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Summary Article: Dunayevskaya, Raya (1910–1987) from Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice

The life of Raya Dunayevskaya fused intense philosophical investigation with active engagement in liberatory social struggles. Dunayevskaya advanced a unique theory of state-capitalism, originated the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism, and founded News and Letters Committees.

Dunayevskaya, born in the Ukraine, settled in Chicago in 1922. As a teenager, she was active in the Young Workers League, a communist youth organization, and the American Negro Labor Congress. Dunayevskaya worked as Leon Trotsky’s Russian-language secretary from 1937 to 1938 in Mexico. Following the Hitler-Stalin pact, Dunayevskaya broke with Trotsky, rejecting his defense of Russia as a workers’ state.

This break led to her collaboration with C. L. R. James, a Trinidadian Marxist. In 1941, they formed the state-capitalist, or Johnson-Forest Tendency, in the American Trotskyist movement. In the early 1940s, Dunayevskaya undertook a seminal study of Russia’s first Five-Year Plans and concluded that Russia was developing in a state-capitalist, not a socialist, direction.

Dunayevskaya’s analysis is unique in that it treats state-capitalism as a new phase in the development of global capitalism. She posited, in opposition to this new phase, both new revolutionary subjects—rank and file workers, African Americans, women, and youth—and new philosophical ground, by way of an original engagement with Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and V. I. Lenin’s 1914 Philosophic Notebooks.

In 1953, Dunayevskaya composed two letters on the “absolutes”of G. W. F. Hegel. In this controversial reading of Hegel, Dunayevskaya locates a dual movement: a movement, in her words, from practice that is itself a form of theory and a movement from theory reaching to philosophy. The letters posit the self-development of revolutionary subjects, through engagement with a philosophy of revolution, as an alternative to both the vanguard party and the view that spontaneous activity alone will give rise to a new society. Dunayevskaya would later identify these letters as the philosophic breakthrough from which her Marxist-Humanism developed.

Dunayevskaya, in 1955, founded a Marxist-Humanist organization, News and Letters Committees. In 1958, she published Marxism and Freedom, which explores such diverse ground as the influence of the Paris Commune on Marx’s Capital, Lenin’s plunge into the Hegelian dialectic with the outbreak of World War I, and the struggle of American workers against automation. In her 1973 Philosophy and Revolution, Dunayevskaya focuses on the integrality of philosophy and revolution, tracing the relation historically, and emphasizing the Hegelian concept of absolute negativity.

Dunayevskaya’s 1982 Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution discusses Luxemburg’s feminism and anti-colonialism, explores Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks, and introduces the pejorative category of “post-Marx Marxism,”beginning with the work of Frederick Engels. As her life was drawing to a close, Dunayevskaya prepared extensive notes for a book on philosophy and organization titled Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy: The “Party”and Forms of Organization Born Out of Spontaneity.

    See also
  • Luxemburg, Rosa; Marxist Theory; Trotskyism

Further Readings
  • Dunayevskaya, R. (2002). The power of negativity: Selected writings on the dialectic in Hegel and Marx. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
  • Seth G. Weiss
    Copyright © 2007 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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