The Philosophy and Politics of Freedom. (Book Reviews)

Article excerpt

Raya Dunayevskaya, The Power of Negativity: Selected Writings on the Dialectic in Hegel and Marx, edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002), 386 pages, $100.00 cloth; $24.95 paper.

August H. Nimtz, Jr., Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2000), 377 pages, $71.50 cloth; $24.95 paper.

John Rees, The Algebra of Revolution: The Dialectic and the Classical Marxist Tradition (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 314 pages, $85.00 cloth; $26.95 paper.

In these terrible times, to believe in the possibility of helping to make the world a better place, and to commit ones life to that, makes one a revolutionary. Over the years, some of us have been inclined to embrace Karl Marx because he was on our side--the side of labor, of the oppressed, of the working-class majority--and provided invaluable intellectual tools for understanding and changing reality. Others, in this dangerous time of intensifying capitalist "globalization," are also reaching out to what Marx has to offer. With his comrade Frederick Engels he produced enough material to fill the numerous volumes of their Collected Works of which the final volume is due in 2003. A number of helpful books are now appearing that contribute to the collective process of understanding and utilizing this legacy for changing the world. Those who can offer some of the most fruitful insights will be those who, following the example of Marx and Engels, have committed themselves politically in their own lives. Which bri ngs us to the works under review.

A Philosophy of Freedom

Raya Dunayevskaya's three major books--Marxism and Freedom; Philosophy and Revolution; and Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution--have now been capped by a splendid fourth volume, The Power of Negativity: Selected Writings on the Dialectic in Hegel and Marx, lovingly and carefully edited by two capable followers. This will be a rich and challenging resource for anyone who cares about any of the topics enumerated in the titles of these works. John Rees extends the study of the Marxist philosophical approach in The Algebra of Revolution: The Dialectic and the Classical Marxist Tradition, providing an admirably clear, stimulating, and well-documented discussion of Marx and Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci, and Georg Lukacs, not to mention Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, George Plekhanov, Antonio Labriola, and others. August Nimtz, Jr.'s Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough is itself an academic breakthrou gh. He defines the book's themes as arguing that Marx and Engels "were the leading protagonists in the democratic movement in the nineteenth century," that "they were first and foremost political activists, and not simply 'thinkers,'" and that their practical political experience was central to shaping their theories.

Dunayevskaya was politically engaged from the 1920s as a teenager in the early Communist movement until she died in 1987, after leading her own Marxist-Humanist group for more than three decades. Rees, a younger leader of Britain's Socialist Workers Party, is the capable editor of the group's theoretical organ, International Socialist Journal. An association with the very different Socialist Workers Party of the United States is suggested in the footnotes of Nimtz's volume; an African-American scholar who has previously published Islam and Politics in East Africa, he is the only one of the three who is an academic--a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota--but the insights in his book indicate a familiarity with on-the-ground politics consistent with the experience of Marx and Engels. One might insist that the political groups mentioned here are mutually incompatible. But the strengths of each book transcend the boundaries of small groups. …