipulation is counter-revolutionary. The book contains a challenge to them.

Philosophy and Revolution will be of tremendous value to those who have resisted the ideology of capitalism and intend to continue their efforts. There is a growing, but reluctant, acceptance of the possibility that there may be something more than economics in Marxism. That concession is of no value if it fails to place revolution in the context of dialectical movement – with the live, active, self-determining human being moving ahead to change the world he created.The author, as the reader will quickly discover, has a scholarly grasp of the Hegelian philosophy. Because of her understanding of both Hegel and Marx, she refuses to erect a fence between them. Like Marx himself, she declares Hegel to be “the source of all dialectic”. She makes sound use of Lenin’s decision to study Hegel’s works at a crucial period.

Lenin, it should be recalled, when forced to make a choice on whether to support the revolutionary workers, or his hesitant Bolshevik comrades, sent a letter of resignation to the Central Committee. That was in 1917. Three years earlier, at the outbreak of the First World War, he had started to study the works of Hegel. What he found there had a profound effect on him as his Philosophic Notebooks show.The picture one gets of Lenin is that of a devoted revolutionary who has made up his mind to continue the struggle for the cause that the leaders of the Second International had betrayed. They had pledged themselves to call on the masses to oppose their respective governments in the event of war being declared. Great trust was placed in the leaders of the German Social Democratic Party – largest in the world – who had rejected an attempt to revise Marxist theory and divert the Party away from the path of revolution. They failed when the test came. It was in this situation that Lenin decided, in 1914, to dig deeper into the roots of revolutionary theory. He knew nothing about Marx’s Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts, written in 1844, for the simple reason that they lay hidden in the vaults of the German Social Democratic Party.

An indication of what Lenin gained from his study of Hegel’s works is revealed in his Philosophic Notebook. It should be noted that the first translation into English of the early writings of Marx, referred to above, was made by the author of this book. She has something to say about those writings, but that can wait.Referring to Lenin’s study of Hegel, Raya Dunayevskaya says that he found that “the revolutionary spirit was not superimposed on Hegel by Marx, but was in Hegel”. This is fully confirmed in the notes he made while reading Hegel. Lenin, like Marx before him, rejects any thought of dialectics being considered as movement separated from the material, objective world, but he did not allow that to blind him to Hegel’s tremendous contribution to the theory of proletarian revolution. He claims to find Historical Materialism “in seed, in embryo”, in the works of Hegel.When Lenin wrote “Cognition not only reflects the objective world, but creates it”, he had already moved away from the “vulgar Materialism” that saw nothing of human creativeness.

The bewildering dialectic movement in the world of thought, as described by Hegel, gave strength to a man who was to become a world figure because of the part he played in a real revolution. He recognised the initiative and self-movement of the Russian masses. There is much more about this in Philosophy and Revolution.

The oft-repeated lie that Marx departed from the views he expounded in the 1844 manuscripts can, without much effort, be thoroughly exposed. Nothing is more disgusting than the reluctance of so-called Marxists even to look at these early works of Marx. When first published they were said to contain the writings of Marx when “immature”. A similar attack has come from the Chinese leaders. Both the Russian and Chinese detractors of the young Marx are effectively dealt with by the author of this book. She shows that in order to “develop his new original Humanism”, Marx “united materialism and idealism, separating it from the class society to which each, in isolation, was tied”.“Communism”, said Marx in these writings, “is the necessary form and the dynamic principle of the immediate future, but Communism is not itself the goal of future development – the form of future society”. “Transcendence” is the appropriate word to use when describing what Marx visualises as the movement within Communism.

It is certainly becoming clearer every day that what passes for Communism in many parts of the world can never satisfy the human desire for freedom. To this author it is state capitalism.State ownership of property has replaced private ownership in a number of countries, but the position of the worker has not changed. The “fragmentation” and “alienation” of the worker described by Marx in his indictment of capitalism cannot be eliminated under capitalism in any form. It is easy to understand why the Russian leaders want nothing to do with Humanism, and how they did everything possible to represent the 1844 manuscripts of Marx as being of no consequence.

It is made obvious in this book that Marx had no interest in making good the deficiencies of capitalism. His years of study of the existing world was bound up with pin-pointing “the new forces” that would uproot the world of capitalism and create the new society. With Marx, the dialectic has its real roots in the society of human beings. The author quotes the young Marx who charged Hegel of having “separated thinking from Subject”, and as she puts it “from the human being who thinks”. Referring to the work of Marx in the field of political economy, Raya Dunayevskaya has this to say: “The historic rationality Marx discovered as immanent in the hope of people meant, in turn, that it is living people who work out the meaning of philosophy by making the theory of liberation and the struggle to be free a unity.

