Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of Being and Essence – Facts and Reality

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

News Line 10 September 1981

By G. Healy

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts, nothing else will ever be of service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to the Facts, Sir.’

(Hard Times, by Charles Dickens)

   During the heyday of Stalin, a favourite ploy for justifying his regime was the use of quotations torn out of their historical context and served up as ‘facts’.  This was particularly the case in relation to the writings of Lenin, which were continuously mutilated and distorted in the most frantic efforts to provide credibility for Stalin’s brutal dictatorship.

Quotation Chopping as a Method

   The Trotskyist movement, in those days, made every effort to expose the falsifiers by tirelessly relating each quotation to its historical context and exposing the desperation of a regime which had to use such politically dishonest methods.

   In his booklet, The New Course 1923, Trotsky spelt out the correct approach towards the use of quotations when he wrote:

   ‘Lenin cannot be chopped up into quotations suited for every possible case, because for Lenin the formula never stands higher that the reality; it is always the tool that makes it possible to grasp the reality and to dominate it. It would not be hard to find in Lenin dozens and hundreds of passages which, formally speaking, seem to be contradictory. But what must be seen is not the formal relationship of one passage to another, but the real relationship of each of them to the concrete reality in which the formula was introduced as a lever. The Leninist truth is always concrete.’ (The New Course 1923, page 41, New Park Publications edition.)

   The irony of it all was that some who were devoted followers of Trotsky in those early days later succumbed to similar errors, because of unfavourable objective conditions – in the 1920’s and 1930’s. During these hard years of isolation from the working class, it was necessary for the Trotskyists to emphasise heavily the correctness of the most consistent Leninist – Leon Trotsky – against the counter-revolutionary role of Stalin. Later, however, this approach tended to be transformed into propagandist dogma, especially after the 20th. Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Khrushchev’s speech in 1956.

   Right to this day, negative propaganda still holds back the growth of the revolutionary movement all over the world, at a time when a turn to the working class through the development of the dialectical materialist method is called for.

   An outstanding example in the 1930’s was Max Shachtman, who was one of the most experienced Trotskyist propagandists against the infamous Moscow frame-up trials. Shachtman, together with hundreds of his followers, capitulated to the right-wing anti-communist pressure and split away from the Trotskyist movement, right on the eve of World War II.

What Lies Behind This False Method?

   Trotsky himself had foreseen this danger when, at the outset of the historic controversy over the dialectical materialist method he wrote:   

   ‘The character of the differences which have risen to the surface has only confirmed my former fears, both in regard to the social composition of the Party and in regard to the theoretical education of the cadres. There was nothing that required a change of mind or “artificial” introduction. This is how matters stand in actuality. Let me also add that I feel somewhat abashed over the fact that it is almost necessary to justify coming out in defence of Marxism within one of the sections of the Fourth International.’ (Pages 142-143, In Defence of Marxism, New Park edition.)

   He was replying to the argument used by Shachtman, Burnham and their followers, that by stressing the need for the dialectical materialist method he was ‘dragging up a red herring’ to confuse the dispute.

   In the post World War II years of the inflationary boom, the problem of propagandism was added to by a sort of pseudo Marxism, bearing the stamp of positivism. This method was cobbled together in such a way that it paid lip service to dialectics and then proceeded to be analysed from what were called the ‘facts’.

   Such an approach became the stock-in-trade of the revisionist of the so-called Unified Secretariat – the old followers of Pablo, which is today a political lieutenant in Greece of the bourgeois politician Papandreou.. Their methods of polemic simply consisted of combining quotations, mainly from Lenin and Trotsky, with such ‘facts’ which they reserved the right to interpret as they saw the need.

Alan Jones and his ‘Facts’

   A leading exponent of this branch of subjective idealism is the International Marxist Group leader John Ross, who on occasion writes under the assumed name of Alan Jones. In an article entitled ‘Healy’s Rejection of Dialectical Materialism’ he tells us that:

   ‘The issue can be put quite simply. Does Marxism, like all correct sciences, proceed from the facts? Marxism, dialectical materialism, and Novack say yes. The Healyites say No … The question of understanding the absolute character of contradiction and the relative character of unity is indeed fundament in issues of Marxist theory. (Intercontinental Press, 28 August 1978)

   The trouble with all this political breed like Jones is that they set out to ‘prove something’ subjectively and factionally with the aid of ‘quotations’ and ‘facts’ and finish up revealing only their own ignorance of the dialectical method of Marxism.

