Theory/practice biography

Brief biography with hyperlinks to works available on the Marxist Internet Archive


Source: Raya Dunayevskaya Collection
Digitalisation, proof-reading & html markup: Chris Gilligan, April 2021
Note from transcriber:They hyperlinks included in the text are to materials that are held on the Marxist Internet Archive. I have created links to web pages where possible. In some cases only pdf files are available (kindly provided by the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection). In the case of the latter, links will be updated if, and when, the pdf files are converted into more user-friendly formats.

Raya Dunayevskaya

Raya Dunayevskaya founded Marxist-Humanism in the United States. During a lifetime in the Marxist movement, she developed a revolutionary body of ideas: the theory of state-capitalism; the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism as rooted in the U.S. in labor, the Black dimension and women’s liberation; the global concept of the inseparability of philosophy and revolution as the dialectics of liberation. These concepts have been developed in three major works: Marxism and Freedom (published in 1958); Philosophy and Revolution (published in 1973); and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution (published in 1982).

Born in Russia, she was brought to the U.S. as a child. She became Russian Secretary to Leon Trotsky in exile in Mexico in 1937-38, during the period of the Moscow Trials and the Dewey Commission of inquiry into the charges made against Trotsky. At the outbreak of World War II, she broke with Trotsky in opposition to his defense of Russia as a "workers state though degenerate". She held, instead, that the Hitler-Stalin Pact both gave the green light to the Second World War and showed that Russia was a state-capitalist society.

The seminal, comprehensive study she made, from original sources, of Russia's initial three Five Year Plans (published in the New International, Dec. 1942, Jan. 1943 and Feb. 1943) continue to serve as source material for a study of the class nature of Russia and the revision of Marxian theory. The study was widely quoted in the world press as well as in such works as Arthur Koestler's The Yogi and the Commissar (1945). Her translation into English of "Teaching of Economics in the Soviet Union" from an issue of Pod Znamenem Marxizma (Under the Banner of Marxism), which had failed to arrive in the U.S. libraries, was published in the American Economic Review (Sept. 1944) and touched off an international debate with other theoreticians which reached the front page of the New York Times in 1945.

The analysis of Russian state-capitalism had led, in 1941, to her association with C.L.R. James (J.R. Johnson), author of Black Jacobins, who had arrived at the same position. Under the name of Freddie Forest, she co-founded an opposition State-Capitalist Tendency within the American Trotskyist movement, which was named the Johnson-Forest Tendency in Dec. 1945. In 1947 Forest attended the Fourth International Conference in Paris, where she presented the state-capitalist position in debate with Ernest Mandel. The same year the Tendency translated and mimeographed the 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts; but the singling out of Marx's Humanism as the philosophy of liberation for our age was not achieved until the split between the two founders of the State-Capitalist Tendency in 1955, although the final break with Trotskyism had occurred in 1951.

The majority of the group established News and Letters Committees, of which Raya Dunayevskaya became Chairwoman, and began the publication of a Marxist-Humanist newspaper [News & Letters]. At its founding this group assigned her to complete Marxism and Freedom–from 1776 until Today, which re-established the American and the world humanist roots of Marxism. As Appendices, it included the first English translations of Marx's Humanist Essays and Lenin’s Abstract of Hegel’s Science of Logic. This work, which was first published in New York in 1958, has appeared in eight editions and many translations: Italian (1962); Japanese (1964); French (1971); British (1971 and 1975); and Spanish (1976). The new chapter which was added to the 1964 edition, "The Challenge of Mao Tse-tung," was translated by a Chinese refugee at the start of the "Cultural Revolution." Other entire chapters were circulated in samizdat in the underground in East Europe and resulted in a dialogue with East European Marxist-Humanists. Some of them collaborated later in the writing of the chapter on State-Capitalism in East Europe in another of her major works, Philosophy and Revolution. Other chapters were translated into Farsi in Iran, where revolutionaries included one of them in a pamphlet to celebrate May Day 1979.

