Raya Dunayevskaya, 1973
Philosophy & Revolution
Individualism which lets nothing interfere with its Universalism, i.e., Freedom. Hegel
New forces and new passions spring up in the bosom of society ... Marx, Capital
Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster.... For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
Black was the colour that helped make the 1960s so exciting a decade. We became witness simultaneously to the African Revolutions and the Black Revolution in America. By their self-activity, self-organisation, self-development, the black youth struck out against white supremacy in the quiescent South, and with unparalleled courage took everything that was dished out to them – from beatings, bombings, and prisons to cattle prods, shootings, and even death – and still, unarmed, continued fighting back. They initiated a new epoch of youth revolt, white as well as black, throughout the land. There was not a single method of struggle, from sit-ins, teach-ins, dwell-ins, wade-ins, to Freedom Rides, Freedom Marches, Freedom Schools, and confrontations with the Establishment, Bull Connors’ bulldogs and whips in Alabama, or the smartly uniformed soldiers on the steps of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., that did not have its origin in the black movement. Moreover, this was so not only as strategy and tactic but also as underlying philosophy and perspectives for the future.
By February 1965, when the government’s rain of bombs on Hanoi produced the anti-Vietnam War movement here, the students who had gone South and then returned to Berkeley to confront the multiversity talked a very different language than when they had left. As Mario Savio, a leader of the Free Speech Movement, put it:
America may be the most poverty-stricken country in the world. Not materially. But intellectually it is bankrupt. And morally it’s poverty-stricken. But in such a way that it’s not clear to you that you’re poor. It’s very hard to know you’re poor if you’re eating well....
Students are excited about political ideas. They’re not yet inured to the apolitical society they’re going to enter. But being interested in ideas means you have no use in American society ... unless they are ideas which are useful to the military-industrial complex....
Factories are run in authoritarian fashion – non-union factories anyway – and that’s the nearest parallel to the university....
In contrast, Savio kept driving home about his fellow students the point that “they are people who have not learned to compromise.”
The fact that the first important schism in the movement itself arose at the very moment when it did become a mass anti-Vietnam War movement was not due to any differences over the slogan, which indeed a black spoke first, “Hell, no, we won’t go.” There was alienation from the white students who all too quickly migrated back North without so much as a “by your leave” to the civil rights movement. To the blacks it was a manifestation of just how all-pervasive racism was in the racist U.S.A., not excluding its white revolutionaries who considered themselves, and not the black masses, as “the vanguard.” Blacks and whites moved separate ways and, once again, the objectivity of their struggle for freedom was inseparable from a self-developing subjectivity.
Black consciousness, Afro-American roots, awareness of themselves as a people, a nation, a race: “Black is beautiful.” Black is revolutionary. Many a youth was memorising Malcolm X’s records. That they identified with him most after he broke with Elijah Muhammad’s Black Muslims, when he was moving toward a new revolutionary universalism, is no accident whatever. In 1966, when Stokely Carmichael (on that famous march through the South, alongside Reverend King and James Meredith) first raised the slogan “Black Power,” he signalled more than the end of Dr. King’s predominance in the leadership of the Movement. It was also the beginning of the division between ranks and all leaders, himself included. It is true he electrified the crowd, when he first expounded on the slogan:
The only way we gonna stop them white men from huppin’ us is to take over. We been saying freedom for six years and we ain’t got nothin’. What we gonna start saying now is black power.... Ain’t nothin’ wrong with anything all black ’cause I’m all black and I’m all good. Now don’t you be afraid. And from now on when they ask you what you want, you know what to tell them.
All answered: “Black Power! Black Power! BLACK POWER!” But as the slogan caught on, Stokely himself was off elsewhere. Neither he nor any other black leader was around when the 1967 explosion burst on the U.S. stage. Neither he nor any other black militant leader was listening to the voices that came from below, least of all from black workers. One black worker from Oakland, California, disgusted with what became of the “Black Power” slogan, wrote:
Black power has become a gigantic reindeer – hat rack with many opposing hats hanging there, including the hat of Black capitalism. The possible unity of Black and white workers to destroy the system of capitalism is a punch at the gut nerve of all middle class intellectuals and elitist groups, Black or white.
To the masses, “Hell, no, we won’t go” meant we should fight the enemies at home – poor jobs and no jobs at all; poor homes and no homes at all; racism; “the system.” What they were not saying, much less having money to do it with, is travel abroad, or any other form of escapism. More than just not having learned to compromise, as the white youth had, or to talk endlessly as the black leaders did, what sprang up from ghettoised hunger and racism in white affluent society was the elemental outburst, North, South, East, West, in the year 1967. The predominant note was, of course, “Whitey ain’t about to get up off of anything unless you make him.” And yet when the explosion reached Detroit, a still newer stage of black revolt matured. In common with the outbursts occurring throughout the land – from Boston to Spanish Harlem, from Tucson to Newark, from Cleveland to Sacramento, and some eighty other cities – the voice of anger against, frustration with, and rejection of their conditions of life was loud and clear. Watts had sounded the tocsin in 1965, and Detroit in 1967 set a still newer stage.
