Marxist-Humanism: A Half-Century of Its World Development

Presenting the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection online has been made possible by News and Letters Committees.

The papers of Raya Dunayevskaya were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs in July 1969 by Raya Dunayevskaya and were first opened for research in May 1970. New additions to the collection in 1981 added many documents missing in the original deposit and expanded the material over the 40-year period they now cover. [Dunayevskaya added a Volume XI in 1985, and a Volume XII in 1986. A Supplement to the Collection (Volumes XIII, XIV, and XV) was begun after Dunayevskaya’s death in June 1987.]

Raya Dunayevskaya founded Marxist-Humanism in the United States. During a lifetime in the Marxist movement, she developed a revolutionary body of ideas: the theory of state-capitalism; the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism as rooted in the U.S. in labor, the Black dimension and women’s liberation; the global concept of the inseparability of philosophy and revolution as the dialectics of liberation. These concepts have been developed in three major works: Marxism and Freedom (published in 1958); Philosophy and Revolution (published in 1973); and Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (published in 1982).

Born in Russia, she was brought to the U.S. as a child. She became Russian Secretary to Leon Trotsky in exile in Mexico in 1937-38, during the period of the Moscow Trials and the Dewey Commission of inquiry into the charges made against Trotsky. At the outbreak of World War II, she broke with Trotsky in opposition to his defense of Russia as a “workers state though degenerate.” She held, instead, that the Hitler-Stalin Pact both gave the green light to the Second World War and showed that Russia was a state-capitalist society.

The seminal, comprehensive study she made, from original sources, of Russia’s initial three Five Year Plans (published in the New International, Dec. 1942, Jan. 1943 and Feb. 1943) continue to serve as source material for a study of the class nature of Russia and the revision of Marxian theory. The study was widely quoted in the world press as well as in such works as Arthur Koestler’s The Yogi and the Commissar (1945). Her translation into English of “Teaching of Economics in the Soviet Union” from an issue of Pod Znamenem Marxizma (Under the Banner of Marxism), which had failed to arrive in the U.S. libraries, was published in the American Economic Review (Sept. 1944) and touched off an international debate with other theoreticians which reached the front page of the New York Times in 1945.

The analysis of Russian state-capitalism had led, in 1941, to her association with C.L.R. James (J.R. Johnson), author of Black Jacobins, who had arrived at the same position. Under the name of Freddie Forest, she co-founded an opposition State-Capitalist Tendency within the American Trotskyist movement, which was named the Johnson-Forest Tendency in Dec. 1945. In 1947 Forest attended the Fourth International Conference in Paris, where she presented the state-capitalist position in debate with Ernest Mandel. The same year the Tendency translated and mimeographed the 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts; but the singling out of Marx’s Humanism as the philosophy of liberation for our age was not achieved until the split between the two founders of the State-Capitalist Tendency in 1955, although the final break with Trotskyism had occurred in 1951.

The majority of the group established News and Letters Committees, of which Raya Dunayevskaya became Chairwoman, and began the publication of a Marxist-Humanist newspaper. At its founding this group assigned her to complete Marxism and Freedom–from 1776 until Today, which re-established the American and the world humanist roots of Marxism. As Appendices, it included the first English translations of Marx’s Humanist Essays and Lenin’s Abstract of Hegel’s Science of Logic. This work, which was first published in New York in 1958, has appeared in eight editions and many translations: Italian (1962); Japanese (1964); French (1971); British (1971 and 1975); and Spanish (1976). The new chapter which was added to the 1964 edition, “The Challenge of Mao Tse-tung,” was translated by a Chinese refugee at the start of the “Cultural Revolution.” Other entire chapters were circulated in samizdat in the underground in East Europe and resulted in a dialogue with East European Marxist-Humanists. Some of them collaborated later in the writing of the chapter on State-Capitalism in East Europe in another of her major works, Philosophy and Revolution. Other chapters were translated into Farsi in Iran, where revolutionaries included one of them in a pamphlet to celebrate May Day 1979.

Philosophy and Revolution: from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao was published by Dell simultaneously in hardcover and paperback in 1973. It appeared in Spanish translation through Siglo Veintiuno (1977) and in Italian through Feltrinelli (also 1977). It has now been brought out in German through Europa Verlag (1981). This, too, was not only a work of research and analysis, but of actuality. Ms. Dunayevskaya traveled and lectured widely in West Africa, Japan and West Europe as well as in the United States. While studying at the Universities Research Center in Hong Kong in 1965, as Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” first unfolded, she interviewed refugees from mainland China. One of these interviews, entitled “Alienation and Revolution,” was included in her 1977 pamphlet, Sexism, Politics and Revolution in Mao’s China, along with an analysis of the fall of Chiang Ch’ing and the rise of Hua Kuo-feng.

