The Self-Thinking Idea Does Not Mean You Thinking

A new statement by the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, followed here by two writings by Raya Dunayevskaya from her last period of work on the relationship between philosophy and organization.

Note from the National Secretary of the MHI:

The Marxist-Humanist Initiative held a successful first Annual Conference in New York City on Sept. 26 and 27, nearly six months after our founding conference. The conference agenda appears in the announcement of the conference below.

A major event that took place at the conference was our collective work on a new public statement. We have since finished it, and we publish it here.

Our statement is followed by two writings by Raya Dunayevskaya that are discussed in the statement. They are from 1986, during the period before her death in 1987 when she was preparing to write a book on philosophy and organization-a subject she considered to have constituted a void in Marxism since Marx’s own writings. Her notes and letters from this period and unpublished writings from throughout her life are archived in the Wayne State University Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs and are available to the public.

The MHI aims to continue her exploration of the relationship between philosophy and organization, in theory and practice. To see what we have produced as an organization, you may wish to read this statement in conjunction with our founding Principles and By-Laws, and our April statement on “Why a New Organization?,” all of which appear on this site and are also available in paper.

We look forward to your comments, and we hope to activate those who consider themselves Marxist-Humanists – whether long-term ones who are re-thinking the relation of philosophy to organization, or brand new people who may decide to help Marxist-Humanism at this critical moment for the future of humanity.


The Self-Thinking Idea Does Not Mean You Thinking:

A Contribution to Our Ongoing Effort to Work Out, in Theory and Practice, How to Renew Marxist-Humanism Organizationally

An urgent statement from the membership of Marxist-Humanist Initiative,

October 8, 2009

To all those concerned about the future of Marxist-Humanist philosophy and organization:

1. Toward the Collective Organizational Renewal of the Marxist-Humanist Philosophy of Revolution

At a moment in which the world economic crisis makes the renewal and projection of Marxist-Humanism more crucial than at any time in recent history, the very future of this philosophy hangs in the balance. If current trends continue, it could well perish within the next decade.

This crisis of Marxist-Humanism can be seen in the alarmingly lopsided demographic composition of the organizations that call themselves Marxist-Humanist. Twenty-two years after the death of Raya Dunayevskaya, what is needed is not only what was needed then, a collectivity to continue Marxist-Humanism after her death, but a collectivity to continue Marxist-Humanism after the death of those who knew her. However, the membership of these organizations is predominately late-middle-aged and elderly, there are extremely few people in the 35-55 year-old age group, and the organizations also lack a substantial core of young people. “Only live human beings can recreate the revolutionary dialectic forever anew,” [1] but how many members will still be alive and well in 10 years’ time? So even when the matter is viewed on this most prosaic level, it appears doubtful that Marxist-Humanism has a future.

But the demographic crisis is only a symptom of a deeper crisis–the lack of concretization and development of Marxist-Humanism since the death of Raya Dunayevskaya. The philosophical crisis stems principally from the fact that, after her death, News and Letters Committees did not make it a top priority to create a collectivity of people able to concretize and develop Marxist-Humanism collectively.

On the contrary, the retrogressive view took hold that it was sufficient, even desirable, for the organization and its members to act as placeholders until the next “genius,” by some mystical process, appears from out of nowhere. So did the mystical faith that “ideas have wings,” in other words, that the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism can survive and even experience ongoing development–without a conscious, organized effort to develop them collectively–simply by individuals getting their and/or Dunayevskaya’s works published and hoping for the best. And the frequent use of the term “philosophy” to mean a bare set of beliefs clung to as sacred, or a worldview (Weltanschauung) that achieves a spurious “totality” by remaining abstract and threadbare, made the lack of ongoing development seem something less than a matter of life and death for Marxist-Humanism. Given this use of the term, people seemed to be “practicing philosophy” in the absence of such ongoing development.

On a still deeper level, the crisis is structural, organizational. To attribute organizational failings to the wrong ideas of individuals in an organization is to succumb to the genetic fallacy of attempting to account for a phenomenon by identifying its origin (genesis). This is a fallacy because the question is not why wrong ideas were there at the start, but why they were never corrected and rooted out, instead growing to such a point that the philosophical problems reached the point of crisis. The answer is that the organizational structure caused these problems to be continually reproduced.

Retrogressive notions went largely unchallenged in News and Letters Committees because, for the sake of so-called “organizational unity,” a “big tent”/lowest-common-denominator approach was practiced. But under this big tent, there was actually disunity, though it was obscured by a kind of “peaceful coexistence” of opposed positions and ideas. This is in diametrical opposition to Absolute Method, which “allows no opposites merely to coexist peacefully or, to use Hegel’s words, to come ‘before consciousness without being in contact,’ ‘but engages all in battle.'” [2] Because the former approach was practiced, the organization attracted new people, to the extent it attracted any, who were like the existing members–people who were comfortable with the organization the way it was, people whose interests were served and whose perceived needs were met by it–while repelling others.