Philosophy and Revolution: from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao was published by Dell simultaneously in hardcover and paperback in 1973. It appeared in Spanish translation through Siglo Veintiuno (1977) and in Italian through Feltrinelli (also 1977). It has now been brought out in German through Europa Verlag (1981). This, too, was not only a work of research and analysis, but of actuality. Ms. Dunayevskaya traveled and lectured widely in West Africa, Japan and West Europe as well as in the United States. While studying at the Universities Research Center in Hong Kong in 1965, as Mao's "Cultural Revolution" first unfolded, she interviewed refugees from mainland China. One of these interviews, entitled "Alienation and Revolution," was included in her 1977 pamphlet, Sexism, Politics and Revolution in Mao's China, along with an analysis of the fall of Chiang Ch'ing and the rise of Hua Kuo-feng.

In the U.S. she has been involved in all aspects of the freedom movements. Her activity has never been separated from the Black dimension, ranging from her work in the International Labor Defense Committee during the Scottsboro Case to her activity with Ralph Bunche around the sharecroppers; and from her debates with Coolidge (Ernest Rice McKinney of the Workers Party) in the mid-1940s on the Negro struggle as a National Question, to her 1944 critique of Gunnar Myrdal’s work, which she titled "Negro Intellectuals in Dilemma." Thus, a lifetime of work and activity went into American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, which demonstrated the two-way road between Africa and America; and her pamphlet on The Free Speech Movement and the Negro Revolution included contributions from both Mario Savio and a Mississippi Freedom Summer activist. She developed her concepts further in her Introduction to Frantz Fanon, Soweto and American Black Thought.

As an activist with the Women's Liberation Movement from its beginnings, Ms. Dunayevskaya contributed an essay on "The Women's Liberation Movement as Reason and as Revolutionary Force" to the anthology, Notes on Women's Liberation, in 1970, and a special Appendix, "Women as Thinkers and as Revolutionaries," to the pamphlet, Working Women for Freedom, in 1976, following a series of six lectures she had been asked to give at the Wayne State University Center for Adult Education for International Women’s Year. Her writings on Women's Liberation were translated into Farsi for a pamphlet issued by Iranian women revolutionaries for International Women's Day, 1980. With the first publication of a transcription of Karl Marx's Ethnological Notebooks, Raya Dunayevskaya singled out the relationship of this, his last work, to his early Humanist Essays on the Man/Woman concept. This has been developed in her third major work, Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.

Her writings have been published widely abroad as well as in this country. Thus, her pamphlet, Nationalism, Communism, Marxist-Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions, has been published both in Japan and in Great Britain, while other articles have appeared in Presence Africaine as well as in Africa Today, and in Arguments (Paris) as well as in the American literary review, Paunch. In 1977 Studies in Comparative Communism printed her latest study of Leon Trotsky as Man and as Theoretician" and in 1979, on the 100th anniversary of Trotsky's birth, Cahiers Leon Trotsky published her 1938 article on "The Man, Trotsky". She was one of only three Americans asked to contribute to the International Symposium, Socialist Humanism, edited by Erich Fromm.

She is a charter member of the Hegel Society of America and her speech to the Society on "Hegel's Absolute Idea as New Beginning" is included in the Humanities Press 1980 edition of Art and Logic in Hegel’s Philosophy. On the 100th anniversary of Lenin's birth and the 200th anniversary of Hegel’s, her study of Lenin's return to Hegel was published by Telos (U.S.), by Praxis (Yugoslavia), and by Aut Aut (Italy). Her In Memoriam to Herbert Marcuse, who wrote the Preface to the first edition of Marxism and Freedom, appeared in the Newsletter of the International Society for the Sociology of Knowledge, edited by Kurt Wolff.

She has lectured extensively at universities across the U.S., in Britain, Japan, Europe, and Africa.