Why Raya Dunayevskaya? Why Today?

Dilan Ergün Tekingündüz

Summary: Explores how absolute negativity “is both unconditional and infinite” in Hegel, Marx, and Dunayevskaya on the fiftieth anniversary of her Philosophy and Revolution — Editors

Illustration by MGLima-Hipergrafia Studio

Raya Dunayevskaya was one of the first thinkers to witness the discovery of the Paris Manuscripts, which contained Marx’s early discussions on Hegelian dialectics, the theory of alienation, the negation of private property as communism, and ultimately humanism. As we know, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts were first compiled and published in the original German sources by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in the Soviet Union during the 1920s.

This is a crucial detail because Dunayevskaya truly witnesses the ruptures in Marx’s philosophical journey. I don’t identify this as a continuity debate; I see it as fulfillment, and I believe Dunayevskaya plays a very significant role in this fulfillment, at least for the present day. Not only the Manuscripts, but also the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Rights, the Introduction Marx wrote to this critique, and of course Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks are all fundamental sources that Dunayevskaya had the direct opportunity to examine before many other thinkers, and we can see their influence in her thought process. And these sources converge at this common ground: Dialectics. Therefore, in light of issues of the modern world such as labor conditions, women’s and children’s rights, the freedom of African Americans, social or gender inequalities, racism, fascism, and the deprivation of freedom felt more deeply today, we should debate whether turning to Hegelian dialectics can be a possibility for “permanent freedom.” This discussion is therefore not only Marx’s but also Dunayevskaya’s legacy to us.

Today, we often associate the philosophical interpretation of Hegelian dialectics with Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, specifically in discussions such as the Master-Slave Dialectic, debates on externalization, or perhaps unhappy consciousness. Alternatively, if starting from the Science of Logic, we select higher-level philosophical concerns like being, essence, or maybe substance. For Dunayevskaya, dialectics constitutes both the core and essence of Hegelian philosophy. However, her primary interest in Hegelian dialectics lies in Hegel’s Absolutes and, more specifically, the discourse of “absolute negativity.”

One could explain, in philosophical terminology, that “absolute” refers to something that carries its reason within itself and is self-determined, unlimited, and unconditional. Hegel acknowledges that the absolute is both unconditional and infinite while also emphasizing that it forms a specific totality. According to him, whether ideal or material, all determinations dynamically and systematically constitute a whole, along with their opposites. Therefore, when dialectics is involved, the finite cannot be separated from the infinite, the absolute from the relative, or the essence from appearance. In Hegel’s philosophy, the concept of “absolute negativity” is determined through the dialectical law in the form of the “negation of the negation,” because negation cannot be completed in a single moment.

The dialectical law, called here the negation of the negation, can seem at first sight to invalidate or deny a fact, a theory, or a modality of existence. However, dialectics is concerned with the nature of development despite all of its contradictions. Marcuse’s example fits this description quite well. “The dialectic is the ‘dialectic of negativity.’ Every fact is more than a mere fact; it is a negation and restriction of real possibilities. Wage labor is a fact, but at the same time, it is a restraint on free work that might satisfy human needs. Private property is a fact, but at the same time it is a negation of man’s collective appropriation of nature.”[1] In this way, movement, change, and development proceed through an unbroken series of negations. Negation doesn’t appear in the form of mere annihilation. It corresponds to a moment in a stage of development and carries both positives and negatives within itself. Therefore, the dialectical movement progresses from one moment of understanding toward its opposites. In this process, it not only absorbs and eliminates its existence but also includes and moves toward the next stage. [2]

I’m not aiming to directly discuss Hegelian dialectics here, but I believe that Dunayevskaya’s notion of the need to turn to Hegel when discussing Marx’s philosophical interests is important for a proper understanding of Marx. This is because Dunayevskaya provides us with the following definition in Philosophy and Revolution: “The dialectic as a continuous process of self-development, a process of development through contradiction, through alienation, through double negation- begins with sense-certainty and never stop its ceaseless motion, not even at its apex, Absolute Knowledge. It is the development of mankind’s history from bondage to freedom”[3]

This description is important for us because what Dunayevskaya saw in Marx’s philosophical development was his discovery of Hegel’s determination of freedom as the ultimate point to be reached under all conditions.

Why, however, was Marx talking about the dialectic falling into a “mystification” in Hegel’s hands? Why did he believe that it needed to reach its rational kernel within the mystical shell and put the dialectic back on its feet? I think Dunayevskaya’s response to these questions is quite satisfying. For her, Marx inherits and develops Hegel’s dialectical method. However, with his positive abolition of private property and his emphasis on revolutionary class struggle, it is still Marx who can finally liberate the Hegelian dialectic from its mystical surroundings. Therefore, for Dunayevskaya, “Marx attacks Hegel, not for seeing the development and yet making it a question of ‘Absolute Knowledge’ instead of a question of the new society which the revolutionary practice of the proletariat – not some abstract negativity- would bring about.”[4]

Dunayevskaya makes Hegel’s concept of absolute negativity evident in Marx’s philosophy of liberation, presenting ways for concretizing dialectics alongside Marxist-Humanism and turning to its practical reflections. She renders Marxism visible in today’s world. This requires another question: What will happen the day after the revolution?

This question clearly indicates the necessity of dialectics in progress and development, in transforming the bud into a flower, and perhaps in achieving lasting liberation. At this very moment, Dunayevskaya, while setting down a new path from Hegel’s Absolutes to the heart of Marxism, defines the new movement that reaches from theory to practice as Marxist-Humanism. Because Marx, in the Manuscripts, termed “the series of humanistic essays” by Dunayevskaya, doesn’t aim only to expose the alienations, disappointments, dismal working conditions of laborers, and even worse living conditions of capitalist society. He also emphasizes how complete liberation will occur through the negation of all these and how essential it is. According to Marx, there is a need for a reversal in the control of the productive forces over individuals. For Dunayevskaya, Marx at this point turns back to the rational essence, the deep passion for freedom under the abstract and mystical shell of Hegelian dialectics. The critical and revolutionary essence Marx sees in Hegelian dialectic is the driving principle of a new and free form of society. As Dunayevskaya told us: “In any case, what we have to do is examine Hegelian philosophy as is, its movement. We need to do this not for Hegel’s sake, but for ours.”[5]


[1] Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, p. 282.

[2] Hegel, Science of Logic, p. 213-214.

[3] Dunayevskaya, Philosophy and Revolution p.10.

[4] Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom from 1176 until Today, p. 57.

[5] Dunayevskaya, Philosophy and Revolution p.6



Dunayevskaya, Raya. 1958. Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 until Today, New York: Bookman Associates.

Dunayevskaya, Raya. [1973] 1982 Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao, New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Hegel, G. W. F. 2010. The Science of Logic, trans. by. George Di Giovanni, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. [1941] 1955. Reason and Revolution: Hegel and The Rise of Social Theory, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


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