Review essay by Alyssa Adamson, first appeared in Theory, Culture & Society https://www.theoryculturesociety.org/blog/review-anderson-durkin-brown-raya-dunayevskayas-intersectional-marxism — Editors
Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism offers readers an entry point into the political and philosophical foundations of Marxist Humanism as developed by Raya Dunayevskaya. With a diversity of critical scholarly contributions, the text is divided into four parts: part one collects essays on Dunayevskaya’s contributions to scholarship on Hegel and dialectics; part two looks at the centrality of race and gender in Dunayevskaya’s writings; part three looks at Dunayevskaya’s life and work alongside other prominent twentieth century intellectuals and social movements, including the global reception of her work; part four outline the concepts of “freedom” and “liberation” within a Marxist Humanist framework.
Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism offers new and landmark essays on the understudied, but prescient, Marxist Humanist scholar-activist Raya Dunayevskaya. Dunayevskaya’s study of Hegel and Marx reveals the continuity of their philosophical method through a dialectics of human liberation. She directly contradicts the popularization of Alexandre Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel as the paramount idealist philosopher of the so-called “end of history”—who later Louis Althusser would say that Marx “turned on his head.” As Kevin Anderson and Peter Hudis write, against those who read Hegel’s Absolutes as the telos of a “‘closed ontology’ in which all particularities and differences are effaced in the name of an abstract unity…[Dunayevskaya] emphasized ‘the sheer genius of [Hegel’s] language which defines identity as ‘unseparated difference.’” (28) Dunayevskaya found Hegel’s most revolutionary conclusions about “freedom, subjectivity, reason, and the logic of a movement by which humanity makes itself free” (29) within Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind (Hegel, 1971). These revolutionary conclusions she sums up in the statement: “the movement from practice to theory” (Dunayevskaya, 2000; 276). This key insight guides her study of Marx as a philosopher who posits a philosophy of revolution forged from the insights of mass struggles for freedom. She would focus on movements understudied by much of the mainstream US-based Marxist left because she saw Marxist social theory as emerging from mass movements, not only at the point of production or under the direction of a vanguard of elite intellectuals. For example, she would systematically analyze the Abolitionist movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement, the 1976 Soweto youth uprising, and the anti-colonial African liberation movements that occurred during her lifetime.
Contra anti-humanist Louis Althusser who popularized the idea of a fundamental epistemological break within Marx’s oeuvre between the young humanist Marx of the 1844 manuscripts and the Marx of Capital (Althusser, 1969), Dunayevskaya reads Marx’s theory of alienation as the foundation of his ruthless critique of everything existing through the totality of his works. As she writes in Marxism and Freedom, “Marx’s primary theory is a theory of what he first called ‘alienated labour’ then ‘abstract’ or ‘value-producing’ labor. Capitalism begins when the capacity to labor becomes a commodity… Hence, it is more correct to call the Marxist theory of capital not a labor theory of value, but a value theory of labor.” (Dunayevskaya, 2000; 138) She foregrounds Marx’s most concrete analysis of what an actually socialized (i.e. humanized) society would entail. In the Critique of the Gotha Program Marx is careful to show that the abolition of private property is only the first negation of the law of capitalist value. Abolishing private property without transforming alienated social relations would not liberate humanity. Rather it is only through the next step of creating of a truly democratic society transforming all forms of alienated social relations that will bring actual liberation. The necessity of overcoming all forms of alienated social relations means, for Dunayevskaya, that mass struggles against sexism, heteronormativity, racism, ableism, and colonialism are essential to anti-capitalist struggle. This particular form of Hegelian-Marxism allowed her to articulate—alongside CLR James and Grace Lee Boggs—the innovative concept of state capitalism. Her analysis of state capitalism allowed her to identify the incomplete negation of the capitalist law of value as it was posited through bureaucratic state planning—as if that was the antidote to capitalism’s ills—whether this appeared in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or the New Deal United States. Her unique form of Hegelian-Marxism would also be the source of her critique of both Stalinism and Maoism, rendering her anathema on the popular US-left especially in the 1960s.