When the wrath of the blacks exploded in Detroit, it was vented not only against the police in their own neighbourhoods, or even the police in general, who were the prime targets of the snipers. In Detroit, blacks made a direct attack on police stations. Many other things were new in the Detroit revolt. Unlike other cities, here the repossession, as well as the sniping later, was integrated. As one reporter on the scene put it: “It was just like Negroes and whites were shopping together, only they weren’t paying for anything.” Or as one white and one black worker expressed it:
By looting, they ain’t taking what they ain’t paid for. We’ve been paying for that stuff for over a thousand years, ever since we was born.
We want the right that we ought not to be beat on the head all the time just because we’re black.
Unlike almost all other outbursts, Detroit’s was not so much against “whitey” as such, as against the white landlords, white merchants, and of course the white police. And while the ubiquitous sign “SOUL BROTHER” saved many black stores from the torch, black merchants who had also gouged the community were not spared. In fact, one black-owned drugstore that had been picketed by CORE the week earlier was among the very first to go. It was a revolt against a class society.
Law and order from the barrel of a gun meant 43 lay dead, some 1500 were wounded, 4000 were jailed with bail set at such impossible figures (up to $100,000!) that constitutional rights were nullified. Though no “foreign invaders” had landed anywhere in the United States, though no insurrection against the state – “constituted authority” – was in progress, though only one side was thrice armed, the city was, to all intents and purposes, under occupation. “Emergency measures” turned out to be a pseudonym for martial law.
To try to deny the new stage that the black revolt had reached in Detroit – to make the revolt appear purely racist – the power structure, including the liberal Establishment, had to quote Stokely Carmichael. He, however, was in Havana; the action was in Detroit. He was talking, not acting. Those who were the actual participants in the revolt made their actions stark and clear: Down with the black slums: Let’s not have two nations, one filthy rich and the other miserably poor; Let’s have one nation with truly human relationships.
To the extent to which the elitist black nationalists did operate in the ghettos, whether in Cambridge (Maryland) or in Detroit, in Wichita or Elgin (Illinois), in Newark or Milwaukee, they were just trying to get credit for that which the masses themselves did, did spontaneously. They revolted against the class system wearing a white face, rather than against “whitey” where he was not part of the exploitative system.
The simple truth is that it is the Government – national, state, city; the police, the prisons and the courts – and not the “outside agitators” who breed racism and evoke the wrath of the people.
The black people have always been the touchstone of American civilisation precisely because they could both expose its Achilles’ heel – its racism – and because they were always in the vanguard of its forward movement. It was so in the struggle against slavery when they fought together with the white Abolitionists. It was so during the birth of imperialism when the blacks stood alone in their opposition, sensing the racist repercussions of imperialism’s white conquest of Latin America and the Philippines, and its forcing open the gates of trade with the Orient. It was so when, with white labor, they reshaped the industrial face of America through the creation of the CIO. And it is so now when the Black Revolution has reached the crossroads between nationalism and proletarian internationalism.
In 1967 the vitality of the black people, full of purpose, attacked only the symptoms of oppression – the white landlord in the slums, the white merchant, the white middleman. This is not because they did not know who Mr. Big was. Rather, it was because they did not see white labor ready to join them in their determination to undermine the whole system. They know better than the elitist leaders that, without white labor, the system cannot be torn up by its roots. The black revolt reached a peak in Detroit because for the first time in years, outside and inside the shop, there was the first appearance of white and black solidarity. It was but the faintest of beginnings, but it did appear.
A still newer element in the struggles at the point of production arose after these eruptions, when capitalists had been sufficiently frightened by the destruction and fear of outright revolution to begin hiring young blacks. The black caucuses in factories that until then had thought the most important thing to do was to remove some bureaucrats from office in order to democratise the union structure, now would stop at nothing short, as one worker put it, “of a complete change – of revolution.” Thus one group at a Dodge plant in Detroit called itself the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement. Other plants did the same. A few years earlier black workers would have shied away from them, but by 1968 even a moderate worker explained:
The most popular word in the shop these days is: revolutionary. In the past, even when we didn’t parrot the union leadership and call workers “Communists,” we would shy away from any worker who declared himself to be a “revolutionary.” Now we say to him: “Why be for foreign revolutions? We need one here, right here.”
