Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrines of Being and Essence – Whither the ‘Facts’?

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

News Line 17 September 1981

By G. Healy

   Alan Jones of the revisionist International Marxist Group insists the dialectics starts from the ‘facts’. Lenin insisted that we start from ‘sensations’ which are ‘images of objects, of the external world. (Page 127, Vol. 14, Lenin’s Collected Works)


All Facts are Abstractions

   ‘All knowledge’, Lenin wrote, ‘comes from experience, from sensation, from perception’. (Ibid.) And again, ‘Sensation is a subjective image of the objective world.’ (P. 119, Vol. 14)

   ‘Facts’ are abstractions which must always lag behind the movement of events. A Fact is a copy or an effect of some previous cause or original image. It can only be judged in its self-relation with the cause or images responsible for it in the first place. If we impose it on the external world, then it is tantamount to replacing the original images of sensations with copies derived from previous sensations in general.

   ‘Sensation is the result of the action of a thing-in-itself existing objectively outside us upon our sense organs.’ (Ibid.) Through external reflection we transform this thing-in-itself into a phenomenon and make it a ‘thing-for-us’. This is what the process of cognition is all about. There is no other way a thinking being can derive objective truth.

   Facts are not objective truth because they can only be derived from the original images of sensations which the fact as an abstraction lags behind. At he same time, ‘sense perception is not the reality existing outside us, it is only the image of reality.’ (P.114, Vol. 14)

   Alan Jones and the IMG, in starting from the ‘Facts’, simply impose abstract images upon the external world, which is itself the source of all images, both abstract and concrete. This is the classical camp of idealism, where the consciousness of ‘facts’ predominates over the external world. For Jones and company, the starting point must be consciousness determining Being, not Being determining Consciousness.

   Nor will their insistency upon the primacy of the absolute over the relative nature of ‘unity’ as a dialectical category do anything more than drive them deeper into the idealist swamp. ‘Being’ as a non-reflective moment of man’s unity with nature is an absolute moment of Being. And in case Jones the idealist does himself an injury over such a moment, let us gently remind him that when a human, thinking being is asleep, there are countless such moments, even when Jones, with his ‘facts’ locked up in his head, is sleeping.

   ‘Absolute truth’, wrote Lenin, ‘is compounded from relative truths … Human thought then by its very nature is capable of giving, and does give, absolute truth, which is compounded of a sum-total of relative truths.’ (P. 135, Vol. 14). In other parts of the same book Lenin addresses to question of the relation between absolute and relative truth from different sides:

   ‘For dialectical materialism there is no impassable boundary between absolute and relative truth’. (Page 136). And again: ‘Human conceptions of space and time are relative, but these relative conceptions go to compound absolute truth.’ (Page 175)

   Dialectics cannot be equated with what Lenin called relativism. If we bear in mind that ‘truth and error have only validity in limited fields as polar opposites’, then we will realise that under certain conditions the absolute turns into the relative and the relative into the absolute. As Lenin explains:

   ‘The distinction between subjectivism, (scepticism, sophistry etc.), and dialectics, incidentally, is the in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative.  For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.’ (P. 360, Vol. 38, Collected works.)

Jones Rejects Dialectics for Positivism

   The source of Jones’ adherence to relativism is contained in this last sentence. It remains now for us to examine the relation between his insistence on the predominance of absolute contradiction over relative unity.  

   Jones, like all positivists, does not deny perception in so many words, provided he has the individual right to interpret it from the standpoint of his ‘facts’. But this excludes him from developing thought images from sensation caused by their sources in the external world. He develops his facts out of other ‘facts’ in his head. After bouncing them backwards and forwards in his brain, which he believes is primary over the external world, he makes his choice and that is that.

   He acknowledges the ‘absolute contradiction’ in this process, but uses it as a kind of protective covering for his invincible ‘facts’. He can never negate the contradiction between the ‘other of the immediate, (positive), and the ‘other of the first’, (negative), into synthesis in himself as part of Nature.

   The man therefore lives in a fear generated by his own ‘facts’. He is frightened that someone is going to prove them to be totally irrelevant so with his ‘absolute contradiction’ as a kind of shield behind him he hollers at anyone who dares suggest that man’s unity with nature is absolute, that this is not so, because he, Jones, the man with the intuition says it is entirely relative. And on whose authority? Why of course, his sacred ‘facts’. But why then does he claim adherence to dialectical materialism?

