Review of “Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism: Race, Gender, Class and the Dialectics of Liberation – Editors.
Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987) was a Marxist, humanist, feminist and revolutionary thinker, neglected in both Marxist and feminist traditions. This collection presents Dunayevskaya as a strong Hegelian-Marxist philosopher, focusing on her novel interpretations of Hegel on absolute negativity as emphasising the positive that is contained in the negative, which, for Dunayevskaya, is a path to an absolute humanism. She reads Hegel’s absolutes as new beginnings, as a new form of liberation for today’s freedom struggles. Hegel’s absolutes, on her reading, constitute no closed ontology. For instance, Dunayevskaya argues that Marx’s engagement with the working class and their struggles led to the creation of an entirely new intellectual dimension and new philosophy of labour. The book discusses Dunayevskaya’s total opposition to existing society, one which does not stop at a first or bare negation, but which moves on to a second negation, to the positive within the negative, to express philosophically the longing of humans to be whole. The humanism that characterises Dunayevskaya’s account of the dialectics of liberation is her central contribution to Marxism: a unique form of humanism that speaks to the movement from practice to theory (and from theory to practice) in the processes of realising the whole human dimension.
In their contribution, Anderson and Hudis set out Dunayevskaya’s dual movement from theory to practice and from practice to theory. They mark an important shift found in Dunayevskaya’s work: that spontaneous revolts in social movements raise and develop theoretical questions in struggles against oppression, but that a philosophically grounded alternative to capitalism is needed to give action to their direction. The book successfully opens and defends the notion that the philosophy of liberation is indispensable, since the movement from practice is a form of theory, not the form of theory. Dunayevskaya takes from Marx his resistance to all static, stagnant ways of being, the deep apprehension of motion and transformation as principles of thought and of human process, and the mind-weaving dialectic as the flying shuttle in the loom of human activity (as shown in Monzo’s essay in this volume). The collection develops the engagement of Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom with the dialectical relation between theory and practice and between organisation and spontaneity that, she claims, will prove necessary to bring down capital. This dialectical relationship is crucial for creating opportunities for change and for reorganising social relations under capitalism. Dunayevskaya’s insights into these dialectical relations propose ways of imagining how current social movements can become better organised for challenging capital and its many antagonisms.
The collection focuses on Dunayevskaya’s ‘intersectional’ Marxist feminism. Dunayevskaya did not use this term herself, but she nonetheless engaged with intersectional questions and dialectics of history throughout her lifetime. The collection develops specific aspects of her work that explore intersectional feminism under the influence of Black struggles in the US and Africa, the revolutionary humanism of Frantz Fanon, and philosophies of revolution and revolutionary subjects. They also explore the unity of idealism and materialism and the dialectical relationship between practice and theory (influenced by Rosa Luxemburg and Gloria E. Anzaldúa), discussing women in movements for change (such as Black Lives Matter, the Zapatistas, Rojava, Idle No More). Ndindi Kitonga’s essay discusses revolutionary politics beyond class reductionism and directed towards the creation of human society. The collection shows that Dunayevskaya’s tendency towards intersectionality and her philosophy of freedom was developed in her dialogues with C.L.R. James and Grace Lee Boggs, through her philosophical correspondence with Herbert Marcuse about Hegel, Marx and dialectics, in her interest in socialist humanist tendencies in Eastern Europe and Africa, and in her correspondence with Erich Fromm on his Marx’s Concept of Man, where Dunayevskaya set out her Marxist-humanist understanding of Maoism and Guevarism.
Heather A. Brown’s essay explores gender politics in relation to historical events and the dialectics of history. She discusses instances in which women have taken leading roles against oppressive aspects of patriarchal capitalism, building non-racist, non-sexist societies with gender equality. Durkin, along the same lines, treats Dunayevskaya’s intersectional Marxism as a form of ‘absolute humanism’, which is nothing other than the articulation needed to sum up a classless, non-racist, non-sexist society, where truly new human relations self-develop. Relatedly, Kevin B. Anderson discusses Dunayevskaya’s distinction between two kinds of subjectivity: ‘revolutionary will’ (a form of subjectivity that has no regard for objective conditions) and an ‘alienated form of subjectivity’ (rooted in the dialectical development of the ground for revolution). The collection’s section on intersectionality shows that Dunayevskaya consistently focused on how the revolt of one oppressed group enables others to see their own oppressed state.
This collection also considers Dunayevskaya’s new interpretation of the dialectic against totalitarian communism. Her Marxist humanist reading of Hegel is presented as one of the most innovative aspects of her analysis of the USSR. This is directly linked to her break with Trotsky, reclaiming the concept of the politicisation of philosophy against authoritarianism and state repression. The collection successfully presents this in relation to black, brown and other race-based movements, pointing out that Dunayevskaya remained committed to understanding structural racism and its relationship to capital.
The contextualisation of Dunayevskaya’s work provided by these collective insights shows how she envisaged movements towards a better world to come, placing feminist concerns at the centre of her life and work. It covers the late 1970s work where she was turning increasingly toward a critical analysis of revolutionary feminism in the US and her new treatment of Rosa Luxemburg. Dunayevskaya was not Luxemburgian and criticised her failure to support anti-imperialist movements, but she extolled Luxemburg’s attacks on reformism, her concept of spontaneity, her refusal to separate feminism from revolutionary Marxism, and her commitment to revolutionary democracy, as seen in her critique of the one-party regime of Lenin and Trotsky. The collection insists on Dunayevskaya’s systematic approach to theory that reaches beyond economic analyses to new forces and passion in the dialectical movement of society. I find this aspect of her work the most generative for the future life of radical feminist social philosophy today. These collected essays show that Dunayevskaya proceeded to discuss Marx’s reconstruction of economic science, offering an interpretation of Marx’s critique of political economy: that original economic categories were so philosophically rooted that a new unity was created out of economics, philosophy, revolution. Dunayevskaya’s economic issues are ‘dissolved’ into philosophic ones in the collection, as Dunayevskaya strongly criticises Luxemburg’s lack of engagement with the dialectic. Dunayevskaya developed a post-Marx Marxism instead, targeted at not only Engels but also Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg, noting that none of them developed a fully dialectical version of Marxism and humanism.
The philosophical turn in this impressive collection comes in dreaming of building a new real-world alternative to capitalism across nation, gender, race. In these days of apocalyptic nuclear rhetoric, there has never been a more important time for Dunayevskaya’s intersectional Marxist feminism, her radical feminist social philosophy, articulated now through scenes of Eastern European migrations, anti-imperialist and anti-war movements of our times, and a longing for a new radical humanity based on solidarity to come.