In May 1968, however, all eyes turned to France, for it was there that the highest point of development for all “new passions and new forces” erupted. The vastness and expansiveness of the spontaneous mass outburst, the range and multiplicity of the actions – from barricades in the Latin Quarter to occupation of factories to mass marches – marked a turning-point of historic dimensions. For the first time in the turbulent 1960s a near-revolution erupted in a technologically advanced country. For the first time since the birth of the new generation of revolutionaries, the student youth and the workers united in mass activities. For the first time the worker-student alliance showed itself to be not only a new form of struggle but an overpowering force, as thousands of students in revolt became 10 million workers on general strike, became millions of marching feet of workers and students and housewives, of oldsters as well as youth, became a near revolution undermining De Gaulle. Yet the fact that it was only a near, not an actual revolution; the fact that the French Communist Party, through the CGT, could keep the workers confined to reformist demands and make it unnecessary for De Gaulle, once he organised the counterrevolution, to need a bloodbath to keep the mass revolt from becoming social revolution; these things cast a cloud not only over revolution but also over the “vanguardists” like the Trotskyists who, though they fought the C.P. counter-revolutionary activities, held on to the same concept of a “vanguard Party to lead the revolution.”
Daniel Cohn-Bendit was absolutely right when he said that the movement was beyond the small parties which wanted to lead. But he was wrong to hold to so abstract a view of a philosophy of liberation as to think that theory can be picked up “en route.” Without theory the road to revolution leads “en route” to nowhere; the revolution-to-be was a stillbirth. Which only increased the endless output of books on it. As one young American revolutionary who was a participant put it:
At no time, 1848 to 1968, have there been more analyses, more solutions, more answers thrust upon the revolutionary actions of the Polish, the German, the Czechoslovak, and most specifically the French masses than what we are witnessing today. For Sartre, the barricades of France and the general strike had a certain resemblance to the Castro type of insurrection. For Marcuse, the May revolt was Maoist-like, i.e., there were aspects of China’s Cultural Revolution. For the Trotskyists, it was a revolution minus one ingredient – a “real” vanguard party. For some existentialist-anarchists it was a collective madness which proudly had no goal, no definite aims, no alternative.... For Cohn-Bendit and others their role is that of “planting seeds.” [But] going from the possible to the actual is not only a task of the workers. It is a task for theoreticians.
Different as France, May 1968, was from Cuba, January 1959, the underlying philosophy of much of the New Left seemed to be one or another form of “guerrilla warfare” that became most famous under the title “Revolution Within the Revolution?” The youth especially came under its spell, even those who did not accept the view that only in the countryside and only in technologically underdeveloped countries could the revolution be “made.” To self-proclaimed “urban guerrillas,” the point of attraction, more so in the U.S. than in France, was its newness, unburdened by the past.
So empirical-minded is the American youth, black included, that even revolutionaries who have separated themselves from Communism of the Russian and the Chinese varieties, have fully and uncritically embraced Castro. So exhilarating was the Cuban experience that they never questioned the direction, much less the philosophy, of its development since achieving power. One famous exception seemed to have been the young black Communist philosopher, Angela Davis, who from prison posed the question “What happens after?”: “the most difficult period of all is the building of the revolutionary society after the seizure of power.” This did not, however, predominate over her Cuban experience, “my first prolonged contact with a socialist country through my own eyes and limbs, I might add, since I cut cane for a while.” Contrast this view of a leader with the view of a black woman from the ranks of the Women’s Liberation movement:
I’m not thoroughly convinced that Black Liberation, the way it’s being spelled out, will really and truly mean my liberation. I’m not so sure that when it comes time “to put down my gun,” that I won’t have a broom shoved in my hands, as so many of my Cuban sisters have.
For that matter, once Angela was freed, she refused to sign the appeal of a Czechoslovak fighter for freedom, Jiri Pelikan, who had written to her: “We too have many Angela Davises and Soledad brothers.”
As against the voices from below, the whole of Regis Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution? burns with zeal, “to free the present from the past” (pp. 19-91). This is further bound by a “principal lesson” (pp. 95-116), and held on to tightly as the spokesman for Castro expounds “some consequences for the future” (pp. 119-26). In place of “traditions” or theoretic abstractions we must face the facts, “the concrete,” the experience (Cuban), topped by “the military foco.” Anything, anything whatever that stands in the way of this veritable miracle, “the military foco,” is to be thrown into the dustbin of history. In the guise of non-theory the French philosopher thus presents us with a “theory” that departs in toto from Marx’s most fundamental concept, that of a social revolution. He proclaims a “new dialectic of tasks” (p. 119): unquestioning obedience to the “Equivalent Substitution” (military command). Outside of the penchant for monolithism – “There is no longer a place for verbal ideological relation to the revolution, nor for a certain type of polemic” (p. 123) – which characterises this manual on how “to make” revolutions, its 126 pages are an endless paean of praise for the guerrilla: “the staggering novelty introduced by the Cuban Revolution is this: the guerrilla force is the party in embryo” (p. 106).
So supreme is the military as means and end, as strategy and tactic, as leadership and manhood itself, that it does indeed swallow up not only theory and party but the masses themselves:
One finds that a working class of restricted size or under the influence of a reformist trade union aristocracy, and an isolated and humiliated peasantry, are willing to accept this group, of bourgeois origin, as their political leadership.
