Preface: Marx’s Capital and Today’s Global Crisis

Blue Cover with Marx and Lenin's writing son Hegel in background

Preface by Harry McShane to Raya Dunayevskaya's 1978 pamphlet Marx’s Capital and Today’s Global Crisis.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on November 28, 2022

by Harry McShane

IT IS CERTAINLY a compliment to be asked to write a Preface to another work by the tireless, sincere and scholarly author, Raya Dunayevskaya. She never lets up in her efforts to unearth and make use of what is basic in Marxist theory and to tie that up with the practical tasks that must be undertaken in order to extricate mankind from the prison of capitalism that stands in the way of human development. This work comes at a time when too many of our fellow human beings have become deplorably indifferent about the future of humanity. The only school of thought that points to a future for mankind is that of Marxism. It most, however, be Marxism resurrected from the bog of futility and obscurity into which it was put by leaders who used it as nothing more than a label.

Retrogression is visible in industry, politics, and without a doubt, in the field of theory. The more often our political guides use the word “strategy,” the clearer it becomes that they are dazed by the problems that they find insoluble. Retrogression gets deeper in modern society. That is why Raya Dunayevskaya calls for urgency; a call directed to the masses, the only force that can bring retrogression to an end and open up the way to human emancipation. The choice is between the downhill road of human degradation, on the one hand, and human development on the other. The future rests with the masses.

The thought of the transformation of society coming from the masses is an indispensable element of Marxist theory fully expressed in the writings of both Marx and Lenin. Those who dispute it have shut their eyes to the facts of history. Raya Dunayevskaya refers to the Paris Commune and how it affected Marx. The new kind of order initiated by the people of Paris won the admiration of Marx. What Marx said about this exciting historical episode should be read by all who would like to probe the depth of Marx’s revolutionary thinking. It was in the Commune that the act of self-government by the masses was initiated in such a way as to influence Marx, and, some years later, Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution. Bringing to life the admiration expressed by Marx, the author says. “The armed people smashed parliamentarianism. The people’s assembly was not to be a parliamentary talking ship but a working body.”

One is tempted to devote more space to the Paris Commune than is permissible here, but the question must be put: Who, before reading the points made by Raya Dunayevskaya, suspected that the Paris Commune had any bearing on Marx’s Capital? Labour, as she says, was released from the confines of value production “which robs the workers of all individuality and reduces them merely to a component of labour in general.” The author points out that new additions were introduced into the French edition of Capital. Marx makes the point himself. Before leaving this reference to the Paris Commune, it seems appropriate here to recall that Lenin, writing in 1919, accused leading socialists in Germany of failing “to understand the significance of Soviet, or proletarian democracy, in relation to the Paris Commune, its place in history, its necessity as a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Lenin, of course, said much more than that on the Paris Commune, and attached great importance to it.

When Raya Dunayevskaya writes of change coming from below she thinks not only of the world in which Marx lived; she relates the basic philosophy of Marx to the world of conflict in which we live and sees there the choice facing humanity. The dangers that confront us are so serious that unless some force exists that is capable of transforming society we may as well throw our hands up in despair. The force produced by the history and economics of capitalism is the proletariat on which rests the realization of the universal desire for freedom innate in the make-up of every member of the human race. This concept of movement confirms what the author attributes to Hegel and Marx. There is little fear of her meeting with serious opposition in that. When connecting Marx with Hegel on dialectical movement, as she does in all her works, she has the support of Marx himself.

There is something else that connects Marx with Hegel: it is something that Marx took from Hegel, but found it a reality in capitalist production. The word “alienation" has found its way into the vocabulary of many Marxists, but, too often, is passed over lightly and often forgotten. It is important that the process of exploitation under capitalism be understood by all, but there is much more than that in Capital if we look for it. Raya Dunayevskaya renders a service by re-producing the chapters on all three volumes of Marx’s Capital that formed part of her book, Marxism and Freedom. These chapters had an enlightening effect on the writer of this Preface, it became clear that there is more in Marx’s Capital than economics. It would be marvelous if rank and file members of the labour movement could all be persuaded to read these chapters.

The process of exploitation on which capitalism rests is shown in the early chapters of Capital, but too many readers of that work thought that sufficient, not knowing that the philosophy that drove him along finds expression there. There is the picture of how the worker is dominated by the products of his labour plus the picture of the road to freedom. Freedom, above all else, is what Marx is concerned about. Raya Dunayevskaya gives emphasis to what Marx meant when referring to the division of labour, the domination of the worker by the machine and “the fragmentation of man.”

