Gerry Healy


Page 6 The News Line Tuesday May 12, 1981

An Introductory Article to tonight’s new lecture series starting in London

The Young Marx of 1844


Gerry Healy

   IN RECENT years students of Marxism have referred to the importance of the Hegelian Dialectic for Marx during his work on Capital. In a series of five lectures commencing this evening we shall be dealing extensively  with the background to Capital and the way in which Marx  prepared to write it.

   What is sometimes overlooked is the significance of his earlier writings in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.  Here he dealt adequately and decisively with Hegelianism, especially in the chapter Critique of the Hegelian dialectic and Philosophy as a Whole.  Now, with the recent publication by Progress Publishers, Moscow, of  the Manuscripts at a modest price of £1.50, we have a fresh opportunity to study anew this vital formative period in the development of Marx, and the Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 will be the main textbook for the lectures.

   The lectures will be especially interesting for those members of the Workers Revolutionary Party and readers of the News Line who seriously oppose revisionism within the workers movement  today in Britain.  For Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic is undoubtedly one of the most powerful affirmations of the dialectical materialist method that Marx ever wrote.


   EARLY  in the chapter on the Critique, Marx pays tribute to the ‘great achievement’ of Feuerbach, by referring to the proof that

‘Objective idealist philosophy is nothing but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought’. Feuerbach, he said, established true materialism by making the relation of man to man the basic principle of the theory.  Marx then goes on to deal with Feuerbach’s errors.  Hegel, he writes :

   ‘sets out from the absolute universal … from the absolute fixed abstraction’, which means ‘put in a popular way, that he sets out from religion and theology’. (P.135)

   Marx notes that Feuerbach, on the other hand, annuls the fixed abstraction of the infinite, (absolute idea), and posits in his mind the actual, sensuous, real finite world, thus rejecting the Hegelian abstraction of the absolute idea, which ‘leads to religion and theology’.  Having done this, writes Marx, Feuerbach then annulled this positive and restored it as an abstraction, (the infinite), to his existing abstract knowledge - ‘the restoration of religion and theology’.

   ‘Feuerbach thus conceives the negation of the negation as a contradiction of philosophy with itself’, and not as the movement from the lower to the higher forms of thought reflecting the movement of the external world. (P.136)  Feuerbach started from the sensuous positive world of nature which is ‘truly materialist ’.  Hegel began from the abstract idea and made it equal to the world of nature.  By doing this he in fact imposed this abstract idea, (absolute), on nature, in the one-sided way in which living nature itself was transformed into an abstraction.

   Feuerbach allowed his positive, sensuous beginning to transcend itself as an abstraction and then added it to his already existing storehouse of abstract ideas. Although he derived these ideas Positive/Abstract at different moments of perception, he simply treated them all together in a general way , thus restoring the very abstract combination he set out to avoid - ‘religion and theology’.

   Here, Feuerbach treats his Positive knowledge of the material world and his own abstract knowledge, not from the standpoint of resolving the difference between the two, (emerging contradiction), which could only be achieved by negating the lower Positive into Feuerbach’s own abstract knowledge. In the transition of the one into the other, a higher determinative concept, (negation of negation), would emerge.  A footnote by Marx on this page sums it all up as follows:

   ‘Feuerbach also defines the negation of the negation, the definite concept, as thinking surpassing itself in thinking, and as thinking wanting to be direct awareness, nature, reality.’ (P.136)

   From a materialist basis but still an idealist method, Feuerbach adopted a passive approach to the movement and change in the external world around him.  He confined himself to contemplating the world around without trying to change it.


   HEGEL’S consciousness, (his ideas), was not his starting point, but rather the result assimilation the objective world.  According to his Phenomenology, the individual consciousness of each separate person appears and takes shape in his individual history.  This is the one-sided foundation of his idealist theories.  In the German Ideology  Marx an Engels emphasised:


   ‘It was clear that developments take place and that the history of a single individual cannot possibly be separated from the history of preceding or contemporary individuals, but is determined by their history .’ (Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 5, page 437-439)

   The individual enters history as a part and his consciousness reveals only a part.  These parts, (finite), are dominated by the whole, (nature).  This applies to both the immediacy of the universe grasped through external reflection and the Universal, which is an ‘open question’, as Lenin explained in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, outside the immediacy given in living perception.  (Collected Works, Vol. 14, page 117)

   For Hegel ‘the true being of man is his act’.  This means that for him, before a person decides to do something, he creates an image or idea in his mind of what it is he or she wants to do.  He then goes into action and creates something which appears external to him.  This ‘thing’ in the externality of nature becomes objectified and appears as an alienated form opposed to him.