  As far as they are concerned, it is not really a dialectical method, but some kind of epistemological swamp from which ‘quotations’ and ‘facts’ are hurled verbally against whatever opponent they happen to dislike at the time of writing their articles. In doing this, they simply reveal their own lack of Marxist education by carrying on with the bits and pieces left over from their university years. This tendency, which Trotsky referred to as predominantly petty-bourgeois, is prevalent in a whole number of revisionist groups both in and outside the ‘Unified Secretariat’ at the present time.

   ‘In the theory of Knowledge’, Lenin writes, ‘as in every other sphere of science, we must think dialectically, that is, we must not regard our knowledge as ready-made and unalterable, but must determine how knowledge emerges from ignorance, how incomplete, inexact knowledge becomes more complete and more exact1’ (P. 103, Vol. 14, Lenin’s collected Works)

   As against Jones, what conclusions are we to draw from Lenin’s conception of the theory of Knowledge as outlined here?

   Lenin says: a) ‘We must not regard our knowledge as ready made and unalterable.’ Does not this include Jones’s ‘facts’? Are not Jones’s ‘facts’, as a method which he demands ‘we start with’, implicitly rejected here?

b) We ‘must determine’, as Lenin said, ‘how knowledge emerges from ignorance.’ Unless Jones, in an honest moment, is trying to tell us that his ‘facts’ are a substitute for ignorance, which they are, what exactly does his insistence upon ‘starting from the facts mean?

   Lenin then goes on to explain further the dialectical method without once referring to ‘facts’ as such.

   ‘Once we accept the point of view that human knowledge develops from ignorance, we shall millions of examples of it just as simple as the discovery of alizarin in coal tar, millions of observations not only in the history of science and technology, but in the every day life of each and everyone of us that illustrate the transformation of things-in-themselves into things-for-us, the appearance of phenomena when our sense organs experience an impact from external objects, the disappearance of phenomena when some obstacle prevents the action upon our sense organs of a object we know to exist.’

   ‘The sole and unavoidable deduction to be made from this – a deduction which all of us make every day in practice, and which materialism deliberately places at the foundation of its epistemology – is that outside us, and independently of us, there exist objects, things, bodies and that our perceptions are images of the external world.’ (Op. Cit. P.103)

   We believe, with Lenin and Trotsky, that the task of developing from ‘ignorance to knowledge’ can only be undertaken by the strictest training of revolutionary leadership in the dialectical materialist method.

Some Important Questions of Method

   How then do we appraise dialectically ‘the facts’ with ‘absolute contradiction’ and the ‘relative unity’ of opposites?

   To answer these questions adequately, we need to examine how the dialectical method functions in relation to the material we have covered with the articles from Hegel and Lenin, especially in relation to the ‘Doctrine of Being and Essence’.

   Assuming we have understood Lenin in his efforts to stand Hegel on his materialist feet, then the Doctrine of Being essentially concerns itself with the dialectical functioning of man as part of dialectical nature. The term Being itself establishes absolute unity which is manifested within the relative nature of man’s achievement through the development of theory to guide practice.

   Nature as a whole constitutes the unity and ground for man’s thinking activity. What he achieves as a result of his efforts is in parts which are relative to this whole. In the course of his struggle for theory to guide practice, he constantly strives to assemble these parts in a new ‘whole’ for himself. Thus he transforms ‘things-in-themselves’, as Lenin put it, into ‘things-for-us’, under conditions in which the absolute whole is always understood as present within its relative parts. Ludwig Feuerbach long ago explained man’s relationship to nature in the following easy-to-understand way:

   ‘That which man calls the purposiveness of nature and conceives as such is in reality nothing but the unity of the world, the harmony of cause and effect, the interconnection in general in which everything in nature exists and acts.