Now that a new interest is developing, here in Britain, in Marxist education, one would hope that use will be made of this particular section of Raya Dunayevskava’s work. It is well to recall the fact that, for many years, Marxist economics featured strongly as part of the curriculum in classes of the Labour movement. John Maclean was said to have the largest class in Europe on Marxist economics — when he was not in prison for his political activities.

We are no longer justified in regarding Marx as just a brilliant economist. The philosophy that runs through Capital was deep-rooted in Marx and actuated him through his life. It dates from the days when he called himself a Humanist — before he wrote the Communist Manifesto along with Engels. The author pulls the writings of Marx together and views the world situation from the Marxist-Humanist viewpoint. With Marx she sees Communism as only the beginning; as a stage mediating the higher development of man as a result of his own creative activities. This viewpoint necessitates a look at Russia where, in 1917, the greatest stride towards the goal of Communism was taken.

Before anyone else, Raya Dunayevskaya, who had been in the revolutionary movement for years, boldly declared that Russia had marched in the opposite direction to that set by Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks. She made an original analysis of the economy of Russia in support of her contention that Russia had been completely transformed into a state-capitalist society. She led a minority to the Trotskyist movement on this issue. The regime in Russia has nothing in common with the Marxist aim of human liberation or the call of Marx for “the development of human power which is its own end.” State-capitalism is a rapidly growing trend throughout the world, with the result that the democratic pretence of the rulers is becoming more apparent. The banner of liberation must be raised by the people below. It is this aim that gives purpose to this work by Raya Dunayevskaya.

It seems remarkable that it is the elements of Marxist thought ignored for many years by Marxist theorists that the author sees as important if we are to understand either Marx or Lenin. Why Marxist writers tried to minimize the significance of Marx’s acknowledgement to Hegel is difficult to understand. Revolutionaries may not know it, but through Marx we all owe a debt to Hegel. We are enriched by his discovery of dialectics even if Hegel confined it to the world of thought. It is just as puzzling why so little has been said by the same writers about Lenin making a study of Hegel after the collapse of the Second International in 1914. In his Philosophic Notebooks, Lenin saw that thought in the mind of the human being can be creative. As against the old type of materialism expounded by many Marxist writers, to Lenin dialectics was the proof of working people changing society. The reluctance of Marxists to give sufficient attention to the Humanist Essays that Marx produced in 1844 is likewise puzzling. This abundance of material is presented by the author to give fresh meaning to Marxism.

Just as Marx and Lenin would, the author repudiates any suggestion that theory and practice can be separated. They are related dialectically. The present situation should bring about their higher unity; this is the author’s purpose. She has identified herself with the concrete struggles for freedom in East Europe, in Africa and in America. She has thrown herself into the Women’s Liberation movement now gathering strength, just as she has participated actively in the Black movement for more than a quarter of a century.

In this new work, as in all she writes, she makes visible the banner of freedom. What is basic for her is the curtailment of freedom under the present social order. The how and why of it is explained in the chapters on Marx’s Capital. It is important that these chapters be read by all interested in the industrial disputes and the problem of unemployment. Why is it that in Britain while the balance of payments is improved by the flow of North Sea oil, the number of unemployed has jumped to a record figure? What produces the problem of investment? What events caused Marx to make changes in the structure of Capital?

The recent virulent racialism and openly Nazi National Front activity in Britain arc today compelling even the bureaucratic Labour leaders to take a second look at Marx's famous statement: ‘“Labour in the white skin cannot be free so long as labour in the Black skin is branded.” This was neither beautiful rhetoric, nor intended only for the U.S. audience. It is so relevant to our day and age on both sides of the Atlantic that ours is the generation that can fully understand Marx’s restructuring of Capital under the impact of the Civil War in the U.S. and the consequent struggles for the shortening of the working day both in Great Britain and in the U.S.

The top politicians who have been tinkering with the economic problems plaguing this society have long since given up hope of getting any solution from the writings of the late Lord Keynes or anyone else. They would do well to read Rava Dunayevskaya on Karl Marx.

There is nothing dull in her writing. The reader feels that he or she is being allowed to see the picture. The road — the only road to freedom and human emancipation — is there for all to see, even if it is hard and up-hill.

Glasgow, Scotland
October 31, 1977