   Having set out to do something, Hegel and all the idealists of today impose an abstract image incorporating their idea or ideas  on Nature and what it is they have decided to take action on.  Marx explains this process as the ‘externality of abstract thinking - nature as it is for this abstract thinking.’ (P.138)

  ‘Nature’, he writes, ‘is external to such abstract images’, which initially had their origin in the mind, and then return to the mind, which in turn ‘affirms itself  as the source of absolute knowledge’ … ‘The mode of existence corresponding to it is abstraction.’   (Ibid.)

   Marx refers to what he calls the twin errors of Hegel as follows:

   ‘Wealth and state power’, according to Hegel are ‘thought entities derived from an estrangement of pure, ie, abstract philosophical thinking.’ The whole process, Marx concludes, ‘ends with abstract knowledge’.

   In the estrangement of their absolute ideas and images from the real world, idealists like Hegel become dominated by this estrangement. They begin to live in the world of abstract estranged images, thus becoming an abstract form of estranged man taking himself as the criterion of the estranged world.  The idealist begins to live in this estranged world of his own abstract images, alienated from the real world of nature.  Consequently he can only speculate about what is going on in the real world, as well as what is happening to him in the real world.


   ‘IS IT not the fact’, writes Marx, ‘that the human being objectifies himself inhumanly, in opposition to himself, but the fact that he objectifies himself in distinction from and in opposition to abstract thinking, that constitutes the posited essence of the estrangement and the thing to be superceded.’

   The term ‘abstract thinking’ refers here to the dialectical method of Cognition. From external reflection, the unity and primacy of the objective world of nature over and with subjective man is established through sensation.  The sensation in turn produces its own abstract image.  The transition, (negation), of this image/images , as a quality, into the abstract knowledge we already possess, produces quantity and Essence, (negation of negation).

   Hegel objectified both the human being and nature by the imposition of his fixed image of the ‘absolute idea’ upon them, whereas in the dialectical method of Cognition, the abstract image is the abstract image of nature, (Being), in movement and change.  This abstract image is the Semblance, (subjective form), of the abstract knowledge - quality passes into quantity in two separate reciprocal positings.

   To supercede is to transcend in a dialectical path from Essence of the lower to Essence of the higher.  It is this ‘moving abstraction’ that the Hegelians objectify.  Man opposes man’s objective powers, writes Marx.  They have become ‘alien’ objects.  This, he explains, is the source of the ‘secret, uncritical positivism’ contained in the Hegelian method which equates the subject with the object’ within which the subject is in opposition to the object.  This one-sided opposition between both excludes their unity, within which their opposition must unfold. Let us now examine how this opposition, which is nothing less than the real world itself, upsets in its own empirical way the Hegelian positivist schema.  

   ‘Sensuous consciousness’, Marx explains, ‘is not an abstractly sensuous consciousness, but a humanly sensuous consciousness’.

   The human being can create all the abstract images he likes and mentally bounce them off the external world to his own satisfaction, but he is still a creature of nature and part of the external natural world.   He must accept the predominance of its laws and reflect them, even if in the most blurred way.  Here is the source of Hegel’s reference to the ‘unhappy consciousness. (Op. Cit., P.140)

   How does this ‘unhappy consciousness’ arise?  In times of crisis like the present, the objective situation interrupts the image-making. The crisis and change, perceived through negation, at first appear as ‘vanishing moments’ of doubt or tension.  At first every effort is made to exclude this reality by adding the abstract sensuous doubts to the abstract images already created out of abstract thought.  This is accomplished in the following way:

1. The image is imposed on the real world through external reflection.

2. It then becomes an image which is part of a number of other images imposed and alienated in the process of external     reflection.  In due course, these become objectified and in turn new abstract images are negated from this objectification -     abstract thought interpreting abstract thought.  The ‘vanishing moments’ are transcended and absorbed in this way.

3. The idealist now starts to live in the world of his brain, shuttling images backwards and forwards between himself and the real     world under conditions in which they are estranged both from him as well as from the real world.  He is both dominated by an     imaginary world and lives in an estranged world.  His explanation as we have already seen as to what is really happening to     him amounts to speculation only.

