Gerry Healy



Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of the Notion

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

News Line 5 November 1981

By G. Healy

    The most important aspect of dialectical training is to prepare the senses to perceive the movement of the external world through sensation.

   We must avoid the very real danger of taking it for granted by rushing to impose some self-created image upon it. To do this we must never forget that the source of sensation is in the external world and not in the senses of a human being.

   Lenin explained the process of living perception and sensation as follows:

   ‘If colour is a sensation only depending on the retina, (as natural science compels you to admit), then light rays falling upon the retina produce the sensation of colour. This means that outside us, independently of us and of our minds, there exists a movement of matter, let us say ether waves of a definite length and a definite velocity which, acting upon the retina, produce in man the sensation of a particular colour.

   ‘This is precisely how natural science regards it. It explains the sensation of various colours by the various lengths of light waves existing outside the human retina, outside man and independently of him. This is materialism: matter acting upon our sense-organs produces sensation. Sensation depends on the brain, nerves, retina, etc., i.e. on matter organised in a definite way.

   ‘The existence of matter does not depend on sensation. Matter is primary. Sensation, thought, consciousness, are the supreme products of matter organised in a particular way. Such are the views of materialism in general and of Marx and Engels in particular.’ (P. 55, Vol. 14, Collected Works)

   Phenomena derived from sensation represent moments of the universal self-movement of matter, which must be grasped in thought as an ‘appearing thing-in-itself’. Lenin refers to this process of Cognition when he writes:

   ‘Logical concepts are subjective so long as they remain “abstract”, in their abstract form, but at the same time they express also the Things-in-themselves. Nature is both concrete and abstract, both phenomena and essence, both moment and relation. Human concepts are subjective in their abstractness, separateness, but objective as a whole, in the process, in the sum total, in the tendency, in the source.’ (P.208, Vol. 38)

Identity, Difference, Contradiction

   A logical concept is a dialectical concept which contains both Positive and Negative in their self-relation. Through external Reflection, sensation is identified as the Positive since it represents a moment of the external world. This Positive (via external reflection) then dissolves into its negative, which is now a mediated concept higher in quality since it contains both Positive and Negative. It is ‘subjective’ because it is the product of sensuous external reflection. It is nature because it includes Positive and Negative which are both concrete and abstract. As a concept it is related to other phenomena (Moment and relation).

   The law of identity establishes the positive (sensation). The law of difference establishes the negative as difference from the Positive because in their self-relation it has emerged out of the Positive and at the same time it contains the Positive.

   The law of difference refers to the difference in time between the Positive and Negative which in turn is represented by the law of contradiction. The concept, therefore, contains these three laws, viz, Identity, Difference and Contradiction. It is an objective reflection of the objective world within the subjective act of external reflection, because its source is objective.

   Through the process of Cognition emerges the theoretical knowledge which is the nearest approximation to the Universal self-movement of matter. The dialectical movement of subjective external self-relation contains as its actual source the Universal movement of matter itself.

The Submersion of the Notion

   During the submersion of the subjective abstract Notion into the objective external world, theory is revealed as a guide to practice.

   Dialectical thought is subjective self-impulse. As the Notion is submerged into the external world and a unity which appears in the form of the ‘idea’ is formed, then the subjective self-impulse gives way to objective practice, which seeks to change the world.

   The category of the Notion is in transition into the category of the idea. Together, (through practice), they abolish the ‘one-sidedness’ of both subject and object. They form a synthesis grounded in the real world which reveals its source of knowledge through a study of the transition of the one into the other.

   It is not only the notion in its transition which reveals knowledge but the transition of the real world into the notion, which is how the process of cognition began.

   ‘Kant’, wrote Lenin, ‘did not show the transition of the categories into one another’. (P.209. Vol. 38)

   The study of transition of opposites, one into another, is really the most important source of knowledge in dialectics.

   As we explained in previous articles the method of synthetic analysis enables us to do this as an integral part of dialectical transition of one magnitude into another.

