Paul Mattick 1958

A Marxian Oddity

Source: Western Socialist, Boston, USA, March-April, 1958;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.

MARXISM AND FREEDOM. FROM 1776 UNTIL TODAY. By Raya Dunayevskaya. New York, 1958, pp. 384, $6.00.

In writing this strange book the author’s intentions were no doubt the best. But there is a wide gap between intentions and performance. And although Dunayevskaya’s interpretation of Marxian doctrine is occasionally true and eloquent, the book as a whole is an embarrassing, scatterbrained hodge-podge of philosophical, economic and political ideas that defy description and serious criticism. It may, however, serve as an example of how Marxism cannot be “re-examined” and thus recovered from the Russians.

The impulse for writing this book, the author relates, came from two sources: the American and the East German workers. The former, between 1950 and 1953 “began to come to grips with the realities of Automation by moving the question of productivity from one dealing with . . . wages to one dealing with the conditions of labor and the need for a totally new way of life.” This was also the period “when East German workers challenged the Communist regime” and of slave-labor rising in Siberia, which sounded the tocsin “for the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism.”

While the workers have established the “unity of theory and practice” by their actual struggles and aspirations, the intellectuals are now urged to establish it in the realm of theory by reorganizing their thinking in the direction of a “new Humanism.” This “new Humanism,” however is as old as and even older than Marxism and dates, in fact, from 1776. It is implicit in the Hegelian Dialectic and was made explicit by Marx.

As practice leads to theory, the Hegelian Dialectic is seen as a product of the bourgeois revolution in both its political and economic aspects. Hegel also noticed the “negative phenomenon — alienated labor” in capitalism and Dunayevskaya finds this “reminiscent of Marx’s works,” even though Hegel failed to see the “positive elements of alienated labor.” She then plays with the concept of “alienated labor” which for Marx became another expression for the workers’ divorce from the means of production, from control over production and its products and for a variety of consequences. Dunayevskaya’s exposition, however, leads back into the murk of Hegelianism where it gets lost in incomprehensible philosophical gibberish.

While it serves no purpose to detect Hegelianism in the attitudes of today’s workers and to discover their attitudes in Hegelian philosophy, Dunayevskaya’s direct and indirect connection of both yields only the term “freedom” as a synonym for the “new Humanism.” But even if, according to Hegel, “freedom is the essence of mind,” this tells us nothing with respect to the specific freedoms required for a socialist humanism. Dunayevskaya, unperturbed, however, points to the workers’ opposition to both Automation and totalitarian domination as the developing realization of men’s essence — freedom.

This opposition, she says, contains the quest for a new type of labor that does away with the division of labor. It is true, of course, that Marx spoke of the end of the division of labor and even of labor itself. These improbable “goals” serve nevertheless to indicate the direction of further social development and humanization. Yet, what is of real concern is the abolition of class-determined capitalist division of labor. This does not spell the end of all labor division which is determined by social production. It should, however, lose its negative significance through social innovations and institutions — such as the increasing interchangeability of functions — which has eliminated its class connotations. Whereas the capitalist division of labor will disappear with capitalism, labor division of itself is not necessarily an obstacle to socialism. Neither does it need to stand in opposition to a concept of work as human activity that develops all of man’s natural and acquired talents. It is even possible to describe socialism as the full realization of the positive possibilities inherent in the division of labor. When all kinds of labor are recognized as being of equal importance, it no longer matters what particular work the individual, realizing his humanity in sociality, is doing.

However this problem may be resolved, it is obvious that associating it with current left-wing anti-Bolshevism, with Automation, sit-down strikes and bus-boycotts is too far-fetched to have real meaning. It is mere wishful thinking on Dunayevskaya’s part to see in these activities not only the beginnings of proletarian self-determination but also the manifestation of the dialectical movement towards absolute freedom — whatever that may mean.

