Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of the Notion

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

News Line 22 October 1981

By G. Healy

   The emergence of the notion as the abstract subjective Notion is a leap in the development of dialectical thought.

   In Actuality, (a form of Essence), the abstract unity and identity of opposites is presented as ‘Appearance in Existence’ and ‘Existence in Appearance’.

   This means that the outer form is grounded on its inner content and the inner content is grounded on the outer form. In this relation the form is equal to the content and the content is equal to the form. Such a process gives rise to Possibility whose source is in the external world, (Actuality0 – an outer form of Essence which has superseded the properties of Appearance whilst simultaneously preserving them.

   Reflective inter action at this point begins externally and its moment is called Possibility. Causality – cause into effect and effect into cause, is the unity and identity of opposites, posited mentally in the in the external world as cause, with the external world which is then posited back on the unity and identity of opposites as effect – means that the parts which have been analysed are now being mentally assembled into a single ‘whole’, the abstract Notion. [Text as original – Ed.]

   Through causality the quantity of the properties contained in the ‘parts’ continues to increase to a point where reciprocal action, (Reciprocity), takes place between them as they as they emerge into a single whole which produces the Necessity for the single whole in thought to make the leap to the abstract Notion.


Two-fold Significance of Objectivity

   Lenin refers then to the ‘two fold significance of objectivity’, (P.  185, Vol. 38 Collected Works). The abstract notion of the ‘whole’, which is objective because, as Hegel explains, it is ‘in and for itself’. In other words the cognition of the object, (external World), is by the objective abstract notion and no longer through subjective ‘external reflection’.

   The subjective Notion emerges with the objective external world and becomes a whole where the subjective abstract notion finds its concrete expression in the objective world. Together they are transformed into an ‘objective totality … the principle of self movement’. (Ibid.)

   In a note of the side of the page Lenin insists that ‘the abstract Notion’ is submerged into the externality of the world of nature. Lenin explains the relation between subject and object which is now being established:

   ‘The laws of the external world, of nature, which are divided into mechanical and chemical (this is very important) are the basis of man’s purposive activity.’ (P. 187, Vol. 38)

   ‘In his practical activity, man is confronted with the objective world, is dependant on it and determines his activity by it’. (P. 188, Vol. 38)

   This statement appears in a contradictory form to human beings who imagine that their ‘needs’ are determined by themselves as external to nature, when in reality they are determined by the external world.

Lenin emphasises this point in a box on page 189, Vol. 38:

   ‘In actual fact, men’s ends are engendered by the objective world and presuppose it – they find it as something given, present. But it seems to man as if his ends are independent of the world (“freedom”)’

   The abstract notion, which is a product of the process of cognising the objective world, will reveal its objective truth when it unites with the external world which has provided the incentive for it in the first place.

Hegel’s Germs of Historical Materialism


   Lenin takes note of the germs of historical materialism in Hegel. He comments on man’s ‘ends’ with a quotation from Hegel:

   ‘The end binds itself with objectivity through a Means, and in objectivity with itself.’ This process can easily be understood through the use of the syllogism. Individuality enters Universality through Particularity. The syllogism is I – P, P – U.

   Lenin continues with a further quotation from Hegel which says:

   ‘Further, since the End is finite it has a finite content; accordingly it is not absolute or utterly in and for itself reasonable. The Means, however, is the external middle of the syllogism which is the realisation of the End; in it therefore reasonableness manifests itself as such – as preserving itself in this external.’ (P.189, Vol. 38). The word ‘MEANS’ in the syllogism is Particularity.

   Hegel is using the word ‘MEANS’ here in referring to ‘tools’. Whilst man’s ‘ends’ are finite his tools or ‘MEANS’, which he used to achieve those ‘ends’ are higher than finite.

   ‘The instrument is preserved, while the immediate enjoyments pass away and are forgotten. In his tools man possesses power over external nature, although as regards his ends, he frequently is subjected to it.’ (Ibid.). In a note on the side of the page Lenin remarks:

   ‘Hegel and historical materialism.’ In a box on page 190 Lenin notes:

   ‘Historical Materialism as one of the applications and developments of the ideas of genius – seeds existing in embryo in Hegel’

The Categories of Logic

   Lenin explains that the categories of logic are also the categories of practice, again in a quotation from Hegel:

   ‘…the practical activity of man had to lead his consciousness to the repetition of the various Logical figures thousands of millions of times in order that these figures could attain the significance of axioms.’ (P.190, Vol.38). He concludes the chapter on objectivity with this statement:

   ‘Remarkable. Hegel comes to the “Idea” as a coincidence of the notion and the object as truth, through the practical purposive activity of man. A very close approach to the view that man by his practice proves the objective correctness of his ideas, concepts, knowledge, science.’ (P. 191, Vol.38)

   ‘In general’, wrote Lenin, ‘the introduction to Section III, (The Idea), of Part II to the Logic (“Subjective Logic”) Volume V, pp.236-243 and the corresponding §§ of the Encyclopaedia (§§  213-215) – ARE PERHAPS THE BEST EXPOSITION OF DIALECTICS.’ (P. 192 Vol.38.)

   He opens his chapter on the ‘Idea’ by quoting Hegel as follows:

   ‘The idea is the adequate Notion: objective truth or the truth as such.’

