Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of Being (Part Three)

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

News Line 15 July 1981

By G. Healy

      In Section One, Determinateness, (Quality), in Lenin’s Conspectus of Hegel’s Logic, (Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 38, page 105), is an important, if not the most important, chapter in the treatment of the Doctrine of Being.

   The facilitate an understanding of this work, we have looked at ‘Magnitude’, (Quantity  - Page 116 Vol. 38), in the News Line of 9 July 1981, so that the reader starting from external reflection can more easily understand the process of cognition.

   In the original act of external reflection, the build up of Quantum Particles contains three processes which we have already begun to analyse, (see News Line 9 July), Quantity, Measure, and Quality. These three terms are essential towards an understanding of how the countless unseen particles, which are the source of reflection, manifest themselves as images in abstract thought.


Motion and Thought

   The unity between a human being and the external world is established through sensation derived from reflection. But the quantum of particles perceived has not yet been revealed in the abstract thought essential for analysis. Lenin is concerned at this point with motion, whose moments of perception are Being-Nothing-Becoming. (Page 105, Vol. 38). Being is the moment of unity, (sensation), for Man and Nature. The abstract Being, says Lenin, is Nothing.

   This may seem difficult to understand, but it simply means that if you take the abstract of sensation, Being, in thought by itself, you indeed have Nothing. Then Lenin quotes Hegel:

   ‘Pure Being and Pure Nothing are …the same’, and he adds; their union is Becoming. He thus reveals the dialectic of the moments of movement, (page 105, Vol. 38), which again, quoting Hegel, he describes as ‘movement of the immediate, disappearances on the one into the other.’ It is this process which makes thought determinate and is called quality. Thus ‘Quantity’ passes over into ‘Quality

   These moments of motion in Cognition must be carefully examined. They emerge as ‘two pairs of determinations’. (p. 108, Vol.38)

   We shall examine each pair of determinations separately and then establish their dialectical relation to each other. Take the unity of ‘Something’, (Quantity), and ‘Other’, (Quality). This is called Measure. At first this Identity of this Unity is implicit, (see News Line 9 July 9181), and not yet ‘explicitly recognised’. Quantity is still capable of alteration by increase or decrease in the particles involved.

   In the process of Measure, Quantity, (Something), passes over into Quality, (Other), and Quality into Quantity. Each of them becomes what was already implicitly in the other. As concepts represented by three terms, Quantity, Measure, Quality, they establish connections with each other through reflection.

   In other words, they are being transformed from concepts representing individual moments of motion into Categories which, as Lenin explains in the words of Hegel are: ‘The necessary connection of the whole world … The mutual determinant connection of the whole.’ (See note in margin on p.106, Vol 38)

   Lenin then proceeds to quote Hegel to explain what the ‘connection’ represents:

   ‘A determinant or finite Being, (other of Something – GH), is such as refers itself to another; it is a content which stands in a relation of necessity with other content or with the whole world.’ (Ibid.)

   Something, which is Quantity has passed into Other which is now the finite, (Quality). Both are united in Measure which has implicitly become Essence. These are concepts of moments of the unconscious external world as cognised through reflection. The dialectic of movement of the external world which we call ‘Something’, (Quantity), and the finite abstract ‘Other’ of something, (Quality), at this point produces the implicit emergence of Essence, (Measure). We shall be analysing Essence in later articles.

The First Pair of Determinants.

   The first pair of determinants have produced a finite Other which Hegel calls ‘illusory being.’ By itself, torn away from its connections with the external world, it dissolves into nothing. To reveal itself it must refer itself as a negative to another Positive. But the positive here makes no sense if it too is torn out of relation to the negative, (Other), which invokes it.

   The terms Positive and Negative are used in the implicit sense that they only make dialectical sense when one is taken in relation to the other.  Under certain conditions in their relation to each other Positive can become Negative and Negative can become Positive. Just as in physics wave can become particle and the particle can become a wave.

   The driving force which generates movement in thought at this point is the movement of the unconscious world, which is reflected in thought. The dialectics of cognition demands a basic materialists principle that the truth of reality ‘can only be known through ‘finite’ abstract images. For human beings, the ‘concrete’ emerges through a combination of abstractions.

