On “New Passions and New Forces”: Marxist-Humanism’s Break from both Spontaneism and Vanguardism

By Andrew Kliman.

In a April 18, 1976 piece, “Our Original Contribution to the Dialectic of the Absolute Idea as New Beginning:  In Theory, and Leadership, and Practice,” Dunayevskaya stated,

[A]t the height of Capital, we see [Marx] breaking up the Absolute Idea by speaking about the general absolute law of capitalist accumulation.  But its opposite was always taken to be only the unemployed army – and not the absolutely, totally opposite which we take it to be now.  Marx only mentioned it as ‘the new passions and new forces for the reconstruction of society.’  The negation of the negation at that point certainly wasn’t spelled out.

What I think Dunayevskaya’s original contribution was – what she made explicit that was only implicit in Marx – is her philosophic moment of 1953.  The revolutionary development of the working class is impelled by the logic of capital.  That’s the process of capitalist accumulation.  It has an Absolute: accumulated capital at one poll, misery and unemployment at the other.  There’s a diremption; we cannot go further.  To transcend this absolute opposition, we need a new beginning.  To have a new society, we can’t rest on the dialectic generated by capital.  There needs to be a second moment of negativity, one that doesn’t arise spontaneously from the logic of capital, but is self-liberation.  This second moment of negativity is rooted in a passion to reconstruct society on new beginnings, not just in the oppressiveness of capitalism.

Dunayevskaya is singling out the subjectivity of self-liberation, which Marx’s discussion of the negation of the negation only intimated.  It is at this point that Logic is “thrown out”; it gives way to a new relation of theory to practice.  There’s a new dialectic in which the movement toward freedom is not driven by the logic of oppressive capital; the movements from theory and practice now develop through one another.  This intermerging of theory and practice does not come spontaneously – this is Dunayevskaya’s original contribution – they must freely self-develop together.

To begin to flesh out the textual basis of the above interpretation, I offer the following comments:

(1) I believe that the “Our Original Contribution” text is, in part, a return to and elaboration of pp. 92-94 of Dunayevskaya’s Philosophy and Revolution, which also discusses the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation (AGLCA) in Marx’s Capital, the negation of the negation, and “new passions and new forces.”  It is an extremely important passage, in my opinion. Dunayevskaya refers to the accumulation of capital vs. misery and unemployment as a “diremption – absolute, irreconcilable contradiction[ ]” in the first paragraph on p. 93.  This is the basis of my comment that the AGLCA is “a diremption; we cannot go further.  To transcend this absolute opposition, we need a new beginning.”  In the next paragraph on p. 93, Dunayevskaya writes, “‘The negation of the negation’ allows in but the faintest glimmer of the new, ‘new passions and new forces’ for the reconstructing of society, but no blueprints of the future there.” It seems to me that this is another way of saying that “new forces and new passions” is only implicit in Marx’s discussion of “negation of the negation,” though other interpretations are perhaps also plausible.

(2) “[T]he absolute general law of capitalist accumulation” (AGLCA) is stated on p. 798 of Capital, Vol. I (Penguin/Vintage editions.), near the end of section 4 of Chapter 25, though the chapter as a whole is also called “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation.”  To understand the importance of “absolute” here, it is helpful to read the whole chapter, and see how frequently the laws of capitalist development that Marx identifies here are not absolute, but “relative.”  Part of what is involved in this distinction, I believe, is that much of the trajectory of capitalist development depends upon (is “relative” to) contingent factors, but the growth of the reserve army (and the increasing misery – in a specific sense – of the proletariat (p. 799)) are inevitable (“absolute”) under capitalism.

(3) It is also helpful to read what comes before p. 798, including Chapters 23-24, to get a sense of the AGLCA as the culmination of a process of development.  This will be important to Dunayevskaya’s understanding of “the logic of Capital.”  This is a phrase from Lenin’s Philosophic Notebooks.  He didn’t refer specifically to a real process of development (he was referring to section 3 of Chapter 1 ofCapital, on the “form of value” being modeled on Hegel’s U-P-I (universal-particular-individual)). But in her May 12, 1953 letter on Hegel’s Absolute Idea and thereafter (e.g., Philosophy and Revolution, pp. 93-94), Dunayevskaya interprets “logic of Capital” as a real process, the logic of capital; her words are “the dialectic of bourgeois society.”  Both the May 12, 1953 and the discussions in Philosophy and Revolution compare Lenin’s claim (the “form of value” is based on U-P-I) – to her claim (the AGLCA is based on the Absolute Idea); apparently, Dunayevskaya sees her insight as being rooted in and as a further development of, Lenin’s insight.

(4) Dunayevskaya’s “new passions and new forces” comes from Marx’s phrase “new forces and new passions” in Ch. 32 of Capital, Vol. I (p. 928).  A page and a half later, Marx calls the revolution against capitalism “the negation of the negation,” because capitalism “negates” the individual property of the direct producers, while the revolution will restore their individual property (thus negating the negation), but on a “higher level” (in the Hegelian manner), i.e., as common property.  Dunayevskayavery audaciously reads the reference to “new forces and new passions” as part of the process of “the negation of the negation.”  This is very audacious not only because they are a page and a half apart, but also because Marx’s “new forces and new passions” is a reference to the bourgeoisie and their greed!  (See “the most infamous, the most sordid, … of passions” later in the paragraph on p. 928.)  Marx is referring to the so-called “primitive accumulation” he has been discussing in Chapters 26-31, the bourgeois expropriation of the direct producers (small, independent peasants) that gave rise to capitalism.  The connection of this to the negation of the negation is indeed very implicit!