In the U.S. she has been involved in all aspects of the freedom movements. Her activity has never been separated from the Black dimension, ranging from her work in the International Labor Defense Committee during the Scottsboro Case to her activity with Ralph Bunche around the sharecroppers; and from her debates with Coolidge (Ernest Rice McKinney of the Workers Party) in the mid-1940s on the Negro struggle as a National Question, to her 1944 critique of Gunnar Myrdal’s work, which she titled “Negro Intellectuals in Dilemma.” Thus, a lifetime of work and activity went into American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, which demonstrated the two-way road between Africa and America; and her pamphlet on The Free Speech Movement and the Negro Revolution included contributions from both Mario Savio and a Mississippi Freedom Summer activist. She developed her concepts further in her Introduction to Frantz Fanon, Soweto and American Black Thought.

As an activist with the Women’s Liberation Movement from its beginnings, Ms. Dunayevskaya contributed an essay on “The Women’s Liberation Movement as Reason and as Revolutionary Force” to the anthology, Notes on Women’s Liberation, in 1970, and a special Appendix, “Women as Thinkers and as Revolutionaries,” to the pamphlet, Working Women for Freedom, in 1976, following a series of six lectures she had been asked to give at the Wayne State University Center for Adult Education for International Women’s Year. Her writings on Women’s Liberation were translated into Farsi for a pamphlet issued by Iranian women revolutionaries for International Women’s Day, 1980. With the first publication of a transcription of Karl Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks, Raya Dunayevskaya singled out the relationship of this, his last work, to his early Humanist Essays on the Man/Woman concept. This has been developed in her third major work, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.

Her writings have been published widely abroad as well as in this country. Thus, her pamphlet, Nationalism, Communism, Marxist-Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions, has been published both in Japan and in Great Britain, while other articles have appeared in Présence Africaine as well as in Africa Today, and in Arguments (Paris) as well as in the American literary review, Paunch. In 1977 Studies in Comparative Communism printed her latest study of “Leon Trotsky as Man and as Theoretician” and in 1979, on the 100th anniversary of Trotsky’s birth, Cahiers Leon Trotsky published her 1938 article on “The Man, Trotsky.” She was one of only three Americans asked to contribute to the International Symposium, Socialist Humanism, edited by Erich Fromm.

She is a charter member of the Hegel Society of America and her speech to the Society on “Hegel’s Absolute Idea as New Beginning” is included in the Humanities Press 1980 edition of Art and Logic in Hegel’s Philosophy. On the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth and the 200th anniversary of Hegel’s, her study of Lenin’s return to Hegel was published by Telos (U.S.), by Praxis (Yugoslavia), and by Aut Aut (Italy). Her In Memoriam to Herbert Marcuse, who wrote the Preface to the first edition of Marxism and Freedom, appeared in the Newsletter of the International Society for the Sociology of Knowledge, edited by Kurt Wolff.

She has lectured extensively at universities across the U.S., in Britain, Japan, Europe, and Africa.


Marxist-Humanism is the overall title of the body of ideas expressed in the ten volumes and two appendices on deposit with the Labor History Archives of Wayne State University. They extend over a 40-year period from 1941 to 1981. Theoretically they have been worked out in the following major publications by Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxism and Freedom, From 1776 Until Today (1958, 1964; the latter edition contained a new chapter, “The Challenge of Mao Tse-tung”); Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre, and from Marx to Mao (1973); and the new book going to press, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.

The entire collection is divided into two Parts.

Part One covers Marxist-Humanism in its origin as State-Capitalist theory: (1) as that theory was developed by its founders, J.R. Johnson (C.L.R. James) and Freddie Forest (Raya Dunayevskaya), within the Trotskyist movement, 1941-1951; and (2) as the State-Capitalist Tendency existed independently from the Trotskyist movement, 1951-1955. The designation “State-Capitalist” was, naturally, intended for the Russian economy, not for the Tendency that made the analysis and to whom the role of labor was pivotal. Dunayevskaya, from the very beginning, analyzed labor in the form in which Marx articulated it as Alienated Labor in his now-famous 1844 Humanist Essays. (See “Labor and Society” Vol. I, Section II.) But the full development of Humanism in our age was made possible only after C.L.R. James broke from the Tendency in 1955. (See Vols. III and IV.) The twin aims of what was to become Marxism and Freedom were to discover the American roots of Marxism and to re-establish Marxism in its original form, which Marx called “a thoroughgoing Naturalism or Humanism.”

The Appendix to Part One, “Leon Trotsky: Letters, Conversations, Unpublished Documents,” includes:

  • (1) Leon Trotsky’s letter to Dunayevskaya that accepts her as his secretary and then acknowledges her work on behalf of the Russian Bulletin of the Left Opposition as well as some research work regarding Stalin;
  • (2) the translations she made during her stay in Mexico;
  • (3) a very rare copy of the Bulletin in the form in which it was published for underground transmission to Russia.

Part Two–which includes Volumes IV through X, and an Appendix to the whole containing the entire collection of “Two Worlds” columns–covers the period 1955 to 1981, and details the development of Marxist-Humanism as philosophy and as an organization, News and Letters Committees.

