A Student Activist on Hegel, Marx, and Dunayevskaya

Jackson Rodrigo

A student supporter of the University of California strike comments on Dunayevskaya’s chapter on Hegel and the French revolution in Marxism and Freedom — Editors

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a revolutionary philosopher who was the first of the German idealists to introduce historical analysis into philosophical thought; it was this breakthrough that would lay the foundation for Marx’s dialectical materialism. In Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom, she reiterates the importance of Hegel’s philosophy to Marxist thought. It remains true today that Hegelian philosophy is both foundational and necessary for a Marxist analysis of the world. Amid a particularly tumultuous period, between the ever-growing threat of climate catastrophe and the insatiable nature of capitalism approaching unsustainable levels, Hegel’s ideas of development through contradiction and freedom as a theme of human history seem especially prescient.

To begin with, Hegel’s famous dialectic is the concept of negation and development through contradiction. Marx would identify, “the dialectic of negativity as the moving and creative principle” (Dunayevskaya, 34) as one of Hegel’s greatest achievements. It is through the contradictions of capitalism, as detailed thoroughly in Marx’s Capital, that the proletariat may overturn and negate the system. Whether it be the contradictions in the relationship between worker and capitalist, the deteriorating conditions of laborers as a source of profit and the beginnings of a revolution, or capitalism’s desire for infinite growth in a world of finite resources, these contradictions plant the seeds of change. Thus, the development of humanity and Hegel’s conception of the dialectic is developed and pushed forward by contradiction.

Dunayevskaya further explains, “It is through the struggle of opposites that the movement of humanity is propelled forward” (Dunayevskaya, 34). In the current epoch, the internal contradictions of neoliberalism have continually provoked rebellions and responses that have the capacity to drive humans beyond our current material conditions. One example is the massive mobilization seen by the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other people at the hands of the police. A second example is the massive increase of strikes during October 2021, when workers, whose conditions during the Covid-19 Pandemic worsened significantly in juxtaposition to the capitalists who’ve continued to parasitically drain the surplus-value of labor, have managed to unite against their oppressors. It is through these movements that these contradictions may be resolved, and a better future is built. In the present, as it has been since time immemorial, the contradictions of our world become the catalyst for change.

While the importance of contradiction to development cannot be understated, the omnipresent theme of humanity and therefore all progress was identified by Hegel to be freedom. Dunayevskaya clarifies the importance of freedom to Hegelian philosophy, stating, “Freedom is the animating spirit, the ‘Subject’ of Hegel’s greatest works. All of history, to Hegel, is a series of historical stages in the development of freedom” (Dunayevskaya, 35). To Hegel, freedom was not a concept for which humans strived, rather, freedom was the very essence of humanity. It is this idea that allows Hegel to conceptualize “the stages of development of mankind as stages in the struggle for freedom. Thus he could present the past and present as a continuous development to the future, from lower to ever higher stages. This bond of continuity with the past is the lifeblood of the dialectic” (Dunayevskaya, 36). As Hegel posited, freedom has always been the crux of human activity, from the distant past where humans organized themselves into egalitarian forager groups, to the contemporary struggle against the state for representative democracy and economic freedom. It is undoubtedly the goal of humanity to draw on knowledge from all eras, to move closer towards true and all-encompassing freedom. Marxism expands upon Hegel’s dialectic, emphasizing the creativity and revolutionary potential of the proletariat, as the metaphorical bondsman, who is most aware of society’s contradictions and will push humanity in the direction of freedom.

In conclusion, it is Hegel’s unique brand of philosophy that provides the basis for a proper materialist analysis of human history. Marx would build upon Hegel’s work, but would not alter some of Hegel’s most important tenets; contradiction as the motivation for development, and human nature, the essence of humanity, being freedom. Marxism emphasizes the worker, the importance of labor, and includes severe critiques of capitalism as the present stage of human development. It is Marx’s goal to guide humanity beyond capitalism, towards a higher stage of freedom.


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1 Comment

  1. Sam Friedman

    The University of California strike was indeed a struggle for freedom, and in that regard an example and carrying forward of the dialectic of class and other struggle that Marx pointed to. I have been very impressed by the writings of Mary Jirmanus on that strike. She was an active rank and file participant and an organizer of a lot of activity from the ground up.

    One of the issues that is clear from the history of the strike is the need to develop the theory of labor bureaucracy, its origins, its dynamics, and its relationship to the self-organizing and politics of working class struggle and to the struggles against racial, gender, and disability oppression that strikes often involve.