This volume of secondary literature on Dunayevskaya addresses all of these aspects of her work and more as they connect her insights to contemporary struggles within the framework of an intersectional approach to Marxism. The book is divided into four parts, the first focusing on her philosophical contributions in terms of her work on Hegel, dialectics, and her particular form of Marxist Humanism. The third and fourth chapters in this section by Alessandra Spano and Peter Hudis offer rare insight into the philosophical advances made by the Johnston Forest Tendency (JFT)—the intellectual alliance of Dunayevskaya, CLR James, and Grace Lee Boggs within the Trotskyist Workers Party. Hudis outlines their break with Trotskyism, as well as describes the eventual break-up of the JFT and the differing philosophical and political lines that emerged between Dunayevskaya, James, and Lee. The second section of the book collects essays focused on the centrality of race and gender in Dunayevskaya’s writings. The excellent introduction by Adrienne Rich to Dunayevskaya’s book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (Dunayevskaya, 1982) is reprinted in this section as a rare but substantive engagement by someone writing contemporaneously on feminist theory and praxis. Rich highlights the ways that Dunayevskaya shows Marx and Rosa Luxemburg’s work as essential fields of study for the feminist movement, especially if it wants to connect to analyses of women’s global resistance to oppression and European invasion. Contributions by Heather A. Brown, Ndindi Kitonga, and Lilia D. Monzó look to the avenues opened by Dunayevskaya’s analysis of women as “revolutionary force and reason.” Kitonga and Monzó focus on the significance of her writings on the “the Black dimension” of revolutionary praxis within the United States to her engagement with Pan-Africanism and anti-colonial movements in Africa and the Caribbean. Both authors target her concept of revolutionary subjectivity dovetailing nicely with contemporary forms of anti-racist and anti-colonial activism led primarily by women and gender non-conforming folks. Kitonga and Monzó highlight the important connections Dunayevskaya’s Marxist Humanism makes with abolitionist, Chicana, and indigenous feminisms.
The third section of the book collects essays that look at Dunayevskaya’s life and work alongside other prominent twentieth century intellectuals and social movements, including the global reception of her work. Both Rodolfo Mondolfo and David Black’s essays focus on the context and reception of Dunayevskaya’s 1958 text Marxism and Freedom prefaced by Herbert Marcuse. Paul Mason’s chapter situates Dunayevskaya’s Marxist Humanism within the major political and philosophical Marxist debates of the twentieth century, positing her as novel in the face of the more academically popular anti-humanist leftist intellectuals. He offers a kind of balance sheet of what is novel about Marxist Humanism in the twentieth century and why it is relevant for current political debates and struggles. Karel Ludenhoff’s essay compares and contrasts Dunayevskaya, Marx, and Rosa Luxemburg on the question of the tendency of the falling rate of profit. Ludenhoff shows Dunayevskaya’s analysis to stick much more closely to Marx’s analysis when it comes to theorizing the crises of capitalism, whereas Luxemburg would reify the market over productive forces.
The final section of the book looks at the concepts of “freedom” and “liberation” in Dunayevskaya’s writings. Essays here put her directly in conversation with political figures and activists of the twentieth century and contemporary social movements. Paul Mason contributes a second essay here comparing and contrasting Dunayevskaya’s Marxism with that of Leon Trotsky, Frieda Kahlo, and Natalia Sedova Trotsky, while Frédéric Monferrand’s chapter further delves into the theoretical advances made in Marxism and Freedom. Kieran Durkin outlines the philosophical and political implications of Dunayevskaya’s Marxist Humanist concept of state capitalism, particularly as it evolves as an extension of Hegel’s concept of determinate negation. Dunayevskaya’s dialectical analysis serves as a path beyond the typical readings of Cold War antinomies and the left’s relationship to struggles outside the point of production: “We can, in fact, see her engagement here—in this 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.’” (306) In the final essay of the volume, Kevin B. Anderson explores Dunayevskaya’s concepts of subjectivity as outlined in Marxism and Freedom. Anderson grounds Dunayevskaya’s revolutionary theory of subjectivity in Hegel’s analysis of differing philosophical perspectives of objectivity as well as Lenin’s philosophical development through his own turn to Hegel. It is in Dunayevskaya’s study of subjectivity and objectivity that she grounds her philosophical and political analysis of Stalinism, Maoism, and other mass movements like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Overall the framing of Dunayevskaya’s Marxism as intersectional is very useful. As Kitonga writes, not all intersectionality frameworks are revolutionary (135) nor do they always foreground Black anti-imperialist movements. If one of the continual debates on the left is about the meaning of “identity politics” or “politics of recognition” versus “class analysis,” Dunayevskaya’s Marxist Humanist perspective offers a useful way of understanding struggles for liberation that neither tokenizes nor reduces political analysis to an abstracted “class-first” perspective. Recent scholarship has done well to show that intersectional frameworks are not incompatible with Marxism, they have much shared intellectual and activist history (Bohrer, 2019). Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism is a landmark text not only because it is the first collection of secondary literature dedicated to Dunayevskaya, but it is also an essential volume to bring her critical insights to a wider audience. This text continues the critical discourse of the necessity of studying Marx for contemporary issues within an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist intersectional framework. Dunayevskaya’s work is imminently useful for those working in Hegel studies, Marxism, decolonial philosophy, abolitionist feminism, and queer theory. More importantly, Dunayevskaya’s insights are useful for anyone struggling for liberation from all forms of alienation and exploitation.
Althusser L (2006) trans. Brewster B. For Marx. London: Verso.
Bohrer A (2019) Marxism and Intersectionality. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.
Dunayevskaya R (1982) Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. New Jersey: Humanities Press.
Dunayevskaya R (2000) Marxism and Freedom. Amherst: Humanity Books.
Hegel GWF (1971) Trans. Miller AV. Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Kojève A (1980) Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Marx K (1974) Trans. Krader L. Ethological Notebooks. Assen: Van Gorcum & Co.