Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of the Notion

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

News Line 29 October 1981

By G. Healy

   The subjective Notion and the objective world must be considered in their self-relation to each other. Such a process of transition involves an understanding of the ‘two-fold significance of objectivity’, how an abstract (objective) notion must be dialectically related in thought to the objective world itself as a thought abstraction.

   The relation of these abstract concepts is contained in transition into one another during which they are converted into ‘perfected objectivity’ which is in the ‘idea’. ( See P. 195, Vol. 38, Lenin’s Collected Works). Lenin quotes Hegel as follows:

   ‘The Idea’, wrote Hegel, ‘may be described in many ways. T may be called reason (this is the proper philosophical significance of reason, adds Lenin) also subject-object; the unity of the ideal and the real, of the finite and the infinite, of soul and body; the possibility which has its actuality in its own self … All these descriptions apply, because the idea contains all the relations of understanding, but contains them in their infinite self return and self identity.’

   In other words, as Lenin explains in a marginal note, ‘(the idea) truth is all sided.’ (P. 198, Vol. 38)

The Idea Itself is the Dialectic.

   Within the Idea the subjective Notion is finite Being in opposition to the movement of the objective world which is infinite. It is this opposition which establishes the identity of both subject and object in their constant interaction and change. ‘The dialectic’, wrote Lenin, ‘is not in men’s understanding, but in the “idea”, i.e. in objective reality.’ (P.199, Vol.38)

   In the judgement which is the moment of objective truth, the nature of the interconnection between subject and the universal is such that the individual is equal to the universal. As Hegel explains:

   ‘The nature of the copula (connecting link between subject and universal – GH) in the judgement, which affirms that the individual, the subject, is just as much not individual but universal.’ (Ibid). In a marginal note Lenin comments: ‘A beautiful example, the simplest and clearest. The dialectic of notions and its materialist roots.’ (Ibid)

   Hegel concludes, with Lenin’s approval:

   ‘THE IDEA ITSELF IS THE DIALECTIC, which for ever separates and distinguishes the self-identical from the differentiated, the subjective from the objective, the finite from the infinite.’ (P. 200, Vol. 380)

   ‘The Idea is essentially a process’, writes Hegel, only in so far as it is abstracted as Universal movement through abstract thought, when it is ‘absolute negativity and for that reason dialectical’. (Ibid) The relation between the finite and the infinite must always be understood as a process. Further down the same page Hegel explains that the ‘idea’ as a process ‘runs through three stages of its development.’

The ‘Idea’ and Life

   Lenin continues to quote Hegel:

  ‘The first form of the idea id Life …’, since we have to be living people in order to form ideas. ‘The second form is … the idea in the form of Knowledge, which appears under the double aspect of the theoretical and practical idea’. The subjective Notion is the ‘theoretical idea’ which upon its self-relation to the universal becomes the ‘practical idea.’

   Hegel explains the third form as follows:

   ‘The process of knowledge results in the restoration of unity enriched by difference and this gives the third form, that of the Absolute Idea.’ (P.200. Vol. 38)

   In a margin note Lenin explains: ‘Truth is a process. From the subjective idea, man advances towards objective truth through “practice” (and technique)’ (Ibid.) He continues in a box on the same page:

   ‘Life gives rise to the brain. Nature is reflected in the human brain. By checking and applying the correctness of these reflections in his practice and technique man arrives at objective truth.’ (Ibid.)

The Idea as Life

   ‘The truth as such is essentially in Cognition’, writes Lenin. In Cognition it is necessary to speak of ‘life’ since only a human being, as part of nature, has the power of Cognition.  There follows an extremely interesting quotation from Hegel:

   ‘ … every science must be absorbed in logic, since each is an applied Logic insofar as it consists in apprehending  its object in forms of thought and of the Notion’. (Ibid.)

   ‘The idea’, wrote Lenin, ‘of including Life in logic is comprehensible – and brilliant – from the standpoint of the process of the reflection of the objective world in the (at first individual) consciousness of man and of the testing of this consciousness (reflection) through practice.’ (P.202, Vol. 38)

   A living person will, because of life, be able to separate subject from object. Lenin refers to Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, (small Logic), in order to demonstrate the truth of this statement. ‘A hand separated from the body is a hand only in name … Only in their connection are the individual limbs of the body what they are.’ (P. 202 Vol. 38)

   Lenin quotes from the Encyclopaedia again:

   ‘Inorganic nature which is subdued by the living being suffers this because it is in itself the same as life is for itself’. Lenin then remarks:

   ‘Invert it = pure materialism. Excellent, profound, correct!’

   What it means is that since human beings consume, for example, food which is inorganic nature, they subdue the inorganic which is Nature in itself, and this in turn enables life, which is for itself, to continue. This process is what makes the terms ‘in itself, (an sich) and ‘for itself’ (fur sich) so very correct. At the bottom of the page Lenin remarks:

   ‘If one considers the relation of subject to object in logic, one must take into account also the general premises of Being of the concrete subject ( = life of man) in the objective surroundings.’ (Ibid)

   On page 203 of Volume 38, the subdivisions of the idea are outlined in the following way:

   ‘1. Life, as “the living individual” (subjective totality)

    2. “The Life process” (the unity of subject and object)

    3. “The Process of reproduction” of man and the transition to cognition.’

