Raya Dunayevskaya

Image: Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987), born Raya Shpigel, hails from the western region of the former Russian Empire, now the state (region) from Vinnytsia, Ukraine (border with Moldova). From his hometown, he accompanied the revolutionary process that would transform imperial Russia into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The harsh local subsistence conditions, the diffuse anti-Semitic environment and the effects of the Russian Civil War (1918-1922) made, in 1922, his family decide to emigrate to the United States (USA) in search of better living conditions. Without access to formal education and speaking only Yiddish, Raya Shpigel (whose name came to be spelled Rae Spiegel in the new country) arrived in the Jewish ghetto of Chicago at the age of 12 – when she claimed to have seen, for the first time, a black person . There, her family lived with discrimination and prejudice due to religion and immigrant status. Such an environment was important for Dunayevskaya's intellectual and militant formation, to the point that she considered herself the product of two “revolutions”: that of Russia in 1917 and that of the Chicago ghettos.

He began to take an interest in politics and Marxism as a teenager, through his active participation in black movements. In 1925, he joined the Negro Labor Congress (NLC) [Black Workers Congress] of the USA –, an organization that fought against the exploitation of workers and the racial discrimination suffered by Afro-Americans – starting to work on the staff of its newspaper, the The Negro Champions [The Black Champions].

Then he joined the Young Communist League [Communist Youth] Communist Party of the United State of America [Communist Party of the United States of America] (CPUSA) – from which she would be expelled in 1928 for having questioned the reasons why Leon Trotsky had been banned from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Communist International (CI). Around this time, she became close to the group of Boston Trotskyists who, excluded from the CPUSA, founded the Communist League of America [Communist League of America] – organization led by Antoinette Buchholz Konikow, a Marxist doctor who fought for the right of women to contraception and abortion.

In the 1930s, Raya took her mother's maiden name, Dunayevskaya. In 1937, despite not having permission from the Trotskyist organization, she traveled to Mexico to get closer to Trotsky, then exiled in the country's capital. Between 1937 and 1938, she self-taught Russian, intensified dialogues and became secretary and collaborator of the revolutionary leader – although still without authorization from party-political organizations. All of this in the midst of the political turmoil surrounding the so-called Moscow processes (series of trials of opponents of Josef Stalin, moved by the Soviet government) and the Dewey commission (who investigated the charges against Trotsky during these trials).

With the death of her father and brother, she returned to Chicago in 1938. The following year, with the start of World War II, Raya Dunayevskaya broke with Trotsky – for disagreeing with his statements in favor of the Soviet position in the confrontation, especially with regard to to the non-aggression agreement signed by the USSR and Nazi Germany (known as Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). His departure from Trotsky and Trotskyism was twofold: physical, as he returned to live in the USA; and theoretical, since, immersed in American reality, she came to understand the “Soviet socialist” model in the light of the concept of “State capitalism” – that is, according to her, the USSR had become a form of “Capitalist State” – while for the exiled opposition leader, despite the problems he pointed out, it continued to be a “workers' state”.

In 1941, Raya Dunayevskaya systematized this discussion, publishing in a bulletin of the workers party [Partido dos Trabalhadores] (WP) – party to which he joined the previous year – his first text with greater impact: “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a capitalist society”[“The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a capitalist society”], work signed under a pseudonym (Freddie James), in which he opposed the view of most party members, who understood the USSR as a “bureaucratic collectivist” society .

In the same period, he intensified his work with black movements, approaching CLR James (who used the pseudonym JR Johnson) – author of the classic The Black Jacobins [The Black Jacobins]. Both had similar critical positions about the Soviet state's departure from what they imagined to be its original orientation. In 1945, they founded together, within the WP, a Marxist current that would come to be known as “humanist” – also called Johnson-Forest Tendency –, which was contributed by Grace Lee Boggs (pseudonym Ria Stone). Among the central themes addressed by the group were: Hegel's thought and its impact on Marx's intellectual production; and the ethnic issue and racism.

