Marx's unchaining of the dialectic

Submitted by libcom on July 27, 2005

Marx's unchaining of the dialectic

Editors Note: As part of our ongoing effort to spur new discussion on the relation of philosophy and organization, we republish excerpts of a speech given by Dunayevskaya on Jan. 1, 1983 to the National Editorial Board of NEWS & LETTERS. The introduction and first part of the presentation appear here. Unless otherwise indicated, footnotes are by the author. The original can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 7639.


by Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.

Introduction: Where and How to Begin Anew?

The reason that we begin, not objectively as usual, but subjectively, is that the "here and now" demands a deeper probing into the creative mind of Marx.

The warp and woof of the Marxian dialectic, the unchained Hegelian dialectic, THE dialectic of the revolutionary transformation is, after all, true objectively and subjectively. Yet Part III of ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION, AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION begins the probing of Marx before he fully broke with bourgeois society, when he worked on his doctoral thesis "On the Difference between Democritus and Epicurus." Thus began his very first critique of Hegel, in 1841, as it appeared in the Notes that were known only to himself. What did appear in the doctoral thesis itself was what pervaded those Notes, i.e., the question: How to begin anew?

The reason that question reappears here is not to emphasize how it antedated Marx's discovery of a whole new continent of thought and revolution, but rather because it reappeared in its true profundity in Marx's own greatest work, CAPITAL (I'm referring to the definitive French edition, 1875) as well as in the very last decade of his life, in what we now call Marx's "new moments" of discovery.

Let me rephrase this. The crucial truth is that the question: How to begin anew? informed the whole of his dialectic methodology-even AFTER his discovery of a whole new continent of thought, even AFTER the publication of the first edition of CAPITAL as well as the 1875 edition, AFTER the Paris Commune, WHEN he took issue with Mikhailovsky who had written what turned out to be what all POST-Marx Marxists likewise accepted as the climax of the work, that is, the "Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation" as a universal. Marx, on the other hand, held that that summation of Western capitalist development was just that-the particular development of capitalism-which need not be the universal path of human development. Here we have the unique way Marx practiced summation as a new beginning.

The concept of totality as new beginning was true also on the organizational question: How to begin a new organization WHEN it is to express a whole philosophy of revolution. Marx answered that question in his letter to Bracke, in which he enclosed what he modestly called "Marginal Notes" to the "Program of the German Workers' Party." That was the letter in which he noted also that finally the French edition [of CAPITAL] was out and he was sending it to Bracke. The fact that no post-Marx Marxists saw that inseparable relationship of organization to philosophy of revolution is the more remarkable when you consider that Marx's closest collaborator, Frederick Engels, was not only still alive but worked with Marx very closely in sending letters to the various so-called Marxist leaders as Marx tried to stop the unification of the Eisenachists and Lassalleans on the basis of the Gotha program. Beyond the peradventure of a doubt, the CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM formulated a totally different basis for the establishment of a Marxist "Party."

It becomes necessary once again to emphasize that year, 1875, as not only the year in which both the French edition of CAPITAL was completed and the CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM was written. That year also predates by two years the letter Marx wrote on Mikhailovsky (but never sent), criticizing his concept of the "historical tendency" as a universal, insisting that it was the summation of capitalist development in Western Europe and that "the Russians" could "find a path of development for their country different from that which Western Europe pursued and still pursues"-and that, in fact, if Russia didn't find that different path "she will lose the finest chance ever offered by history to a people and undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist regime."

Think again about the question of how faithful Engels was to the Gotha Program critique, not only in the letters written when Marx was alive, but in the fact that he kept at the German Social-Democrats for a full 15 years after the Party did not publish that criticism, and only in 1891 did get it published.

The tragic truth is that it didn't make any difference when they did publish it. It didn't become ground for the new openly Social-Democratic organization. Nor was any parallel drawn by anyone, including Frederick Engels, between organization and Marx's whole philosophy, though clearly, definitively, this was what Marx's Critique aimed at. And just as clearly, [Marx's] covering letter warned against the unification BECAUSE there was to be "no bargaining about principles." Quite the contrary, he "and Engels would make clear" that they had "nothing in common with it" (the Gotha Program).