The ongoing reproduction of this dynamic allowed such members either to remain or to become the majority. And the combination of majority rule [3] and the “big tent” approach had a disastrous consequence: in combination, they turned the organization into one that served the interests and met the perceived needs of its individual members instead of working to achieve its own avowed goal, the continuation of Marxist-Humanism through the creation of a collectivity of people who take responsibility for continuing the philosophy .

Marxist-Humanist Initiative has set out to reverse this process. We are distinguished from the other organizations calling themselves Marxist-Humanist in this: we have the goal of rebuilding an organization capable of renewing Marxist-Humanism by concretizing and developing it as a collectivity. [4]

In the theoretical realm, we have had great success. It has not been a quick or easy process, but we have finally identified the structural deficiencies and we have analyzed how they caused the philosophical ones to be reproduced. We have sought to correct the structural deficiencies–above all, we have sought to create an organization that is able to work toward the achievement of its avowed goals, rather than to serve the different interests and perceived needs of individual members–and to do so without sacrificing democracy or imposing hierarchy. Creating an organization that works toward the achievement of its goals is easy; so is creating a democratic organization. The hard part is to unite these two things.

In order to unite them, we have developed what we believe are necessary structures and rules. The new method of working we have developed, and are now in the process of implementing, is especially important. The fullest democracy prevails within the organization, but the organization and its accomplishments are nonetheless safeguarded against attempts to hijack it or have it serve the different interests or perceived needs of individual members, because membership is a privilege granted to people who do their fair share of organizationally approved work to accomplish the specific goals and tasks that the organization sets for itself. [5]

Although not necessarily right for other times or places, this method is needed to address and solve the current crisis in Marxist-Humanism. Because of undemocratic practices, described in “Why a New Organization?,” [6] that we recently endured in other organizations, we realized that it would be useless to endure this yet again. So safeguards were needed that protect the organization and its achievements against cliques and individual agendas. Without them, we realized, it would be a waste of time to contribute the hard work, time, and thought needed to rebuild an organization that does not exist in order to fulfill our personal aims, but is capable of working to achieve its own aim–the renewal of Marxist-Humanism by means of its collective concretization and development. Thus the safeguards we have developed and are in the process of implementing are a necessary precondition for the renewal of Marxist-Humanism at this moment.

Whatever may happen to Marxist-Humanist Initiative, these theoretical achievements will endure. They cannot be taken away. They are, to date, our key organizational contribution to Marxist-Humanism and to the movement for human freedom generally. Others, now and in the future, may benefit from an examination of the structures, rules, and methods of working we have developed, and the process of thought by which they have come to be. Most importantly, these theoretical achievements show that retrogression need not be taken as one’s ground. It is instead possible to take the high point of development, Dunayevskaya’s work of the 1980s to transcend the mutual separation of philosophy and organization from one another, as the ground. [7]

Yet, due to circumstances beyond our control, we may not be able to progress from theoretical success to practical success. Practical success requires financial resources that we currently do not have and, even more, it requires that others join with us in the effort to renew the collective organizational development of Marxist-Humanist philosophy. If we do not achieve success in the practical realm, it will be because others have not joined in this effort or helped us obtain the needed financial resources.

We therefore issue this urgent plea to all those who continue to care about the future of Marxist-Humanism, and have not given up on the possibility that it may still have a future: Set aside whatever differences you may have with Marxist-Humanist Initiative, and join with us in the effort to rebuild an organization capable of renewing Marxist-Humanism by concretizing and developing it as a collectivity.

As we discuss below, we take the concept of proof, of the testing of ideas, very seriously. So we acknowledge from the outset that something might be wrong with the analysis above, although some key elements of the analysis were published in our April 2009 founding documents (see footnotes 5 and 6 above), and we have not yet encountered an argument against them. We invite and encourage everyone to subject our reasoning to the strictest scrutiny and to discuss its possible errors, with us and publicly. We regard reasoned public criticism and debate (in contrast to rejection without accompanying argumentation) as a sign of serious intent and of continuing concern for the future of Marxist-Humanism.

2. Why the Marxist-Humanist Philosophy of Revolution Requires Collective Organizational Renewal

Why does the future of Marxist-Humanism require all who care about its future, all who have not given up on its future, to come together in the effort to rebuild an organization capable of renewing Marxist-Humanism by concretizing and developing it as a collectivity?

From 1981 until her death in 1987, [8] Dunayevskaya frequently used the phrase “organizational responsibility for Marxist-Humanism” and similar expressions. Just what does the phrase mean? It does not mean individuals taking on organizational responsibilities. It does not mean individuals taking on organizational responsibilities within a Marxist-Humanist organization. It does not mean assuming responsibility for an organization that calls itself Marxist-Humanist. It does not mean individuals assuming individual responsibility for Marxist-Humanism, i.e., for its ongoing philosophical development. It does not even mean–and this is the pons asinorum of 2009–individuals taking responsibility for the ongoing philosophical development of Marxist-Humanism within a Marxist-Humanist organization.[9]

All of these things are good, even necessary, but they are insufficient. “Organizational responsibility for Marxist-Humanism” means that a Marxist-Humanist organization worthy of the name must itselftake responsibility for the ongoing development of the philosophy. Thus the individuals who take responsibility for its ongoing development must do so organizationally, as a collective rather than as an individual task.