(5) But there is some textual warrant for Dunayevskaya’s interpretation, and her point, if I understand it, is brilliant. Marx writes (p. 928) that “new forces and new passions spring up in the bosom of society, forces and passions which feel themselves to be fettered by that society.  It has to be annihilated; it is annihilated.”  If I understand Dunayevskaya’s point, it consists of two things.

  • What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  If Marx understood that revolution involves new forces and passions, why should we limit that recognition to the immediate context (the capitalist revolution against the free peasants)?  What is to prevent it from being part of the revolutionary process “as such”?  Why should it not apply equally to the revolution againstcapitalism, the negation of the negation?
  • More importantly, Marx’s “feel themselves to be fettered …. It has to be annihilated” is a recognition that material conditions in the narrow sense are not the sole driving force of the revolutionary process (I say “narrow sense” because, in the previous sentence, Marx refers to the new forces and passions as the “material means of … destruction” of the old society).  Dunayevskaya undoubtedly saw in this passage not only the drive to be free (unfettered), and not only the subjectivity (feeling) involved in the process of liberation, but the anticipation of the new (in the case of the bourgeoisie, they were salivating after the money they could make in the new society!).  The reason I say this is that when she referred to “new passions and new forces,” she regularly defined this more precisely as “‘new passions and new forces’ for the reconstructing of society” (Philosophy and Revolution, p. 93), or some similar expression.

(6) There is a whole lot involved in this.  I’ll just single out one thing.  The standard post-Marx Marxist understandings of the revolutionary process were either vanguardist/voluntarist – the vanguard party, with its advanced consciousness “from outside,” was the driving force behind the revolutionary development of the masses – or fatalistic and spontaneist – the process of capitalist development creates its own gravediggers automatically, spontaneously, with the inevitability of a natural process.  The Johnson-Forest Tendency, of which Dunayevskaya (Forest) was co-leader, had already broken with the former conception a few years before 1953.  In the 1953 letters, I believe, Dunayevskaya was above all breaking philosophically from C.L.R. James’ (Johnson’s) spontaneism.  It is quite important that James continually stressed and stressed again Marx’s phrase “trained, united and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production” in the paragraph right before “negation of the negation” on p. 929 of Capital, Vol. I.  Taken by itself, the phrase, and indeed the whole paragraph, can easily be read as suggesting that Marx, too, had a fatalistic and spontaneist conception of the revolutionary process.  What I think Dunayevskaya was saying is that, while the workers are indeed spontaneously revolutionary – this flows automatically from them being “trained, united and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production,” and from the AGLCA that continually separates them from the means of making a living and from property, that makes technology an alien power, etc. – this is necessary but not sufficient for there to be a new society.  There also needs to be a positive moment, the creation of the new.  The new society is founded upon the idea of a new society, the passion to reconstruct society on new beginnings, but this is only a beginning. Subjective self-liberation is a process that requires self-development.  In her May 20, 1953 letter on Hegel’s Absolute Mind, Dunayevskaya writes, “Mind itself, the new society, is ‘the mediating agent in the process.’” And this requires a dual movement of theory and practice, in which both sides develop.  I could try to justify this last point through a fairly complex and difficult interpretation of her interpretation of the three final syllogisms of Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind.  In lieu of that, let me just refer now to p. 60 of Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (emphasis in original):

Luxemburg was absolutely right … that the Marxist movement … “reckons on the organization and the independent, direct action of the masses” …. However, she is not right in holding that, very nearly automatically, it means so total a conception of socialism that a philosophy of Marx’s concept of revolution could likewise be left to spontaneous action.  Far from it.  … in the 1905 Revolution, … spontaneity was absolutely the greatest, but failed to achieve its goal.

Note the linkage of automaticity and spontaneism, the implication that a total conception of socialism is needed for a successful revolution, and the claim that this cannot be left to spontaneity. There needs to be a new relation of theory and practice, a new relation of masses to Marx’s philosophy of revolution. Groups like ours are needed to help the masses acquire the total conception of socialism that they themselves will need in order to have a successful revolution.

There’s a lot more I could say.  For instance, I haven’t even touched on what Dunayevskaya called Hegel’s “throwing out of the Logic” at the end of the Philosophy of Mind, which I think was related, in her view, to the subjectivity of self-liberation, as against the development of the proletariat by means of the logic of capital.  I hope to take this up in a future essay.


One Comment on "On “New Passions and New Forces”: Marxist-Humanism’s Break from both Spontaneism and Vanguardism"

  1. Stefanie Levi on Mon, 24th Oct 2016 1:53 am 

    Wow! This is a very insightful and well thought out AND–(in my case very necessarily)–clearly explained essay. I read it after finally checking in with the discussion on the bulletin board about vanguardism. All together, the b. b. discussion and this essay are giving me a lot to think about on the subject. But, I need to sleep. Thank you so much to all of you!

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