4. In spite of the alienation and estrangement of the idealist in his abstract thoughts, the positing of the real world nevertheless     takes place through negation of negation as the act of a living person.  Here the real world appears as ‘vanishing moments’,     which in turn are negated into the abstract world of the mind.  In the course of negation the abstract image created in the mind     transcends the impact of the ‘vanishing moments’ in which the real world is reflected. It thus transforms the ‘world of the     mind’ into the world of the ‘absolute mind’.

   Now, through negation of of negation, the abstract world of the ‘absolute mind’  into which man has estranged himself, confronts once again the external world of nature.  At this point, Marx explains, the problems of the abstract thinker:  

   ‘... which, made wise by experience and enlightened concerning its truth, resolves under various (false and themselves still abstract) conditions, to abandon itself and to replace its self-absorption, nothingness, generality and indeterminatedness by its other being, the particular and the determinate, resolves to let nature which it held hidden in itself only as an abstraction, as a thought entity, go forth freely from itself; that is to say, this idea resolves to forsake abstraction and to have a look at nature free of abstraction.’ (Op. Cit. P.154)


   Our Hegelian idealist then proceeds to throw overboard his wearisome process of abstract image-making, with its speculative method and goes directly over to intuiting the real world.  The mystical feeling which drives the philosopher forward, writes Marx, ‘is boredom - the longing for real content.’ (Ibid.)

   This abandonment of abstract thought in favour of intuition, which recognises ‘nature as the essential being’, amounts to ‘letting nature emerge from himself.’  By doing this he has reality ‘let emerge only this abstract nature as a thought entity - but now with the significance that it is the other being of thought’, that it is the abstract of an abstraction which again revolves in its own circle. They are ‘nothing else but abstraction from characterisations of Nature’, (vanishing moments). (Op. Cit. P 156)

   For Marx and the dialectical materialist method, Nature provides the form of the subjective idea.  In Hegel’s idealism the subjective idea provides the forms into which Nature must fit.  Hegel saw Nature as a defective Nature.  This positing of Nature in the world of mind cannot but lead to what Marx describes as ‘the identity is absolute negativity, for whereas in Nature the concept has its perfect external objectivity, this its alienation has been been superseded and in this alienation the concept has become identical with itself. But it is this identity, therefore, only in being a return out of Nature.’  (Op. Cit. page 157)

      External Nature is equated here with the mind.  Instead of Nature predominating and being the form in which the revelations of the mind are manifested, it is replaced by a presupposed world existing independently  of it. As Marx explains:


   ‘As the abstract idea, revelation is unmediated transition to, the coming-to-be of, nature; as the revelation of the mind, which is free, it is the positing of nature as the mind’s world - a positing which, being reflection, is at the same time, a presupposing of the world as independently existing nature.  Revelation in conception is the creation of nature as the mind’s being, in which mind procures the affirmation and truth of its freedom. The absolute is mind.  This is the highest definition of the absolute.’ (Footnote to page 157)

   From the the creation o abstract images in the mind to be imposed on what is falsely conceived as an abstract world, to the alienation of these images which in turn become objectified as a body of equally false conceptions  of the real world, the idealist is trapped within his own falsely created external world images. With the pressure of class forces building up in the objectively real world, he feels tense and bored, when he proceeds from the false world of images shuttling back and forth in his head.  This does not lead him towards the dialectical practice of Cognition, but to even greater confusion.

   He cuts loose from speculating about the credibility of his images and through glimpses of  ‘certain characteristics of nature’ perceived as ‘vanishing moments’, he transcends his mind into the ‘absolute mind’, which Marx insists is the ‘highest definition of the absolute’. From there on he intuits a world of abstraction created by and subordinated to his own absolute mind.  It is here he inevitably pays the bitter price of his confusion.

   Through negation of the problems of the real world invariably become more urgent for him.  However, since the real world is a passive world, this process changes the ‘absolute mind’ into a passively absolute mind.  The idealist in such a predicament is unable to judge the urgency of the changes in the real world and to develop revolutionary  practices in accordance with them.  He glides blindly from one disaster to another .

   Here is the real explanation for the bankruptcy and reactionary nature of idealist revisionism which today can only lead to paralysis in practice and defeat of the working class.