Gerry Healy




Hegel and Lenin

The Doctrine of the Notion

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

News Line 19 November 1981

By G. Healy

   Lenin in his treatment of cognition utilised many explanations to show that the process of cognition must reveal the manifestation of the movement of the real world itself – otherwise it was a lifeless process.

   Motion and the movement within and between objects and processes of the external world can only be revealed when we establish the connection between them.

   The external connection between subject and object it through the dialectical motion embodied in external reflection. External reflection contains truth because it is a product of matter.

   On page 224 of Volume 38 of his Collected Works Lenin quotes Hegel criticising the Eleatic philosophers of ancient Greece, who deprived the motion of the external world of truth, which in turn held cognition ‘to be defective’. The scientific method of Cognition was replaced by scepticism which meant that you could place any interpretation you liked upon the finite product of motion.

   Lenin draws attention to the merit of Kant that ‘the determinations of thoughts’ must be ‘in and for themselves’. (P. 225 Vol. 38). ‘That is correct’, wrote Lenin in the side margin, ‘Image and thought, the development of both, nothing else.’ He follows this up with a quotation from Hegel to emphasise the point:

   ‘It must not therefore be considered the fault of an object, or of cognition, that they manifest themselves as dialectical by their nature and by external connection …’ (Ibid.)

Opposites Are Not Fixed

   Lenin continues to quote Hegel as follows:

   ‘Thus all opposites which are taken as fixed, such as, for example, finite and infinite, or individual and universal, are contradictory not by virtue of some external connection, but rather are transitions in and for themselves, as the consideration of their nature showed …’ (Ibid.)

   Lenin writes in the margin: ‘the object manifests itself as dialectical. Concepts are not immobile, but in and for themselves, by their nature = transition.’

Cognition Summarised from Hegel

   Using relevant quotations from Hegel Lenin proceeds to make an important summary of the dialectical process and method of cognition. Hegel writes:

   ‘Now this is the standpoint which was referred to above, in which a universal first term …’

   Lenin explains in the margin the Universal nature of this ‘first term’:

   ‘The first universal concept (also = the first encountered universal concept). Hegel resumed:

   ‘considered in and for itself shows itself to be its own other …’

   This is very important for understanding dialectics’, Lenin writes on the top margin page 226, Vol. 38. He goes on to quote Hegel to emphasise this point:

   ‘But the other is essentially not the negative or nothing which is commonly taken as the result of dialectics. It is the other of the first, the negative of the immediate; it is thus determined as mediated – and altogether contains the determination of the first. The first is thus essentially contained and preserved in the other – to hold fast the positive in its negative and the content of the presupposition in the result is the most important part of rational cognition. (Ibid. My emphasis, GH)

   It is worthwhile reproducing briefly the process of Cognition once again in order to show how it begins ay Being, that is, the non-reflective unity between man and nature. The movement of external reflection towards perception therefore contains the dialectical moments of Individual (Man) and the Universal (Nature).

   These take the form of the syllogism Individual (Man) – Particular (Man) (IP) - Particular (Nature) – Universal – Nature (PU). ‘Sensation’ is now identified as Positive. It dissolves into its Nature (Difference), which contains the Positive (Identity).

   The actual difference in time between the emergence of the Positive and its dissolution into its Negative appears as Contradiction, which has its origin in the source of movement of external reflection itself.

   Thus, the Negative (Difference), other, here contains the (first) moments of non-reflective being (unity of man and nature)’ Universal (Nature – external world), sensation (Positive – Identity) and Contradiction. That is why it is described as the other of the first.

Negation Explained

   Negation through the movement of External Reflection resolves the contradiction between Positive and Negative by transplanting (positing) the Negative as Positive on the Abstract knowledge we already possess. This is at first a unity which has not yet passed over into transition; it is called absolute Essence (Semblance), and it is held fast on the negative of the abstract knowledge we already possess. This knowledge becomes Existence. Semblance contains the reflection of the objective world (Positive)   

   Lenin explains in a box on page 226, volume 38, how he evaluates such Negation:

   ‘Not empty negation, not futile negation, not sceptical Negation, vacillation and doubt is characteristic and essential in dialectics – which undoubtedly contain the element of negation and indeed as its most important element – no, but negation as a moment of connection, as a moment of development, retaining the positive, i.e., without any vacillations, without any eclecticism.’ (My emphasis, GH)

   We can now understand why it is necessary to break from the scepticism of the Eleatics and to grasp the dialectical truth in movement (motion of the world) of external reflection. The ‘truth’ here is contained in Negation as a moment of connection in the motion of the world (External Reflection). Sceptics dismiss this motion (external reflection) by taking it for granted as if it contains no properties.

   ‘Dialectics’, Lenin writes, ‘consists in general in the negation of the first proposition, in its replacement by a second (in the transition of the first into the second, in the demonstration of the connection of the first with the second etc.) The second can be made the predicate of the first.

Dialectical Interaction of the finite and the Infinite

   Lenin then reproduces an important quotation from Hegel:

   ‘… for example, the finite is the infinite, one is many, the individual is the Universal …’(Ibid.)