Note that Dunayevskaya herself explicitly put the emphasis on the adjective “organizational” more than once. For instance, she wrote, “responsibility, organizational responsibility, for the Idea of Marxist-Humanism developing Marx’s Humanism for our age, is so urgent in the 1980s.”  And shortly thereafter, she wrote, “[T]here was a responsibility for the Idea, before it actually gained that name of Marxist-Humanism. And that responsibility meant organizational responsibility for ideas.”[10]

The collective assumption of responsibility for the development of the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism is imperative because its self-development, the self-thinking of the Marxist-Humanist Idea, as it were, does not mean you thinking–or, for that matter, us thinking. As Dunayevskaya put it in August 1985:

I want[ ], first of all, to firmly establish that the Self-Thinking Idea does not–I repeat, does not–mean you thinking.

Forget what I never stop repeating in the critique of Hegel, that it’s not Ideas floating in the upper regions of the philosopher’s heavens that “think”; it is people who think. That is totally wrong if you are serious about tracing the Logic of an idea to its logical conclusion. Therefore, instead of any person (including what was primary to Hegel–philosophers) thinking, I want you to face the Idea itself thinking, i.e., developing it to its ultimate. [11]

Thus the Self-Thinking Idea is not a process that takes place within the confines of an individual’s head. It is the ceaseless development of the Idea itself.

Of course, however, it is people who think. Thus the ceaseless development of Marxist-Humanism requires people to be “bearers” of this process. So we seem to be back to where we started. The Self-Thinking Idea does seem to mean you thinking.

However, this is incorrect. There is a crucial difference between the self-development of the Idea and the intellectual self-development of the people who carry out this process (which is not to deny the desirability of, and even the need for, both). People are needed to carry out Marxist-Humanism’s ongoing development, but the development of thoughts inside their heads, while necessary for Marxist-Humanism’s development, is not identical to it.

To understand the difference, and what it has to do with organizational responsibility for Marxist-Humanism, we need to study Dunayevskaya’s interpretation of Hegel’s discussion of the third attitude (or position) of thought with respect to objectivity at the start of his Smaller Logic. The third attitude is the philosophy of Intuitionalism. Writing to George Armstrong Kelly on December 8, 1986, she inverted the sequence of Hegel’s text in order to develop her understanding of a “dialectic flow in the third attitude to objectivity from a critique of the one-sidedness of the Intuitionalists to organizational responsibility.” [12]

In her critique of the Intuitionalist philosophy, Dunayevskaya was concerned above all with the importance of and need for proof. Intuitionalism denies the possibility of, as well as the need for, proof of what is thought to be known about “what is infinite in import.” [13] With regard to such matters, it holds that the truth can be known immediately, that is, in an unmediated fashion. Such knowledge supposedly does not require the mediation of proof, the process of demonstration.

Dunayevskaya held firmly to the opposite view (as did Hegel). Nine days after writing to Kelly, she asked us to “take the question of proof, not merely as something ‘scientific,’ but as process which is every bit as great a determinant in philosophy as in organization.” [14] And a month earlier (November 15), in a text entitled “On Third Attitude to Objectivity” that largely prefigures the letter to Kelly, she developed this point at length: [15] “Now whether you go into the details … or skip directly to para. 72 [of the Smaller Logic’s discussion of the third attitude], the point still is on the necessity of proof.”

She then quoted Hegel: “A second corollary which results from holding immediacy of consciousness to be the criterion of truth is that all superstition or idolatry is allowed to be truth …. It is because he believes in them, and not from the reasoning and syllogism of what is termed mediate [mediated] knowledge, that the Hindu finds God in the cow, the monkey, the Brahmin, or the Lama.” [16] In other words, what is wrong with efforts to bypass the process of demonstration is that they allow “all superstition or idolatry” to be taken as true. Marxist-Humanism cannot tolerate this. As we know, if it is not subjected to the process of demonstration, it, like anything else, becomes the dogma of a cult.

In the same November 15, 1986 text, Dunayevskaya summarized the “essence” of Hegel’s critique of the Intuitionalist philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi: “The essence of his sharp attack on Jacobi is that … it is absolutely wrong” to turn back to what was at one time right, the starting point of modern philosophy, Descartes’ “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). What this has to do with the issue of proof is that, as Hegel notes, Descartes’ conclusion is “not mediated, or proven.” [17] “[T]he whole attack,” Dunayevskaya wrote, “is very, very deeply rooted against anything, whether Cartesian or Jacobi or Spinoza[,] that roots its philosophy in ‘unproved postulates.'” [18].

She then quoted Hegel’s comment that “philosophy, of course, tolerates no mere assertion or conceit, and checks the free play of argumentative seesaw.” [19] These things are reactionary: “It is for this that Hegel called Jacobi a reactionary.” [20]And in her letter to Kelly of the next month, Dunayevskaya returned to this theme, arguing that “mere faith” makes retrogression nearly inevitable: “Far from expressing a sequence of never-ending progression, the Hegelian dialectic lets retrogression appear as translucent as progression and indeed makes it very nearly inevitable if one ever tries to escape regression by mere faith.” [21] “Mere faith,” as we shall see, is a reference to the “faith” or “personal revelation” celebrated by Intuitionalism as “immediate knowing,” knowledge supposedly acquired without a process of proof.

