Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of Being (Part Two)

Fourth in a series of articles dealing with Lenin’s treatment of Hegel’s Science of Logic

News Line 9 July 1981

By G. Healy

   Man’s cognition of nature is inseparable from his practice to change it. This enables him to understand the unlimited diverse properties which are united in Nature. As he changes Nature he isolates some objects from others, because he has already done it to phenomena in the act of observation.

   The unconscious objective process of the external world is Cognised through external reflection. This is called Subjective cognition and takes the form of an outer image perceived and observed reflectively by the senses of a human being.

   Although the source of reflection is in the external world, care must be taken to avoid looking at the form of the image as if it were something separate and apart from us. Whilst it is the form in which the external world presents itself in subjective cognition, the object which is at first the content of the form is the person who is doing the reflecting. The form and content then undergo a dialectical transformation, with the form interpenetrating the content as its inner structure. (See future articles)

Subject and Object

   Hunan beings are dialectical, since they possess the abilities to reflect, think, and reason, which are subject to their objective ability to engage in the physical practice of changing nature. Historically speaking our ancestors were engaged in the unconscious practice of living a long time before they could think of speak languages. We call physical practice objective, and because thinking and reflecting arose out of practice, it is described as subjective practice.

   Whilst in the relations between the two objective practice is primary, they cannot be separated since they are united in the human being and interact upon one another. All theory, the product of reflection, must be tested out in practice. We call theory a guide to practice, and since it is practice which has created theory it follows, as Lenin explained, that ‘Practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also immediate actuality.’ (Page 213, Volume 38, Collected Works)

   Subjective cognition ceases at the point where quality emerges as a result of the first negation. We will explain this process in greater detail later. Our purpose now is to distinguish the subjective from the objective in theory.  The latter, as such, consists of the objective abstract knowledge which we already possess. It is objective and abstract because it is the result of experience of previous practice.

   The category of ‘facts’ so beloved by the positivists in their speculative one-sided juggling of impressions are also the product of abstractions derived from past practice. But in no way can they be substituted for the vital, initial moments of subjective cognition. Facts are very important for purposes of analysis, but they must not replace reflection. Theoretical thinking must be concrete thinking, and not sterile dogma.

We Start From the Practice of Building the WRP

   Theory and subjective cognition are object and subject within thinking itself and together constitute the unity of theory and practice. But each performs entirely different and necessary functions and must not be blurred over by being liquidated into one another. They must not be treated as if they were one and the same thing. The literary works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky are objective, since the authors are dead, but for conscious living people there must always be the objective world of their practice within their subjective world of thought, and vice versa. It is our practice and the results of our practice, revealed in theory, which must predominate over thinking. This in no way implies that we engage in blind practice, or the idealist method of thought interpenetrating thought.

   Even if we lack confidence and have difficulty reading the classics of Marxism there is a simple approach which can help us: We should train ourselves to think about what we are doing. If we start from our immediate concrete practice and learn to think about it after we have completed whatever it is we are doing, then we have already begun to develop a theoretical approach to problems.

   The interest which has been aroused by our practice has led us to generalise the results in theory. We are seeking to reveal the purpose for which we carried out the practice in the first place and learn how this has been accomplished or not accomplished as the case might be. It is at this point that the incentive for reading is created.

   Concretely speaking, every new member who has joined the Workers Revolutionary Party has proceeded dialectically, although perhaps unconsciously, from the individual to the universal, since our Party’s dialectical method has already established this basic relation.

   When we stress the need to think about what we are doing, it is assumed we are carrying out work in connection with the building of the WRP and are consciously avoiding ‘blind practice’ or word spinning which is meaningless. We can, however, easily slip over to such erroneous positions if we examine our practice as some kind of individual contribution from us to the Party.

   Since we have joined the Party, our work is no longer individual, but is part of the collective work of the Party as a whole. We start from this Party whole and not the individual parts of our practice. In this way we acquire all the additional strength of the Party, instead of floundering around as individuals.

Individual and Universal

   For those trained in universities and the higher educational establishments of capitalism, the process of Cognition can present some problems. An understandable difficulty arises when explaining the dialectical method itself. It is easy to make things more complicated than they really are.

   Since we as human beings are dialectical, we should try to avoid a mechanical presentation of such concepts as ‘Law’ and ‘Abstraction’. From an examination of how we as human beings function through co-ordination of our senses and their relation to each other, we can easily understand the application of the word ‘law’ in reference to the essential physical relation between our senses and between the phenomena which we perceive.

   Dialectical laws seen in this living context are not something which we mechanically ‘apply’, but are constantly manifested in the countless processes and changes in objects and their relation to one another. These laws are already to hand for us to cognise and we do this through ‘abstraction’ since there is no other way a human being can gather knowledge. No sooner do we perceive something through sensation, than an abstract of ‘something’ appears in our mind and in due course its qualities will be revealed through analysis.

   Cognition is a scientific natural method for apprehending the world in constant movement and change. The richness of Hegelian concepts is that they allow for each moment as a dialectical moment to be revealed and understood through concepts. A dialectical moment is a unity of two inseparable interacting opposites.  When, through reflection, these moments become related to one another, then what is initially a concept becomes a category. Both concepts and categories must be applied flexibly since they must reflect motion as it is unfolding and manifesting itself in the changing forms of images and objects.

   We must train ourselves to perceive the struggle of opposites in their unity. When we refer to the universal as a Unity we do so as Lenin did when quoting Hegel:

   ‘Not merely an abstract universal, but a Universal which comprises in itself the wealth of the particular.’ (p. 99, Vol. 38)

   In a side-note Lenin wrote the word ‘Capital’ as an example of the ‘Particular’. Further down on the same page he refers again to Hegel:

   ‘Just as one and the same moral maxim in the mouth of a youth who understands it quite accurately does not have the significance and scope which it has in the mind of a man of years and experience, for whom it expresses the full force of its content.’

