Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of The Notion

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

News Line 15 October 1981

By G. Healy

      Lenin, in his sixteen point summary of the basic elements of dialectics, See pages (221-222 Vol. 38, Collected Works), covered mainly the area between ‘living perception to abstraction, and from this to practice. (P.171, Vol.38) This includes the forms of Semblance, Essence, Appearance, Actuality and the Notion.

   Part seven of the ‘elements’ is the ‘union of analysis and synthesis – the breakdown of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.’ (P. 222)

The Materiality of the Notion

   Lenin approvingly quotes Hegel over his differences with Kant in a way which indicates what he had in mind when he drafted the above point.

   ‘Kant admits’, wrote Lenin, ‘the objectivity of Concepts, (the truth is their object), but all the same leaves them subjective, (my emphasis, GH). He makes sensation and intuition precede understanding. Hegel speaks of this as follows:  

    ‘ “Now, first, with regard to this relation of the understanding or the Notion to the stages which are supposed to precede it, it is important what science it is that is being treated, in order to determine the form of these stages. In our science, since it is pure logic, these stages are Being and Essence … In the Phenomenology of Mind, since it is the doctrine of consciousness, the ascent was made through the stages of sensuous consciousness and next, perception and understanding.’” (P. 168 Vol.38. My emphasis, GH)

   ‘After that’, remarked Lenin in a further quotation from Hegel’s Science of Logic, “the CHIEF THING’ (Lenin’s emphasis). ‘The Notion must not here be considered as an act of self-conscious understanding, or as subjective understanding: what we have to do with is the Nation in and for itself, which constitutes a STAGE AS WELL OF NATURE AS OF SPIRIT. LIFE OR ORGANIC NATURE IS THAT STAGE OF NATURE ATWHICH THE NOTION EMERGES”’ (P. 169, Vol. 38)

   In a not on the side of the same page Lenin remarks: ‘The “eve” of the transformation of objective idealism into materialism.’ (Ibid. My emphasis, GH.)

   The areas covered by objective idealism which is the same as Hegelian dialectics are ‘From Living perception – to Abstraction.’ (Being and Essence), Marx, Engels and Lenin firmly rejected the Hegelian thesis of the predominance of the absolute idea. They insisted that the movement and development of thought from Perception to the Subjective Abstract Notion to be a dialectical reflection of the dialectical self-movement of matter and not a reflection of Hegel’s absolute idea.

   Thought, as we have seen from previous articles in this series, is as product of matter derived from the interaction between human beings and the objective world around them.

   Thinking is a subjective practice, as distinct from physical activity which we describe as objective practice. Abstract thought, however, which has been mediated, is objective. The process of perception through sensation and analysis, which has its source in the external world, is subjective.

The Use of Notions

   Revolutionaries must be trained to perceive and analyse the movement of thought as it reflects the materiality of the objective world in movement and change. That part of matter in motion which we are essentially concerned with is the class struggle. Our method initially involves Hegelian objective idealism freed from the ‘abstract idea’ as the driving force.

   For us the driving force of the movement of thought is through the interaction of sensuous reflection and the infinite movement of Nature. With the emerging of the Notion, first as an abstract thought, then as this abstract thought finds its positive expression in the real world, a fundamental change takes place in the form of a leap.

   The subjective self-impulse generated by thought reflecting matter in motion is transformed in the course of this leap into the objective self-impulse of physical practice. We no longer just perceive, we think and analyse, we set out to prove our theories in the practice of changing the objective world itself.

   Here, we must be on guard against the danger of a reappearance of Hegelianism. We must not, for example, juxtapose the method of Hegel’s dialectical objective idealism to our practice as if there was no connection between them. We must avoid allowing ourselves to look at the use of concepts and categories as if they were some kind of stages.

   We analyse the dialectical process of thought through concepts and categories which reveal the growth of those material properties contained in thought in the direction from low to high.

   As Dialectical thought, in transition, passed into dialectical matter in motion itself, through our practice. It is here that physical practice takes over, and reveals the highest point of theory and knowledge.  We therefore describe the abstract notion as the subjective notion, since it is the product of thought revealed through the highest dialectical abstractions from Being and Essence. [This paragraph as original in News Line – Ed]

   Hegel’s dialectical objective idealism is superseded, terminated and simultaneously preserved in the transition of dialectical theory into practice. Dialectical cognition, as a process, is thus transformed into the dialectical objective practice of cognition.

   The subjective abstract notion is the highest point reached through the transition on analysis into a synthetic unity with nature. To be able to test the dialectical character of this union, we mentally break it down into separate parts and re-establish it as ‘the summation of these parts.’