In a word, it wasn't only the Eisenachists and Lassalleans who knew how to misuse the fact that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels didn't make public their break with the Gotha Program and the German Workers' Party. The truth is that the German Social-Democrats, who did consider themselves "orthodox" under its leading "Marxist" theoretician, Karl Kautsky, did the very same thing later. This time the reason rested in the claim that, since they adhered to Marx's "theories," their Party was the organization of vanguard socialism. They succeeded in so twisting the very concept of vanguardism that they made "the Party" read "the VANGUARD Party." That was NOT Marx's concept, as we shall see in a moment as we turn to the third new moment in Marx on organization. It is high time for Marxist-Humanists to concretize "Where and how to begin anew" for our age by looking at those "new moments" in Marx as the trail to the 1980s.

The Four New Moments in Marx

The first new moment that was not grasped by the first post-Marx Marxist generation was due not merely to the fact that Engels had omitted the paragraph from the French edition of CAPITAL, which had been definitively edited by Marx, when Engels transferred Marx's additions to the German.(1) Marx's point in that omitted paragraph on further industrialization (as it covered the whole nation) and, with it, the predomination of foreign over internal trade, was that although the world market annexed "vast lands in the New World, in Asia, in Australia," that wouldn't abate the general crisis of capitalism. On the contrary. The new development in capitalism meant that the ten-year cycle he had originally cited as the crisis that regularly follows capitalism's growth would occur more often.

What wasn't grasped by a less creative mind than Marx's was that, far from the climactic "Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation" signifying universality for all technological development, it characterized only Western Europe while "the Russians" could choose a different path. Post-Marx Marxists failed to grasp this because they separated economic laws from the dialectics of revolution. For Marx, on the other hand, it was just this concept of revolution which changed everything, INCLUDING ECONOMIC LAWS. He rejected the fact of Western capitalist development as a universal for all, delved into the latest anthropological studies, and then wrote to Vera Zasulich stressing the possibility for revolution to erupt in a technologically backward country like Russia "ahead of the West." In this letter to Zasulich he had made direct reference to the "American" (he was referring to [Henry Lewis] Morgan's ANCIENT SOCIETY) whose studies of pre-capitalist societies, Marx thought, further proved that the peasant commune form of development could lead Russia, if the historic conditions were ripe AND it was working with West Europe, as well, to initiate revolution.

To make sure that none misunderstood his concept of revolution and the prediction of revolution in the "East" ahead of the "West," he (this time with Engels) had written a new Introduction to the Russian edition of nothing less important than his COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. There he publicly spelled out that prediction. That was 1882!

This was not the only new moment Marx discovered which post-Marx Marxists didn't grasp. The second new moment again related to theory. This time it was a new interpretation of the dialectic itself in two crucial areas in the transformation of reality. Everyone knows the 1850 Address [to the Communist League], which ended with the call for "revolution in permanence," though hardly anyone has related it to Marx's continuing concretization of the dialectic of negativity, as the dialectics of revolution. None seem to have even begun to grapple with what it meant for Marx, as he was already completing economic analysis of capitalism (AND pre-capitalist societies) in the GRUNDRISSE in 1857, to have so fully integrated the dialectic and the economics as to articulate that the socialism that would follow the bourgeois form of production signified "the absolute movement of becoming."(2) What an Hegelian expression to use to describe that full development of all the talents of the individual that would mark the new socialist society!

That the question of individual self-development and social, revolutionary, historical development would thus become one manifests itself in the GRUNDRISSE. It is no accident that it was there where Marx stopped speaking of only three universal forms of human development-slave, feudal and capitalist-and included a fourth universal form: the "Asiatic mode of production." That post-Marx Marxists failed to have that as ground for working out the reality of their age and thus anticipate what we now call a whole new Third World is exactly what this age is still suffering from.

The third new moment-that on organization-was not only not grasped, but actually rejected. Post-Marx Marxists were always "proving" that, because Marx had not worked out a "theory" of organization, while Lassalle knew how to build a mass party, he left them no model to practice. The First International, they said, had included so many contradictory tendencies that Karl Marx was forced to "consign it to die in the U.S." Indeed, all of them were quick to twist the whole concept of "vanguardism" as if it meant, simply and only, "the party." Neither "Leninists" NOR OPPONENTS OF LENIN have been willing to acknowledge that the ground for [Lenin's] WHAT IS TO BE DONE? was, PRECISELY, the ground of the German Social-Democracy. And that includes Rosa Luxemburg, despite all her great achievements on the actuality of spontaneity. While Lenin rejected any type of "half-way dialectic" on the National Question, he did not see that same type of "half-way dialectic" in himself on the question of the "vanguard party."