So much is free man the true subject of history that Marx called the period in which he lived, and the one in which we still live, the prehistory of mankind. Man’s true history does not begin until he is free, can develop all his innate talents, which class society, especially value-producing capitalism, throttles”. The author raises the banner of Marxist-Humanism at a time when the whole world is in turmoil. It is raised at a time when large powers are providing smaller powers with the weapons of war while preparing a bigger war that, if allowed to happen, may destroy the human race.

Authoritarian rule exists on a greater scale than ever before. How is it possible, when the methods of the political leaders are identical, for anyone to decide that one half of the world is capitalist, and the other socialist? Such a decision can be tragic in its consequences. The world is in crisis – but we have seen nothing yet. That is what makes this book a real challenge to the intellectuals.

In an earlier and still very important book, Raya Dunayevskaya said “Marxism is a theory of liberation or it is nothing”. Marxism is still confronted with the same conception of liberty as that of Adam Smith and the economists of his time. One has only to recall speeches made by the British Prime Minister after the 1970 General Election. The purpose of revolution is the attainment of freedom, but it must not be concluded that the individual does not count. The author quotes the Communist Manifesto of 1848, which reads “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. It would be a mistake for one to conclude that she separates philosophy from economics, or, for that matter, from actual happenings in our present-day world. She makes the definite assertion “There is no economic category in Marx that is not at the same time a philosophic one”.

There is no philosophic thought that is not connected with man in society. No matter how mystical it may be, it does not drop from the clouds. When man comes into conflict either with the economic structure of society or the ideas that spring from it, he is expressing himself as a whole human being, in thought and action. Is this not what was meant by Marx when he referred to “new passions and new forces”. When Lenin while reading Hegel said “Man’s cognition not only reflects the world, but creates it”.

The author refers to struggles for liberation in our time. She deals extensively with the African struggle against white domination, the struggles of the coloured population in America and the open struggle in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. She makes no bones about the suppression of freedom in Russia and what is known of growing resistance there. She sees liberation as a global problem. The most important struggle, of course, is directed at the domination of labour by capital. The militancy of the workers in industry has created problems for the ruling class. There remains, however, the ruling class ideology that finds expression through the intellectuals, politicians and many Trade Union leaders. Where workers can be made to concern themselves about the ruling class problem of the balance of payments the solidarity of the workers becomes affected. The thought that limits can be placed on the goal of the working class is a denial of dialectics. Theory is necessary, but not theory distorted to justify fantastically prepared plans of particular leaders.

The opening chapter of this book is headed “Why Hegel? Why Now?” Not only does the author openly show that Marx was indebted to Hegel, she also insists that while Hegel deals with movement in thought, he is not completely isolated from the world of reality. She considers that he was affected by the French Revolution. She makes the point that Freedom and Reason appear as activities of the mind. Marx concluded that the dialectic revealed “transcendence as an objective movement”. This rejects any thought of a movement being propelled by an outside force. She holds that what made it alive to Marx was “the cogency of the dialectic of negativity for a proletarian revolution”. Nowhere does dialectic movement stop; self-development is a continuous process. It is a process of development through contradiction. What exists is negated. Hegel is quoted as saying, “Contradiction is the root of all movement and life and it is only insofar as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity”. Negation brings about advance as it grows in the forward moving process. It has a positive content, which blossoms out and overcomes the old.

There is a great deal more to Hegel than this. The author gives a lot of space to the complexities of Hegel’s system. It is, however, the opinion of this reviewer that the reader will gain much from what is said about the influence of Hegel on Marx and Lenin. There is, of course, what is called the “second negative”. That is the movement to the New Humanism, which Marx wrote about when he said that “Communism, as such, is not the goal of human development, the form of human society”. There we have “transcendence” in the actual world of human beings. Whatever the effect of this on the scientists, economists and others, it will be understood by most intelligent persons.

The author takes up a great deal of space to make a shattering criticism, first of all of Sartre, and second, Mao Tse-tung. She is exceptionally critical of the Russian leaders who discouraged the reading of the first chapter of Capital, which deals with commodities. The Grundrisse, written about a decade after the Communist Manifesto shows clearly that Marx had not turned his back on the Hegelian dialectic. Her remarks on the Grundrisse, the publication of which was held up by the Russians, are thought-provoking.

Philosophy and Revolution constitutes an all-round challenge. Will leaders of the Communist Parties continue to ignore it? Will the philosophers and the political theoreticians run away from its conclusions? The dialectical movement cannot be stopped. In view of the fact that Marx and Lenin recognised what was of value in Hegel, why should we hesitate? The movement of the self-developing masses means that they are fulfilling their historic mission. Their aim is different from that of the Russian leaders, but they march arm in arm with the Russian masses. There are obstacles, but they can be overcome. Whatever one thinks, this book should be read by all.