At this point enters the Leader Maximum, for the end result of the Army’s replacing the Party, replacing the Proletariat, replacing the Peasantry, is that all are replaced by the know-it-all, see-it-all, be-it-all “Equivalent Substitution.”
Now, suppose that, for the moment, we are willing to forget that the first modern theorist and greatest practitioner of guerrilla warfare was not Fidel Castro, but Mao Tse-Tung; suppose, further, that we close our eyes to the truth that “the present” (1965) was not a Cuban Revolution but the on-going Vietnam War of liberation engaged in direct combat with the mightiest world imperialist, the U.S.A.; and finally, suppose we agree that a guerrilla force is “the party in embryo” – where exactly do all these suppositions lead? If the achievements are the proof that “insurrectional activity is today the number one political activity” (p. 116), does the old Stalinist monolithism of forbidding factions in order “to free us” from “the vice of excessive deliberation” thereby become “the present,” “the theoretical and historical novelty of this [Cuban] situation” (p. 123) ? And do Marx’s and Lenin’s deliberations on revolution, as actuality and as theory, become consigned to “the past” and allow Debray to point “a warning finger ... to indicate a shortcut”? Guerrilla warfare is a shortcut to nowhere. It is a protracted war that leads more often to defeat than to “victory,” and where it does lead to state power, hardly keeps the revolution from souring.
When Che spoke with his own voice rather than Debray’s, he did not flinch from direct confrontation with Lenin’s theory by consigning it to the past:
This is a unique Revolution which some people maintain contradicts one of the most orthodox premises of the revolutionary movement, expressed by Lenin: “Without a revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement.” It would be suitable to say that revolutionary theory as the expression of a social truth, surpasses any declaration of it; that is to say, even if the theory is not known, the revolution can succeed if historical reality is interpreted correctly and if the forces involved in it are utilised correctly.
Were we even to forget the martyrdom of Che Guevara in the very period when Debray’s nimble-penned panacea became the New Left’s manual on how “to make revolutions,” our post-World War II world is not short of guerrilla wars, from the Philippines to Burma, from Malaya to Japan, that have failed. The post-World War I world, on the other hand, exuded true magic, the “magic” of the Russian Revolution, which set the world aflame. Even today, with a half-century’s lapse and the first workers’ state having been transformed into its opposite, a state-capitalist society, the perspectives unfolded by 1917 remain the greatest form of world revolution. This is the Marxist heritage, the past from which Castro’s chosen theoretician wishes “to free the present.” Marx’s concept of revolution – great masses in motion, in spontaneous, forward movement – is not something that can be “made” from above.
When that black Women’s Liberationist expressed a fear that when it comes to putting down the gun, she may once again have a broom shoved into her hands, she was expressing one of the most anti-elitist new forces and new passions that had come on the historic stage and were raising altogether new questions. It is true that, on the whole, these were questions addressed to the private capitalistic world, specifically the U.S. But the women were saying: “We will no longer be objects – mindless sex objects, or robots that keep house, or cheap manual labor you can call in when there are no men available and discard when there are.” These women were also demanding their heads back, and it is this which surprised none more than the New Left, since though born out of the New Left, it was the New Left men whom Women’s Liberation opposed. The same women who had participated in every phase of the freedom movements refused to continue being the typists, the mimeographers, the “ladies’ auxiliaries” to the Left. They demanded an end to the separation of mental and manual labor, not only as a “goal,” not only against capitalist society, but as an immediate need of the Left itself, especially regarding women. Nor were they afraid to attack the male chauvinism in the black movement as well. Black and white women joined together to do battle with the arrogance of a Stokely Carmichael, who had said that “the only position for women in the movement is prone.”
So uncompromising as well as adamant was their attack on elitism and authoritarianism that the very structure of the new Women’s Liberation groups, the small groups that sprang up everywhere, were an effort to find a form that would allow for the self-development of the individual woman. They disregarded the established women’s groups because they too were structured and too concerned with the middle-class professional women. They wished to release all women – most of all black, working-class, Chicano, Indian. Whether it was a question of the right to abortion, or equal pay, or having control over their own lives, the single word was NOW. Freedom meant now, today, not tomorrow, much less the day after. “Now” meant not waiting for the day of revolution, much less excluding from the political struggle the question of the relationship of man to woman. Women no longer considered that question a merely private matter, for that was only the standard way of making women feel isolated and helpless. The very fact that freedom was in the air meant that she no longer was alone, that there were thousands forming a movement, a force. Individuality and collectivity became inseparable from the mass demonstrations in August 1970. And for the first time also, history was not past but in the making. And now that they were making it, there was no feeling that they were lost in a collectivity, but rather that each was individualised through this historic process.