In 1947, Raya Dunayevskaya participated in the conference of the IV International, in Paris, presenting her controversial conception of what “state capitalism” would be – an occasion in which she opposed the arguments of Trotskyist leader Ernest Mandel.

In the early 1950s, the author also broke with CLR James. During this time, she was active in the West Virginia miners' strikes (1949-1950), with whose leaders she maintained strong relationships both inside and outside the scope of the strike movement. Based on this experience, she began to analyze the presence and participation of women – miners' wives – in strikes. Noting that they were portrayed by the press as those who only accompanied political acts, she tried to highlight their role as activists – noting also that, sometimes, they were the ones who drove the movement of men.

Observing that the interventions carried out by the wives did not only occur in the strike acts, but inside the residences, she developed her concept of “daily revolution at home” – stating that this was “a new dimension given to politics by women”. He also criticized the lack of real recognition of female leaders, understanding them as “a nucleus of central social force” for the workers' movement.

In 1953, Raya Dunayevskaya moved to Detroit. Two years later, she founded and became president of the revolutionary socialist organization News and Letters Committee [News and Letters Committees], in which she was also in charge of editing the newspaper News & Letters [News and Letters]. In 1958, through this same group, he published Marxism and freedom: from 1776 until today [Marxism and freedom: from 1776 to the present]. This was one of his main works on Marxist thought and corresponds to the first volume of the so-called “Revolution Trilogy”., composed of three of his most relevant books. After publication, she traveled throughout Europe, Africa and Asia (Japan and the city of Hong Kong), giving several lectures and participating in debates.

In the 1960s, he attended the Universities Research Center [University Research Center] in Hong Kong, during which time he devoted himself to studying the Chinese social and economic model, the start of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and Mao Zedong's policy. Based on this research and interviews on the subject, in 1977 he published a pamphlet entitled Sexism, Politics and Revolution in Mao's China [Sexism, politics and revolution in Mao's China].

The late 1960s and early 1970s were marked by her active participation and analysis of movements for women's liberation, led by black and Latin American militants. Intellectual and revolutionary, attentive to the demands of male and female workers, she showed an interest in learning from different types of thoughts and forms of expression – a posture that she considered consistent with Marx’s teachings on the fundamental relationship between “practice” and “theory”. She criticized the rigidity of the theoretical debate, stating it as a product of intellectual blindness in the face of the “practice movement”. According to Raya Dunayevskaya, in order to develop “the dialectical movement” it was necessary to “turn to the real world” – and in this sense, she defended the idea that workers, with their concrete struggles, carried out and deepened “the movement from practice to reality”. theory".

In 1973, he published the second volume of his trilogy – Philosophy and revolution: from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao [Philosophy and revolution: from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao]. Nine years later, he released the third and final volume, entitled Rosa Luxemburg, women's liberation, and Marx's philosophy of revolution [Rosa Luxemburg, women's liberation and Marx's philosophy of revolution].

In the mid-1980s, shortly before her death, the Marxist committed herself to developing a reflection on the relationship between philosophy and political organization. For this, she planned the elaboration of the work Dialectics of organization and philosophy [Dialectic of organization and philosophy] – a book that, with his death in June 1987 (Chicago, USA), would remain unfinished, although with important handwritten notes (part of them published posthumously).

Contributions to Marxism

The work of Raya Dunayevskaya constitutes an important part of the history of Marxist thought, bringing original contributions to the debates on the paths of human emancipation. Intellectual and revolutionary, she dedicated herself to analyzing Karl Marx's thought in its entirety – as well as defending it.

In order to emphasize that Marx's writings, from the beginning, and until his last analyses, are marked by a deep concern with the diversity of human aspects, going beyond the economy - in the case of the values ​​and structures of non-European societies and pre-capitalists, and unequal gender relations – Dunayevskaya studied many of the works of the German thinker, including his last studies, known as Ethnological notebooks (published only in 1972).

