Gerry Healy



Hegel – Marx – Lenin

News Line 2 June 1981

   The significance of Marx’s critique of the Hegelian Dialectic was without doubt his formulation of its ‘positive aspects’. These were revealed in the way in which Hegel went about his activity.

   At the risk of repetition from a previous article, let us re-state these once again. Before acting, he invoked a thought image of what he was going to do. He then converted the image into an Act, which, because it was outside him, appeared alienated from him. At the same time, the result of the action of his action appeared as the result of his original image. But the ‘ideal’ image, like his alienated Act, appears also as an abstract, estranged, hostile image, returnable to him through negation. It was not, however, the original image imposed upon the Act, because it now contained a moment of the positive real world of nature, the result of the Act itself.

   It was the inclusion of these ‘positive aspects’ within the realm of estrangement which resulted in Hegel’s elaboration of scientific concepts.

   Hegel’s ‘positive achievement’ in his speculative logic, Marx explained, ‘is that the definite concepts, the universal fixed thought forms in their independence vis-à-vis nature and mind are a necessary result of the general estrangement of the human being  and therefore of human thought, and that Hegel has there brought these together as moments of the abstraction process. (Page 151, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 1844)

From Hegel to Marx:

   The ‘positive aspects’ of Hegel’s estranged thoughts, as they were revealed by Marx through concepts, opened the way for the development of dialectical materialism as a world scientific outlook. It was the great turning point which enabled Marx to announce the end of bourgeois philosophy ‘as a whole’.

   From the completion of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 it was now possible for the great founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, to engage in work which some 20 years later produced Capital in addition to a large number of other books and writings analysing the capitalist system.

   They showed how, with the emergence of capitalism, so also came its dialectical opposite, the modern proletariat, whom they announced in the Communist Manifesto of 1847 as the ‘gravediggers’ of the ruling class.  In his afterword to the Second German edition of Capital, published in London on 24 January 1873, Marx comments:

   ‘The mystification which dialectics suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him, it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.’

   Engels, in his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific stressed further the decisive historic role which Hegel played in the development of the dialectic:

   ‘Hegel had freed history from metaphysics – he had made it dialectic; but his conception of history was essentially idealistic. But now idealism was driven from its last refuge, the philosophy of history; now a materialist treatment of history was propounded, and a method found of explaining man’s “knowing” by his Being, instead of as heretofore, his “being”  by his “knowing”’.

   And in another work, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Engels remarks:

   ‘And this materialist dialectic which since that time has been our best tool and our sharpest weapon was discovered’.

   It would be inaccurate to conclude that the Hegelian influence on the development of dialectical materialism was, in itself, the only contributory factor. We must always remember that the historical background to that period was the French bourgeois revolution, the revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune. This period was especially favourable for the growth of the philosophy of dialectical materialism.

From Marx to Lenin:

   There is a strong political relation between the achievements of the 1844 Manuscripts and the birth and growth of modern Leninism at the beginning of this century.  Lenin’s What is to be Done, completed in February 1902, emphasises what was the scientific character of Karl Kautsky’s draft programme of the Austrian Social Democracy.


  ‘Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge.  Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither one not the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process.  The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia.’ (Page 383, Vol. 5, Lenin’s Collected Works.)  

   Here the emphasis on ‘scientific knowledge’  embodying the use of  scientific concepts, (you cannot have one without the other), is clear.

   Like Marx before him, Lenin recognised that ‘Hegel is materialism which has been stood on its head’.  It is not difficult to realise from a reading of his Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic how much he benefitted politically from Marx’s discovery of the ‘positive aspects of Hegelian scientific concepts in 1844.

   ‘All-sided universal flexibility of concepts’, he wrote, ‘a flexibility reaching to the identity of opposites – that is the essence of the matter. (Page 110, Vol. 38, Lenin’s Collected Works.)

And again on page 196:


‘The totality of all sides of the phenomenon, of reality and their reciprocal relations – that is what truth is composed of. 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.’ (Our emphasis, GH).  