Ideas must be proved, subjected to a process of demonstration, in order genuinely to be known to be true. Otherwise, anything can be taken as being known immediately to be true. The nearly inevitable consequence of the latter is that thought, since it has not been “check[ed]” by a process of demonstration, does not develop but, on the contrary, retrogresses into superstition, idolatry, mere assurances, and imaginings. This is so no matter however many “opinions and arguments without norm or rule” [22] are offered, and no matter how well they may seem to substitute for proof.

This, in a nutshell, is why the Self-Thinking Idea does not mean you, or us, thinking. Genuine self-development of the Idea requires continual “check[ing],” continual proving, but the process of proving is obviously not something the thinker carries out on his or her own. The very point of the process is to subject an argument that the thinker regards as proof to the scrutiny of others, in order to see whether it withstands their scrutiny. No proof is accepted on anyone’s say-so.

And this is where organizational responsibility for Marxist-Humanism comes in. In her 1986 discussion of the third attitude of thought with respect to objectivity, Dunayevskaya addressed the issue of organizational responsibility by taking up the Christian church. She did not take it up, nor do we do so now, in order to advocate hierarchical structure, the embrace of dogma, or the adoption of any specific religious beliefs. Indeed, Dunayevskaya, in a manner that some would regard as “un-philosophical” because they privilege beliefs (“philosophy”) over organization, did not focus on the beliefs of the church, but abstracted from them–set them aside–in order to consider it as anorganization. [23]

On October 6, 1986, she wrote, “I’m still talking to myself … This time it’s on organization in relation to of all things, church or school or theological and philosophic conferences.” [24] In the mid-November text that anticipates her letter to Kelly, she wrote, “[Hegel’s] whole point [in his discussion of the third attitude of thought with respect to objectivity, beginning with paragraph 63], then, … is that he makes a very sharp distinction between the abstract expression of a ‘Supreme Being’ and Christianity which proves itself and has an organizational expression in the Church.” [25] And at the start of her letter to Kelly, she made clear that it was organization, not religion or philosophy of religion, in which she was interested as she re-explored Hegel’s analysis of the church:

[In Hegel,] the dialectical relationship of principles (in this case the Christian doctrine) and the organization (the Church) are analyzed as if they were inseparables. All this occurs not in the context of a philosophy of religion as much as in the context of the great dividing line between himself and all other philosophers[,] … on the relationship of objectivity/subjectivity, immediacy/mediation, particular/universal, history, and the ‘Eternal.'” [26]

Later in the same letter, she again discussed the church as an organization, this time in connection to Hegel’s critique of the third attitude of thought with respect to objectivity:

[w]hat excited me most about this attitude to objectivity is the manner in which Hegel brings in organization. As early as §63 Hegel had lashed out against Jacobi’s faith, in contrast to Faith: “The two things are radically different. Firstly, the Christian faith comprises in it an authority of the Church; but the faith of Jacobi’s philosophy has no other authority than that of personal revelation.” As we see [in his next sentence], Hegel now has suddenly equated organization to principle, doctrine: “And secondly, the Christian faith is a copious body of objective truth, a system of knowledge and doctrine ….” [27]

Dunayevskaya is not advocating blind acceptance of the pronouncements of an “authority” or embrace of the tenets of Christianity. To understand why not, we need to recall that for her “the point” of Hegel’s whole critique of the third attitude of thought with respect to objectivity is “the necessity of proof,” mediated knowledge, as against the Intuitionalist claim that “what is infinite in import” can be known without mediation. Unlike the faith of Jacobi’s philosophy, the Christian faith is not the product of immediate, personal revelation, but the result of a process of demonstration. As Dunayevskaya remarked in the mid-November letter, “Christianity … proves itself and has an organizational expression in the Church.” Thus, the authority of the church is the “organizational expression,” the mediated result, of that process of demonstration.

But it is not merely a result. The church, organization, is also the mediation. It is the church, in other words, that takes organizational responsibility for the process of developing its beliefs, subjecting them to scrutiny, and demonstrating them. By means of this organizational process, “Christianity … proves itself”; the Christian Idea is self-thinking. [28]

Importing this into the secular realm, in particular to the Marxist-Humanist realm, the point is that there needs to be what Dunayevskaya called the “organization of Marxist thought. [29] In order for the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism genuinely to self-develop, new as well as existing conclusions need to be checked, subjected to public scrutiny, and demonstrated. In the best case, non-Marxist-Humanists will take part in this process, but at the present time, outside engagement with Marxist-Humanist philosophy and theory proper, to the extent it exists at all, is almost exclusively a matter of “using” arguments and ideas for one’s own purposes or positioning one’s own thinking in relationship to them.

But even in the best case, organizational responsibility for Marxist-Humanism is needed in order to make sure that the checking of conclusions is carried out in an ongoing and adequate manner. Dunayevskaya addressed what can happen when this does not take place:

the [Johnson-Forest] Tendency … rushed to “conclusions” ….

