Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of Being Part 1 – Man and Nature

Third of a series of articles dealing with Lenin’s treatment of Hegel’s Science of Logic.

News Line 2 July 1981

By G. Healy

   The process of cognising the external world must not be confused with idealist speculation concerning the functions of our senses.

   Although sensation establishes a direct connection between our consciousness and the external world, the existence of the latter does not depend on sensation. It is the external world which is primary, and which must be identified as the source of all sensations.

The Source of Sensations

   The law or essential relation obliges us to acknowledge, in the subjective practice of thinking, the primacy of the objective world over sensation, and not that of sensation over the external world. Our senses must be trained so as to allow them to reflect the forms of movement of the outside world of Nature and history. We must learn to use them in a similar way as we tune in a radio to the countries radio waves in the ether around us.

   Such sensuous practice is first of all empirical, whilst in sensing a radio wave we could be more precise, since in all probability we will know the wave-band of the station we are looking for and adjust the dials accordingly.

   But, supposing this information is not at our disposal, then we shall also take empirical ‘pot-luck’, as they say, and switch on before we adjust the dials empirically to what ever wave-band we are seeking. The comparison is entirely valid, because a radio, like all science and technology, is the product of theories developed by the human brain.

   This in turn is the product of man’s oldest objective practice, that is, the use of his labour, which changes nature in order to live. From the practice of labour has come the continuous development of ‘tools’ which we call the forces of production. It is in the struggle to improve these ‘tools’ that the history of science is cradled.

The Importance of Pre-history

   In pre-history, before human beings became conscious and could develop theories, primitive man relied entirely upon the practice of his labour to take what he needed from Nature. During this period of his unrecorded history the act of labour itself was part of an unconscious reciprocal relation between himself and nature.  The necessary use of his physical labour if he was to live was generated within Nature itself. The more he changed Nature, as Marx points out, the more Nature in turn changed him.

   Out of this unconscious natural practice an ever-changing man developed elemental thought concepts which were eventually classified into different categories. These arose on how the productive forces, ‘tools’, could best be developed through the organisation of men themselves. Much later this ‘organisation’ was recognised as a ‘mode of production’. Capitalism is a mode of production just as Feudalism was before it.

   In the history of man as part of Nature, theory developed out of what was at first the unconscious act of labour. We call this objective practice, because the blind necessity for it  arises from man’s needs as ‘part of nature’.

   We call this theory and thinking a subjective practice because they arise out of the development of ‘tools’ for his objective practice, being, therefore, the outcome of his reciprocal interaction with nature as one of her own.

   Our initial reflections of the External World do not produce objectively accurate thought images, even when we train our senses to perceive processes and objects in movement and change. This is because these processes and objects cannot be reflected and identified in the mind until the changes we are perceiving have already occurred. The mind always lags behind the objective development of the external world. We cannot think unless the reason for our thinking has already happened in Nature.

   Development in the external world takes the form of becoming which Lenin describes in the following way:

   ‘First of all impressions flash by, then something emerges, afterwards the concepts of quality (the determination of the thing of phenomena) and quantity are developed.

   ‘After that study and reflection direct thought to cognition of identity – of difference – of ground – of Essence versus the Phenomena – of causality etc.

   ‘All these moments (steps, stages, processes) of cognition move in the direction from subject to object, being tested in practice and arriving through this test at truth. (P.319, Collected Works Vol. 38)

The Blind Alley of Idealism

The Idealists mistakenly regard the external world as identical with sensation. There can be no compromise here between Marxism and Idealism.

   ‘For once’, Lenin writes, ‘you have recognised that the source of light and light waves exist independently of man and human consciousness, that colour is dependent on the actions of these waves upon the retina, you have in fact adopted the materialist standpoint, and have completely destroyed all the indubitable facts of idealism together with all the complexes of sensations, the elements discovered by recent positivism and similar nonsense.’ P.60, Vol 14, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism)

   Subjective idealists are aware only of the activity of their senses, their sense data, and that which is given to their mind by the senses. This leads them initially to look at the external world as if it were a product of their consciousness.

   They see the objectivity of the external world as a subjective process of piecing together of the finite, fixed images prompted by their senses. They omit the necessity to reflect the world in constant movement and change by ignoring the connections and inter-connections between these images which alone could establish the source of the images.

   The objective idealists, like Hegel, regard the mind as something which stands above and outside the external world.  They start from the ‘absolute idea’ and act as if the external world was created by the absolute idea. The underlying reality of the Universe is never perceived, it baffles investigation at close quarters. Invariably, objective idealism leads into the swamp of religion when the ‘absolute idea becomes interchangeable with god. (See the article on Hegel and Marx, News Line.)

   All shades of idealism have something in common. They share a one-sided relative, (finite), fixed image of the external world, whilst the dialectical materialists see self-movement of the external world as the driving force, the source of the ever-changing finite image.