The Method of Synthetic Analysis

   The union of analysis and synthesis has already occurred in Semblance, Appearance and Actuality, and is now embodied in the Abstract Subjective Notion itself. The process of infinite movement through the finite properties of thought is contained in concepts which incorporate both the low and the high properties of the movement of matter, dialectically processed through the method of synthetic analysis.

   In the course of this process of subjective practice, (thinking), we train ourselves to speedily perceive what is new, to the extent that we are almost simultaneously organising the practice best suitable for our revolutionary needs simultaneously with our perceptions.

   Since we gather our knowledge through forms or images, a concept embracing a dialectical moment is a unity of both low and high, as a form which incorporates different properties.

   Our analysis of the low reveals the high which already exists within the low. Likewise in the process of cognition, the Positive contains its own Negative and in their self-relation they constitute a dialectical moment.

   If we erroneously separate them from one another, then they will exist as a kind of half-image – with nothing left but the method of sophistry to paper over what should exist between the.

The Moment of the Self-movement of Matter.

   A dialectical moment consists of two extremes which are Individuality and Universality. The middle member of these extremes is Particularity, (Nature). Individuality (Individual) enters into Universality (Universal) through Particularity (Part) in the process of External Reflection.

   The extremes within the Individual (Individuality) are External Reflection as Particularity, Object and Subject. Universality (Universal) is both object and Subject.

   The form of the syllogism out of which the Notion is developed is I (Individual), P (Particular), U (Universal).

   Living perception starts from the Individual as Subjective external reflection which projects the Objective (O) side of the Individual upon the Particular External Reflection which contains the Subject (S) which abstracts/inducts from the Universal (U).

  The syllogism now appears through external reflection as follows: I – Individuality (Subject/Object). Particularity P. Object – P. Subject – U. Object /Subject.

   Abstraction now becomes Induction. The Object (external world) Universal generates sensation in the Individual. This is a Positive experience manifesting the law of Identity.

   The Positive is dissolved into its own negative which in turn manifests the law of Difference between Positive and Negative.

   In between the Positive identified through sensation, which together have their source in the external world, and its dissolution into its Negative, there is a difference in time and space related to their origin, and this is governed by the law of contradiction. [Text as original – Ed.]

   The dialectical properties of the Notion reflect the growth of these properties from the immediate dialectical moment of the law of Identity, Difference and Contradiction, to the Notion.

   The Idea, which arises through the unity of the notion and Reality is the highest concept. From the purely Objective formal moment in the abstract thought of the individual, the dialectical movement of the Notion and its emergence as a whole contains a summation of all the parts which have been analysed and mediated, leading up to formation of the subjective Notion.

   Hegel defined philosophy as the acquirement of knowledge through Notions. The subjective Notion is the merging in thought of the form of the whole of all the parts that have been acquired through analysis of Being and Essence.

Unity of the Notion and Reality.

   The unity of man and Nature incorporates the Unity of the Notion and Reality which emerges as absolute truth.

   The notion has both content and form. It contains Universality in that it is equal to itself through the Universal. In its Particularity it is Reflection into Self of the specific characters of Universality and Particularity.

   Lenin, like Hegel, insisted that the movement of the ‘real world is through the form of Notions – just as the simple form of Value through the individual act of exchange of one given commodity for another, already includes in an undeveloped form all the main contradictions of capitalism.’ (P.178, Vol. 38)

   ‘Hegel actually proved’, Lenin wrote, ‘that logical forms and laws are not an empty shell, but the reflection of the objective world. More correctly, he did not prove, but made a brilliant guess.’ (P.180, Vol. 38)

   ‘Concepts’, he stressed, ‘Laws etc., (though, science equal “the logical idea”) embrace conditionally, approximately the universal law-governed character of eternally moving and developing nature … Man cannot comprehend – reflect = mirror nature as a whole, in its completeness, its immediate totality, he can only eternally come closer to this, creating abstractions, concepts, laws, a scientific picture of the world etc., etc. (P.182, Vol. 38)

   Subjectivity in Particularity, the middle member of the syllogism dialectically breaks through its barrier into objectivity. What starts out as subjective thought reflecting matter in motion merges into matter in motion through the abstract notion’s leap into Reality.

   In a box on page 183, volume 38, Lenin wrote: ‘Very profound and clever. The laws of Logic are the reflections of the objective in the subjective consciousness of man.’

   He concludes the chapter on the Subjective Notion with this important remark:

   ‘Subjectivity (or the Notion) and the object are the same and not the same … “It is wrong to regard subjectivity and objectivity as a fixed and abstract antithesis. Both are wholly dialectical …”’