   In Cognition, the ‘essence’ of the struggle between opposites embodies the essential content of all knowledge. The individual who has preserved and established the essence is both identical with and opposed to the Universal. This means that when he is analysing the Essence he has at his disposal all the relevant knowledge universally available to do so. Such knowledge can exist only in the individual and through the individual.

   In his mental and physical practice, the ‘individual enters incompletely into the universal.’ (p. 361 Vol. 38)

   Driven on by objective necessity the single movement of External reflection of the objective world perceives not only the Semblance, (Essence), of ‘something’ but this ‘something’ which  is in motion has contradiction as its source. [Text exactly as original – Ed]

   This contradiction is resolved again through External Reflection and emerges out of the ‘whole’ in the Appearance of a part. This part which is an individual contains the Universal whole. It is the thought product of a particular relation between the individual and the universal.

   Hence the particular difference between the thought content of a youth who ‘understands accurately’ and a man of experience who ‘expresses the full force of the content.

The Concept of Quantity.

   The act of reflection enables us to reflect on a quantity of ‘something’ which contains many properties, some of which we can see and others which remain concealed. The properties which we see can be distinguished one from another – for example by the differences in colour, numbers of objects and the sounds which they make etc.

   The sum total of all the properties we cognise, seen and unseen, constitute the determinate magnitude of quantity. It is determinate because it contains material from the external world which encourages analysis and makes it possible. It is the necessary connection with the external world. Because it is the Magnitude of properties in movement and change we call it Continuous Magnitude.

   At the same time there is a particular area of these external properties which will provide the cause for physical sensation and this area is described in philosophy as a Discrete Magnitude. At one time the quantity of objects and their properties, visual and non-visual, are Continuous and at another time in the immediacy of sensation they are Discrete. The determinations Continuity and Discreteness contain truth only when understood as a unity.

   The determinate Being implicit in Quantity itself in the moments prior to sensation is called Quantum.  Whilst Quantum supplies the properties for the emergence of the finite image in thought, it has also an external application within movement itself which is quantum as infinite progress.

   These concepts appertaining to Quantity are especially important in physics and for training the mind to consciously perceive early in analysis the ‘Quantity’ of properties it is reflecting.

   There are already a considerable number of advanced electronically calibrated, controlled instruments which assist us here, especially in aviation.

   Again, since such instruments are the result of man’s own technological achievements, there is plenty of scope to physically train the brain to unconsciously apply the senses in a way that some knowledge of implicit, Quantitative information coincides with the moment of sensation, even if in a blurred manner.

   Once we begin to train and direct the subjective use of our senses in a dialectical way, this will tend to more and more synchronise with the dialectical movement of the objective world of Nature around us. Our ability to grasp the essence of problems will therefore improve as time goes on.

Quantum Mechanics

   Dialectical training of the mind here consists of being able to apprehend the dialectical moments which comprise the form and content of concepts and categories. The physical sensation which is the outcome of perception through reflection is a Discrete quantity of quantum properties of the external world which is embodied in the build-up of properties which will presently be manifested in the concept of Measure.

   This build-up of properties is at this point an implicit assumption and for that reason we can only work with what could be untrue determination.

   But this, however, does not mean that we have abandoned the scientific method. In the relations between the subject and the objective world, considerable progress has been made since 1924 in the field of Quantum Mechanics. In that year the physicist Louis de Broglie discovered the wave corpuscular nature of physical quantities of small particles. Such corpuscular particles are present in the brightness of electric light.

   For over 40 years, prior to this discovery, classical physics had assumed the implicit existence of such small particles. But it was not until the discovery of the wave emission of such particles that their existence could be proved. Furthermore, their existence in wave-corpuscular quantities meant, as in electric light, that they had a dual nature. A particle could be a wave and a wave could be a particle. The duality of this wave-particle function revealed by quantum mechanics meant that matter could now be examined at deeper levels than ever before, and this in turn led to important advances in atomic research in the early 1930’s.

   These discoveries also had implications for the process and practice of cognising small particles in the objective world. They provided an opening towards a more concrete materialist understanding of the dialectical origins of contradiction within the source of processes and objects in movement and change.

   Since a particle can take the form of a wave under certain different conditions, the dialectical YES-NO concept of antithesis and its dialectical relation to the concept of synthesis, or what Hegel called ‘ground’, acquires an important dimension. How correct Lenin was at the beginning of the century when he wrote in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: ‘Modern physics is in travail, it is giving birth the Dialectical Materialism.’

   The considerable advances in non-classical physics and the physics of elementary particles which as grown out of them, calls for ever more flexible use of Hegelian scientific concepts. These will facilitate more accurate dialectical analysis and equally swift elaboration of new practices to facilitate the mobilisation of the working class for the purpose of making the successful social revolution.

   And to those of the old idealist schools of formalism and sound common sense, with their opportunist theories of gradualism, a word of information. As you will no doubt pooh-pooh the great possibilities for training cadres in the spirit of dialectical materialism, we have just one factual point to make in anticipation.

   The confirmation of Marxian dialectics by the physicists and natural scientists, (whether these gentlemen like it of not), in their investigations into the micro-world applies with equal force to the macro-world of the movement of large masses.

   Dialectical training will be achieved only by relatively small numbers at this stage in the growth of the Workers Revolutionary Party. But it will, we predict, have decisive revolutionary implications in the days ahead, especially in the use of advanced technology to complement revolutionary practices.