   Lenin once remarked that ‘the dialectic of history is such that the theoretical history of Marxism compels its enemies to re-clothe themselves as Marxists’. Jones and his revisionist friends, [and predecessors – Ed], of the ‘Unified Secretariat’ broke consciously from the dialectical method almost the day Trotsky was assassinated. They simply use it as a cover for smuggling in a ready worked-out system of Positivism, which is entirely inline with the counter-revolutionary role of revisionism today. It is now time to re-trace the historical roots of the Joneses and their allies.  

The Historical Roots of Positivism

   The founder of Positivism was Auguste Compte, (1798-1857), a French philosopher. He was secretary to, and an associate of St.Simon, the exponent of Utopian socialism from 1818 to 1824.

   St. Simon, (1760-1825), was a strong believer in the ‘right to work’. His Utopian socialist was linked to a belief that what was needed was a ‘positive philosophy’ so that it would be possible to create a ‘national organisation in people’s lives’.

   Compte maintained that science should limit itself to the outward appearance of phenomena, and that the theses on the ‘Essence of Phenomena’, (content of phenomena) should be abolished. His outlook was basically one of subjective idealism and agnosticism.

   He explained nature as something which had three stages, each corresponding to a definite type of world outlook. These were theological, metaphysical and positive. He borrowed this triad from St.Simon and applied them to the sciences and systematisation of ‘Civil History’. It was Compte’s belief that capitalism crowned the history of man’s evolution and it was useless to try to change it by revolutionary means. Compte, following in the footsteps of St. Simon and his quest for ‘organisation in people’s lives’, wanted a new religion which sought salvation through ‘faith in a personal God’.

   What must be understood about the emergence of Positivism as a subjective idealist trend if philosophy is that it corresponded with the retreat of the ruling classes from the revolutionary role in the English and French bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th, centuries. The theory of evolution began to replace the theories of class conflict, particularly in the 18th century. This was beginning to be looked upon by the bourgeoisie as a sort of dangerous prejudice, so evolution was adopted as being in line with their new found respectability.

   Whilst the objective idealist dialectical trend of Hegelianism and the Utopian socialist approach of St. Simon did reveal elements of the revolutionary outlook of the early period, this now began to reveal a dualist role. That is to say they were linked to religion and ‘pure reason’. In West Wales today you can find chapels with plaques inscribed with a mystical quotation from Hegel.

  In England, the founder of the ‘new’ materialism, Frances Bacon, (1561-1626), developed the conception that empiricism abstracted knowledge from experience and not from the real world as such. He was followed by Thomas Hobbs, (1588- 1679), who was greatly influenced by the bourgeois revolution, and developed a formalist approach. Lastly in this impressive trio of materialist philosophers was John Locke, (1632-1704), whose approach to philosophy represented the progressive side of the bourgeois revolution.

   With Compte, Positivism now produced disciples in the shape of John Stewart Mill, (1806-1873), in England. More and more it sounded the retreat from the revolutionary days under the banner that ‘the task of science is a description of facts and not their explanation’. Mill was a follower of the agnostic David Hume, Bishop Berkley, the idealist philosopher, and, of course, Augustus Compte.

Positivism Turns the Clock Back.

   The development of philosophy from the 16th century onwards was like a great historical junction box through which the substance of history, in the flood tide of the bourgeois revolution, flowed in a revolutionary direction and, with the emergence of the ruling classes in their quest for great wealth at the expense of the oppressed masses, the counter revolution grew stronger.

   Positivism and its quest for ‘facts’ then began to turn the clock back in the relationship between materialism and the development of the sciences. Anything to do with dialectics and the materiality of change had to be left behind whilst the spokesmen for ‘realism’, ‘pure reason’ and the ‘the facts’ took over. The revolutionary age of capitalist society which has projected the need for historical aspirations was now rapidly receding.

   With the historical emphasis on evolution not revolution, the forward movement of the sciences no longer greatly interested the bourgeoisie who were becoming more and more frightened of any connection between the sciences and revolution. After the French Revolution of 1789, there was a trade recession which hit England deeply. The reaction of the masses to build trade unions was met with violence by the ruling class and the Combination Laws, which illegalised the trade union movement from 1800 to 1825, were introduced.

Historical Materialism – Empiricism and ‘Facts’

   Historical materialism consists in general of the abstraction of the dialectical laws of Marxism from the evolution of history. This process includes the history of mankind itself and a strict adherence to the predominance of the external world of nature over the development of thought.