Thus, in spite of adverse publicity about “ugly girls burning bras” and whatever other nonsense the male chauvinists played up in order to make the movement look silly, more and more women kept joining it. Different kinds of women who had never joined anything before became activists – and thinkers. In addition to those who called themselves members of the movement, thousands more expressed the same ideas, from the welfare mothers’ organisations to the new drives to unionise women’s industries and fight the discrimination sanctioned by existing unions. And the many voices expressing the ideas of Women’s Liberation were the result not of women reading Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics or the hundreds of less serious works on the subject, but of the hunger for new roles in society and new relationships for them here and now.
Instead of grasping the link of continuity of today’s strivings with that which Marx saw emerging, or of listening to new voices, today’s “Marxists” themselves are the best examples of Marx’s concept of ideology as false consciousness. They look upon themselves as the leaders, or at least the politicos, who can offer “a rational reassessment of feminist ideology” and look down upon today’s new women rebels as apolitical, as if that meant they had nothing to say worth listening to and that there were no objective validity to the movement. It is true that with the mass demonstrations by women, especially in New York in 1970, all parties want to use them. That precisely is the trouble.
The uniqueness of today’s Women’s Liberation movement is that it dares to challenge what is, including the male chauvinism not only under capitalism but within the revolutionary movement itself. To fear to expose this male chauvinism leads to helplessness. To face reality, and to face it not through sheer voluntarism, but with full awareness of all the forces lined up against us, is the one way to assure the coalescence with other revolutionary forces, especially labor, which is so strategically placed in production and has its own black dimension. But the fact that it will not be possible fully to overcome male chauvinism as long as class society exists does not invalidate the movement any more than any struggle for freedom is invalidated. On the contrary, the very fact that there is a widespread Women’s Liberation movement proves that it is an idea whose time has come and that it is an integral part of the very organism of liberation.
One advantage in pointing to the self-development of “Subjectivity” in the Black Revolution is that it has none of the perjorative connotation that old radicals give it when they declaim against “petty-bourgeois subjectivism.” Whether or not consciously related to the Hegelian concept – "the transcendence of the opposition between Notion and Reality, and the unity which is the truth, rest upon subjectivity alone” – it is clear that for the black masses, black consciousness, awareness of themselves as Afro-Americans with a dual history and special pride, is a drive toward wholeness. Far from being a separation from the objective, it means an end to the separation between objective and subjective. Not even the most elitist black has quite the same arrogant attitude as the white intellectual toward the worker, not to mention the prisoner.
Thus, it is stressed that a worker is not dumb, has thought of his own, wants to have a say in “philosophy” and not just in action. It took all the way to 1973 before the long-lasting and persistent 1972 strikes in the auto industry – especially among young workers in the GM plants in Lordstown and Norwood – compelled the union bureaucrats to acknowledge the existence of “blue collar blues.” The press began to speak of job alienation as the “new social issue of the decade.” The UAW bureaucrats finally called for a special meeting on February 28, 1973 – not with their own rank-and-file, but with management executives. They have still to recognise the alienated labor that Marx described 100 years ago, produced by “the automaton": “An organised system of machines, to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton ... in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power ... breaks out into the fast and furious whirl ... The lightening of the labor, even, becomes a sort of torture since the machine does not free the labourer from work, but deprives the work of all interest ..."
Thus, the Soledad prisoner wrote against inhuman prison conditions, and also, “I met Marx and Engels and Lenin and Mao – they redeemed me.” Thus, the Angela Davis case brought responses, not only for her defence – from the thousands that Aretha Franklin offered to the dollar the housewife donated – but declarations, Communist or otherwise, that the FBI had hunted her because she is a woman, she is black, she is a professor. The black community is tired and sick of having whites think them dumb.
I do not mean that there is complete unity in the black community, although the rampant racism – which makes all economic burdens fall heaviest on blacks – and every conceivable and inconceivable subtle and not so subtle discrimination and segregation practiced against them by whites, certainly does draw them together as a people, as a race, as a nation within a nation. Thus, as late as 1970, at the very moment when the black students were coming out in solidarity with the murdered white students at Kent State University, the experience with whites, not bigots but revolutionary whites, was shattering. In contrast to the mass outpouring of protest all over the country to the Kent killings and the Cambodian invasion, there was very nearly total silence on the part of whites to the happenings in the South, the murder of blacks by police and the planned and massive gunfire poured out at the black women’s dormitory at Jackson State. All the blacks, no matter in what stratum, avowed that racism was in fact so deeply ingrained and irreversible as to hold all whites in its throes. Thus, the black GIs, the very ones who were still in Vietnam, experienced the same discrimination as in the South and, as a two-year survey revealed, they hailed the Black Panthers as “an equaliser.” “The beast (the white man) got his Ku Klux Klan. The Black Panthers give the beast something to fear, like we feared the KKK all of our lives.”
