Capital and Today’s Crisis by Raya Dunayevskaya
Millions of workers have been laid off since the 2007 crisis, creating a new political world where turbulence is to be expected in the coming period. A new generation of activists has been reading Karl Marx’s Capital to understand our changing contemporary political reality. This new political reality demands a political theory to explain and help transform it. Who is building a revolutionary framework for this process? The contemporary revolutionary left is largely an extension of 1960s Trotskyist and Maoist groups, fighting for correct leadership over movements, or anarchist and insurrectionist currents, trying to set a spark to the dry wood of the people. Are these our only revolutionary political options? Raya Dunayevskaya, great but generally-ignored Marxist theorist, was at one point Trotsky’s secretary but later broke from and critiqued Trotskyism through the Marxist method. Well-known Trinidadian co-thinker CLR James (author of The Black Jacobins on the Haitian slave revolution) has overshadowed her, and she is often dismissed as a cult leader. One day, a member of Advance the Struggle found a Dunayevskaya pamphlet that AS militants informally labeled “The Magical Blue Pamphlet” (MBP).
It is often assumed that Marx’s Capital is a work that explains Capitalist economics. And it does, but to reduce it to that ignores the revolutionary fire built into the text. Raya recontextualizes Capital by demonstrating how it embodies the experience of revolutionary movements; this provides a direct challenge to theorists like famous Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, whose “vulgarization of Marx’s analysis of the dialectical relationship between production and its reflection in the market” Raya smashes on in “Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital.” One of Dunayevskaya’s central points is that capital is not a thing that oppresses us but a relationship we are subjected to. She explores how the American slave revolts and the Paris Commune formed and deepened Marx’s understanding of capital, summarizes the three volumes of Capital as a singular political unit of revolutionary logic, then finishes the pamphlet by exploring the Russian revolution.
Dunayevskaya describes how after the dissolution of the Marxist Second International on the eve of World War I, the amount of organized internationalist revolutionaries could have fit into a studio apartment. The giant organizations of Marxism fragmented overnight when much of their leaderships joined the patriotic rush to war. International revolutionary Marxism’s organizational collapse revealed the theoretical degeneration that had been happening under the surface, and convinced V.I. Lenin of the need to renew the theoretical foundations of the revolutionary Left. In the middle of the Russian revolutionary ferment, Lenin escaped for a year to read the work of pre-Marxist dialectical philospher G.W.F. Hegel (particularly The Science of Logic) and renew revolutionary Marxism by applying Marx’s dialectical method to history. (Here are Lenin’s notes on The Science of Logic.) Lenin broke with the influence of his previous mentor, German Marxist Karl Kautsky, and gave birth to a new revolutionary Marxism that became the central theoretical engine of the October 1917 revolution of Russia.
Very few Marxist thinkers have written such ambitious work that helps us use Marxist theory to understand our political reality and advance struggle. Even though this pamphlet was written as a response to the 1973 crisis, it sheds light on our situation today. Many activists still view Marxism as a static White man’s ideology and seek an alternative; unfortunately conferences full of social-democratic and Trotskyist Marxists don’t challenge this perspective. The dynamism of this pamphlet however, shows the power of the Marxist method and the exceptions to this stereotype. Used for deep theorizing on race, gender, sexuality and the self-activity of the working class, the Marxist method can open the gateway for a new revolutionary movement that can challenge American capitalism. We think the content of this pamphlet can contribute to this movement as part of its theoretical content that needs to be fused with practical militant organizing. Such a movement will need organizations of committed revolutionaries guided by the most advanced revolutionary theory and executing serious class struggle organizing in healthy, supportive units, each of which acts as a singular, combined political force. With that said, we hope you enjoy one of AS’s Marxist classics, “The Magical Blue Pamphlet.”