   In the case of the first pair of determinants Something, (Quantity), and Other (Quality), Quality is implicit but not yet determinate. This cannot happen until it refers itself to another Positive. The danger of what is called a dualist position arises here. Dualism emerges where the finite is made an absolute being the same as the infinite. A dualist position is one which creates an impossible gulf between the finite and the infinite.

   Dualism itself is not so far removed from the old Metaphysical position. The finite is seen as the counterpart to the infinite, or to put in another way, Subject becomes Object and Object becomes Subject.

   The ‘finite’, ‘other’ of Something is initially an abstraction from ‘reality’. Its truth lies in what Hegel refers to as its Ideality. (P. 114, Vol. 38)  This where the idealist component of dialectical materialism is present in the form of dialectical idealism. Dialectical materialism is itself a conflict of interacting opposites, that is, Dialectical Idealism which is the objective idealist subjective side of cognition in transition into the material world through the practice of a dialectical human being.

   ‘Ideality’ as a finite relative moment must be understood to contain the finite, (absolute), within it. It is this presence of the absolute within the relative that establishes its dialectical materialist relations to the external world.

The Second Pair of Determinants.

   The second pair of determinations is Being-in-Self and Being-for-Self. The relations between these must be understood as Negation of Negation. The first negation was Something, (Quantity), to Other, (implicit quality – finite). The second negation is Being-in-Self, (quality), to Being-for-Self, (Quantity).

   The two pairs of determinations have now established the following dialectical relationship  between them: Their dialectical movement is contained in the single movement of external reflection. The outer image of the first pair, Quantity, (Something), perceived through sensation, is negated into its finite negative ‘other’, (implicit quality).

   The infinite external world has emerged in its finite abstraction (Quality). This finite abstraction polarises into Being-in-Self as Quality, which then becomes determinative. This polarisation is the movement of the outer image of Quantity interpenetrating the knowledge we already possess. This interpenetration changes the inner structure of the content of the knowledge we already possess, until the content appears as Being-for-Self. At that moment, the opposites, form and content, are equal and the same.

Negation of Negation

   Negation of Negation is an inner process through which Quality, also an inner process, proceeds through knowledge of the ‘low’, (implicit quality), to knowledge of the ‘high’, (determinative), quality, (Being-in-Self), into its other, Quality, Being-for-Self.

   For the purposes of analysis we call this first movement of external reflection Positive, its negation Negative, with the same negative polarising, (interpenetrating, but not breaking up), into a negative that becomes attracted to a new positive, (Negation of Negation).

   The negative of the immediate positive, (Other of Something), is what Hegel calls the ‘thing-in-itself.’ Lenin refers on page 109, Volume 38, to a quotation from Hegel which reads:

   ‘The thing-in-itself is nothing but an abstraction void of truth and content’. Lenin then, immediately following this quotation, comments in a box on the same page:

   ‘This is very profound, the thing-in-itself and its conversion into a thing-for-others, (cf. Engels). The thing-in-itself is altogether an empty lifeless abstraction. In life, in movement, each thing and every thing is usually both “in-itself” and “for-itself” in relation to an Other, being transformed from one state into the Other.’ (p. 109 Vol. 38)


    The second negation of the finite (Other of Something is infinite (quality) only in relation to the New Infinite, Being-for-Self, (Quantity). The infinity revealed in the second Negation, if separated from its Other finite which attracts it, would be what Hegel calls ‘Bad Infinity’.

   The infinite is only infinite in relation to the finite which is emerging from it, and as the finite emerges it is already negated into the infinite.  The negation of the finite has already taken place before it is recorded in thought, which is the reason why thought always lags behind the movement of the external material world of nature.