The Idea

   The ‘Idea’ is where the abstract subjective Notion [begins – Ed.] to form, as Hegel puts it, ‘the adequate Notion’ or ‘whole’. Dialectical thought and the external world of Nature are now united in such a way that man receives his direct impulses from Nature itself. His mind has become dialectically trained to perceive them, so they now become the driving force for his practice.

   Here we can see the enormous advantage and superiority of dialectical materialist training over idealism. Being able to distinguish and understand the relation between Hegel’s objective idealist thought

 means being able to grasp the difference between thought impulses and the dialectical impulses derived from the objective world which encourages us to engage in dialectical practice. [Text as original – Ed.]

   Instead of artificially separating theory from practice as the idealist does, thus having only a one-sided view at any one time of what is happening, the dialectical materialist is able to perceive the dialectical movement of nature as a whole. He sees it as a unity between theory and practice, (subject and object) which established the conflict between them (subject against object) within this unity, thus testing theory out in practice and developing it through practice to a higher stage.

   The relation and conformity between subject and object is not subjective. If reality ‘does not’, as Hegel writes, ‘correspond to the Notion’, the problem is one of ‘mere appearance or that subjective, contingent, capricious entity which is not the truth.’ (P.194, Vol.38)

   ‘The idea’, Lenin writes, ‘is the coincidence (comformity) of Notion and objectivity “(the universal).”



   ‘Subjectivity’, he stresses, ‘is the impulse to destroy this separation (of the idea from the object)’ (Ibid.)

   Lenin was so impressed with the closeness of Hegel to historical materialism that he divided the pages of the notebooks into halves so that what Hegel wrote and his own comments appear side by side.

   On the left hand of the page Hegel writes: ‘It’, (the idea), ‘is first simple truth, the identity of the Notion and objectivity as a universal.’ (P. 194).

   Further down the side of the page Hegel comments: ‘The self identity of the idea is one with the process.

   Lenin on the opposite side of the same page clarifies the way in which the word ‘process’ is used.

Cognition and Thought

   ‘Cognition’, writes Lenin, ‘is the process of submersion (of the mind) in an inorganic nature for the sake of subordinating it to the power of the subject and for the sake of generalisation (cognition of the Universal in its phenomena).’ (Ibid.)

   He sums this process up in a box on the next page.

   ‘Cognition is the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object. The reflection of nature in man’s thought must be understood not lifelessly, not abstractly, not devoid of movement, not without contradiction, but in the eternal process of movement, the arising of contradictions and their solution.’ (P. 195, Vol. 38)

   ‘The idea is cognition’, wrote Lenin. ‘The process of (transitory, finite, limited) cognition and action converts abstract concepts into perfected objectivity.’ (Ibid.)

   ‘Individual Being (an object, a phenomenon etc.), is (only) one side of the idea (of truth). Truth requires still other sides of reality.’ (Ibid.). These are ‘parts’ which exist specially for themselves.

   ‘Only in their totality, and in their relation is truth realised.’ (Ibid.)

   These ‘parts’, as we have shown in previous articles, contain within them the ‘whole’. As they are analysed in the process of cognition in a way in which the ‘whole’ or ‘universal manifests itself in their movement and change. [Text as original – Ed.]

   In Actuality, as we have seen, essence at its highest point is developed from the Unity and identity of opposites – Possibility – Causality – Reciprocal Action (Reciprocity), necessity and the leap to the Notion. Through this process the ‘parts’ are mentally assembled into a new ‘whole’ of the Notion which then contains ‘the totality of all sides of the phenomenon of reality in their reciprocal relations..’ (Ibid.)

Objective Truth

   ‘ … That is what truth is composed of’, wrote Lenin. ‘The relations (= transitions = contradictions) of notions = the main content of logic by which these concepts (and their relations, transitions, contradictions) are shown as reflections of the objective world. The dialectics of things produces the dialectics of ideas and not vice versa.’ (Ibid.)

   ‘Hegel’, wrote Lenin in a note on the side of page 196, ‘brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature), in the dialectics of concepts.’ (Ibid)

   Lenin proceeds to emphasise Hegel’s idealist limitations when he places emphasis on Hegel’s use of the word ‘divined’ in the remark ‘not more’. (P. 196 Vol.38)

   ‘This aphorism’, wrote Lenin, ‘should be expressed more popularly without the word dialectics approximately as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined PRECISELY THIS RELATION OF THINGS OF NATURE.’ (P. 196, Vol. 38)

   In the use of the word ‘divined’ Hegel described the relation of the ‘parts’ (things)

   ‘Every notion’, wrote Lenin, ‘occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others.’ (P. 197, Vol.38). He was referring to the question: ‘What constitutes dialectics?’ Lenin answered this question by stressing the mutual dependence of all notions without exception … transitions of notions from one another, all without exception … the relativity of opposition between notions … identity of opposites between notions.’ (Ibid.)

   And on the top of the next page he continues quoting Hegel: ‘The states of Being and Essence hitherto considered, as well as those of Notion and Objectivity, are not, when so distinguished, something permanent, resting upon themselves. But they have proved to be dialectical, and their truth consists only in being moments of the idea.’ (P.198, Vol.38)

   ‘The differences’, wrote Lenin in a side note, ‘between Being and Essence, between Notion and objectivity are relative.’ (Ibid.)

   The moments of cognition ( = of the idea) of nature by man – these are the categories of logic.’ (Ibid)