The Idea of Cognition

   Dialectical training essentially means, as Lenin explains  on page 204 of Volume 38, the submersion of subjective consciousness in objectivity. This process, however, cannot be achieved unless there is a firm rejection of Kantian idealism, as well as the scepticism of the agnostic David Hume.

   For Kant, perception was always an empty, imaginative form, remaining independent and without concrete analysis of the process of cognition. In effect, Kant could only arrive at a judgement which was based upon the empty thought form.

   In that sense he followed close on  the heels of Hume. Whilst the latter erroneously believed thought forms were derived from his senses independent from an empirical appraising of the external world, Kant, however, accepted the external world as the starting point, amounted to an imposition of and empty thought form on the external world. [Text as original in News Line – Ed.]

   The vehicle for this illusion was the EGO of the ‘I’. As Hegel explained, ‘nothing remains but the phenomenon of the “I think” which accompanies every idea, and nobody has the slightest notion of this “I think”’, because it is an empty form.

   Lenin explains further this process when he remarks:

   Apparently Hegel perceives scepticism here in the fact that Hume and Kant do not see the appearing Thing-in-itself in “phenomena”, divorce phenomena from objective truth, doubt the objectivity of cognition, remove everything to do with empirical reality from the thing-in-itself.

The Idea and Cognition

   For dialectical training it is imperative that we perceive the appearing ‘thing-in-itself in phenomena. We must therefore rise from the initial empirical approach to the Universal. If we substitute empty thought forms and simply impose whatever impression we like upon them then it is impossible to form a notion embracing reality. All that we have done in place an empty name (form) upon the process. ‘In order to learn to swim’, Lenin wrote, ‘it is necessary to get into the water.’ (P.205, Vol.38)

   The issue which comes up time and again in Living Perception through external reflection is the content of the moment of sensation which has its source in the external world. It is a universal moment which has for its content the totality of all universal matter in motion. As a moment of time it is a measure of such movement.

   Whilst we must guard against imposing a premature impression of what we think it is, nevertheless it is a universal moment of time and it does have some kind of content. Its identity represents the positive nature of that content.

   In our efforts to establish the dialectical relation between the abstract notion and the external world which appears in thought as an abstraction, we immediately run the danger of relegating the difference between them to mere sensuousness.

   This was the mistake of the idealist Kant and all similar brands of present day idealism. The source of sensuousness to the idealist is himself, even when he recognises that it arises through his being as part of the external world. This is the source of the idealist ‘Ego’ and the ‘I think’.


   It is the great merit of Hegel, as Lenin has almost continuously stressed in his Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic, that he time and again warned against and exposed the one-sided idealist nature of Kantianism. At the same time he revealed the mysticism of his objective idealist method, especially when he referred to the Notion and Nature as follows:

   ‘Spirit not only is infinitely richer than Nature, but the absolute unity of opposites in the Notion constitute id essence.’ (P. 204, Vol. 38)

   ‘Being’, which is man in a non-reflective moment in unity with nature, is the first negation which heralds the approach of Cognition, or as Lenin explained it, ‘the first stage, moment, beginning, approach of cognition is its finitude and subjectivity, the negation of the world-in-itself – the end of cognition is at first subjective …’ (P.206 Vol.38)

   The unity of opposites is both absolute and relative and not just absolute as Hegel puts it.

   The subjective character of the idea is what provides the impulse to proceed from thought, (theory), to objective practice. Kant transformed the finite moment (in and for itself), of sensuousness into the infinite when in fact they can only be understood in their self-relation and transition into one another, or as Lenin explains:

   ‘Kant took the finite, transitory, relative, conditional character of human cognition, (its categories, causality etc.), as subjectivism, and not as the dialectics of the idea ( = of nature itself), divorcing cognition from the object.’ (P. 207 Vol. 38)

   He emphasises this important point with a quotation from Hegel:

   ‘But cognition must by its own process resolve its finitude and therefore its contradiction.’ (Ibid)

   In a margin note Lenin comments: ‘But the process of cognition leads it to objective truth’.

   Hegel, wrote Lenin, was against subjective idealism and ‘realism’.

   ‘It is one-sided’, Hegel said, ‘to imagine analysis in such a manner as though nothing were in the object except what has been put into it; and it is equally one-sided to think that the determinations  which result are simply taken out of it.

   ‘The former idea is, as is known, the thesis of subjective idealism, which in analysing takes the activity of cognition only as a one-sided positing, beyond which the Thing-in-itself remains hidden; the latter idea belongs to so-called realism, which takes the subjective Notion as an empty identity that absorbs the thought- determinations from without.’ (P. 208, Vol. 38)

      In other words, the ‘thought determinations’ from without are imposed subjectively upon what is erroneously supposed to be an empty thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself is however an abstract moment of universal matter in motion. Lenin continues to quote Hegel:

   ‘But the two moments cannot be separated; in its abstract form, into which analysis elaborates it, the logical is certainly present only in Cognition; while conversely it is not only something posited but also something which is in-itself.’ (P. 208 Vol.38)

   Lenin describes this process as ‘The Objectivity of logic’. (Ibid)