Against Sophistry

   In explaining the difference between sophistry and dialectics Lenin approvingly quotes Hegel:

   ‘For Sophistry is an argument proceeding from a baseless supposition which is allowed without criticism or reflection; while we term dialectic that higher movement of Reason where terms appearing absolutely distinct pass into another through themselves, through what they are. And the assumption of their separateness cancels itself.’ (p.107, Vol. 38)

   In other words, their apparent ‘separateness’ is cancelled by polarisation, through which they pass into one another. The content of the first Negation is thus superseded and Terminated by the second Negation, which also ‘simultaneously preserves it.’

   It is sophistry when idealists place their own interpretation on the ‘thing’ in order to make it sound plausible, in a way that encourages conscious deception.

   In dialectics, the opposites between the Thing-in-Itself and the Thing-for-Itself are revealed and identified in their transition, (interpenetration), of one into the other, i.e., the transition of essence, (low) into essence (high).  The difference between them is implicit in their identity because opposites can only be identical through the difference between them.


   As Lenin explains: ‘Dialectics is teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be, (how they become) identical with one another – why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another; in reading Hegel.’ (p. 109, Vol. 380)

   The result of the polarisation and interpenetration in which the opposites become identical and equal to one another is Appearance. Lenin defines the limit of this process by quoting Hegel:

Negation as Limit

   ‘Limit (is) simple negation or first negation (something). Every something has its limit, while other is at the same time Negation of Negation.’

   ‘Something’ negated into ‘other’ which polarises is negated into a new ‘Other’ (Quantity), or as Lenin explains it:

   ‘Something taken from the point of view of its immanent limit – from the point of view of its self contradiction which drives it (this something) and leads it beyond its limits is the finite.’

   Hegel, we have already explained, calls the finite (Other) of Something which is the result of the first Negation of ‘something’ into ‘other’, ‘illusory being’ and it is the fact that it is illusory which drives it forward towards Being-for-Self of Appearance. Hegel goes on:

   ‘They’, things, ‘are but the truth of this, being is their end’, and Lenin comments:

   ‘Shrewd and clever! Hegel analyses concepts that usually appear to be dead and shows that there is movement in them. Finite?  - That means moving to and end! Something?  - Means not that which is other. Being in general?  - Means such indeterminatedness that Being = Not Being. All-sided, universal flexibility of concepts, a flexibility reaching to the identity of opposites – that is the essence of the matter.

  ‘This flexibility applied subjectively = eclecticism and sophistry. Flexibility applied objectively, i.e. reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the external developments of the world.’ (P. 110, Vol.38)

   Dialectical cognition reveals the whole movement of the external world in thought. Concepts revealing vital moments of this movement become transformed into categories which reveal the content of the movement itself. Quantitative changes, as they become qualitative changes establish Measure in thought. Each object represents a definite Quality and Quantity as its Measure.

   The application of the term Measure covers the moment of Unity between Quality and Quantity. The limit of this moment or any moment of Unity is governed by negation of negation. Lenin’s quotation from Hegel explains the process of negation of negation as follows:

   ‘It is the nature of the finite to pass beyond itself, to negate its negation and to become infinite …’ (P. 111, Vol. 38.  Lenin then notes , ‘the dialectic of things themselves, of nature itself, of the course of events itself.’ And on page 112, Vol. 38, Lenin again approvingly quotes Hegel as follows:

   ‘The Unity of finite and infinite is not an external juxtaposition of these terms, nor an improper connection contrary to the determination, and binding together entities separate and opposed and mutually independent and hence incompatible; on the contrary, each in itself is this unity, and is so only in transcending itself, neither excelling the other in Being-in-Self and affirmative existent Being.’

   Lenin, as always, concerned with the manifestation of the dialectical materialist method in the sciences, notes on the side of the page opposite the paragraph:

   ‘To be applied to atoms versus electrons. In general the infiniteness of matter deep within …’

   And to show the care which he took when standing Hegel on his materialist feet, he quotes a further paragraph from him:

   ‘The infinite progress, however, asserts more than this …’ (and Lenin inserts this sentence : That the mere comparison of the finite with the infinite), ‘in it is also posited the connection of terms which are also distinct …’

   In a note at the side of the page he emphasises connection:

   The connection (of all Parts) of infinite Progress. (P. 112 Vol. 38)