   Whereas Hegel began from abstract thought, Marx and Lenin began from the external world of Nature.

   ‘Practice’, Lenin explained, ‘ is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality but also of immediate actuality … that is, the world does not satisfy man and man decides to change it by his activity.’

   Man’s practice is decisive as the source of all knowledge. Practice is objective, since it means man, in company with other men, set out independently of each other to take from Nature what they need in order to live and in doing so Nature in turn changes them.

   In order to establish this basic principle of Marxism, Lenin has to engage in a long sharp struggle with idealist revisionists of Marxism, who in the main, in one form or another, endeavoured to restore the objective idealism of Hegel without its revolutionary implications.  He summed up the differences as follows:

   ‘Materialism is the recognition of “objects in themselves” or outside the mind; ideas and sensations are copies or images of these objects.  The opposite doctrine, (idealism), claims that objects do not exist “without the mind”; objects are “combinations of sensations”’. (Page 26, Vol. 14, Lenin’s Collected Works.)

  To understand the revolutionary implications of Lenin’s analysis of Hegel’s Science of Logic, it is essential to be familiar with his section dealing with the ‘theory of knowledge’.


   ‘Matter is primary and thought, consciousness, sensation, are products of a very high development.  Such is the materialist theory of knowledge, to which natural science subscribes.’   

 (Page 75, Vol. 14, Lenin’s Collected Works.)

From Hegel to Lenin

   Towards the end of the Science of Logic, Hegel wrote two chapters entitled The Idea of Cognition and The Absolute Idea. ‘Cognition’, wrote Hegel, ‘is thinking by means of notions and therefore its beginning also is only the element of thought – it is a simple and universal. (Page 828, Science of Logic)

   But Lenin’s approach to cognition is the direct opposite to that of Hegel.  The dialectical path to cognition of the truth for Lenin was ‘from Living Perception to Abstract Thought and from this to practice’. (Page 171, Vol 38, Lenin’s Collected Works)

   Cognition does not begin with thought, but through external sensuous, empirical reflection of the world around us. To start with thought is to impose that thought on the external world in a similar way to the way Hegel did. The source of all sensation is in Nature and not in the human being as such. Since external reflection is the Reflection of a human being, it is subjective and the properties of the objective external world must be allowed to predominate over it.

   Great care has to be taken not to impose any abstract thought interpretations upon the external world. Its independent properties must be allowed to build up in the mind and not have some premature abstract thought imposed upon these, as yet, concealed and unknown properties. Engels explained this process as follows:

   ‘So long as we take care to train and use out senses properly, and to keep our action within the limits prescribed by perceptions properly made and properly used, so we shall find that the result of our actions proves the conformity of our perceptions with the objective Nature of the things perceived.

   ‘Not in one single instance so far, have we been led to the conclusion that our sense perceptions, scientifically controlled, induce in our minds ideas respecting the outer world that are, by their very nature, at variance with reality, or that there is an inherent incompatibility between the outer world and our sense perceptions of it.’ (Quoted by Lenin, page 110, Vol. 14 Collected Works.)

   Training and using our senses properly means to avoid imposing thought images upon the external world. Scientifically controlling our sense perceptions means to learn to organise dialectically the development of our thought though scientific concepts.

   These concepts are forms through which we externally reflect and analyse the world in the mind.  Being, which is the first concept in cognition, is the non-reflective unity of man with nature. This is denoted by sensation and the emergence of the concept ‘Not-Being as the abstract image of the objective world, derived through sensation.

   The totality of moments involved here is also denoted by the concept Semblance, which is an objective image of the world, given in abstraction.  The concept Quantity covers its abstract objective Semblance in the process of change, (Becoming)

   It is also described as ‘other of the immediate perception’ in transition into ‘other of the first’ previous perception, which is the knowledge we already had before we started to perceive it.

   Great care should be taken with our analysis of Semblance. The concept of ‘Becoming’, (Change), is a movement through different moments of objective Semblance.  This movement is the totality of the moments arising from the unity of man and nature, which is the concept of Being.