For her, the issues raised by humanism (thought that founded bourgeois society) and dialectics are central elements for a critique of capitalist society. In this way, she opposes the artificial fragmentation with which Marx's ideas were sometimes understood, an error that she considers to have led to a broad vulgar application of Marxism, reducing it to a strictly economic analysis.

Fundamentally, Raya Dunayevskaya defended the need to interpret each historical period from the method developed by Marx: a process that will show, to each generation, and according to its own reality, the meaning of the conceptions of this revolutionary thinker. She understood that it was necessary to develop the “philosophy of the revolution”, since Marx did not leave a static legacy, but a living body of ideas and perspectives that needed to be implemented. “All the moments of Marx's development, as well as the totality of his works – she said – make explicit the need for a 'revolution in permanence'”.

In this sense, the Marxist sought to contribute to the understanding of the crises and challenges – objective and subjective – that emerged at her time, such as the capitalist “counterrevolution” that she understood to be processed within the revolution in the USSR; and the emergence of various revolutionary subjects and social movements in different countries.

Regarding the Soviet Union, Raya Dunayevskaya carried out theoretical studies on the economic and social transformations of the years when Stalin was in power. According to her, the Five-Year Plans, begun in 1928, still operated according to the “law of value” – that is, the Soviet economy continued to be organized around “commodity production”, as occurred in capitalist societies. Hence, she inferred her idea that the USSR would be a “state capitalism”. Such an opinion, original at the time, was opposed to the interpretations of prominent Marxists such as Max Shachtman, for whom the conquest of state power by the Bolsheviks had meant the destruction of property relations in the USSR, causing society to move towards a “socialism of bureaucratic state”; and Leon Trotsky, who understood the USSR to be a society “in transition” between capitalism and socialism.

On the subject, in 1944 she was also involved in a debate within the WP itself with Joseph Carter (pseudonym Joseph Friedman), one of the party's exponents, who defended the idea that the Soviet mode of production could not be seen as capitalistic, as it was not dominated by the “profit drive of capitalists” (which he considered the driving force of capitalist accumulation).

Contrary to such perspectives, Raya Dunayevskaya supported her proposition, arguing that the determining factor for an analysis of the class nature of a society would not pass through verifying whether the means of production are private property of the capitalist class or property of the State, but rather by characterizing or not of these means of production as capital – that is, by knowing whether or not they are subject to the monopolized control of the owners of capital and separated from its direct producers. In short, she assessed that the differences between capitalism and socialism are not based on the distinction between the private property of individual capitalists and nationalized property, but on the forms of work and planning of production managed or not directly by the workers.

In his path, although distant from the reality of the Soviet revolution, he sought to understand the formation of what he understood to be a “state capitalism”, trying to conceive its emergence from a revolution that was intended to initiate the construction of socialism. Such research led her to advance in reflections and systematizations typical of the Marxist tradition, boosting a new current known as “Marxist humanism” – of which she is considered a precursor. In this line, three fundamental axes stand out: the first concerns the economic aspect, in which it is intended to highlight the emergence of what would be another type of capitalism, “State capitalism”; the second refers to philosophical issues, emphasizing “humanist” concerns as fundamental and present in all of Marx's work; and the third deals with the political scope, debating the relations between classes, social movements and revolutions, and seeking to articulate revolutionary organization and subjectivity.

Emphasizing that central elements of Marx's thought were already exposed in his Economic-philosophical manuscripts from 1844, Marxist humanism directs criticism at currents of Marxism that believed there was a separation between what Marx wrote in his youth and the texts of his maturity; defends the idea that the “humanist philosophy is the foundation of all Marxist theory” – which cannot be fragmented into “economics”, “politics” or “sociology”.

Raya Dunayevskaya, from her first writings, already stressed the need to understand Marxist theory in a “totalizing” way, refusing the strict view of economism and placing emphasis on the position of the communist militant as a “revolutionary subject” – without which the idea of revolution would be reduced to an abstraction. In addition to this indivisibility of Marx's thought, it identifies the "humanist" characteristic of Marxism as a result of the notion of "human freedom", developed by Marx in his theory of "alienation" - which deals with the split that alienates the worker from what is the product of your job.