  ‘Nor have we any grounds for imagining that if man had more senses or organs he would also cognise more properties of things of nature. There is nothing more in the external world, in inorganic nature, than in organic nature. Man has just as many senses as are necessary for him to conceive the world in its totality.’ (Quoted by Lenin on page 71, Vol. 38 Collected Works)


   ‘If one is not ashamed to allow the sensuous, corporeal world to arise from the thought and will of a spirit, if one is not ashamed to assert that things are not thought of because they exist, but that they exist because they are thought of; then let one also not be ashamed to allow things to arise from the word; then let one also not be ashamed to assert that words exist because things exist, but that things exist only because words exist.’ (Op. Cit. Page 75)

Elements of Cognition

   ‘The process of cognition for a sensuous, thinking being functions dialectically. The world of nature is perceived through external reflection, since dialectical man is both subject in his thinking and object in his practice. Reflection is a positive activity of the senses which incorporates the dialectical interactions of both subject and object in their self-relation to each other. It is important that we avoid lumping their functions together, otherwise we will not understand the different kinds of work each of them do separately and in unity with each other.

   We begin not with the so-called ‘facts’ but with subjective cognition of the external world, implemented through Reflection, which registers its, [‘its’ = subjective cognition’s – Ed], connection with and predominance of the external world through sensation. The source of Reflection and Sensation which activates the movement of Being, common to both man and nature, is in the external world of Nature itself.

   Our sensuous subjective powers of external reflection are enlivened by sensation, and an unclear ‘something’ emerges. This is the image of the ‘whole’ or the absolute unity embodied in the external world, revealed through sensation. It is the positive movement of Identity in external reflection, which passes into its own Negative, and is then called Difference. This Negative is higher than Identity, which was generated by sensation, because it includes Identity itself.

   Inwardly facing, it is another moment of Positive external Reflection which is objective. The absolute Negative of this moment is the abstract Objective knowledge we already possess. The first moment is known as the ‘other of the immediate’ and the second is known as ‘the other of the first’. These are the dialectical determinations of external Reflection in the process of Cognition. The difference between the two is determined by External Reflection only when both are taken together, in a self-related way.

   The negative moments of difference, (other of immediate), since they contain the Positive moment of Identity, have a self-subsistence which in their unity is Positive. The negative moment, (other of first), which is also contained in external reflection, has a different self-subsistence, since it reflects the negative objective knowledge we already possess.

   Thus one is Positive and one is Negative, since each has a different origin or self-subsistence. Taken together, they are posited contradiction. The word posited here means that each moment, because of its different self-subsistent origin, has a likeness to itself only.

   The positing of the Positive excludes its Opposite Negative and this simultaneously posits the Negative as Opposite.  The difference in the self-subsistence of both lies in the difference in the moments of time and properties as a measurement of time of the self-movement of matter which they represent.

   The Positive outward movement of Quantity and the Negative turned inward is Quality. Because the positing of each takes place in a self-related single Reflection, the absolute contradiction of the Positive is immediately the absolute contradiction of the Negative.

The Source of ‘Absolute Contradiction’

   This then is the source of absolute contradiction which Jones set forth in relation to his spurious battle cry, ‘starting with the facts’. This arrogant revisionist leader, in his ignorance of how the dialectical method functions, has in fact thrust subject into contact with object within the movement of reflection itself.

   He has split the image of the whole into half images and launched a battle between the negative half-images themselves. Positive as a half image is in conflict with negative as a half image. It reveals the opposition between abstract thinking and sensuous reality – that is, real sensuousness within abstract thought itself, which is the origin of Positivism, when as irreconcilable abstract opposites they are made equal to each other in thought.

   The two opposites in ‘absolute contradiction’ are the abstractions of Positive and Negative which can never act as a substitute for the real world which a living person depends on as the only source of real knowledge. They must be held fast, Positive on Negative, and negated inwardly to find synthesis in the real world connections of knowledge we already possess.

   No doubt the brain of Jones, which incorporates his ‘absolute contradiction’, must be quaking and quivering from the battle of the half image abstractions going on inside it, but this is his business.

   He may, of course, if he wishes, take his problems back to the philosophical witch-doctors of his old college, and they in turn may persuade him to get to heaven out of the IMG and that pompous body known as the ‘Unified Secretariat’ by joining the Jesuits, who have long ago replaced ‘Absolute contradiction’ with God Almighty.

   For the two opposites of what must become a single qualitative thought image on a higher level of absolute essence can never, by themselves, when grounded on each other, resolve ‘absolute contradiction’.