The 1955 split between the two founders of the State-Capitalist Tendency did not break the continuity of ideas. On the contrary. Between the death of Stalin in March 1953, and the spontaneous outburst of the first mass revolt under state-capitalist totalitarianism in East Berlin on June 17, 1953, came the philosophic breakthrough which discerned in Hegel’s “Absolute Idea” a movement from practice to theory as well as the movement from theory to practice. The split allowed some fresh air to come in, with the majority of the group, especially the workers, following Dunayevskaya, both theoretically on Humanism and practically in the establishment of a new paper, News & Letters, to be edited by a Black production worker, Charles Denby, author of Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal. The new paper was first published under the motto taken from Marx’s Humanist Essays: “The Root of Mankind is Man.” As the Women’s Liberation Movement arose, the motto chosen came from Marx’s Capital: “Human Power is its own End.” Women had been singled out in 1956 in the very Constitution of Marxist-Humanism as one of the four forces of the American Revolution, rank-and-file labor, Black masses, and Youth being the other three.

Volume 10, “What is Philosophy? What is Revolution? How the revolutions of our age relate to those since Marx’s age: Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution,” centers around the decision–made as Women’s Liberation became not only an Idea whose time had come but an actual movement–that the concept needed to be fully worked out historically, not only in the life of the great revolutionary theoretician Rosa Luxemburg and in the Women’s Liberation Movement of today, but within the context of the totality of Marx’s philosophy of revolution, now that our age finally has all of Marx’s works. Those works now include the heretofore unknown Ethnological Notebooks, as well as the long unknown and still undigested draft letters to Vera Zasulitch, which related Marx’s findings to a possible revolution in backward Russia in advance of the West. Hence the title of the new major work: Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.
–Raya Dunayevskaya
February 27,1981

The above text was written when the first ten volumes of the Collection were donated. Later, Dunayevskaya organized two additional volumes, XI and XII. For the special introductions she wrote to those volumes, please see Volume 11 and Volume 12.




Volume 1:

1941-1947 — Beginnings of State-Capitalist Theory (in the Workers Party)

Volume 2:

1947-1951 — From the “Interim Period” to the Final Split from the Socialist Workers Party

Volume 3:

1949-1955 — From the Miners’ General Strike to the East German Revolt; From the Appearance of Differences in the Johnson-Forest Tendency to the Historic Reemergence of Marx’s Humanism

Appendix 1 (included with Volume III listing):

Leon Trotsky: Letters, Conversations, Unpublished Documents



Volume 4:

1955-1958 — Laying New Theoretical and Practical Foundations, Culminating in Marxism and Freedom, From 1776 Until Today

Volume 5:

1959-1964 — The Emergence of a Third Afro-Asian, Latin American World and a New Generation of Revolutionaries Also in the U.S.

Volume 6:

1964-1968 — As Against Decadent Capitalism on the Rampage, New Stages of Mass Revolt

Volume 7:

1968-1973 — Objective Crises Compelling Theoretic Clarification of Revolution, Culminating in the Work Around Philosophy and Revolution

Volume 8:

1973-1975 — Philosophy and Revolution as Book, as Characteristic of the Age

Volume 9:

1976-1978 — Forces of Revolution as Reason; Philosophy of Revolution as Force

Volume 10:

1979-1981 — What is Philosophy? What is Revolution? How the Revolutions of Our Age Relate to Those Since Marx’s Age: Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution

Appendix 2:

“Two Worlds” Columns by Raya Dunayevskaya, 1955-1981

Volume 11:

1981-1985 — Dialectics of Revolution: American Roots and World Humanist Concepts

Volume 12:

Retrospective and Perspective — The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, 1924-1986


Up to Dunayevskaya’s death in 1987, all volumes of the Collection were organized by her. For this reason, subsequent volumes, which were organized by others, are designated as “Supplement to the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection.”

Volume 13:

Raya Dunayevskaya’s Last Writings, 1986-1987 — Toward the Dialectics of Organization And Philosophy

Volume 14:

The Writing of Raya Dunayevskaya’s “Trilogy of Revolution,” 1953-83: The “Long, Hard Trek and Process of Development” of the Marxist-Humanist Idea

Volume 15:

From the Marx Centenary Year to Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution,
and from Reagan’s Invasion of Grenada to Raya Dunayevskaya’s Work on “Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy”


Documents of the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection and Supplement to the Collection are on deposit at Wayne State University of Labor and Urban Affairs, Detroit, Michigan 48202. When donated to Wayne State, arrangements were made to make a microfilm edition of the documents and additions to the collection available. Microfilm editions are available for purchase from Wayne State. The documents are now available online at, the website of the Raya Dunayevskaya Memorial Fund. The Fund was established in July, 1987. Its trustees are Olga Sufritz and Robert French. The Fund can be reached at

News & Letters, the newspaper of the Marxist-Humanist organization, News and Letters Committees, is available 1955 to the present online at


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