Marxism and Freedom is the most impactful book that Raya Dunayveskaya would write in her decades of scholarship. Coming on the heels of Dunayevskaya’s split with Correspondence in 1955, Marxism and Freedom includes a breathtaking and brilliant analysis of Marxism, Trotskyism, and state capitalism. Dunayevsakya follows a militantly dialectical approach, building a narrative of Marxism that is carried and re-evaluated by proletarian struggles, this tour de force begins with the French Revolution and ends with mid-20th-century automation. It is the key text by which one can understand how Dunayevskaya’s reading of Marx’s ‘humanism’ was central to the split with James, and also learn how she situates the concept within Marxism, past and present.
It would be silly to try and do any sort of review of the book as a whole given the focus of this blog, so we’ll note just a handful of thoughts and observations that occurred to us while preparing this post.
- There has been a growing number of Marx reading groups formed in recent years. Simultaneously, there has been an increasing interest in ‘guides’ to reading Capital: Harvey, Cleaver etc. It’s of note that Marxism and Freedom hasn’t seemed to draw attention as a guide, of sorts, to reading Marx, specifically but not limited to Capital. We hope that changes.
- If one is interested in understanding the Marxism of the News & Letters group, in its best articulation, this is the go-to.
- Dunayevskaya’s analysis of the French Revolution includes this stand out observation: “Democracy, thus, was not invented by philosophic theory nor by the bourgeois leadership. It was discovered by the masses in their methods of action. There is a double rhythm in destroying the old and creating the new which bears the unmistakable stamp of the self-activity, which is the truly working class way of knowing.”
- Key to Dunayevskaya’s analysis is her centering of relations of production in understanding capitalism, rather than distribution.
- In her analysis of the Russian Revolution, this quote: “Without the Humanism of Marx, and later, of Lenin, the economic theories of both are meaningless. Leaders are not classless creatures floating between heaven and earth. They are very much earth men. When they lose close connection with the working class, they begin to represent the only other fundamental class in society – the capitalist class.”
- Marxism and Freedom is a very good example of efforts by Marxists within the broad autonomist tradition to rescue Lenin from Stalin and embrace Lenin as a revolutionary thinker. It’s often forgotten in discussion of autonomist Marxism as a broad tradition that many ‘autonomists’ – from Johnson-Forest through Negri and so on – have a deep appreciation for Lenin and Leninism. From our perspective this is generally cringeworthy, but nevertheless it is an important piece of the tradition, both organizationally and analytically.
- In Marxism and Freedom, Dunayevskaya spares no blow at anarchists. This is seen in her analysis of Proudhon, but it shows up most forcefully in her analysis of anarchists during the early years of the Russian Revolution. She notes: “At this moment in our history – Lenin turned sharply to Shlyapnikov – you and your “Workers’ Opposition” are the greatest danger to our continued existence. Just look at your position, look at the Kronstadt mutiny and see how quickly the White Guards have grabbed on to the anarchistic, syndicalistic talk of ‘freedom from political leadership,’ and with guns in their hands, are threatening the new workers’ state.” In the endnote for that paragraph Dunayevskaya writes: “No one is as inventive in creating new words as those who try to hide an ugly truth. Thus, the Social Revolutionary, I.N. Steinberg, has invented for the word, counter-revolution, the expression “revolution within the revolution,” as the explanation for Kronstadt.” This is, from our point of view, a very unfortunate analysis of Kronstadt, which surely shouldn’t be reduced to a “counter-revolution.” Nonetheless, it is Dunayevskaya’s perspective.
We have a few copies of this book in our collection, but this copy is unique and a bit of a treasure. Dunayvskaya inscribed the book to John Miller in 1962:
John Miller was an autoworker who wrote a column for News & Letters for nearly two decades under the name John Allison. He died in 2003. News and Letters published an obituary:
This copy of the book seems to have traveled the used book trade. There’s a pricing of $.75 on the inside from a seller different from the one we purchased it from. A unique copy of this important text.