Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of Essence (Part Five)

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

News Line 27 August 1981

By G. Healy

   A careful study of the efforts of Marx and Lenin to ‘stand Hegel on his materialistic feet’ became a vital necessity for both men at the decisive turning points in their own development.

   Marx did not break as such from Hegel’s method. He negated its dialectical idealism, terminated its connections with its foundation based on its ‘absolute idea, and transcended dialectical idealism by uniting it with objective material practice.

   Its dialectical interaction was no longer with the barrenness of Hegel’s ‘absolute idea’ but with the self- related practice of men struggling to live and change the world. The dialectical idealist method was rescued for all time from its illusory god-like foundations of the mystical absolute idea and stood on its feet in the real material world.

   In the course of this, (Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy – 1844 Manuscripts), Marx was also able to reveal what Hegel had achieved, in spite of his idealist method, in the development of scientific concepts. He not only revealed this achievement, but showed how Hegel had actually done it.


Why Lenin Studied Hegel

   Lenin, on the other hand, was aware of the achievements of Marx and Engels so far as the break with Hegelianism went. He was already experienced in the dialectical use of concepts and categories and yet found it essential to re-work over the ground already covered by Marx. It is important to understand Lenin’s need at this point.

   Scientific concepts in themselves are abstract and empty when utilised in the process of cognition for analysing the connections and interconnections of the moments perceived. They acquire a material content when brought into line with all the achievements of human beings over the past one hundred years. In his comments on Hegel’s concepts, Lenin noted not only mystical shadings of Hegelianism, but also the genius within them.

   ‘If I am not mistaken’, Lenin wrote, ‘there is much mysticism and empty pedantry in these conclusions of Hegel, but the basic idea is one of genius: that of the universal, all-sided, vital connection of everything, with everything and the reflection of this connection – Hegel materialistically turned upside down  - in human concepts, which must likewise be hewn, treated, flexible, mobile, relative, mutually connected, united in opposites, in order to embrace the world.

   ‘Cognition of the work of Hegel and Marx must consist in the dialectical elaboration of the history of human thought, science and technique.’ (P. 146, Vol. 38, Collected Works)

   To establish the richness and the qualities of concepts, it was necessary according to Lenin to elaborate ‘the history of human thought, science and technique’. The purpose of such an investigation would be to establish connections and links in these fields. Lenin explains the role of such dialectical connections and the importance of understanding this in the formulation of concepts.

   ‘A river and the drops in this river’, he writes. ‘The position of every drop, its relation to the others; the direction of its movement, straight, curved, circular etc. – upwards, downwards. The sum of the movement. Concepts, as registration of individual aspects of the movement of individual drops ( = things), of individual streams etc. There you have approximately the picture of the world according to Hegel’s logic – of course minus God and the Absolute.’ (P. 147, Vol. 38)

   Driving home the materialist value of such a process Lenin, in a quotation from Hegel, writes: ‘When all the conditions of a thing are present it enters into existence …’ Lenin then remarks:

   ‘Very good! What has the absolute idea and idealism to do with it.’

   In a note on the side of the page he writes: ‘The word moment is often used by Hegel in the sense of a moment of connection, moment of concatenation.’ (Ibid.)

Thought as a Product of Matter

   In volume 14 of his Collected Works, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin criticised the dialectical Materialist Joseph Dietzgen.

   ‘Dietzgen, unlike Engels, expresses his thought in a vague, unclear, mushy way, but apart from his defects of exposition and individual mistakes, he not unsuccessfully champions the materialist theory of knowledge, dialectical materialism. “The materialist theory of knowledge then”, says Dietzgen, “amounts to the recognition that the human organ of perception radiates no metaphysical light, but is a piece of nature which reflects other pieces of nature”’

   Lenin regarded this statement as a ‘deviation from a consistent application of dialectics, from consistent materialism.’ (P. 246, Vol.14)

   He was especially concerned with a statement from Dietzgen as follows:

   ‘Though is a product of the brain … My desk, as the content of my thought, is identical with that thought, does not differ from it. But my desk outside my head is a separate object quite distinct from it.’