Where Marxist-Humanism now checks before and after each movement from practice also the movement from theory, and measures how we anticipated some of the events as well as created the fabric–the single dialectic in both subjectivity and objectivity –that was not so when we were a united Tendency in the critical period of 1950-53 ….

Instead, State-Capitalism and World Revolution, in its section on philosophy, focused on Contradiction rather than second negativity and Absolute Idea, which would have brought us to Marx’s Humanism. [30]

Owing to the necessity for proof, and to the needed organizational responsibility for this process in order to ensure that the Idea develops to its ultimate, ideas simply do not “have wings” in the sense that the self-development of Marxist-Humanist philosophy requires–not even in the best case, and certainly not now. [31] Intellectual production without the necessary public process of demonstration and rigorous scrutiny is insufficient for the continued development of Marxist-Humanism, no matter how many works are republished or new ones are published.

And thus we reiterate our urgent call to all those who have not given up on the future of Marxist-Humanism and who are concerned to help it continue into the future. Join with Marxist-Humanist Initiative in a common effort to rebuild an organization capable of renewing Marxist-Humanism by concretizing and developing it as a collectivity. The need for it is great, but time is running out.

Marxist-Humanist Initiative


[1] Raya Dunayevskaya, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1991), p. 195.

[2] Raya Dunayevskaya, Philosophy of Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao(Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003), p. 29. In the final chapter of his Science of Logic, “The Absolute Idea,” Hegel wrote that “the material, the opposed determinations in one relation, is alreadyposited and at hand for thought. But formal thinking makes identity its law, and allows the contradictory content before it to sink into the sphere of ordinary conception, into space and time, in which the contradictories are held asunder in juxtaposition and temporal succession and so come before consciousness without reciprocal contact.” Hegel’s Science of Logic, A. V. Miller (trans.) (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1989), p. 835, emphases in original.

[3] A single person owned or controlled all organizational property. In other respects, majority rule prevailed until the fall of 2007. For a discussion of that period, see our April 2009 statement, “Why a New Organization?,” available at

[4] See Anne Jaclard, “The Concreteness of Marxist-Humanism,” (available at for a discussion of what is needed in order to concretize Marxist-Humanism.

[5] This issue is discussed near the end of our founding “Statement of Principles” (available at, and in paragraphs C(9), C(10), and E(1) of our By-Laws (available at


[7] See especially Volume XIII of the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection (Detroit: Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs), “Raya Dunayevskaya’s Last Writings, 1986-1987–Toward the Dialectics of Organization and Philosophy.” Some of these writings are discussed below.

[8] See Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 10946.

[9] The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary gives the following as definitions of pons asinorum: “a critical test of ability or understanding,” “stumbling block” ( See also the discussion of the term’s origin in the Encyclopedia Britannica (

[10] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 10839, p. 10878, emphasis in original.

[11] Raya Dunayevskaya, “The Self-Thinking Idea in a New Concept of and Relationship to the Dialectics of Leadership, as well as the Self-Bringing Forth of Liberty,” August 1985, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 10348ff, emphases in original.

[12] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 11228ff, emphases added. Kelly, who died in 1987 at the age of 55, was a non-Marxist intellectual historian and political theorist, and a recognized authority on Hegel.

[13] G. W. F. Hegel, The Encyclopedia Logic, with the Zusätze: Part I of the Encyclopedia of philosophical sciences with the Zusätze, T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris (trans.) (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1991), p. 123, §77.

[14] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 10832.

[15] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 10811-12.

[16] G. W. F. Hegel, The Encyclopedia Logic, p. 120, §72; Dunayevskaya quoted a different translation.

[17] G. W. F. Hegel, The Encyclopedia Logic, p. 122, §76.

[18] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 10812.

[19] G. W. F. Hegel, The Encyclopedia Logic, p. 123, §77. Geraetz et al. render the sentence as follows: “philosophy will not tolerate any mere assurances or imaginings, nor does it allow thinking to swing back and forth while using this type of arbitrary reasoning.”

[20] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 10812.

[21] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 11228ff.

[22] G. W. F. Hegel, The Encyclopedia Logic, p. 123, §77.

[23] Let us bear firmly in mind that the Catholic Church in particular remains the most successful organization the world has known, both in terms of longevity and in terms of its achievement of it own goals. Although there are aspects of the Church’s experience and organizational dynamics that are specific to it, specific to religious institutions, and so forth, some of its experiences and dynamics are ones it shares with other kinds of organizations, and are thus relevant to Marxist-Humanist organization as well. Might it therefore not be appropriate to inquire into the organizational determinants of its success, setting aside other factors in order to isolate common experiences and dynamics, so that we can see what lessons, both positive and negative, we can learn?

[24] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 10788.

[25] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 10811, emphases added.

[26] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 11228ff.

[27] Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 11228ff.

[28] The soundness and salience of Dunayevskaya’s argument, and ours, in no way depend upon whether Hegel’s view of the Christian church as an “actually-existing” organization was in fact correct. The point is rather that there are two radically different kinds of “belief”–one is based on intuition and the other is the result of a process of thinking–and that their differences have to do with demonstration and organization. Hegel discusses the different senses of the word “belief” at some length in §63 of The Encyclopedia Logic.

