Raya Dunayevskaya on the Crisis in Independent Marxism, circa 1960

Raya Dunayevskaya’s “The World Crisis and the Theoretical Void“, a 1960 article that first appeared in Prometeo, a journal edited by the Italian independent revolutionary Onorato Damen, has just been made available by the Marxists Internet Archive. Dunayevskaya travelled to Europe in late 1959 to attend an international conference in Milan of tendencies adhereing to a state-capitalist analysis of the U.S.S.R. The intent of the conference was to launch a coordinating committee called the Center for International Correspondence. Although the effort at a regroupment of tendencies was in vain, a section of Damen’s journal was set aside for publishing material arising from the project. Several contributions by Dunayevskaya were to appear.

In her 25 Years of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.: a History of Worldwide Revolutionary Developments, she had this to say about the 1959 conference and her relationship with Damen:

Before we had even reached our first Convention [of News and Letters Committees—C&c.], the report of the split in the State-Capitalist Tendency in the U.S. was noted among Marxist groups. The Italian State-Capitalist Tendency of Onorato Damen published my report to our first Conference, in the Spring 1956 issue of its theoretical journal, Prometeo, under the title of “An American Experience”. It was the beginning of the international relations which would result in the international confernce of state-capitalist tendencies in West Europe in 1959, prompted by the need to fight neo-fascism, signified by the 1958 rise of de Gaulle to power.

Damen died in 1979. A memorial tribute by Dunayevskaya appears in the March 1980 News & Letters.

The content of this piece reflects her major focus of this period: the subjective impulses from proletarian revolts such as the Hugararian revolution of 1956 and the anti-colonial revolts taking place in Africa and elsewhere were not being met by adequate theoretical responses on the part of independent Marxists. Lenin, always a touchstone for Dunayevskaya, figures prominantly here. Not however, the Lenin of the pedantic What Is To Be Done?, but instead the Lenin of the Hegel Notebooks and the anti-bureaucratic struggle of the period of last years of his life (a narrowly-focused struggle, admittedly, and one carried out exclusively at the top of the party).

The document referred to as Lenin’s Will was always an important once for Dunayevskaya, for the importance it placed on the apprehension of dialectics by revolutionaries. This text was kept secret by all of the concerned parties, Trotsky included, until Max Eastman made it known in the English-speaking world in 1925 in his book, Since Lenin Died. Eastman was, at that time, a one-man publicist for the international Left Opposition. His translations of Trotsky’s major works, including History of the Russian Revolution, are still read today. The full text of Eastman’s book is available in the HathiTrust Digital Library. See Chapter III (“The Testament of Lenin”) for quotes from the Will.

One thought on “Raya Dunayevskaya on the Crisis in Independent Marxism, circa 1960

  1. Just one small correction (if I’m right). My understanding is that the 1959 conference was of not only state-capitalist tendencies but also “bureaucratic collectivists” such as Castoriadis’s Socialisme ou Barbarie. That is, it was a meeting of tendencies opposing both superpowers. I believe Dunayevskaya described it as those opposed to both poles of world capital, but I’m not sure that the bureaucratic collectivists would accept that description.

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