Hegel and Lenin
The Doctrine of the Notion
Twentieth in a series of articles dealing with Lenin’s treatment of Hegel’s Science of Logic
News Line 12 November 1981
By G. Healy
‘The Notion’, writes Hegel, ‘is determined in and for itself (abstract) and is the middle member (in the logical figure of the syllogism) only because it equally has the significance of the objective.’ P. 220, Vol. 38, Lenin’s Collected Works)
The syllogism now reads: Individual – Notion (Particular) Objective (Universal). The form and content of the Notion is the same, that is why ‘it draws the determinate element directly from its object’.
The Notion(s) which human beings have already acquired are incorporated in their external reflection. Depending upon whatever objects or processes are being perceived, the appropriate notions corresponding to them are actuated through the external reflection of the ‘individual’, appearing as the middle member of the syllogism which then abstracts the ‘thing’ as a determinant moment of objective reality.
Continuous perception, analysis and mediation pushes external reflection into the background, in which form and content are the same, and proceeds to the ‘thing’ as a moment of universal matter in motion, that is, from objective universal reality itself. Lenin quotes Hegel as follows:
‘It was this that Plato demanded of cognition, that it should consider things in and for themselves, and that while partly considering them in their universality, it should also hold fast to them, not catching at externals, examples and comparisons, but contemplating the things alone and bringing before consciousness what is immanent in them …’ (P. 220 Vol. 28)
‘This method’, comments Lenin, ‘of absolute cognition is analytic … but equally it is synthetic.’ (Ibid.) Thinking and the material process are the same.
‘In brief’, Lenin wrote, ‘dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics, but it requites explanations and development.’ (P. 223, Vol. 38)
On a previous page Lenin proceeds to clarify the ‘essence of dialectics’. He approvingly quotes Hegel as follows:
‘This equally synthetic and analytic moment of the Judgement, by which (the moment) the original universality (general concept) determines itself as other in relation to itself must be called dialectical.’ (P. 221 Vol. 38)
Lenin describes this ‘moment’ as a ‘determination which is not a clear one.’ (Ibid.) It is a moment of the universal which contains the quality of determinations but is not as yet a moment which has been analysed and mediated – hence it is an ‘unclear one.’
Elements of Dialectics
Lenin proceeds to outline the three basic elements of dialectics on page 221 of Volume 38: [The reader should be aware that these elements are in no sense the be confused with the so-called ‘elements’ spoken of by the Empirio-Criticist tendency which Lenin opposed in his book, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, in volume 14 of his Collected Works. Lenin lists 16 elements in numerical order. The order in which they appear here is as they appear in News Line – Ed.]
‘1. The determination of the concept out of itself (the thing itself must be considered in its relations and
in its development.)’
The starting point is the existence of already developed Notions in sensuous external reflection. Notions proceed from the Individual to the Particular.
This is the subjective side of External Reflection. The Particular in External Reflection is both subject and object. The objective in External Reflection is then attracted by the universal, which appears as a moment of the objectively real world in sensation (Positive).
The Positive is governed by the law of identity, which dissolves into its own Negative (law of difference). This is the ‘thing in itself’, whose relations in its development’ are driven forward by the law of contradiction.
The source of contradiction within the ‘thing in itself’ is the difference in time between the formation of the Positive and its dissolution into its negative.
‘2. The contradictory nature of the thing itself (the other of itself), the contradictory forces and
Tendencies in each phenomenon.’
The Negative into which the positive has dissolved is higher in the quality of its properties because it contains the Positive. That is why it is the ‘other of itself’. The original notions (subject/object) contained in subjective external reflection have perceived a new moment of objective reality through external reflection as Positive (sensation).
That which is incorporated in external reflection is the Notion itself. It is now contained in the Positive which dissolves into the negative as the ‘other of itself’. This ‘other in itself’ as Negative contains contradiction which drives it implicitly towards new contradictory forces and tendencies. This, the abstract negative (thing in itself) is a moving negative because it contains contradiction.
‘3. The union of analysis and synthesis.’
To resolve the contradiction between the Positive and the Negative within the ‘thing in itself’ it has to be negated into synthesis or ground. This is in the first instance a union between the ‘thing’ perceived and the abstract knowledge we already possess.
Since the ‘thing perceived’ is the latest moment of objective reality it constitutes the determinant force for Analysis. The results of the first negation must be understood as establishing a union with the objective abstract knowledge which the individual has already acquired. The second negation commences at this point. Negation of negation here is at this point the movement within external reflection.
After these three elements are understood, ‘one could perhaps present them’, wrote Lenin, ‘in greater detail as follows’:
‘1. The objectivity of consideration (not examples, not divergences, but the thing in itself.’
‘Examples’ and ‘divergences’ refer here to the dangers of imposing some abstract impression upon the ‘thing’. This could easily arise if we fall into the positivist error of failing to negate the ‘thing’ as a determinate into a union with the knowledge we already possess (synthesis).
It would mean that the half image positive would be grounded on its half image into the negative, thus eliminating contradiction as it reflects the movement of the external world.
We therefore equate the subject (positive) as being equal to the negative and vive versa. (This is Positivism.) We are left then with making it up as we go along.
‘2. The entire totality of the manifold relations of this thing to others.’
The ‘thing’ which is the ‘other of itself’ implicitly contains all the relations between the already historically acquired knowledge of men and the new sources of objective knowledge being acquired from the objective world.