The whole truth is-and that is first and foremost-Marx never separated organization forms from his total philosophy of revolution. Indeed, as was shown when we kept stressing the year, 1875, Marx had worked out his whole theory of human development in CAPITAL and in the organizational document, THE CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM-because his principle, a philosophy of revolution, WAS THE GROUND ALSO OF ORGANIZATION. In a word, it was not only the state which Marx held must be destroyed, totally uprooted. He showed that the proletarian organization likewise changed form. Thus, the First International, Marx said, "was no longer realizable in its FIRST HISTORICAL FORM" (CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM).

This, history shows, was not understood by the first post-Marx Marxists. It would take nothing short of the German Social-Democracy's betrayal at the outbreak of World War I before Lenin totally broke with them, and first saw Marx's CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM as most relevant for his day. It was then also that he spelled out most concretely how revolutionaries could not just "take over" the bourgeois state machinery. That had to be smashed to smithereens. Lenin made that revolutionary message both more concrete and more comprehensive-a true concrete Universal-when he saw, as inseparable, Marx's theory of revolution and his theory of human development, concluding, "The whole theory of Marx is an application of the theory of development." Yet, as we know, Lenin still left the concept of the vanguard party in its old (though modified) form.

A new historic age was needed to work out all the ramifications. A new movement from practice as a form of theory had to emerge and be recognized before a new attitude could be worked out, and that meant, far from freeing the movement from theory of ITS responsibilities, the movement from practice was demanding that theory, too, undergo self-development so that it could concretize for a new age Marx's revolutionary dialectical philosophy, which he had called a "new Humanism."

By the time, in 1956, that the Hungarian Revolution brought Marx's philosophy onto the historic stage, we had developed that new Humanism in the U.S. By 1960, the Third World theorist Frantz Fanon had developed his liberation philosophy and called it "a new Humanism." By the 1970s Marx's ETHNOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS were finally transcribed so that MARX'S Marxism could be seen AS A TOTALITY. It is this which ROSA LUXEMBURG, WOMEN'S LIBERATION, AND MARX'S PHILOSOPHY OF REVOLUTION is rooted in when it takes a new look at Marx's 1875 Critique. The new book devotes a whole chapter to the Critique, entitling that chapter: "The Philosopher of Permanent Revolution Creates Ground for Organization." This sums up that third new moment in Karl Marx on organization in his age and in ours.

The fourth new moment which opened with the ETHNOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS (finally transcribed in the 1970s) reveals itself equally and even more urgently relevant to our age for Women's Liberation. It is this work which enables us to see with new eyes that Marx's 1844 concept of Man/Woman(3)-far from being something that only the allegedly "utopian" young Marx had articulated-was deepened throughout his life.

Thus, in 1867, as he was preparing the first edition of CAPITAL for the press, and Dr. Kugelmann had given him his early essays, Marx wrote to Engels: "We have nothing to be ashamed of." Marx also related these early essays to the 1867 debates around CAPITAL, holding that "the feminine ferment" was inherent in revolutions THROUGHOUT HISTORY.

From his activities in the Paris Commune, we know how Marx had laid the ground in establishing the Union des Femmes, following this through by making it a principle that the First International establish autonomous women's organizations. Finally, with his last work, the ETHNOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS, he further enshrined this new attitude by showing the revolutionary presence of women throughout history, from the Iroquois women to the Irish women before British imperialism conquered Ireland.

Clearly, all four new moments, in theory and practice, in organization and spelling out "the new passions and new forces" for the reconstruction of society on new, Humanist beginnings-first naming the proletariat as Subject; then working out the revolutionary role of the peasantry, not only as in Engels' PEASANT WARS but as in the peasant communal form in the 1880s; and always singling out youth and then women as Reason as well as forces of revolution-have laid new paths of revolution...


1. This refers to the paragraph, added to chapter 25 of the French edition of CAPITAL, in which Marx refers to how "the world market had successively annexed extensive areas of the New World, Asia and Australia..." Left out of the fourth German edition by Engels, it appears as a footnote to p. 786 of the Ben Fowkes translation of CAPITAL, Vol. I, p. 78.-Ed.

2. Marx was rereading Hegel's LOGIC as he worked on the GRUNDRISSE and wrote to Engels [on January 16, 1858], that this chance rereading was a great help to him in creating a newform for presenting his economic studies. That "new form" of integrating dialectics and economics further[more] led Marx to reworking the first draft, GRUNDRISSE, into the final form, CAPITAL.

3. One so-called independent Marxist, Hal Draper, dared to refer to these 1844 Essays as being no more than "the lucubrations of this new-fledged socialist."