   Revolutionary fighters, however, will following the footsteps of Lenin and negate these two opposites within ‘absolute contradiction’ into a synthesis of a third process which is Nature itself. Such negation then becomes absolute essence and the Semblance of something in the shape of growing properties of essence itself, which will presently appear.

The Doctrine of Essence and the ‘Fact’

   Absolute Essence, (synthesis), now contains two pairs of determinations, i.e., other and immediate, and other and first. Jones and his absolute contradiction separates himself from the synthesis with nature without which thought itself cannot develop. As we shall see, he utilises it as a kind of armour-plating to protect his own personal subjective-idealist right to intuit ‘the facts’. That is why he is really so keen on them. They can be tailored to measure for individualism.

   The form of absolute essence with its determinations now interpenetrates, (Negation of Negation), the existing (Existence) objective abstract knowledge which we already possess. The old content becomes the new form and is the complete ‘whole’ so far developed by Reflection. It is a unity containing all the determinations of essence.  Its real ground is Nature, and it includes the ‘Fact’, as a negative to itself, that is to say the ‘Fact’, unlike essence in reflection, has no power to reflect. The Fact in absolute essence is reflectionless.  

   As essence, which is now content, interpenetrates Existence which constituted the old content of our knowledge, Essence in Existence shines forth. The Fact presupposes its conditioning role as one of the sides of Essence. It is, indeed, this contradictory role which constitutes the whole content of the Fact. Only when Essence emerges do Facts as negative moments of Essence begin to determinate, because the growing properties negate into one another.

   This is used for analysis to deepen our knowledge of the new phenomena which are constantly arising. The ‘Facts’ then become ‘absolute facts’ in the outer cover of Appearance, since the content of Appearance in Existence is essence derived from the determinations of Essence, themselves the properties of External Reflection. The moments of Reflection which are Identity, difference and Contradiction are negated into the Laws of Identity, variety and opposition.

The Dialectical Role of ‘Facts’

   Essence had become the new content of Existence, (Essence in Existence), and as its properties build up through Reflection, the initial ‘thing’ perceived tends to fall away. The rising values and fresh material for thought establishes a variety of manifold connections through previously acquired experiences and the absolute ‘Fact’ in Appearance incorporating the absolute ‘Fact’ in essence as its content. Essence as the content of such a process is a relative category.

   As this process builds up, the substance of the part or object of appearance also builds up.  Form is grounded on content and Content is grounded on Form. What is materially contained in Form is, likewise, contained in Content. Causality emerges through determination of Essence in the following way.

   Appearance, (Form), is grounded on Existence, (Content). Existence, (Content), is grounded on Appearance, (Form). The cause into effect and effect into cause interaction as the manifestation of matter in motion has now replaced Reflection as the driving force of the Cognition process.

   The development of knowledge from ignorance can now be traced dialectically without much difficulty. From sensation the first pair of determinations reflecting the unity of the ‘whole’ emerged in Reflection itself. These were Identity – Difference, (other and immediate), as positive. These confronted the Negative of the ‘other’ also in Reflection which reflected the Negative of the absolute knowledge we already have.

   This moment of absolute contradiction containing the pair of determinations which will be part of the same image, (something which is not possible in a state of absolute contradiction), is now negated into a synthesis which is absolute essence passing into, via interpenetration, the content of the existing knowledge we possess, (Existence). Existence, (the old content), is the new form of the transition. Essence is its new content, (Essence in Existence).

   The ‘fact’ as an absolute negative was incorporated into the Negative of the ‘other’ in Reflection, which in turn was grounded on the absolute Negative of our existing knowledge.

   The ‘absolute fact’ as a non-reflective moment was negated into absolute Essence where it was likened only to itself as form and content. Within Essence in Existence it becomes determinate as the ‘absolute fact’ in the forms of Existence and Appearance.

   The new pair of Determinations into which the previous ones are negated are Existence in Appearance and Appearance in Existence.  As they arrive at the final moments before making contact with the external world of Actuality, they emerge in the Negative ‘Unity and Identity of Opposites’ as the abstraction of the previous pairs of determinations. The moment of Possibility arises when the negative acquires its positive from the Actuality of the external world. The movement from outwards to inwards has now become the movement of inwards to outwards in Actuality.

To be continues next Thursday September 17.