For Raya Dunayevskaya, the issue of alienation is a starting point for both her political debate (as a member of the workers party), and for his defense of an intersectional Marxism (whose struggle united the various social groups). Such intersectionality became the focal point of his political praxis – of his involvement with the workers’ struggle in the United States: a multidimensional movement that paid attention to the various spheres of life of individuals in society, without limiting itself to any of them, standing side by side and interrelating the black, women's and immigrant movements, among others.

In this sense, the Marxist gave special importance to the need to abolish the artificial division between “manual” and “intellectual” work – characteristic of class society. Furthermore, Raya Dunayevskaya was moved by the idea of ​​inseparability between revolutionary experience and thought. As well as her way of thinking, she carried this connection in her way of being – that is, as she herself defined it: it was impossible to separate her “personal motivations” from her “policies”, since they were spheres of the same being, permeated by a single set of political, philosophical and revolutionary concepts.

Raya Dunayevskaya was heavily involved with so-called civil rights movements; in this regard, she reaffirmed the need for black and women's movements to fight for liberation and revolution in the United States, stressing the importance of both the black and feminist movements for the intersectionality of Marxism and revolution. Regarding the debates held about anti-racist struggles, she highlighted the racial issue as part of the class struggle and the project to overcome capitalism - a different conception from the prevailing one at the time, which assumed the demand for civil rights as likely to be achieved under capitalism. He argued that the conception that Marx would have defended the class struggle as a single priority, or that racism and male supremacy could be overcome in the capitalist regime, was false, pointing to the need to carry out a continuous struggle, led by social movements. liberation of women and blacks.

The author also highlighted the importance of the new feminist movement that emerged in the 1960s, as well as the incorporation of the anti-racist struggle and the “fights of Chicana feminists, American indigenous women and Puerto Rican women” in this new movement. She vehemently insisted on fighting class dogma as the primary oppression, of capitalism as the sole source of all oppression. In her conception, women, more than a “class”, were a “caste”, a group oppressed just for being a woman; she understood that they were not only a revolutionary force – that contributed to producing the cracks, giving support and impetus to confrontations, organizations and social transformations – but that they were also the “reason”, the initiators, the intellectuals, the strategists, the creators of something new.

With regard to her theoretical contributions regarding the nations on the so-called periphery of the capitalist system, the Marxist and partner of Raya, Eugene Gogol, points out essential contributions from the revolutionary intellectual, such as her criticism and activism against the intrusion of US imperialism in Latin America , as well as his reflections on the unfinished nature of Latin American revolutions.

Comment on the work

Raya Dunayevskaya's work is extensive and can be divided into two large groups: the books; and the pamphlets and articles. Her works, for the most part, are well preserved and documented in the Walter P. Reuther Library – Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, from Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan, USA); the collection is the result of a donation made by the author herself, in 1969. philosopher and engaged activist, she produced a varied work, which includes several analyzes on topics ranging from the study of the works of authors such as Hegel, Marx and Rosa Luxemburgo, to central political issues of his time (such as imperialism and colonialism).

His first published book, Marxism and freedom: from 1776 until today (New York: Bookman Associates, 1958), was drawn up as part of his duties at the head of the News and Letters Committee. In it, the philosopher recovers the theoretical bases of Karl Marx's humanism, moving from the Industrial Revolution to other important moments in history, making use of Hegelian philosophy and seeking to present the course of the proletariat's struggle and revolutionary thought. The work also brings translations into English, unpublished at the time, of two essays that are part of the Economic-philosophical manuscripts by Marx (“Private property and communism” and “Critique of the Hegelian dialectic”), as well as a writing by Lenin (“Hegel's science of logic”).