Apparently, Dunayevskaya lives in a semi-private world. Whatever happens in the real world or is said by some of its inhabitants, she looks at it or listens to it only to the extent that it justifies her own notions, made up of Hegelian mysticism, Marxian economics and Leninist demagogy. As regards Hegel, she contributes only fancy language without adding anything either to the understanding of him or of the world at large. As regards Marx, interpretations are often deviations in order to fit Marxism into her own scheme of thought.

According to her, it is not capitalism which creates the capitalist division of labor but rather “the division of labor, characteristic of all class societies” creates capital. When “all science, all intellect, all skill goes into the machine while the labor of man becomes a simple, monotonous grind,” she writes, “labor of man can produce nothing but its opposite, capital.” But science, intellect and skill are also part of the laboring process. Some workers produce machines, others produce other commodities with these machines, the very existence of which shows that not “all concrete labors have been reduced to one abstract, congealed mass.”

It is not “dead, accumulated, materialized labor which oppresses living labor” in that literal sense in which Dunayevskaya conceives it. But the means of production as capital, owned or controlled by a definite social class, subject the working population and the capitalists as well to the vagaries of the competitive accumulation process and determine its anarchic character. In order to remain such, capitalists must accumulate regardless of actual social needs. And in order to accumulate, they must oppress the working class so that under capitalist production relations the drive for additional capital appears as a production for the sake of production. This fetishistic situation, where the products of labor control their producers, exists only because of class relations under conditions of social production. Without these relations, the means of production are just that, unable to oppress anything.

To be sure, Dunayevskaya also sees the “mastery of dead over living labor” as a class relationship. But for her “private property arises not because the products of labor are alienated from the laborer. That is only the consequence of the fact that his very activity is an alien activity.” To restore “the charm of work to work” requires, in her view, not only the end of class relations but an entirely new type of labor, the character of which is not made clear.

By now it is becoming clear what Dunayevskaya is driving at. The enemy today is state-capitalism, the “planned” capitalist society, which perpetuates the exploitative class relations of the capitalism of old. Planners, managers and intellectuals have taken the controlling position formerly held by capitalists and continue the capitalist accumulation process for the sake of accumulation. To replace one set of “planners” with another cannot affect the system. The transformation of state-capitalism into the new Humanism requires then a radical, total solution: abolishing the division of society into planners and planned and the establishment of a “new unity of manual and mental labor in the worker.”

She detects a definite trend in this direction in every type of worker activity. But, again, these activities are recognized only in so far as they support her own picture of the shape of things to come. For instance, she celebrates the proletarian aspects of the East German and Hungarian risings but she neglects to pay attention to their nationalist implications. She applauds the bus boycotts by Negroes in America’s South. She sees in them expressions of working-class self-determination yet overlooks the striving for racial equality within the existing social system. She supports — as is proper — sporadic wild-cat and sit-down strikes but fails to notice their relative insignificance within the total American situation and with a working class fully in the sway of capitalist ideology. Perhaps, just because the total solution to the social problem lies for her in the far-away future, she looks for favorable evidence to support her position in the far-away past; in the muttering of Hegel, who both accepted and disliked the capitalist system and its industrialization.

The dialectical unity of theory and practice which is destined to culminate in a new unity of mental and manual work Dunayevskaya demonstrates in great detail with Marx’s Capital. While writing Capital Marx decided, for strictly and clearly methodological reasons, to change its structure, to start all over again. Thus we have the first version in Critique of Political Economy and the second in Capital. According to Dunayevskaya, this change of plan was the result not of methodological consideration but of the political upheavals of the time and particularly of the workers’ struggle for a shorter working-day. In this manner the workers themselves participated in producing Capital, which, in turn, could not have been written — in the way it was — without their participation.

As a revolutionary socialist, Marx could not very well overlook the workers and their struggles since it was their plight that first led him to analyze capitalist society. What is too obvious to be worth mentioning Dunayevskaya presents, however, as her own and as a new discovery, quoting chapter and page to show that because there was a struggle for a shorter working-day, Marx “made this the historical framework of capitalism itself.” While in the Critique, “history is the history of theory,” she writes, “in Capital, history is the history of the class struggle” — as if Marx’s writings prior to the Critique and down to the Communist Manifesto never existed.