   Hegel, however, explained that his ‘transition is not of a mathematical nature’, since the source of mathematics as a science cannot be separated from Nature as a whole.

   The content of the study of the transition of opposites into one another is determined by the build-up of many properties which, in turn, invoke ‘necessity in general.’ (P 210 Vol.38)

   Lenin then proceeds to make as important declaration against idealism as a method.

Transition of Categories

   Lenin proceeds as follows:

   ‘Regarding the practice of certain sciences, (e.g. physics), of taking various “forces” etc., for “explanation” and of pulling in (stretching), adjusting the facts etc., Hegel makes the clever remark:

   “It is now seen that the so-called explanation and proof of the concrete element which is brought into Propositions is partly a tautology and partly a confusion of the true relationship; partly too, it is seen that this confusion served to disguise the trick of Cognition, which takes up the data of experience one-sidedly (the only manner in which it could reach its simple definitions and formulas) and does away with refutation from experience by proposing and taking as valid experience, not in its concrete totality, (my emphasis – GH), but as example and only in that direction, which is serviceable for the hypothesis and theory. (My emphasis - GH). Concrete experience being thus subordinated to the pre-supposed determination, the foundation of the theory is obscured, and is exhibited only from that side which is in conformity to the theory.”’ (P, 210 Vol. 38)    

   In a margin note Lenin comments:

   ‘Remarkably correct and profound. (cf the political economy of the bourgeoisie).’

   Lower down the page Lenin again remarks with reference to same paragraph:

   ‘Against subjectivism and one-sidedness.’

   Much earlier in his life, Lenin had occasion to deal firmly with the problem of on-the-spot verbal constructions to ‘fit’ the situation so as to exclude material analysis. In his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, written in 1907, he wrote:

   ‘There is no difficulty you see, in constructing any physical element out of sensations, i.e. psychical elements! Oh yes, such constructions, of course, are not difficult, for they are purely verbal constructions, empty scholasticism.’ (P.47, Vol 14, Collected Works). [Lenin is referring to the “elements” which were mental constructions invented by the adherents of the “Empirio-Critical” theory of knowledge – Ed.]

Adjusting the Facts

   The self-construction of sensations into idealist combinations of thought is simply ‘adjusting the facts’, and it is to be strictly avoided during the process of submerging the subjective abstract Notion in the objective world.

   The method of synthetic analysis allows us to draw the two together in a movement where through analysis the manifestation of all the parts previously cognised through Semblance, Appearance and Actuality find their ‘other’ or opposites within the dialectical movement of the idea as the highest point of objective practice. This is what Lenin means when he insists that we do this in a way which is ‘against subjectivism and one-sidedness’. Lenin continued:

   ‘Synthetic cognition is still not complete for “the Notion does not become unity with itself in its object or its reality … Hence in this Cognition the Idea does not yet reach truth because of the inadequacy of the object to the subjective Notion. – But the sphere of necessity is the highest point of Being and of Reflection; in and for itself it passes over into the freedom of the Notion, while the inner identity passes over into its manifestations, which is the Notion as the Notion …”’ (P.211 Vol. 38, my emphasis, GH)

Lenin Sums Up

   Lenin now proceeds to sum up the process of submerging the abstract notion in the objective world out of which will emerge the ‘idea’ of practice:

   ‘Theoretical cognition ought to give the object in its necessity, in its all-sided relations, in its contradictory movement, in and for itself. But the human notion “Definitively “ catches this objective truth of Cognition, seizes it and masters it only when the notion becomes “being-for-itself” in the sense of practice. That is, the practice of man and of mankind is the test, the criterion of the objectivity of Cognition.’ (Ibid)

   Both Marx and Lenin sided with Hegel in his implicit belief that practice is a link in the transition from the idea to the absolute idea. Lenin remarks as follows:

   ‘ … in the transition to the “Absolute Idea” … i.e. undoubtedly, in Hegel practice serves as a link in the analysis of the process of Cognition, and indeed as the transition to objective (“absolute”, according to Hegel) truth. Marx, consequently, clearly sides with Hegel in introducing the criterion of practice into the theory of knowledge: See the Theses on Feuerbach.’ (P. 212, Vol.38)