   ‘For objective dialectics’, Lenin explains, there is an absolute within the relative’, whilst ‘the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative.’ (p.360. Vol. 38)

   Only finite objects enter the sphere of our knowledge. As Engels explains in Dialectics of Nature, (p. 234), ‘We know only the finite.’ Finite thought images, in constant change are not real images of the external world, we know only the infinite source of their change.

The ‘Science of Interconnection’

   The dialectical materialist method of Cognition can be described in the words of Engels ‘as the science of interconnection’. For the idealists, like the metaphysicists, do not allow for ‘transition’ in the development of concepts and thoughts into one another. They see only ‘relative images’ and replace the ‘inner necessary connection of all parts a transitions of some parts into others’ by subjectively assembling these relative images and calling such a hotch-potch the real world.

   Hegel, whose finite, relative images consisted of disjointed moments of the real world advances two basic requirements: ‘1) The necessity of connection. 2) The immanent emergence of distinctions.’ (p.97, Vol. 38)

   And then Lenin, reading Hegel as ‘materialism standing on its head’, comments:

   ‘Very important! This is what it means in my opinion: 1) Necessary connection, the objective connection of all the aspects, forces, tendencies etc. of the given sphere of phenomena. 2) The immanent emergence of distinctions – the inner objective logic of evolution and of the struggle of the differences, polarity.’

   To understand more concretely the importance of connection we must turn to Engels in Anti-During, who explains that the source of the ‘real connection’ is in ‘Matter in Motion itself. (page 77)

   ‘Motion’, he writes, ‘is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be … Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. (Ibid.)

   ‘Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself … The quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transferred.’

   ‘When motion is transferred from one body to another, it may be regarded, insofar as it transfers itself, as active, as the cause of motion, insofar as the latter is transferred, it is passive. We call this active motion force. Hence it is as clear as daylight that a force is as great as its manifestation, because in fact that same motion takes place in both.’ (Ibid)

   The source of thought lies in the infinite movement of the external world. It is a product of the highest form of matter which may be described as ‘matter that thinks.’ Through external reflection of the world around us we strive to reveal the connections and interconnections of objects and processes which are immediately to hand. Or, as Lenin puts it: ‘The dialectic of things produces the dialectics of ideas, and not vive versa.’ (p.196, Vol. 38)

   ‘In actual fact, men’s ends are engendered by the objective world and presupposes it, they find it as something given, present. But it seems to man as if his ends are taken from outside the world, and are independent of the world (freedom)’ (p.189, Vol. 38)

   The historical development of thought arose, as we have seen, out of a long unconscious process in the pre-history of man himself.  Pre-historic man applied himself simply to the elemental necessity of maintaining life. He did think consciously as we do today, and we wouldn’t be thinking in the way we do now unless he passed through this unconscious period of his pre-history. The idealists seem to conveniently overlook this period and present themselves on the centre of the stage of history as if things got really going when they came long.  That is why they are always looking at the world from a distorted position.

   Dialectical man is the product of his dialectical natural history and because of this he is both an unconscious and conscious man. The external world of nature is an unconscious passive process. Man is a subordinate part of nature, which provides him with the material conditions of life. Though the use of his labour he creates his own means of subsistence. This is indeed why he is basically different from an animal, which is obliged to adopt in general a passive attitude to the rigours of the external world.

   When the idealist sets out to impose his own thoughts on Nature, he removes, in effect, Nature itself as the source his thoughts. Instead of the unconscious passive external world of Nature as a whole supplying the material for his thoughts, he sets himself against nature and creates his own images. In effect he substitutes himself for Nature as a subordinate part of Nature as a whole, by arbitrarily deciding what it must be or nor be.

   The process of cognition requires the training of the five senses through which man gets to know and establishes himself as part of material nature. The training of the senses must enable unconscious nature to be always present in man’s thinking (theory) and practice.

Man – Nature and the Social Revolution.

   Man’s cognition of the external world appears to him it the form of countless separate, finite images. Unless the infinite movement of the world is present as the absolute within the relative of these images and is the subject of his dialectical analysis, then, for example, a jobless worker, dependant on the capitalist system for a job during the slump, can really only look forward to an ‘after life’ when he dies, in the glorious land in the sky, so slender is his chance of getting work.

   So role out your popes, cardinals, bishops, ministers and priests to the Labour exchanges, for there is idealist illusion making to be done in God’s name. This is the brutal essence of the nonsense of idealism today, with its self-created and self-imposed images of rights and wrongs, goods and bads and all the rest of the class-created moralistic rigmarole.

   For the infinite movement of history tells us, loud and clear, that capitalism is only a finite part of man’s history. As a mode of production it is historically outmoded. The infinite within capitalism is relentlessly revealing the bankruptcy of private ownership for the purpose of the exploitation of the working class. That this infinite is driven towards social revolution must not be a cause for automatic rejoicing over the spontaneous process which history appears – on the contrary, it is a call to conscious revolutionary action.

   Herein lies the vital need for revolutionaries to be trained in the use of the dialectical method, because that is the only way in which victory for the social revolution is possible.