What I do mean is that their critiques of each other, even when it comes to the fantastic slander slung against each other by Newton and Cleaver when they suddenly split, are viewed with sober sense in the community. What a Michigan university student stated at a conference of black and white revolutionaries will illuminate the solidarity in the black community and the philosophic divisions:
The issue of the split between Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver left many Black people troubled.... The support that the Panthers still get emanates, not from the Black masses’ espousal of their ideology, but from the communal solidarity of Black and oppressed people everywhere. The same is true for Angela Davis. Everybody may not care for “Communism,” but they care for Angela because she is a Black woman. One sister, pointing to a much-Orientalised picture of Angela that appeared in the Chinese press and was reproduced in Muhammad Speaks, told me that this shows how even the Russians and Chinese are racist.
People I’ve talked to are pretty much fed up with the pragmatic, elitist philosophy most vanguards express. We’re looking for a total philosophy. Pan-Africanism, American style, is cliche. It is being used as an escape hatch and commercial fad by whites. True Pan-Africanism, like true brotherhood, is a beautiful ideal that is worth fighting for. But now that the Black capitalist cat has been let out of the bag, we see, or are beginning to see, that Black, too, can be corrupt.
Black youth are looking for something, something total, something that would, once and for all, end the division between the real and the ideal.
The end of the discussion seemed to call for a reconsideration of black consciousness, or at least more of an international view of it, as in Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, which had long been greatly praised by the Black Panthers, though the concentration was always just on the question of violence. Yet Fanon had much to say on many other questions; he was especially critical of leaders. Fanon devotes a whole chapter to the “Pitfalls of National Consciousness,” and “the laziness of the intellectuals":
History teaches us clearly that the battle against colonialism does not run straight away along the lines of nationalism... . It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps. (p. 121)
He draws a sharp line between masses and leaders not only before conquest of power, but after as well. Finally, it is true that Fanon exposes the horrors of Western civilisation, rejects it as any model to follow. He tells his African comrades: “Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them ...” (p. 252). But it is not true that he has only the black in mind. He is most specific that with the disappearance of colonialism and “colonised man,” “This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others” (p. 197). Clearly, the dialectics of liberation is not anything pragmatic, nor something only black, much less narrowly nationalistic. It is global as well as revolutionary; it is total as well as historically continuous. It is, as he put it, a “new humanism."
It is this Humanism which was indeed the unifying thread in the revolts in East Europe as in Africa, among white youth rebels and blacks, and that despite the radical sneers that Humanism was “petty-bourgeois nonsense.” But it was a black auto worker who gave it the sharpest edge:
There is no middle road any more. The days we accepted, “we have to take the lesser of two evils,” are gone. You have to go to the extreme now. Racism is the issue here, and to rid ourselves of that, to be Humanist, we need a revolution.
We may not be on the threshold of revolution, but the fact that the idea revolution simply refuses to be silent even when we are not in a prerevolutionary situation speaks volumes about the philosophical-political maturity of our age. We may not have a Hegel or a Marx or a Lenin, but we do have what no other age has had in such depth – the movement from praxis whose quest for universality does not stop with practice but hungers for a uniting of theory to practice. It is this – and therein lies the uniqueness of the dialectic – which resists any retrogressionism within the revolution. Retrogressionism seeks to particularise tasks, to “fix” the universal, to confine the tasks of the masses to “making” the revolution and not bothering their heads about “self-development."
What the movement from practice has revealed over these last two decades of revolt and striving to establish new societies – whether via the African revolutions against Western imperialism and private capitalism, or through East European struggles for freedom from state-capitalism calling itself Communism, or within each land, be it the bastion of world imperialism, the U.S., or one as different as China – was that the masses wish not only to overthrow exploitative societies, but they will no longer accept cultural substitutes for uprooting the old and new managers over their conditions of labor and life. Anything short of a total reorganisation of life, totally new human relations, was now retrogressionist. That is what was new in these revolutions as against the revolutions following the First World War, when it seemed sufficient to overthrow the old and not worry about what came after the revolution succeeded. If any such illusions were still left when World War II ended and the Afro-Asian-Middle Eastern-Latin American Revolutions created a Third World, the 1950s ended them. The new frontiers opened with the end of illusions, with the start of revolutions within the successful revolutions, with the permanence of self-development so that there should end, once and for all, the difference between the Individual and the Universal. Philosophic-political maturity marks the uniqueness of our age. The need for “second negativity,” that is, a second revolution, has become concrete.
Take Africa again. It faced the reality that political independence does not mean economic dependence has ended, but, on the contrary, the ugly head of neo-imperialism then first appears. Yet equally crucial were the new divisions that arose between the leaders and the led once national independence was achieved. At the same time new divisions also arose between Arab leadership and the “uneducated masses.” Whether we look at Zanzibar, which did succeed in overthrowing its Arab rulers, or to the southern Sudan, which had not, the need remained the same: a second revolution.
