On Kevin Anderson’s New Book on Dialectics
Good Evening. Welcome to the launching of Kevin Anderson’s new book, Dialectics of Revolution: Hegel, Marxism and Its Critics Through a Lens of Race, Class, Gender, and Colonialism. Before I share my thoughts with you about the book, I want to share a little about Kevin’s previous work:
Dr. Kevin B. Anderson is professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara who also has joint appointments in Feminist Studies and Political Science. He is the author of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism (1995), Foucault and the Iranian Revolution (with Janet Afary, 2005), and Marx at the Margins (2010/2016). He is also co-editor of various edited volumes, including the Rosa Luxemburg Reader (with Peter Hudis, 2004), the Dunayevskaya-Marcuse-Fromm Correspondence (with Russell Rockwell, 2012), and the most recent edited book that just came out a couple of months ago, Raya Dunayevskaya’s Intersectional Marxism: Race, Class, Gender, and the Dialectics of Liberation (with Kieran Durkin and Heather Brown). He writes regularly for the IMHO website and for New Politics.
Kevin Anderson is also, as most of you know, a long-time, and very active member of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization, having worked and studied closely with Raya Dunayevskaya in News and Letters Committees. He sometimes shares stories of his time with Raya and his development as a radical. Moments such as these remind me that the dialectic is not an abstract construct but an aspect of our human engagement. I appreciate that he takes great care to support and uplift our members, especially our newer members, in developing their understandings and encouraging participation.
Humanism is integral to the treatment of dialectics in his new book. As he points out, “Karl Marx considered Hegel’s ‘dialectic of negativity’ to be inherently revolutionary… (p. 3).”
In this brilliant exposition of the Hegelian dialectic, engaged and critiqued by some of the greatest minds – from Marx, Lenin, Lukács, Marcuse, and Dunayevskaya to Derrida, Foucault and other poststructuralists, – Kevin Anderson demonstrates the evolution of the dialectic as a grounded philosophical concept that brings together the objective and subjective worlds and reveals contradiction as the source of all movement and, therefore, of history.
Anderson points to Marx’s humanism that brings the dialectic into the realm of the material and breathes agency into the human being.
In Chapter 1, Anderson begins with the Hegelian dialectic, a system that attempted to depict the developmental path of self-consciousness to freedom in consciousness or Absolute Mind. Hegel posited that self-consciousness is propelled through the resolution of contradictions and the negation of the negation, which in turn would beget a new contradiction that again would need resolution. Anderson points to Marx’s humanism that brings the dialectic into the realm of the material and breathes agency into the human being. Here we learn that the absence of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts, which were not published until 1927, along with Engels’s distinction between materialism and the idealism resulted in what Lenin calls later a “vulgar materialism,” as he delves into Hegel and writes “cognition not only reflects the objective world but creates it.”
In Chapter 2, we learn how various philosophers interpreted Hegel’s analysis of the French Revolution and their inaccurate or dismissive attitude toward the dialectic. In contrast, Dunayevskaya’s thorough reading of Hegel’s analysis of the French Revolution places great emphasis on the necessity of the second negation, for the first negation alone is mere “death.”
In Chapter 5, we find the role that dialectics plays in Lenin’s analysis of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism, and the role of nationalist movements in the non-western world, as having the potential to spark revolution in the imperialist nations. Here we begin to see aspects of what later was later developed by the Marxist-humanist tradition – the theory of state capitalism – which is integrally related to this notion that a revolution can “transform into its opposite.”
By the last chapter, we come to understand that the dialectic becomes the pulsing force that compels us to move and create in search of freedom and, ultimately, to bring down the monster of capital and to grow the seeds that are already planted. In this sense, the dialectic is a profoundly human endeavor.
Indeed, at this time, radical movements seem to be developing everywhere, and although they may quiet at times and burst at others, the world is ripe with potential for, what Kevin calls, “epochal upheaval.” Yet where the masses take us is not set in stone. It is up to us, as human beings, to seize the dialectic and move with the masses toward liberation. And this is exactly what Anderson does. He points to the current social conditions as the starting place of revolution.
Our starting place today is a context wherein white police officers can systematically kill Black men with impunity, wherein Black men and people of color are disproportionately caged, and wherein communities of color face higher risks of COVID-related deaths and severe economic consequences.
It was these conditions and the memory of an ongoing genocide that created the largest and most diverse and intersectional movement that this country has ever seen, with conservative estimates indicating that 26 million people participated in the BLM protests. Today these protestors have quieted, until the next wave comes. But the endemic racism that spurred them on is still waging destruction among communities of color. The latest victims have been Asian American communities who are being targeted as “carriers of disease” and facing in New York City a 1900% rate of increase in hate crimes, culminating in last week’s racist and misogynist killing spree in Atlanta and Cherokee County.
If our revolutionary efforts must start where the people find themselves, then surely we must join the people in the struggle against racism. Almost invariably, when they stand, this is why. Undoubtedly the struggle against racism, and for equity and dignity for all people of color, will have to break capitalism at its knees.
This book, deeply intellectual and yet highly accessible, breathes new life into dialectical Marxism, reconciling the debates over identity politics and class struggle and positing a dialectical Marxist-humanism, in the tradition of Dunayevskaya, that challenges the class reductionism that has dominated the Marxist tradition. This humanist dialectics recognizes racism and sexism and other forms of oppression as structurally intertwined or bound up with capital.
Anderson proposes that we arm ourselves with the dialectic so that we may avert the “terror” that lies within the positive and instead move toward absolute negativity and the realization of a more human world.
This book is not only timely and relevant but urgently necessary.
The International Marxist-Humanist