Philosophy and revolution: from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1973) was his second published book – having been translated into Spanish, Italian and German. In the work, he analyzes the dialectics of Hegel and Marx, seeking to understand how this was translated into the philosophy of Lenin, Mao, Sartre and post-war thought. Furthermore, he discusses the importance of subjectivity in the negation forces of capitalism, which he understands as central to human liberation.

Along with the two previous books, Rosa Luxemburg, women's liberation, and Marx's philosophy of revolution (Atlantic Highlands–USA/Sussex–England: Humanities Press/Harvester Press, 1982) completes the so-called “Revolution Trilogy”. In this text, the author presents a broad interpretation of Rosa Luxemburgo's thought, in addition to dealing with concepts such as racism, gender and revolution within the American context of the time. It is considered by many scholars of her work to be the first book that deals with the feminist character of Rosa's philosophy, also a pioneer in offering an analysis of the issue of gender in the Ethnological notebooks from Marx.

It is also worth mentioning the manuscript that Raya Dunayevskaya left unfinished (due to her death) – Dialectics of organization and philosophy (1987) -, in which the Marxist reflects on the “dialectic of the party” and the “dialectic of the organization”, on the way to thinking about the crucial relationship between philosophy and organization in human life. In the texts, he addresses themes such as the issue of revolutionary organization and its relationship with the mass movement, in addition to the possibility of a society in which human beings can fully develop their potential, based on overcoming the division between “intellectual work ” and “manual work”. Many of these writings were included in volume XIII (supplement) of the microfilm collection. The Raya Dunayevskaya collection (Detroit–USA: Raya Dunayevskaya Memorial Fund, 1981).

After his death, some of his writings on Hegel, Marx and the dialectic were collected by Peter Hundis and Kevin B. Anderson in a publication entitled The power of negativity: selected writings on the dialectic in Hegel and Marx (Lanham–USA: Lexington Books, 2002). The focus of the collection is the relationship between the humanist-Marxist current and the concept of “absolute” in Hegel. In addition to this study, it brings a compilation of the author's correspondence with other important Marxists such as Erich Fromm, Louis Dupré, CLR James, Charles Denby (author of Indignant heart: a black worker's journal, 1978) and Herbert Marcuse (with whom he maintained a series of emblematic writings on polemics around Hegelian philosophy, human subjectivity, the dialectical relationship between “necessity” and “freedom”).

Raya Dunayevskaya also wrote many texts that were published in newspapers, pamphlets and bulletins linked to political movements, parties or even academia. Among them we can highlight: “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a capitalist society” (Internal Discussion Bulletin of the Workers Party, sea. 1941), written under the pseudonym Freddie James, a text that was considered by the author to be one of her most important, since it is the beginning of her discussion on the idea of ​​“state capitalism”, even before collaborating with CLR James.

Other of his writings bring contributions to social movements and debates on racism and gender in the United States, such as: “Negro intellectuals in dilemma” [“Black intellectuals in dilemma”] (New International, New York, v. X, n. 11, Nov. 1944); “[North-]American civilization on trial: black masses as vanguard”] (News & Letters, Chicago, 1963); and the collection of texts Women's liberation and the dialectics of revolution: reaching for the future – a 35-year collection of essays (historic, philosophical, global) [Women's Liberation and the Dialectic of Revolution: Reaching Out to the Future - 35 Years Collection of Essays (Historical, Philosophical, Global)] (Atlantic Highlands–USA: Humanities Press, 1985). In the latter – a collection of articles, interviews, letters and conferences produced over decades – Raya Dunayevskaya takes up and develops her fundamental concepts from a new perspective: she evaluates her writings, reiterates and corrects her positions; she develops reflections that revitalize the debate on women's liberation in the world and throughout history, including the movements in which she participated.

The organization News and Letters Committee also edited a large list of pamphlets and texts of his own, published in the periodical News & Letters (https://newsandletters.org) and in newspapers and magazines linked to political and social movements.