   Thinking is an activity performed by a human being who must exist before he can think. Therefore life itself always presupposes thinking, but thinking is not presupposed to life. Before people can think, the material conditions for what they are thinking must be present in the objective world.

   ‘Facts’ cannot be the same as essence. In the process of Cognition essence must be dialectically formed in such a way that it becomes the content of the facts. The development of the concept must be out of being itself.

   Dialectics proceeds from the subjective cognition of the objective world. This is translated into thought which then strives to get to know the content of thought. This includes the facts’ and not the other way round as Jones and the subjective idealists want it. In this process essence, (inner), becomes existence, (outer), and existence , (outer), becomes the inner of appearance.

   What then is the role of empiricism in the process of cognition? A thinking person can never command a knowledge of the totality of all that is happening in the external world at any one time, so he or she in the initial moment of perception must perceive empirically.

   But the dialectics of the transition from the sensuously empirical to the theoretical and back does not at all mean that empirically given data is higher than the theoretical. On the contrary, it is lower, which explains what Lenin meant when he stressed that the path of cognition is from low to high. Empirically and sensuously given data has always to be dialectically analysed in accordance with its manifestation through general dialectical laws. These laws confirm Marxism as a world scientific outlook.

   Sensuously given data is what individuals have at their disposal through perception, but that data must be scientifically analysed is a way that acknowledges the achievements of the sciences, including Marxism, which belongs to all mankind and not just to individuals.

   On the basis of objective social practice the accumulation of empirical data and its dialectical analysis places theoretical thought on a relatively higher level than empirical data. This is again at the disposal of all mankind at each separate stage in its historical development.

Positivism and the Ideology of Fascism

   The positivists intuitively impose their abstract facts derived from the experience of countless dead yesterday’s upon living todays. At the same time the neo-positivists take empirically given data from the living today’s and compare it with available scientific records of past experiences from dead yesterday’s and intuit what they would like to see today.


  The retreat from knowledge derived from the history of the sciences to upholding the profit orientation of bourgeois science has gone on alongside a refusal to investigate real social issues as the dialectical substance of history. Objective history was therefore reduced to what was considered from a bourgeois point of view to be the most important facts – tailored and gathered together in an unrelated way so that it verifies class rule.

   In the German Ideology Marx and Engels singled out Leopold Ranke, (1795-1886), as a worthy exponent of this point of view. Ranke, (a German historian closely associated with the Prussian squires), had a conception of objective history which consisted of the composition and exposition of facts. He considered himself to be a disciple and follower of Hegel, and saw history as a continuous flow of unrelated facts.

   A close stable-mate of Ranke’s was Gustav Schmoller, who in the latter part of  the nineteenth  century was a leader in the ‘younger historical school of German Economists’. Schmoller was an ardent exponent of the need for the total domination of the National State. The future, he claimed, resided here and not in the development of theory, which he called the ‘law of nature’.

   He advocated the development of the economic and commercial struggle which reduced history to ‘facts’.  He claimed that it was not a question of theory but the strong national state. Such positivist theories were adopted wholeheartedly by the Naziz under Hitler. The claim that ‘all history was bunk’ except those facts of German history which strengthened the reactionary ideology of the national state became the backbone of Nazism.

   A similar outlook was discernable amongst the ideologues of Italian fascism – Gentile and Croce. They loudly dismissed the science of history and replaced it with the ‘facts of history’ concept conducive to the growth of the all-powerful national state. Needless to say bourgeois science, which embodied the military and gas chamber techniques, was incorporated into the function of the state.

   The growth of the positivist outlook can be traced historically to the decline of capitalism as an historically outmoded social order. The reduction of history and science to ‘facts’ requiring only the need to describe them leads to the growth of elitists conceptions of growing militarism and dictatorship. The SAS, the US Rangers and similar bodies like the fascist elite of Hitler and Mussolini, are the real products of positivism today.

   Alan Jones along with his coterie of arrogant middle-class university types, who although in their contempt for the working class sweep dialectical materialism under a pile of their shoddy ‘facts, is not today a conscious fascist ideologue. No doubt they would shout loudly in protest if anyone was to suggest that they were.

   But does all this really matter? Whether they are conscious of it or not, everyone is guided by some kind of theory. Ultimately is will show up in their practice. It is not Jones himself that is the issue. Positivism is the theory which leads to fascist dictatorship, and Jones is a Positivist.