In her view, furthermore, not only the workers’ aspirations but all struggles for “freedom” associated in one way or another with the laboring classes determined the content and structure of Capital. “It wasn’t Marx,” she says, “who decided that the Civil war in the United States was a holy war. It was the working class of England, the very ones who suffered most, who decided that.” Later it is the Paris Commune “that illuminates and deepens the content of Capital,” as the “treason of the ruling classes necessitates the saving of French civilization by the proletariat.” French civilization, she says, was saved from Bismarck and the French Quislings through the abolition of “the division of labor between the legislative and the executive” and the transformation of parliament “from a talking to a working body.” And thus the Commune “created new conditions of labor.”

And so it goes on and on from one fantasy to another, alternating between sheer nonsense and mere misunderstandings, interrupted by valid statements that look silly in this amazing melee of contradictions and half-truths. Abstractions are taken for concrete realities, as, for instance, “abstract labor” which is not related to labor itself but to the fact that all kinds of labor differ only quantitatively in the capitalist exchange process. The Marxian concept of total capital in his model of the system as presented in Capital is regarded not as a mental construction but as an actual “national” capital in distinction to “private” or “world capital.” And thus Dunayevskaya is able to identify “aggregate capitalist” with Russian state-capitalism and to declare that Marx was the first anti-Bolshevik who predicted the collapse of the totalitarian economy.

The most astonishing part of Dunayevskaya’s book, however, is her treatment of Lenin. “Confronted with the appearance of counter-revolution (the 2nd International) within the revolutionary movement,” she says, “Lenin was driven to search for a philosophy that could restore his own reason.” And “as soon as Lenin opened the Science of Logic (Hegel),” “he grasped the importance of dialectics.” He came to the conclusion, as he himself stated, that “it is impossible completely to grasp Marx’s Capital ... if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic.” Consequently, Lenin added, “none of the Marxists for the past half century have understood Marx.” It was a good thing that Lenin opened Hegel’s Logic. If he had not, there would not have been a true Marxist for a whole century — until the day, that is, when Dunayevskaya herself opened the Logic.

Sharing the Hegelian key to Marx with Lenin, Dunayevskaya has a rather difficult time reconciling Lenin’s authoritarianism with her own concept of the “spontaneous self-organization of the proletariat.” After all, Lenin was the founder of the “vanguard party” and the promoter of the party dictatorship. He did not care for a spontaneity which makes life difficult for the professional revolutionist and interferes with state-planning. But Dunayevskaya manages just the same to turn Lenin into his exact opposite. Prior to his taking power there are some statements of Lenin’s that woo and flatter the rebellious masses and encourage them to act independently. But in contrast to this stand the Leninist authoritarian theory and practice in relation to Lenin’s own party, to other organizations, and, as the party in power, in relation to the working class. All this Dunayevskaya either ignores or twists out of recognition, so that Lenin emerges as the greatest of all anti-Bolsheviks, who “never at any time had any conception of the party as an elite in the sense in which our age uses the term.” — Unfortunately, however, neither Stalin nor any of the other bolshevik leaders opened Hegel’s Logic, and thus, according to her, Leninism became Stalinism and state-capitalism — the greatest enemy of the new Humanism.

What remains to be said is that the book has appendices consisting of fragmentary early writings of Marx on Private Property and Communism and the Hegelian Dialectic. They represent a stage of Marx’s intellectual development which he himself was glad to get behind him. And though they are of some interest, as is almost anything that Marx wrote, they do not enhance the understanding of either Marxism or capitalism. The last appendix is a translation of Lenin’s Abstracts of Hegel’s Science of Logic; marginal notes made for his own use while reading this work. Although they have, perhaps, their place in a complete collection of Lenin’s works, by themselves they are of small importance and will really fascinate only those who indulge in collecting scraps of manuscript, letters, autographs, doodles and even the cigar-butts of famous men.