[29] Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom: From 1776 until today (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000), p. 156, emphasis in original.

[30] Raya Dunayevskaya, “The Movements from Theory as Well as from Practice vs. the Great Artificer, Ronald Reagan, from whom the Whole World is a Stage,” July 7, 1984, end of part III, section 2. The full text is in Raya Dunayevskaya, Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 8193ff. Part III is sometimes known by its subtitle, “Not by Practice Alone: The Movement From Theory.”

[31] For more on the notion that “ideas have wings,” see the fourth paragraph of the present statement.


Transcription of Raya Dunayevskaya’s notes entitled

“On Third Attitude to Objectivity,” November 15, 1986

(Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 10811-10812)

When, in my notes on Nov. 7, 1986, I diverted from p. 96 to return to a page of previous attitudes, specifically the Critical, as well as to the 3 Final Syllogisms and, of all things, J’s Notes on the Dialectic, I was really talking in as disorganized a manner as Random Thoughts are generally, rather than following through with the 3rd Attitude as Hegel discusses it on p. 96, i.e. para. 62.  There are, after that, para.s 63 to 78 before that attitude is completed. The point is that, beginning with para. 63, the question of Faith and Intuition are too often “subjected to arbitrary use, under no better guidance than the conception and distinctions of psychology, without any investigation into their nature and motion which is the main question, after all.” Hegel insists that if one is going to qualify intuition “as intellectual, we must really mean intuition which thinks …”  His whole point, then, (and it continues on p. 98) is that he makes a very sharp distinction between the abstract expression of a “Supreme Being” and Christianity which proves itself and has an organizational expression in the Church.

Now whether you go into the details of 64 to 72 about the one-sidedness of the intuitional school or skip directly to para. 72, the point still is on the necessity of proof. Thus, continuing the rejection of abstractions like Supreme Being:  “A second corollary which results from holding immediacy of consciousness to be the criterion of truth is that all superstition or idolatry is allowed to be truth, and that an apology is prepared for any contents of the will, however wrong and immoral.  It is because he believes in them, and not from the reasoning and syllogism of what is termed mediate knowledge, that the Hindu finds God in the cow, the monkey, the Brahmin, or the Lama.”

The essence of his sharp attack on Jacobi is that Descartes was right because it was thestarting point for modern philosophy, but it is absolutely wrong “to return to this modern starting point or this metaphysic in the Cartesian philosophy”.  He then goes into the 3 points on which Jacobi and Descartes agree: 1) “Cogito, ergo sum” at which point Hegel notes parenthetically “(Descartes, in fact, is careful to state that by thought he means consciousness in general.)  This inseparability is the absolutely first and most certain knowledge, not mediated or demonstrated.”

“2) The inseparability of existence from the conception of God:  the former is necessarily implied in the latter, or the conception never can be without the attribute of existence which is thus necessary and eternal.”  At this point, Hegel footnotes all of Descartes and also Spinoza.

“3) The immediate consciousness of the existence of external things.”

In a word, the whole attack is very, very deeply rooted against anything, whether Cartesian or Jacobi or Spinoza that roots its philosophy in “unproved postulates, which it assumes to be unprovable, proceeds to wider and wider details of knowledge and thus gave rise to sciences of modern times. The modern theory (of Jacobi) on the contrary, (para. 62) has come to what is intrinsically a most important conclusion, that cognition proceeding as it must by finite mediation can know only the finite ….”

As against this, Hegel concludes naturally “philosophy, of course, tolerates no mere assertion or conceit, and checks the free play of argumentative seesaw.”  It is for this that Hegel called Jacobi a reactionary and ended the whole attack with this final sentence, before going to Logic itself: “Strictly speaking, in the resolve that wills pure thought, this requirement is accomplished by freedom which, abstracting from everything, grasps its pure abstraction, the simplicity of thought.”


Letter from Raya Dunayevskaya to George Armstrong Kelly,

December 8, 1986

(Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, pp. 11228ff)

Dear GAK:

Despite the acknowledged gulf between us on the Absolute Method, may I discuss with you (and may I hope for a comment from you?) my latest self-critique on organization? On that question I also see Hegel in a new way. That it is to say, the dialectical relationship of principles (in this case the Christian doctrine) and the organization (the Church) are analyzed as if they were inseparables. All this occurs not in the context of a philosophy of religion as much as in the context of the great dividing line between himself and all other philosophers that he initiated with the Phenomenology of Mind, on the relationship of objectivity/subjectivity, immediacy/mediation, particular/universal, history and the “Eternal.” This addition to the [EncyclopediaLogic-the Third Attitude to Objectivity-I see in a totally new way.

I can’t hide, of course, that though it’s not the Absolute, I’m enamored with that early section of the Encyclopedia outline of the Logic, because it was written after Hegel had already developed Absolute Knowledge, Absolute Idea, Absolute Method.

Here history makes its presence felt, by no accident after the Absolutes both in thePhenomenology and in the Science of Logic, as well as in anticipation that he is finally developing thePhilosophy of Nature and the Philosophy of Mind.  Indeed, that to me is what made possible the very form of compression of those innumerable polemical observations on other philosophers and philosophies into just three attitudes to objectivity.