Then Lenin remarks:

   ‘These perfectly clear materialistic propositions, however, are supplemented by Dietzgen thus: “Nevertheless, the non-sensible idea is also the sensible, material, i.e. real … The mind differs no more from the table, light or sound than these things differ from each other.”’ (P. 243 Vol. 14)

   ‘This is obviously false’, writes Lenin. ‘That both though and matter are real, i.e. exist, is true. But to say that thought is material is to make a false step, a step towards confusing materialism and idealism.’ (Ibid)

   Thought is a product of matter, but it is not to be equated with matter in general such as a desk and a piece of wood. As a product of matter, it is the outcome of the interaction between the external world and a human being, reflected in its brain.  Consequently, whilst thought cannot be compared to objects around us, it nevertheless, like a human being, could not exist outside the materiality of the external world.    Elsewhere in his volume 14, Lenin stressed that:

   ‘The recognition of the objective law in nature and the recognition that this law is reflected with approximate fidelity in the mind of man is materialism. (P155)

   On the previous page he defines ‘law’ as follows:

   ‘Order, purpose, law, are words used by man to translate the act of nature into his own language in order that he may understand them.’

Thought as Matter and Form

   Phenomenon is the outward direct expression which the totality of the sides and relations of an object. It constitutes the internal relatively stable side of an object. Essence determines the nature of an object because all the other sides and characteristics follow from it. Whilst essence is similar to content, it is not the same. Content constitutes the sum total of all the elements and processes which comprise a given object, whereas essence determines the nature of the object.

   The three sub-divisions in which essence as a category is manifested are semblance, appearance and actuality.


   Semblance is a moment of absolute essence turned towards appearance. It is a self-related moment of external reflection which is the outcome of the negation of the negative of Identity, (other of the immediate), which has been transplanted upon the negative of the knowledge we already possess, (other of the first).

   Because each negative represents different moments of time, they are negated as contradiction into absolute essence, (ground-synthesis). The moment of absolute essence is therefore contradictory, in which the moments ‘other of the immediate’ and ‘other of the first are together’ posited contradiction.

   The moment of transcendence of absolute essence is ‘essence in existence’. It is the immediate unity of the phenomenon of semblance and existence, (our existing knowledge), which is now a further moment deeper into our knowledge.

   In that sense it is connected with many existent moments already in our knowledge and constitutes a variety of moments. Essence now contains identity in the form of contradiction. It contains opposition because it incorporates contradiction and it is connected with a variety of moments. It has become determinate reflection.

   The self-relation of the phenomenon of semblance in unity with existence now becomes in itself. The form of the phenomenon semblance has penetrated the content, (existence), of the knowledge we have. What was an outer form, (semblance), is in transition deeper into the content of the knowledge we already possess, which means that the form has become content whilst the negative of the old content of knowledge we already possess is now external form.

Law as Material Essential Relation

   The new content, (old form), has now the old content for its external form and this dialectical transformation is called the law of ‘essential relation’.

   The new content is not formless; it has the form in its own self as much as the form is external to it. There is thus a doubling of form in the law of phenomenon.

   What is form at one point is content at another and vice versa. At one time it is reflected into self, and at another it becomes identical with the content. What is revealed is the absolute co-relation of content and form which is the reciprocal relation between cause and effect, the cause becomes effect and effect becomes cause. This mutual relation is one of the most important laws of dialectical thought.

   However, the law itself can only be revealed through the relations between substance and causality. Substance constitutes the build-up of properties and processes which emerge as objects in continuous motion. We have already seen established the reciprocal relation between content and form in causality. (Cause into effect and vice versa).