   The transition of the first (Semblance) into the Second (Existence) is through Negation of Negation, Semblance reveals the finite, (a part). But this finite (relative part) is the infinite (whole) because it arises out of and contains the ‘whole’ (infinite). The connection between them (Part/finite) and whole, (infinite) is through the negation of the negation, which at this point is the conclusion of the movement of external reflection.

   The source of the motion is now replaced by the beginning of Causality in thought. Finite (effect) into infinity (cause) or the ‘part’ which is mediated into the ‘whole’ which is Appearance as the Unity and Identity of opposites.

   Essence (Semblance) passes into Existence (knowledge we already possess) and Existence into Essence, or Quality into Quantity and Quantity into Quality as two distinct movements which is the vice versa. Through the interaction of the part (Universal) with the whole (Individual) and the whole with Universal (part) we have the Universal as Individual and the Individual as Universal. Lenin again quotes Hegel to demonstrate this process:

   ‘The first or immediate term is the Notion in itself and therefore is the negative only in itself; the dialectical moment with it therefore consists in this, that the distinction which it implicitly contains is posited with it.’ (P. 226, Vol. 38)

Relation Between Whole and Part

   Hegel is here referring to the distinction between finite and infinite (part and whole) or individual and universal.

   ‘The second term’, writes Hegel, ‘on the other hand is itself the determinate entity, the distinction or relation; hence with it the dialectical moment consists in the positing of the unity which is contained in it.’ (P, 227, Vol. 38)

   ‘Semblance’ as a part is not yet developed, or as Lenin explains in a margin note, it has ‘not yet unfolded.’ (Ibid.). But this part has the unity of the whole posited within it. Lenin continues to explain and expand, as it were, what is taking place.

   ‘(In relation to the single and original “first”, positive assertions, propositions etc; the “dialectical moment”, i.e., scientific consideration, demands the demonstration of difference, connection, transition. Without that the simple positive assertion is incomplete, lifeless, dead. In relation to the “second”, negative proposition the “dialectical moment” demands the demonstration of “unity”, i.e., of the connection of negative and positive, the presence of this positive in the negative. From assertion to negation – from negation to “unity” with the asserted – without this dialectics becomes empty negation, a game, or scepsis.)’ (Ibid.)

   The ‘simple original first’ is Semblance. To establish the ‘dialectical moment’ we must be aware of the difference, connection and transition of Semblance as Positive moving into Existence (abstract knowledge we already possess). As Semblances passes into Existence and Existence into Semblance, we establish the Unity of the finite (Semblance) ‘part’ with (Existence) infinite ‘whole’.

   The ‘part’ and the ‘whole’ must be understood in their self-relation to each other through their unity. That is why we designate the finite ‘part’ and the infinite ‘whole’ and vice versa. Lenin continues with a further quotation from Hegel to emphasise the dialectical nature of this process and warns of a further danger:

   ‘If then the negative, the determinate, the relation, judgement and all determinations which fall under this second moment, do not of themselves appear as contradictory and dialectical, this is a mere fault of thought which does not confront its thoughts one with another. For the materials – opposite determinations in one relation – are posited already and are at hand for thought. But formal thought makes identity its law and allows the contradictory content which lies before it to drop into the sphere of sensuous representation, into space and time, where the contradictory terms are held apart in special and temporal juxtaposition and thus come before consciousness without mutual contact’. (P. 227, Vol. 38)

Relation Between Time and Thought

   The transition of Semblance (Essence) into Existence establishes the difference the difference in time between them as they unfold. That is what constitutes the dialectic of their self-relation to each other. The material for thought is therefore to hand.

   ‘Formal though’, says Hegel, ‘makes identity its law’, and ignores, as it were, the connection (contradiction) between them. [Opposites – Ed.] It simply recognises Semblance (essence) as new and Existence (knowledge we already possess) as old – it fails to see that the ‘new’ and ‘old’ are ‘self-related’ whilst ‘negation of the negation’ must reveal the contradiction.

   Hegel, however, is confused idealistically on this issue. He thinks the difference between them lies in the sensuous representation of thought, but this is not the case. The difference lies within the concept of time between the unfolding of Existence and Semblance, respectively. Lenin goes on to explain this in a box on page 228, volume 38:

   ‘ “Come before consciousness without mutual contact” (the object) – that is the essence of anti-dialectics. It is only here that Hegel has, as it  were, allowed the ass’s ears of idealism to show themselves – by referring time and space (in connection with sensuous representation) to something lower compared to thought. Incidentally, in a certain sense, sensuous representation is, of course, lower. The crux lies in the fact that thought must apprehend the whole “representation” in its movement, but for that thought must be dialectical. Is sensuous representation closer to reality than thought? Both yes and no. Sensuous representation cannot apprehend movement as a whole, it cannot, for example, apprehend movement with a speed of 300,000 km. per second, but thought does and must apprehend it. Thought, taken from sensuous representation, also reflects reality; time is a form of being of objective reality. Here. In the concept of time (and not in the relation of sensuous representation to thought) is the idealism of Hegel.’

   Thoughts taken from sensuous perception are finite. They reflect reality only if time which is infinite and a form of objective reality is contained within them. They are connected and the connection between them must be understood and manifested in thought as contradiction.