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.”
I love it when left groups upload old PDFs! My only complaint would be that the text is a little bit too fuzzy.
I have tried to find where later in life Raya Dunayevskaya became an critic of Trotsky. I have read many of her works, looked through the site you link to, and could find none. Would you mind stating which works this would be found in so we can read them?
Marxism and Freedom by Raya and Notes on Dialectics by CLR James both contain chapters on Trotsky, but both are underdeveloped, though acute and promising. Perhaps more notable is their split document with the SWP–State Capitalism and World Revolution. Though it’s not a critique of Trotsky per se, it is definitely a critique of Trotsky’s perspective on the nature and material basis of the Soviet Union. It also works out some criticisms of the Transitional Program. Happy reading!
You can find a more developed critique of Trotsky by Dunayevskaya in a number of places. Here are the three that I think are most important. First, there is a chapter on “Leon Trotsky as Theoretician” in her book Philosophy and Revolution (http://newsandletters.org/literature.htm#PandR). Second, there is a section on “Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution” in her book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (http://newsandletters.org/literature.htm#RLWLKM). And she wrote a beautiful piece on “Leon Trotsky as Man and as Theoretician” that you can order from News & Letters (otherwise it’s probably hard to find). It was originally published in 1977 in a journal called Studies in Comparative Communism, and was reprinted the same year in a pamphlet published by News & Letters called New Essays (that’s what you can order from News & Letters; it’s not listed on our website, but I think we have some copies we could part with). In both places it was followed by a comment by Ernest Mandel and a rejoinder by Dunayevskaya. You might also be interested in “Recollections of Leon Trotsky,” a piece we reprinted on the anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination last year (http://newsandletters.org/Issues/2010/Jul-Aug/ftaJulAug_10.asp).
News & Letters is the organization and newspaper started by Dunayevskaya. You can also get a copy of the magical blue pamphlet from us for a low, low price at http://newsandletters.org/literature.htm#MCTGC. By the way, I noticed that pages 88 and 89 are missing from the pdf posted here. Thanks to AS for posting your comments about the pamphlet!
I’m not sure if the Marxist method can be “Used for deep theorizing on race, gender, [and] sexuality…”
I haven’t read anything by Marx that can be useful for these topics. And most Marxists reduce their analysis to economics at the expense of these other areas of exploitation and domination.
If you have any good Marxist analyses of these topics please point me in the right direction.
Try 1844 ch 4 by marx on estranged labor, and see if it connects to racialized or gendered experiences.
And if you really want to get down, try reading Capital through the prism of race and or gender.
this is a very complicated and exciting field. it is perhaps largely underdeveloped and is fraught with tension. for instance, by analyzing race and gender from a materialist basis, do we run the risk of ‘reducing’ identities to questions of the division of labor? on the other hand, if identity has no material basis, then what is it exactly, and how can we resist oppressions that flow from it?
to pursue these questions it’s important to have a rigorous but dynamic understand of what materialism is and what a material basis is. by material basis i do not mean simply ‘economic’. but in fact the total process by which society and social relationships are mediated and reproduced. by material i do not mean simply ‘physical’, but i also recognize that the physical or biological is very real and very important–human beings must reproduce physically (eat, breathe, bear and raise children etc.) in order for social relations to exist at all.
and of course, the reproduction of society involves ideas and ideologies, art, culture…SO, if you’d like a piece on sex, race, and class, i really recommend “Sex, Race, and Class,” by Selma James: https://advancethestruggle.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/sex-race-and-class-selma-james/.
it’s a start, and by following up with it you may find many other interesting pieces from marxists and feminists of many stripes which can display the dynamism of marxism and also the challenges it faces with regards to theorizing race and sex and gender. along the way you may also take interest in the work that’s been done around primitive accumulation and race and gender formations. that kind of work really sets up an understanding of history that challenges us to theorize ‘identity/caste’ relations in a deeper way.