This time, as we know, a single attitude, the First, embraces everything preceding the modern age. Further emphasis on this compression is evident when Hegel comes to the modern age and includes both empiricism and criticism in the Second Attitude.

My attraction to the Third Attitude was not due to the fact that it was directed against those who placed faith above philosophy-the Intuitionalists. (I’m not renewing our old debate, just because I’m an atheist; atheism, to me, is one more form of godliness, without God.) Rather, the attraction for me continued to be the dialectic. Far from expressing a sequence of never-ending progression, the Hegelian dialectic lets retrogression appear as translucent as progression and indeed makes it very nearly inevitable if one ever tries to escape regression by mere faith.

Here again, history enters, this time to let Hegel create varying views of Intuitionalism, depending on which historic period is at issue. Intuitionalism is “progressive” in the period of Descartes because then empiricism opened the doors wide to science. On the other hand, it became regressive in the period of Jacobi.

It is here that I saw a different concept of organization when it comes to the Church than in all of Hegel’s many oppositions to the clergy’s dominance in academia. Do please follow my strange journey, that I identify as the self-determination of the Idea.

The Third Attitude begins (§61) with a critique of Kant, whose universality was abstract so that Reason appeared hardly more than a conclusion with “the categories left out of account.” Equally wrong, Hegel continues, is the “extreme theory on the opposite side, which holds thought to be an act of the particular only, and on that ground declares it incapable of apprehending the Truth.”

In praising Descartes, Hegel points not only to the fact that empiricism opened the door to science, but that Descartes clearly knew that his famous “Cogito ergo sum” wasn’t a syllogism, simply because it had the word “therefore” in it. This becomes important because Hegel’s critique could then be directed against the one-sidedness of the Intuitionalists, for equating mind to mere consciousness, and thus “what I discover in my consciousness is thus exaggerated into a fact of consciousness of all, and even passed off for the very nature of mind” (§71). That too is by no means the whole of the critique. What excited me most about this attitude to objectivity is the manner in which Hegel brings in organization. As early as §63 Hegel had lashed out against Jacobi’s faith, in contrast to Faith: “The two things are radically distinct. Firstly, the Christian faith comprises in it an authority of the Church; but the faith of Jacobi’s philosophy has no other authority than that of personal revelation.” As we see, Hegel now has suddenly equated organization to principle, doctrine: “And secondly, the Christian faith is a copious body of objective truth, a system of knowledge and doctrine; while the scope of the philosophic faith is so utterly indefinite, that, while it has room for faith of the Christian, it equally admits belief in the divinity of the Dalai Lama, the ox, or the monkey.”

Hegel proceeds (§75) “And to show that in point of fact there is a knowledge which advances neither by unmixed immediacy nor unmixed mediation, we can point to the example of the Logic and the whole of philosophy.”

In a word, we’re back at the Dialectic and it’s only after that (§76) that Hegel uses the word “reactionary” in relationship to the whole school of Jacobi, that is to the historic period, “The Recent German Philosophy.” “Philosophy of course tolerates no mere assertions or conceits, and checks the free play of argumentative see-saw” (§77).  Freedom and Revolution (which word I “borrowed” from Hegel’s very first sentence on “The Recent German Philosophy”) will hew out a new path. In this way I see the dialectic flow in the third attitude to objectivity from a critique of the one-sidedness of the Intuitionalists to organizational responsibility.


One Comment on “The Self-Thinking Idea Does Not Mean You Thinking: A contribution to our ongoing effort to work out, in theory and practice, how to renew Marxist-Humanism organizationally”

  1. 1MHI said at 6:51 am on October 25th, 2009:We received the following comment on this piece at our Facebook page:Elliott EisenbergDunayevskaya’s work was known to us quite a long time ago. One remembers Herbert Marcuse’s introduction to her main work on Hegel. Refreshing in your statement above is that you do not get involved in the unending dispute regarding Hegel’s influence on Marx, but rather treat Hegel as an important philosopher in his own right.October 18 at 6:45pm

1 Comment

  1. At our July 23 meeting on The Self-Thinking Idea article, I was struck with the similarities between Hegel’s battle with Jacobi’s Intuitionalism and Marxist-Humanism’s battle with other tendencies in the Marxist Left. In the article, MHI writes that Hegel and Raya Dunayevskaya’s (RD) opposition to Intuitionalism was based on their convictions of the “importance of and need for proof.” The Self-Thinking Idea article and RD refer to Hege’s “Attitudes to Objectivity” in his Smaller Logic.

    A similar rejection of the one-sidedness of Intuitionalism can be seen in the “Absolute Mind” sections of Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind (Section 3, A-C). In paragraph 572 Hegel writes that “this science [philosophy] is the unity of Art and Religion.” Previously, Hegel described the Absolute as taking different shapes (556). The first shape the Absolute takes is Art, where is the Absolute in its “immediate unity in sensuously intuitional form” (557). Art is the realm of intuition. At its best, Art can, according to Hegel, purify the spirit” (562) from its thraldom.” In humanist terms, it can unleash what is human about humanity. When Art does this, it reveals something.