   The following quotation from Hegel was used by Lenin to emphasis this point:

   ‘As subjective it (der Begriff)’, (the notion – GH), ‘has again the presupposition of an otherness which is in itself; the impulse to realise itself, of the end which tries to give itself objectivity in the objective world, and to carry itself out, through itself. In the Theoretical Idea the subjective Notion stands opposed as the Universal which is indeterminate in and for itself, to the objective world, from which it draws determinant content and fulfilment. But in the Practical Idea it stands opposed as the actual to the actual. But the self certainty which the subjective has in the fact of its determinateness in and for itself is a certainty of its own actuality and of the non-actuality of the world …’ (P. 212 Vol. 38, my emphasis – GH)

   It is important to study carefully Lenin’s comments here. In a small box he writes:

   ‘Alias: Man’s consciousness not only reflects the objective world but created it.’ He then continues:

   ‘The Notion ( = Man) as subjective again presupposes an otherness which is in itself ( = nature independent of man). This notion ( = Man) is the impulse to realise itself, to give itself objectivity in the objective world through itself, and to realise (fulfil) itself.

   ‘In the theoretical idea (in the sphere of theory) the subjective notion (cognition?), as the universal in and for itself indeterminate, stands opposed to the objective world, from which it obtains determinate content and fulfilment.

   ‘In the practical idea (in the sphere of practice) this notion as the actual (acting?) stands opposed to the actual.’ (Ibid.)

   The subjective stands opposed to the real world. ‘ … the world’, writes Lenin, ‘does not satisfy man and man decides to change it by his activity.’ (P. 213, Vol. 38)

Cognition and Practice

   Practice is the source of all theory and in this relation ranks higher than theory (theoretical knowledge). Lenin comments in a box:

  ‘The “objective world pursues its own course,” and man’s practice, confronted by the objective world, encounters “obstacles in the realisation” of the End, even “impossibility …”’ (P. 214, Vol. 38)

   Hegel emphasises the two worlds of the objective and subjective:

   ‘There are still two worlds in opposition: one a realm of subjectivity in the pure spaces of transparent thought, the other a realm of objectivity in the element of an external manifold actuality …’ (P. 215, Vol. 38)

   Further down the page Lenin quotes Hegel as follows:

   ‘Cognition knows itself only as apprehension, as the identity of the Notion, which for itself is indeterminate; that is, objectivity determined in and for itself,  is given to it, and that which truly is is the actuality that is present independently of subjective positing.’ (Ibid)

   In a box on page 216 Lenin sums up the process of cognition:

   ‘Cognition … finds itself faced by that which truly is as actuality present independently of subjective opinions (positing).’ Lenin then remarks in reference to Hegel,  ‘(this is pure materialism!)’

   ‘Man’s will’, continues Lenin, ‘his practice, itself blocks the attainment of its end .. in that it separates itself from cognition, and does not recognise external reality actually for that which truly it is (for objective truth). What is necessary is the union of cognition and practice. (Ibid, my emphasis – GH)

   When Hegel spoke of action as practice he saw it as a syllogism of logic. Lenin emphasised the necessity for caution when he insisted that the practice of man had its other being in the syllogism of logic, since man carried out his practice a long time before he started to think. If we begin with logic as if its other being was in practice, then we are back in the camp of idealism.

   It was in this elation that Lenin outlined the three main premises of the syllogism of actions:

   ‘First premise – The good end (subjective end) versus actuality (“external actuality”) Second premise – The external means (instrument) (objective). Third premise – The coincidence of subjective and objective, the test of subjective ideas, the criterion of objective truth.’ (P. 217, Vol. 38)

   From the dialectical conflict in thought between the subject and object, to the actualising of the result of his conflict in thought mentally within the real world. The approximation between the subjective Notion and the Objective world and the testing out of this approximation through practice.