In addition, a large part of his work has been digitized and can be freely accessed on the net, in portals such as marxists (www.marxists.org), which contains the “Raya Dunayevskaya Archive”, with a digital edition of several of her original texts, including a guide to her writings, entitled “Guide to the The Raya Dunayevskaya Colecction” (marxists.

Despite her important role as a translator of fundamental texts for Marxism, Raya's work has not been translated much, although there are versions in Spanish, French and some Portuguese..

In Spanish, the anthology The Philosophy of the Revolution in Marx's Permanence in Our Days: Selected Writings by Raya Dunayevskaya (Mexico: Juan Pablos Editor, 2019), translated by Héctor JGF – whose digital edition is available on the portal communize (http://comunizar.com.ar). and for the book Rosa Luxemburgo, women's liberation and the Marxist philosophy of the revolution (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura, 1985), in which she holds a respectful and honest debate with Rosa, pointing out the Polish Marxist's militant and intellectual effort, but punctuating her disagreements; among them, he criticizes it for, despite the important analyzes on imperialism, not having noticed the revolutionary potential of the non-white colonized populations of the nations on the periphery of capitalism.

It is also worth mentioning an important work on Raya's thought, published in Spanish: Raya Dunayevskaya, philosopher of Marxist-humanism – written by the Marxist Eugene Gogol (Mexico City: Casa Juan Pablos, 2005).

*Solange Struwka Professor of Psychology at the Federal University of Rondônia.

*Giovanna Imbernon is a PhD student in Cultural Studies at the University of Coimbra. Author of José de Alencar and the Formation of Brazilian Political Thought (Unicamp).

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP.


ANDERSON, Kevin B. Raya Dunayevskaya's Intersectional Marxism: Race, Class, Gender, and the Dialectics of Liberation. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020 (https://amzn.to/3qDjJfj).

FLETCHER, Alex (d.). Raya Dunayevskaya: biography of an Idea (2012) [Documentary, 80 min.].

FRIEDMAN, Samuel. R. “Philosophy and revolution: from Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao”. Contemporary Sociology, Washington, 34(1), 2005. Disp: https://journals.sagepub.com.

GILMAN-OPALSKY, Richard. “Love, anti-capitalist bewilderment”. Other words, 2022. Disp.: https://outraspalavras.net.

GOGOL, Eugene. Raya Dunayevskaya: philosopher of Marxist humanism. Mexico: Casa Juan Pablos, 2006 (https://amzn.to/3DZudZD).

______. “The Thought of Raya Dunayevskaya: Her Relevance to Latin America in the XNUMXst Century”. Utopía and Praxis Latinoamericana: International Journal of Iberoamerican Philosophy and Social Theory (Universidad del Zulia), year 19, n. 65, Maracaibo (Venezuela), 2014. Disp.: https://repositorio.flacsoandes.edu.ec.

______. “Raya Dunayevskaya and the Philosophy of Marxist Humanism: Its Meaning Today”. News and Letters Committee, ten. 2017. Disp.: https://newsandletters.org.

HUDIS, Peter. “The Humanist Marxism of Raya Dunayevskaya”. Jacobin, 21 Jun. 2021. Disp.: https://jacobinlat.com.

______; ANDERSON, Kevin B. The power of negativity: selected writings on the dialectic in Hegel and Marx. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002. Disp: https://thecharnelhouse.org.

MONFERRAND, Frederic. “A Marxism of Liberation”. Critical Marxism, 2017. Available: https://marxismocritico.com.

MONZO, Lilia. “The dialectic in Marxism and freedom for today: the unity of theory and practice and the current movement of concrete struggles”. The International Marxist-Humanist, sea. 2019 (trans. Rhaysa Ruas). Disp.: https://imhojournal.org.

NEWS & LETTERS; THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA MEMORIAL FUND. “The Raya Dunayevskaya collection” [Introduction]. In: The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, 1969/1970/1981. Disp.: https://rayadunayevskaya.org; and https://reuther.wayne.edu.

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