   The movement is therefore the movement of Being itself, (Nature). Objective Semblance is the end of subjective cognition.  It is also the beginning of the concept Essence as reflection into self. Essence here is simple self-identity or ‘ground’. External reflection is the showing of essence into itself – the starting point of new, but still unmediated knowledge.

   For the purpose of analysis we shall refer to the concept of ‘Being’ as the Positive with the concept of not-Being as its Negative. The method of analysis is to establish the Identity and Difference of them both as a Unity of opposites. Identity and Difference just as Positive and Negative cannot be separated. The truth of the determinations of reflection consists in their relation to each other. [That is, the relation of Identity and Difference to each other – Ed.]

   As Hegel pointed out, each contains the other in its own concept. The example which Hegel provides here is the comparison between +A and –A. Each, as we shall see, contains A as it were, in the middle. If we take the concepts of Positive and Negative, (Identity and Difference), they cannot simply be counter-posed to one another, because since they reflect the moments of the self-same movement of matter, given in the same external reflection, the arise out of one-another.

   Positive, (+A), first of all breaks up into a negative of +A.  This negative then produces a further negative which is driving forward to a new Positive. Or again, if we take +A as the Positive, then A is a moving Negative because it is the Negative of +A which is breaking up into the Negative of –A, which in turn is driving forward to a new Positive.

   In this way the concept of difference is in transition into Contradiction, and with that into the new Positive concept of Appearance.  External reflection, therefore, contains the two inseparable determinate moments of Identity and Difference.  The transition of Positive into Negative and Negative into Positive is the source of Contradiction.

   What is called the dialectical ‘cell’ is contained within objective Semblance. The moving negative is difference which includes Identity, becomes the Positive Negative in transition into the knowledge we already possess, now emerging as contradiction. Quality is then negated into quantity with the appearance of Essence of the higher order replacing Essence of the lower order.  As the properties build up from continuous perceptions, they quantitatively increase and rise within essence to their equivalent in the external world.

   With the emergence of the Positive concept appearance, contradiction is resolved and a part emerges out of the ‘Whole’, which is now incorporated into this Part as an absolute within the relative in dialectical thought.  There are two pairs of concepts in movement here.  These are dialectically understood as arising out of a double positing.  The first is the Positive +A into its Negative A. This is Identity.

   Then Negative A breaks up in a polarised way.  The second negative is Difference with Identity sublated into it.  This is now in transition into the Knowledge we already possess emerging as contradiction. Being-in-Self, (Semblance), is passing into Being-for-Self.

The Process and Practice of Cognition Today

   Dialectical Nature produced dialectical Man.  It was a long evolutionary process of the Labour of prehistoric men before Man learned to think.

   Men changed nature in order to live and, in turn, Nature changed man as one of her own.  He learned to think out of the practice of his labour. That is why, historically speaking, practice is higher than theory.  But, both practice and theory are inseparable, and the source of this is to be found in Man’s history as part of Nature. Out of the blind dialectical practice created by the necessity of life, Man eventually became a thinking man, acquiring language in order to express his thoughts.

   His blind dialectical practice produced a man who has the power today to become a dialectical thinker. When his dialectical practice produces such a man, he will be able to elaborate his dialectical theory through the manifestation of new dialectical practices and liberate his fellow men from the bondage of capitalist private ownership and its greed fro profit. Such dialectical theory and practice today can only emerge in the struggle to build the Workers Revolutionary Party.

   This is the highest point of dialectical practice which has already provided us with the facilities for cadre training so essential for organising the working class in the struggle to take power and establish socialism. The scientific concepts developed by Hegel to explain his objective idealist approach, were stood on their materialist feet by Marx in 1844. Lenin followed a similar path in the years before the 1917 Russian Revolution.

   The road is now clear for us today, starting with the powerhouse of historical knowledge which Trotsky made available before his assassination by Stalin. We must follow his advice given shortly before his death and consciously train ourselves as dialectical materialist fighters.