Or take China, which certainly during the “Cultural Revolution” never seemed to stop espousing the slogan “It is right to revolt.” Why, then, did it turn to a “cultural” rather than an actual, a proletarian, a social revolution? Hegel and Marx can shed greater illumination on that type of cultural escapism than can the contemporary “China specialists,” who bow to every revolutionary-sounding slogan. It was no “preMarxian” Marx who insisted that Hegel’s philosophic abstractions were in fact the historic movement of mankind through various stages of freedom, that the stages of consciousness in the Phenomenology were in fact a critique of “whole spheres like religion, the state, bourgeois society and so forth.” Hegel himself saw that “pure culture” was “the absolute and universal inversion of reality and thought, their estrangement, one into the other ... each is the opposite of itself” (p. 541). Where Hegel moved from “culture” to “science,” i.e., the unity of history and its philosophic comprehension, Marx stressed that thought can transcend only other thought; but to reconstruct society itself, only actions of men and women, masses in motion, will do the “transcending,” and thereby “realize” philosophy, make freedom and whole men and women a reality.
The genius of Hegel, his relevance for today, is that he summed up “the experiences of consciousness” in so comprehensive, so profound a manner over so long a stretch of man’s development – from the Greek city-states to the French Revolution – that the tendencies in the summation of the past give us a glimpse of the future, especially when materialistically understood in a Marxist-Humanist, not vulgar economist, manner.
What we have shown throughout is this: There is a dialectic of thought from consciousness through culture to philosophy. There is a dialectic of history from slavery through serfdom to free wage labor. There is a dialectic of the class struggle in general and under capitalism in particular – and as it develops through certain specific stages from competition through monopoly to state, in each case it calls forth new forms of revolt and new aspects of the philosophy of revolution.
Only a Marx could work out the latter. What Hegel had shown were the dangers inherent in the French Revolution which did not end in the millennium. The dialectic disclosed that the counter-revolution is within the revolution. It is the greatest challenge man has ever had to face. We are living that challenge today. Mao, not daring to release the elemental striving of the masses to control their conditions of labor, retrogresses to “cultural,” to “epiphenomenal” changes. One could say that Mao may not have recognised philosophy, but philosophy, Hegelian dialectics, recognised him so long ago it predicted his coming. The fetishistic character of the so-called cultural revolution struck out, not against exploitative production, but the bland “four olds” (old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits). All sound and fury and no class content. Only he who has no future is frightened of the past! By any other name, including that of Red Guards, the elitist character of Party, Army, Red Guards, and what now merged into the one and only “helmsman at the ship of state,” is as unmistakable as was Louis XIV’s “L’etat c’est moi.” Which is why Sheng Wu-lien demanded that instead of rhetoric, real “Paris Communes” must cover the land. That self-development, self-activity, self-movement in the Hegelian dialectic which became so alive to Lenin in 1914-23, is that which caused Stalin to order the exclusion of “the negation of the negation” from the “laws” of the dialectic as if, by fiat, state-capitalist tyranny could indeed change the course of history. Lack of confidence in the masses is the common root of all objections to “idealistic, mystical Hegelianism.” That includes not only outright betrayers, but also intellectuals committed to proletarian revolution; outsiders looking in; academic Marxists who (even when independent of any state power) are permeated to the marrow of their bones with the capitalistic concept of the backwardness of the proletariat. One and all, they are blind to the relationship of theory to history as a historical relationship made by masses in motion.
The one element of truth that all these detractors of Hegel express is the need to break with bourgeois idealism, including that of Hegel. For, without Marx’s unique discovery of the materialist foundations of history, Hegelian dialectics remained imprisoned in an idealism that was abstract enough to allow for its usage as apology for the Prussian state. Had Marx not broken with bourgeois idealism in its philosophic form as well as its class nature, he would not have been able either to disclose the algebraic formula of revolution inherent in the Hegelian dialectic, or to recreate the dialectic that emerged out of the actual class struggles and proletarian revolutions, and sketch out that, just that, self-movement into “permanent revolution.” In our age, however, we have to contend with Communism’s, and its fellow travellers’, perversions of the Hegelian-Marxian dialectic.
Mankind has evidently reached the end of something, when the richest and most powerful military might on earth shouts to the heavens, not about the wonders of its production, affluence, or nuclear gigantism, but about the “strange spirit of malaise throughout the land.” This is not all due to “spirit.” It has very deep economic roots: whether one looks at the money crisis or the unemployment that will not go away; whether one’s sights are on the ceaseless militarisation and nuclear gigantism or the depth of the poverty and its deepening black colour in the midst of the affluence of white imperialism; whether one’s eyes are on reaching the barren moon or on the hollowness of America’s so-called democracy. But the overwhelming fact is that the U.S.’s GNP hitting the trillion-dollar mark, far from winning the battle for the minds of men, lost not only the battle but its mind, its spirit.
