Gerry Healy


How Hegel Fell Into the “Think Tank”

News Line, 17 June 1983

   On June 12 1983 The Observer reported the existence of a small Cabinet “think tank” called the Centre for Policy Studies.  Its chief is Sir Alfred Sherman who is described as an ex-Marxist and presently a “Hegelian”.

   He shares the tank with Lord Hugh Thomas, author of a book on the Spanish Civil War and chairman of Policy Studies.  The question naturally arises, how does Hegel find himself in the same “tank”?

   In their book, The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism, Marx and Engels explained Hegel’s “objective idealism” in the following way:

Estranged Forms

   ‘In Hegel’s “Phenomenology” the material, sensuously perceivable, objective foundations of the various forms of human self-consciousness are allowed to remain. The whole destructive work results in the most conservative philosophy because it thinks it has overcome the objective world, the sensuously perceivable real world, by transforming it into a “thing of thought”, a mere determinateness of self-consciousness, and can therefore also dissolve its opponent, which has become ethereal, in the “ether of pure thought.”

   ‘The Phenomenology is therefore quite consistent in that it ends by replacing human reality by “absolute knowledge” – knowledge, because this is the only mode on existence of self-consciousness, and because self-consciousness is considered the only mode of existence of man  - absolute knowledge for the very reason that self-consciousness knows only itself and is no longer disturbed by any objective world.

Man Living

   ‘Hegel makes man the man of self-consciousness instead of making self-consciousness the self-consciousness of man, of real man, ie, of man living also in a real, objective world and determined by that world.  He stands the world on its head and can therefore in his head also dissolve all limitation, which nevertheless remain in existence for bad consciousness, for real man.  Moreover, everything that betrays the limitations of general self-consciousness – all sensuousness, reality, individuality of men and their real world – is necessarily held for him to be a limit.  The whole of the Phenomenology in intended to prove that self-consciousness is the only reality and all reality, (Page 192, Vol. 4, Marx and Engels Collected Works, Lawrence and Wishart, 1975)

   By imposing his ‘absolute idea’ on the real material world, in movement and change, Hegel equated the world and the human beings who are part of it into the products of self-consciousness, or ‘abstraction’.  This revealed his most ‘conservative philosophy’ starting with his abstract ‘absolute idea’ through which thought interpreted thought.  It confined him to objective idealist speculation through the creation of his own self-imposed images.  For their conservative class reasons this is the Hegel which is attractive to the Tory think tank.

   Against Hegel, Marx and Engels presented their dialectical materialist view of the world when they wrote:

   ‘The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men – the language of real life.  Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men at this stage still appears as the direct efflux of their material behaviour.  The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of the politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics etc. of the people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas etc., that is, real active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms.  Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious being and the being of men is their actual life-process.’ (Page 36, Vol. 5, Collected Works of Marx and Engels, Lawrence and Wishart, 1976)

   On the next page of the same volume, they go on to explain the fundamental difference between Hegel’s objective idealist speculative method and their scientific dialectical materialist method as follows:

   ‘It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness. For the first manner of approach the starting point is consciousness taken as the living individual; for the second manner of approach, which conforms to real life, it is the real living individuals themselves, and consciousness in considered solely as their consciousness.’ (Op. Cit. page 37)

   ‘My job’, says Sherman, in what he believes will be the ‘next half-century of Thatherism’, (reformists and class collaborators please note), ‘is to try to convert the Tory Party to a belief in cause and effect. I am a Hegelian, I want to give them a sense of causality and of how changes occur.’ According to the correspondent who interviewed him, ‘he wants to instil into the government the concept of making things work rather than allowing things to happen to it.’

   Point one of the six things he wants to happen is: ‘I would like to see the government inspire a climate o genuine free enterprise in this country free from state intervention, based on union enthusiasm for the success of the business concerned.  I’m sure it can happen.  I think this recalls not just the best of the nineteenth century but the best of the eighteenth century’s innovation, invention and imagination. The Ironbridge spirit, you might say. That seems to me the best approach to finding creative work for the population in the future.’ (Observer, June 12, 1983)

   For this to happen, trade unions as they exist at present would have to be transformed into corporatist ‘labour front’ organisations and destroyed as organisations of the working class.

   Whilst Mssrs Sherman and Thomas are not supporter of national socialism, nevertheless this is similar to the political road taken in Hitler’s Germany to deal with the trade unions.  Whilst the Tory Party is not a fascist party, this is also the unmistakable political direction being taken in its attack on the trade unions through its anti-union legislation.

Class Power

   When Mr. Sherman and his ‘think tank’ refer to Hegelian causality and ‘making it work’ they start from the class power of the Tory government and the brutal force of the state machine which it represents.  This is his Hegelian ‘absolute idea’ which is an abstraction, and which he has imposed on the real world, whilst at the same time the Tories represent the historically outmoded capitalist system.

   Britain cannot historically return to the Victorian era and the ‘Ironbridge spirit’. All the historical processes of its past are completed processes.  Since the outbreak of the first imperialist was in August 1914, the historical conditions have been ripe for the socialist revolution and the ending of capitalism as an exploitive society.   

   In Britain the working class as a class ‘in-itself’ became a class ‘for-itself’ through the development of trade unions.  Only a police/military or fascist dictatorship can temporarily reverse this historical trend and that requires the most brutal onslaught on the standards of living and democratic rights of the working class.

   The preparation of such a situation can only serve to intensify the class struggle in a most revolutionary and turbulent way. This class contradiction can only be resolved through the successful socialist revolution and not the ‘reasonableness’ of some Tory think tank policy studies.  The fact that such ‘studies’ are taking place emphasises the inherently violent nature of this Tory government and the increasing class ruthlessness of its state machine.

   ‘Hegel’, wrote Engels, ‘was an idealist. To him the thoughts within his brain were not the more or less abstract pictures of actual things and processes, but, conversely, things and their evolution were only the realised pictures of the “idea”, existing somewhere from eternity before the world was. This way of thinking turned everything upside down, and completely reversed the actual connection of things in the world.  Correctly and ingeniously as many individual groups of facts were grasped by Hegel, yet, for the reasons just given, there is much that is botched, artificial, laboured, in a word, wrong in point of detail. The Hegelian system, in itself, was a colossal miscarriage  - but it was also the last of its kind. (Page 34, Anti-Düring, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975)

   In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx ‘stood Hegel on his feet’ when he emphasises the ‘positive achievements of his speculative logic’, where Hegel ‘brought together definite concepts, the universal fixed thought forms …  as moments of the abstraction process.’

   Marx then went on to qualify what he meant by this:

   ‘But abstraction comprehending itself as abstraction knows itself to be nothing; it must abandon itself -  abandon abstraction – and so it arrives at an entity which is its exact opposite - at nature.  Thus, the entire logic is the demonstration that abstract thought is nothing in itself; that the absolute idea is nothing for itself; that only nature is something …

   ‘This entire transition from logic to natural philosophy is nothing else but the transition … from abstracting to intuiting … the longing for content.’ (Page 153, Fifth Edition, Progress Publishers, 1977)

Idealist Image

   Hegel’s ‘absolute idea’ in the first place amounted to a self-created idealist image which turned everything upside down, but his practice, like that of all human beings, was objective – the fact that he intuited it not withstanding.  That intuition was the material sources of his definite concepts which Marx described as the ‘positive achievements’ of his ‘speculative logic’.

   The Tory think tank starting from the objective idealist features of Hegelian philosophy is presently ‘intuiting’, whether its members know it or not, the brutal conditions of dictatorship.  In their hands, it becomes the most vicious form of subjective idealist class rule.