Episode 15: Dunayevskaya’s Revolutionary Interpretation of Hegel’s Dialectical Philosophy

Brendan interviews Andrew about his just-published With Sober Senses article, “Ceaseless Self-Movement: Dunayevskaya’s Interpretation of the Dialectic of the Absolute.” They discuss Hegel’s concept of “absolute negativity” and its importance to Marx’s and Dunayevskaya’s understanding of the process of revolutionary transformation. The discussion also highlights Dunayevskaya’s radical break from the tradition of “post-Marx Marxists,” who held that the Hegelian dialectic culminates in a “synthesis,” a closed system that reconciles all contradiction. Brendan and Andrew then explore the claim that Dunayevskaya was misreading Hegel.

In this episode’s current-events segment, the co-hosts discuss the economic impact of the Coronavirus Crisis. Is $2 trillion of US government stimulus too little, or too much––or is this is wrong question?

Radio Free Humanity is a podcast covering news, politics and philosophy from a Marxist-Humanist perspective. It is co-hosted by Brendan Cooney and Andrew Kliman. We intend to release new episodes every two weeks. Radio Free Humanity is sponsored by MHI, but the views expressed by the co-hosts and guests of Radio Free Humanity are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of MHI.

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2 Comments

  1. This was great. Please continue to disseminate Dunayevskaya’s writings/ideas. I have bought one of her books and am excited to start it soon.

    Keep up the great work. I am now going to be a regular donor to MHI.

  2. I think the idea of a dialectic of self-movement and what makes a subject as opposed to an object which is only moved from the outside, is really important.

    The lightbulb joke and the part that “it must have to want to change” can potentially be the source of confusion, which I would like to unpack a little. A subject is most readily understood as an individual human being. It can also be fairly easily understood as groups of individuals such as a political movement or even a society with a collective awareness of itself in relation to the world.

    There are things that are objects which also have a dialectic of self-movement, but only because they have a certain ongoing interaction from active human beings, so they consequently show this tendency towards self-movement. A self-moving object is another way of talking of an object that does not literally have a mind or consciousness of its own, but seems as though it has such a consciousness because it is in the nature of the ongoing production or maintenance of the object by human beings that makes it adapt and change as the purpose imbued in the object by people.

    A lightbulb would not be such a type of object. As an object once a lightbulb is produced, it undergoes no further development – it works for a while until its filament burns out or the shell is dropped and breaks.

    An electrical grid, that supplies the lightbulb with power can be thought of such a self-moving object, as having that quality of self-development. Once again this is not because the grid itself has come to life and animates itself. It is rather in the nature of the grid to change in order to fulfil its purpose. There will be different forms of generation and transmission, not just the replacement of power cables or machinery, but even bringing different sources of energy into use. So fossil fuels are supplemented by renewables and nuclear and different types of machinery and power stations are developed to harness these different types of energy. The grid as an object is continually being adapted to meet human needs as a function of it purpose, it adapts with us because it accords with its nature to supply us with energy.

    I think Hegel’s and Dunayevskaya’s self-thinking idea also fits into this latter type of object. The idea of “human freedom” for example will be adapted and undergo change not because the idea itself propels itself forward, but rather that people in thinking on what it means to be free in the specific conditions where they feel the lack of it, will make the idea of freedom undergo changes in a development to meet the demands of a new situation. It will in some ways take on a new content while in the abstract serving the same purpose of release from some restriction.

    In summary some objects can be understood as self-moving, while others cannot. It depends on a relationship to active human subjectivity.

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