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Raya Dunayevskaya

Raya Dunayevskaya
Full name Raya Dunayevskaya
Born May 1, 1910
Russian Empire
Died June 9, 1987 (aged 77)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Era 20th century
Region Western Philosophy
School Marxist-Humanism, Libertarian Marxism, Hegelian Marxism
Main interests social theory, social revolution, social movements, dialectical philosophy, Marxist praxis, Marxism
Notable ideas State capitalism, Movement from practice that is itself a form of theory, Black Masses as Vanguard, Absolute Negativity as New Beginning, Post-Marx Marxism as Pejorative

Raya Dunayevskaya (1 May 1910 – 9 June 1987) was the founder of the philosophy of Marxist Humanism in the United States of America. At one time Leon Trotsky's secretary, she later split with him and ultimately founded the organization News and Letters Committees and was its leader until her death.


[edit] Biography

Of Jewish descent, Dunayevskaya emigrated to the United States and joined the revolutionary movement in her childhood. Active in the American Communist Party youth organization, she was expelled at age 18 and thrown down a flight of stairs when she suggested that her local comrades should find out Trotsky's response to his expulsion from the Soviet Communist Party and the Comintern. By the following year she found a group of independent Trotskyists in Boston, led by Antoinette Buchholz Konikow, an advocate of birth control and legal abortion.[1]

Without getting permission from the U.S. Trotskyist organization, she went to Mexico in 1937 to serve as Leon Trotsky's Russian language secretary during his exile there.[1] Having returned to Chicago in 1938 after the deaths of her father and brother, she broke with Trotsky in 1939 when he continued to maintain that the Soviet Union was a "workers' state" even after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact). She opposed any notion that workers should be asked to defend this "workers' state" allied with Nazi Germany in a world war. Along with theorists such as C.L.R. James, and later Tony Cliff, Dunayevskaya argued that the Soviet Union had become 'state capitalist'. Toward the end of her life, she stated that what she called "my real development" only began after her break with Trotsky.[2]

Her simultaneous study of the Russian economy and of Marx's early writings (later known as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844), led to her theory that not only was the U.S.S.R. a 'state capitalist' society, but that 'state capitalism' was a new world stage. Much of her initial analysis was published in The New International in 1942-1943.

In 1940, she was involved in the split in the Socialist Workers Party that led to the formation of the Workers Party (WP), with whom she shared an objection to Trotsky's characterisation of the Soviet Union as a 'degenerated workers' state'. Within the WP, she formed the Johnson-Forest Tendency alongside C. L. R. James (she being "Freddie Forest" and he "J.R. Johnson", named for their party cadre names). The tendency argued that the Soviet Union was 'state capitalist', while the WP majority maintained that it was bureaucratic collectivist.

Differences within the WP steadily widened, and in 1947, after a brief period of independent existence during which they published a series of documents, the tendency returned to the ranks of the SWP. Their membership in the SWP was based on a shared insistence that there was a pre-revolutionary situation just around the corner, and the shared belief that a Leninist party must be in place to take advantage of the coming opportunities.

By 1951, with the failure of their shared perspective to materialise, the tendency developed a theory that rejected traditional Leninism and saw the workers as being spontaneously revolutionary. This was borne out for them by the 1949 U.S. miners' strike. In later years, they were to pay close attention to automation, especially in the automobile industry, which they came to see as paradigmatic of a new stage of capitalism. This led to the tendency leaving the SWP again to begin independent work.

After more than a decade of developing the theory of state capitalism, Dunayevskaya deepened her study of the Hegelian dialectic, taking on a task the Johnson-Forest Tendency had set itself: exploring Hegel's Philosophy of Mind. She discovered in Hegel's Absolutes a dual movement: a movement from practice that is itself a form of theory and a movement from theory reaching to philosophy. She considered these 1953 letters to be "the philosophic moment" from which the whole development of Marxist Humanism flowed.

In 1954-1955 Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James split. In 1955, she founded her own organization, News and Letters Committees, and a Marxist-Humanist newspaper, News & Letters, which remains in publication today. The newspaper covers women's struggles, the liberation of workers, people of colour, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual rights and the disability rights movement, while not separating that coverage from philosophical and theoretical articles.

Dunayevskaya authored what came to be known as her "trilogy of revolution": Marxism and Freedom: From 1776 Until Today (1958), Philosophy and Revolution (1973), and Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution (1982). In addition, she selected and introduced a collection of writings, published in 1985, Women's Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution.

In the last year of her life she was working on a new book which she had tentatively titled, Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy: The 'Party' and Forms of Organization Born Out of Spontaneity.[3]

Raya Dunayevskaya's speeches, letters, publications, notes, recordings and other items are located in the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit. Microfilm copies of the collection are available from the WSU Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs. Guides to the collection are available from News and Letters Committees.

[edit] Quotes

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Women Building Chicago, p. 239.
  2. ^ Chicago Literary Review, "Marxist-Humanism, an Interview with Raya Dunayevskaya," p. 16.
  3. ^ Many of her writings that were part of the process of work on the projected book are included in Volume XIII of the Supplement to the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection.

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