The constant tug-of-war with “Hegelianism” on the part of the “New Left” just when there is such hunger for a new philosophy of liberation, is only proof that there is no “third way” in the mode of thought any more than there is in the class struggle. Petty-bourgeois subjectivism has always ended by holding on to some state power, and never more so than in our state-capitalist age, whose intellectuals are so ridden through with the administrative mentality of the Plan, the Vanguard Party, the “cultural” revolution as the substitute for the proletarian revolution. The totality of the crisis demands not only listening to the voices from below, but also building on that foundation as the reality and as the link to historic continuity.
Furthest from the minds of elitist intellectuals, of leaders in particular, is the self-development of the masses who themselves would master the principles of the dialectic. Yet all the new beginnings for theory, for philosophy as well as for revolutionary reconstruction of society on totally new human foundations, have in our age come from the spontaneous outbursts the world over. “Self-determination in which alone the Idea is is to hear itself speak” was heard by those fighting for selfdetermination. They were “experiencing” second negativity. Clearly the struggle was against not only exploiters, but also those who set themselves up as leaders.
The days are long since past when these voices from below could be treated, at best, as mere sources of theory. The movement from practice which is itself a form of theory demands a totally new relationship of theory to practice. Lenin was right when he declared that Hegel’s route from Logic to Nature meant “stretching a hand to materialism,” and when he proclaimed, “Cognition not only reflects the world but creates it.” As can be seen from his concretisation of this – “the world does not satisfy man and man decides to change it by his activity” – it was no mere restatement of his former thesis that “without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolution.” This time Lenin kept stressing “Subject,” man, “subjective” as “most concrete,” cognition as dialectics, as philosophy – “Science is a circle of circles. The various sciences ... are fragments of this chain.” Whether it is theory or the Party – by 1920 Lenin was to stress that “Socialism cannot be introduced by a minority, a Party” – Lenin’s emphasis was on philosophy: “absolute subjectivity,” Subject as man and Notion, the unity of object and subject, of mental and manual, the whole.
The tragedy of the Russian Revolution was that this was never achieved after the conquest of state power, and the Bolshevik co-leaders, in ruling a state power, also took advantage of the philosophic ambivalence of Lenin to turn their backs on “idealist philosophy."
It is true, of course – and indeed there would be something fundamentally amiss if it were otherwise – that Marx and Lenin solved the problems of their age, not ours. But powerful foundations have been laid for this age which we would disregard at our peril, even as it would be fatal not to build on the theoretic-practical Humanist ground rediscovered since the mid-1950s, and which Marx in his day called “positive Humanism, beginning from itself.” The restatement, by the mature proletarian revolutionary author of Capital, of the young Marx’s exuberance of 1844 – “the development of human power which is its own end” – demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt how Europe’s 1848 revolutions, America’s Civil War, 1861-65, and the Paris Commune, 1871, verified Marx’s “new Humanism.” Any other foundation, any other ground, such as “nationalised propertyless with or without military “focos,” can only lead to still another tyranny.
There is no way to end the reappearance of still another exploitative, alienated, and alienating society except through a social revolution, beginning with the relations between people at the point of production, and continuing as that elemental outburst involving the population “to a man, woman, child” which ends once and for all the dichotomy between mental and manual labor so that “individuality [is] freed from all that interferes with its universalism, i.e., freedom."
To labor under the illusion that one could pick up theory “en route” and thereby avoid going through “the labor of the negative” in the theoretic preparation for revolution as in the actual class struggles is every bit as false a consciousness as that which befalls the ruling class.
As against the concept that endless activism, though it be mindless, is sufficient “to make the revolution,” what is needed is a restatement for our age of Marx’s concept of the “realisation” of philosophy, that is, the inseparability of philosophy and revolution.
The mature Marx, like the young Marx, rejected Feuerbachian materialism and held instead that the Hegelian dialectic of “second negativity” was the “creative principle,” the turning-point which puts an end to the division between mental and manual labor. The mature, as well as the young, Marx grounded “the development of human power which is its own end” in the “absolute movement of becoming.” Only with such a Promethean vision could one be certain that a new Paris Commune would not only be “a historic initiative – working, thinking, bleeding Paris ... radiant in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative” – but continue its self-development so that a totally new social order on a world scale was established.
The new that characterises our era, the “energising principle” that has determined the direction of the two decades of the movement from practice, simultaneously rejects false consciousness and aborted revolutions.
The reality is stifling. The transformation of reality has a dialectic all its own. It demands a unity of the struggles for freedom with a philosophy of liberation. Only then does the elemental revolt release new sensibilities, new passions, and new forces – a whole new human dimension.
Ours is the age that can meet the challenge of the times when we work out so new a relationship of theory to practice that the proof of the unity is in the Subject’s own self-development. Philosophy and revolution will first then liberate the innate talents of men and women who will become whole. Whether or not we recognise that this is the task history has “assigned,” to our epoch, it is a task that remains to be done.