On Philosophy, Revolution, and Communism

Karel Ludenhoff

Summary: Response delivered at July 2022 Convention of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization to the draft reports of Peter Hudis and Kevin Anderson — Editors

Let me begin with Peters Hudis’s statement in his report that “Turning points in history bring out new divides within the Left, but also new opportunities to reorganize around a vision of universal human emancipation.” Yes, just so. That is why Harry McShane in his preface to “Marxism and Freedom” emphasizes that for Raya Dunayevskaya (RD) “Marxism is a theory of liberation or it is nothing.”

When Peter is talking about the turning point now and is pointing to universal human emancipation I have to think of that other turning point, the year 1953. And I am specifically thinking of the two Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes of May 12 and 20, 1953, from RD to Grace Lee Boggs. They are basic for our specific Marxist-Humanist conception of humanism based on Marx’s humanism, a humanism which is different from all other forms of humanism.

In Kevin Anderson’s report in the passage about Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program he writes “And need I even mention that this kind of social individuality, as espoused by Marx as a linchpin of communism, as in what Hegel called “an individuality…purified of all that interferes with its universalism,” stands diametrically opposed to the atomistic, selfish individualism of homo economicus under capitalism?” Kevin refers to RD, Marxism and Freedom, p. 39 and Hegel, Philosophy of Mind/Spirit [German: PhG], paragraph 481. I prefer to refer here to the Letter of May 20 because it gives more context and points to the fundamental notion of RD: “social individual.” So, at first a quote from the Letter in which RD is quoting from Hegel’s paragraph 481 in the PhG:

“By superseding the adjustments of means therein contained, the will is the immediate individuality self-instituted— an individuality, however, also purified of all that interferes with its universalism, i.e. with freedom itself.” (Power of Negativity, p.27)

And then RD continues coming: “In a word, not the free will of the Ego, the unhappy consciousness, but the free will of the social individual, ‘an individuality…purified of all that interferes…with freedom itself’” (PON, p.27)

These words of RD are dialectics, based in Hegel and Marx, in optima forma. Why? For several reasons.

Firstly, she is stressing here the free will as coming from the social being of human beings connected to freedom, or in Peter’s words “universal human emancipation.” We have to think here of course immediately of Marx’s Sixth Thesis on Feuerbach thesis,[1] which, for example, as Lucien Sève clearly demonstrates (Penser avec Marx aujourd’hui, Vol. 2: L’Homme?, 2008, above all pp 60- 71), the anti-humanist Althusser and humanistic-oriented Marxists like Lefebvre and Garaudy in France — and Schaff in Poland — so misunderstood that Althusser rejected the humanism of Marx, and the latter three could not break through to the quintessence of Marx’s humanism, to wit – a specific notion of human essence. Secondly, we know that RD’s conception of the 1844 Manuscripts as to social being (think of Marx’s notion of a unified Naturalism/Humanism) also includes the concept of metabolism between humankind and nature, a Marxist-Humanist ecological concept avant la lettre. When we talk about  metabolism nowadays in capitalist society and metabolism in socialism/communism in relation to human freedom we have to deal carefully with the sentence to which Kevin refers when he is unpacking a passage of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program: “One thing to note is economic development, wherein ‘the productive forces have also increased’ and ‘all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly,’ thus establishing the abundant material basis for communism that would not be one of shared poverty).”[2] Ten years before Marx wrote his CGP, in his Capital Manuscript 1864-65, he already noted that “Freedom, in this sphere [of natural necessity- KL], can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern their metabolic interaction with nature rationally, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; … But this always remains a realm of necessity.” And for the true realm of freedom, Marx states, “The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite” (cited in Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism, pp. 213-14).

Actually, Marx is here taking up a position as to the “limits” of human freedom, after a lot of study in the social and natural sciences, which he already in his Hegel critique in the 1844 Manuscripts brought to the fore. For as Peter interprets this, and I think rightly, in his Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism (p.90): “At the same time, Marx’s critique of Hegel and his embrace of ‘positive humanism, beginning from itself’ also emphasize the crucial importance of natural existence. Marx denies that nature can be completely subsumed by human subjective activity…. An irreducible gap exists between human praxis and the natural world, no matter how much humanity strives to overcome it, and this gap needs to be accepted and celebrated. Capitalism denies this, since it reduces everything—including the natural world— to having and consumption.”

Thirdly, when RD is writing “not the free will of the Ego, the unhappy consciousness “I am thinking automatically of Marx’s critique of Stirner in the German Ideology, valuable for, as Kevin writes, “a critique of the atomistic, selfish individualism of homo economicus under capitalism.”

In dealing with these two Letters, I am aware that RD in her “Presentation on the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy” (34 years after the two Letters and a lot of research) is looking for the organic connection between organization and philosophy. A crucial passage in her Presentation is to my opinion the following:

“At the point when the theoretic-form reaches philosophy, the challenge demands that we synthesize not only the new relations of theory to practice, and all the forces of revolution, but philosophy’s “suffering, patience and labor of the negative’, i.e., experiencing absolute negativity. Then and only then will we succeed in a revolution that will achieve a classless, non-racist, non-sexist, truly new society” (Power of Negativity, pp. 8-9).

For me this passage opens up “philosophic” questions, and when I talk about philosophy I always have in mind “philosophy of revolution”. What is the substance of the theoretic-form? How is this theoretic-form reaching philosophy? What are these new relations of theory? In what way are the different social activities, i.e., practice, a form of theory? What is to say about the different levels of practice and how they are reaching philosophy?

These questions may be seen as too abstract, but they are only abstract on the philosophical level. They are however of vital importance for a praxis directed to break down capitalist society.

RD is writing in the passage I quoted about one of the elements of this praxis, “i.e., experiencing absolute negativity.” This does raise for me the question, experiencing absolute negativity in what size or quantity? In what size or quantity is this needed as common good in “masses in motion”? Sometimes Leftists refer to Gramsci, who said that every man/woman is a philosopher. That is obviously not correct. Every man/woman is more or less thinking, yes, but surely not a philosopher, but can become a philosopher— not in the academic sense— of revolution.



1 Marx’s Sixth Thesis on Feuerbach reads: “Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled: (1) To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual. (2) Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as ‘genus,’ as an internal, dumb, generality which naturally unites the many individuals.” Marx: Early Writings, translated by Rodney Livingstone (Penguin Books 1975), p. 423.

2 Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, translated and annotated by Kevin B Anderson & Karel Ludenhoff (PM Press, 2022), page 59.


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