‘3. The development of this thing (phenomenon, respectively), its own movement, its own life.’
This ‘thing’, through the determinate qualities (identity, difference, contradiction) contained within it must be permitted to maintain those qualities, so that it can be studied through ‘its own movement, its own life’.
‘4. The internally contradictory tendencies (and sides) in this thing.’
Contradiction within the ‘thing’ is nothing more than the self-movement of the external material world which is the source of the ‘thing’.
Contradiction is best understood as life, since a person who is physically dead cannot perceive any ‘thing’. The emergence of the internally contradictory tendencies (and sides) manifest the contradiction contained as the source of the ‘thing.’
Since motion as ‘existent contradiction’ is the mode of existence of the ‘thing’ – it continuously manifests new side and tendencies.
‘5. The thing (phenomenon etc) as the sum and unity of opposites’.
External reflection contains the negative and positive of the notion in itself of the individual. This is in turn posited in the thing perceived which is dissolved into its negative.
The sum and unity of opposites is the Negative and Positive of the ‘notion in itself’ within external reflection, which in turn is incorporated into the Positive (sensation) which is dissolved in its negative.
‘6. The struggle, respectively unfolding, of these opposites, contradictory strivings etc.’ (P. 222, Vol.
The ‘thing’ contains the contradiction which in turn is a manifestation of the difference in term between the emergence of Positive and Negative. The need to resolve this contradiction is the source of the struggle respectively unfolding.
The first step towards resolving the contradiction is through its negation into absolute essence (semblance) which forms a union with our existing knowledge (synthesis).
‘7. The union of analysis and synthesis – the breakdown of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.’
The union of analysis and synthesis is the transition of absolute essence (Semblance) into Existence (the abstract knowledge we already possess). This unity is Essence in Existence.
The movement which started through perception of the moment (‘thing in itself’) of the objective world through external reflection proceeds from outer to the inner.
The first negation (via external reflection) is into the ‘thing-in-self’ which is absolute essence and Semblance. The second negation (negation of negation) via external reflection is manifested in the transition of absolute essence into existence. The movement is now from the inner (thing in itself) to the outer Appearance.
‘8. The relations of each thing (phenomenon etc.) are not only manifold but general, universal. Each thing (phenomenon, process etc.) is connected with every other.’
As essence passes into existence, the attraction of similar objects in the external world for those like the ‘thing’ become greater. Numerous connections, together with interconnections, begin to appear in our thoughts as Existence becomes grounded in Appearance (content).
Both internal thought connections and external material connections appear in the connected form of Appearance grounded on Existence. The inner content (existence grounded on Appearance) and the outer form of Appearance grounded on Existence are the same. What appears is what there is. The Unity and identity of opposites is the abstract of this process where inner and outer are equal, with the word identity serving to differentiate between them.
‘9. Not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side,
property into every other (into its opposite).’
This is the form of Actuality whose first moment is possibility. The abstract unity of opposites has its positive in the external world. The ’parts’ which have been mediated have now developed into a new abstract whole which has to be tested out and finds its level in the world around us.
The ‘unity and identity of opposites’ as a negative constitutes a cause which has its effect in the external world. The transition of cause into effect is therefore followed by the transition of effect into cause (Causality)
As the qualities build up this process becomes a reciprocal action (Reciprocity.) The quality of the properties in Reciprocity are higher than causality. This crease Necessity (from possibility) Lenin draws attention to the fact that (15) and (16) are examples of if (9).
‘15. The struggle of content with form and conversely. The throwing off of the form, the transformation of the content.’
The emergence of necessity takes place when the properties of Reciprocity as content build up and throw off the form of Actuality.
‘16. The transition of quantity into quality and vice versa.’
The quantity of properties (Reciprocity) produce the necessity for the leap to the Subjective NOTION which constitutes abstract quality.
‘10. The endless process of the discovery of new sides, relations, etc.’
The submerging of the abstract subjective Notion into its Positive which is the external world, reveals an ‘endless process of the discovery of new sides, relations etc.’ Theory and its development now becomes a guide to practice. The Notion is a category which embodies qualities whose origin is both in the present and the historical past.
As they find their positive opposites in the external world the category of the idea emerges. We have then a situation in which the categories of the Notion are in transition into the categories of the idea.
‘11. The endless process of the deepening of man’s knowledge of the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence.’
Lenin is here drawing attention to the need to grasp the whole dialectical movement of the ‘thing’, and not just as it unfolds. As the opposition between the subjective notion and the objective world of the ‘idea’ diminishes, then understanding of the movement out of which this endless process has emerged reveals a deepening of knowledge of the ‘thing’.
‘12. From co-existence to causality and from one form of connection and reciprocal dependence to
another, deeper, more general form.’
From the co-existence of ‘absolute essence’ (semblance) with Existence, to their penetration into one another (Causality), to the reciprocal dependence of Existence upon Appearance and Appearance on Existence, the unity and identity of opposites, cause into effect and vice versa; reciprocity, Necessity, to the subjective notion. By following the development of this process we see the dependence of the parts upon one another.
’13. The repetition at a higher stage of certain features, properties etc., of the lower and …
‘14. The apparent return to the old (negation of negation).’
By mediating upon the process as a whole, whilst continuously inducting new properties which through objective practice reveal how lower properties enable and assist the transformation of the subjective notion into the objective. This takes the apparent form of a return to the old through negation of negation. [Text as original – Ed]