   The terms ‘form’ and ‘content’ are used in the sense of acquiring reflective knowledge. Both are equally essential and together are a ‘unity of matter and form, (determinate matter)’. (See page 145 Vol. 38)

   Matter is passive and form is active, or, as Hegel, quoted by Lenin, explains, ‘Matter must be formed and form must materialise itself …’ (Ibid.)

   ‘Now this’, Hegel writes, ‘which appears as the activity of Form is equally the proper movement of matter itself …’, and goes on, ‘Both activity of Form and the movement of Matter are the same … Matter is determined as such or necessarily has a Form; and Form is simply material, persistent Form.’ (Ibid.)

   When we speak of absolute essence of absolute ground we mean that these concepts have ‘Form and Matter’ for content. (P. 143 Vol.38). They must be seen as a ‘posited entity’. ‘We must not’, Hegel writes, ‘remain at immediate determinate being or at determinateness in general, but must pass back into ground.’ (P. 144, Vol. 38)

  Lenin then takes issue with what he calls ‘Customary proposition – ‘Everything has its sufficient Ground’.

The Movement of the World as the Source of Law

   ‘It is superfluous’, Lenin wrote, ‘to add “sufficient ground”, what is insufficient is not ground.’ And he comments; ‘very often Hegel says, especially in the physical sciences, “Grounds” are explained tautologically; the movement of the earth is explained by the attractive force of the sun. And what then is attractive force? It is also movement.’ (P. 145 Vol.38)

   The proposition of movement is always true, whether its component terms are true or not, i.e., the sun is a source of movement, whether the sun is in or the sun is out.

   Absolute essence, (semblance), through its negation into existence passes over into property, matter or substance. Then ‘Essence is formed’ and ‘Form is essential’. (P. 144 Vol.38).

   ‘Essence (which - GH) is formless identity (of itself with itself) becomes matter . (Ibid)

   Again, as if an implicit explanation of the use of the word tautology was needed, Lenin quotes Hegel as follows:

   ‘If it is said of Nature that it is the ground of the world, then what is called nature is identical with the world, and the world is nothing but nature itself.’ Lenin then remarks, ‘On the other hand, if nature is to be the world, a manifold of determinations is added externally.’ (P. 146, Vol 38)

   Essence in existence contains appearance. ‘Essence must appear’, said Hegel, ‘appearance is what the thing is in itself, or its truth.’ The thing in itself, (essence in existence) cannot and must not be separated from its appearance. This would be tantamount to simply guessing at what constituted the appearance. (See P.148 Vol.38)

   The substance of the thing, (essence in existence), must be allowed to form its appearance.

   ‘Law is the Reflection of Appearance into identity with itself’, Lenin quotes Hegel as saying, and notes in the margin of the page, ‘Law is the identical in appearances, the reflection of Appearance into Identity with itself. (P.151, Vol. 38)

Existence and Appearance.

   Appearance is the unity of Semblance and Existence. This unity is called the law of appearance. Law ishere the positive element in the mediation appearance. Law is absolute and is essential experience. Lenin, quoting Hegel, emphasises that:

   ‘Law is not beyond appearance but is immediately present in it; the realm of laws is the quiescent. (Hegel’s emphasis). Reflection of the existing or appearing world.’ (Ibid.) Lenin remarks:

   ‘This is a remarkably materialistic and remarkably appropriate (with the word quiescent) determination.

   On page 152 of Volume 38, Lenin quotes Hegel as follows:

   ‘Existence passes back into law as into its ground. Appearance contains them both – simple ground and the dissolving movement of the appearing universe of which ground is the essentiality.’

   Lenin comments in a box on the same page:

   ‘Ergo Law and essence are concepts of the same kind (or the same order), or rather of the same degree, expressing the deepening of man’s knowledge of phenomena, the world etc.’ Lenin continues:

   ‘The movement of the Universe in appearance, in the essentiality of this movement is Law.’ A note on theside of the page says:

   ‘Law is the reflection of the essential in the movement of the universe (appearance, totality). (LAW = PARTS)’