    In other words, it becomes revelation, religion. In Section 3-B, “Revealed Religion,” Hegel describes his dissatisfaction with his contemporaries who claim that “man cannot ascertain God” (564). If this is the case, then the Christians who proclaim this are actually heathens, who “know not God” (564). Hegel, then explains the process of how the revelation of God “throws off the one-sidedness of subjectivity in which it is the vanity of thought,” through self-mediation, that is, by coming to know itself. Through the process, the realm of revelation transforms into the realm of philosophy, or self-recognition.

    Thus, philosophy is the unity of intuition, emerging from the sensuous world, and revelation, emerging from the world of self-consciousness. In other words, philosophy recognizes itself as this mediated unity. It comprehends itself, knows itself. With this recognition, the Absolute, in the shape of philosophy “eternally sets itself to work” (576). The work Absolute Mind sets itself to is the process of liberating itself from the one-sidedness of both Art and Religion, that is, overcoming mere intuition and revelation, resulting in the Absolute looking back on its own knowledge. Put another way, philosophy is the process of moving from Intuition to Belief to Certainty (555).

    The significance here is that any philosophy that does not move from belief, or intuition, toward certainty, by “setting itself” to know (not just feel or think or desire) its starting point and process, is a retrogression in the movement of thought. Any theory, then, that dismisses the “importance and need for truth” is reactionary. By this definition, there are a number of theoretical positions and practices on the Left that could and should be called reactionary. The practices that I am referring to are Left-Firstism, Post-Truth Politics, and Denialism.

    The cardinal virtues of Left-Firstism are “meeting people where they are at” and “Left Unity.” The idea of “meeting people where they are at” was made the principle strategy of the Fourth International by Trotsky when he wrote “The Transitional Program” and made explicit the strategy of leading the masses from our perceived base consciousness to self-proclaimed real political ideas through “transitional demands.” Yet this idea of “meeting people where they are at” also exists amongst social democrats who wish to sideline freedom struggles that might alienate working-class conservatives from coming around to “socialism”—economic populism. In this approach, not only do you not demonstrate what you think to the masses, you intentionally obscure what you actually think when meeting people to make yourself seem more accessible.

    There is a similar problem with calls for Left Unity. Calls for Left Unity are more often calls to “stop talking about the things we disagree about.” Instead of talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, or the struggle for Trans Rights, or our opinions on the invasion of Ukraine, we should all “agree to disagree” so we can have…what exactly? More time to focus on the so-called “real” problems? Bigger organizations?

    Calls for Left Unity without the development of sustainable forms for respectful and robust dialogue and disagreement on philosophical and political issues are just cloaked calls for the silencing of dissident positions. The silencing of these dissident positions precludes the need for hegemonic positions to explain, demonstrate, or prove themselves.

    Another Intuitionalist approach common among Leftists is to, instead of hiding your positions, proclaim that truth is passe. MHI has already talked at length about Left-Firstism and Post-Truth politics in our “Resisting Trumpist Reaction” pamphlet, so I will be brief here. It is obvious that if truth does not exist, or is unnecessary for revolutionary struggle, then the process of demonstrating truth is also unnecessary. Suffice it to say, I can’t conceive of a way this does not justify all the horrendous things that the Right does (politics is just the “will to power”) and how this does not aid in the resurgence of authoritarianism all over the world.

    A form of post-truth politics that masquerades as the truth is denialism. Of course, there are outrageous forms of denialism that exist on the Left, like the idea that Stalin didn’t commit any crimes against humanity. But there are also more commonly accepted forms of denialism on the Left. One of these forms of denialism is the foundation of “Campist” thinking, that is, the denial that Russia and China are imperialist, or even, capitalist countries.

    In an RFH episode on “Pseudo Anti-Imperialism,” Rohini Hensman discussed how Campists were changing the definition of imperialism to “export of capital” so they could claim that Russia did not export capital, or not a significant enough amount, to classify as an imperialist country. This is not the demonstration of truth, this is the manipulation of truth for one’s own benefit, a technique Stalinists have employed since rewriting Marx’s economic theories to hide the class nature of their own regime in Russia.

    While these three categories are distinct, they are not mutually exclusive. Denialism is a form of post-truth politics and can be used with Left-First goals in mind, etc. Further, the domination of these three categories on the Left has two major consequences. First, they internally disorganize the Left because they obscure the truth, meaning it is harder to make philosophical advances and easier for the movement to become intellectually regressive.

    The second consequence is that these three categories concede ground to the right, for if the truth does not matter then we can not critique the Right for amassing power through lies. By de-generating theoretically, the Left gives a free pass to all the “mystical bullshit” of the Right, as an MHI comrade put it in our meeting.

    For years, I have been trying to grapple with the question of why there is such a gulf between the Marxist left and the freedom movements we take our inspiration from. After re-reading this article, it is clear to me that one of the major reasons the Left—conceived of as the intellectual wing of freedom struggles—is so irrelevant today is because reactionary approaches to thought are so prevalent. Why should anyone trust us if we don’t give a damn about the truth?

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