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Notes on Dialectics: PART II The Hegelian Logic C L R James on Hegel - Matière et Révolution
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Notes on Dialectics: PART II The Hegelian Logic C L R James on Hegel

Saturday 14 March 2009

The Doctrine of Being


You know, as I propose to myself to begin the actual Logic, I feel a slight chill. The Doctrine of Being. Harris, who ultimately wrote a very fine work on the Hegelian Logic, was a professor of philosophy and lecturer on Hegel at second-hand. Brockmeyer, Governor of Missouri, made a translation of the larger Logic and someone gave it to Harris. Harris says that he copied out the thing with his own hand, the whole thing, and when he was finished, he didn’t understand a line, not a line. I know exactly how he felt.

What I propose to do is to use the Doctrine of Being as a means of getting practice in the style and habit of Hegel. The larger Logic is the most difficult book I know. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is child’s play compared to it. But we have to be able to handle it. So while we shall get the main points of the Doctrine of Being, look upon this as a kind of basic training, before we get down to it in the Doctrine of Essence. I am not giving a summary of the Logic. I am not expanding it as a doctrine. I am using it and showing how to begin to know it and use it.

Think of the world of human beings, nearly two billions, more than that perhaps. What is the simplest thing you can say about them? They exist. Two billion people exist. So what! To say that is to say – nothing. To say something so broad, so complete, so abstract, is to say nothing. Something must happen, must come out of this abstraction. I say: some men work. The previous abstraction has now become something. Some men work. Let us look at the men who work. They at once, by being distinguished, create another category, the people who do not work. You cannot separate one category without creating another one. To create a category is to “determine” something. But every time you determine something, you negate something. Every time. By determining men who work, we negate them as men who merely exist, but we also negate the men who do not work. They are no longer men who merely exist. That is over. They are men who do not work. Whenever you do something, you at the same time do not do something else. A silver coin on a green table negated the green cover on the particular spot where it rests. It creates the spot where the coin is and the spot where the coin is not.

Now we have men who work. That is the quality which distinguishes them. When something “becomes” out of the mass it has a “quality". The quality we take is work. But as you pile up the men who work, you catalogue them, work is not enough. Some are tailors, some shoemakers, some cowboys, some engineers. The list is endless. Some work well, some badly. Some work well but stay at home every morning. We soon find ourselves concerned with more than quality. We find that we must look not at quality but at quantity of work. Preoccupation with quality has led us to quantity. But quantity too is limited. The more you contemplate it, deal with it, you find that it is impossible to keep tab of the quantity of work of tailors, cooks, deep-sea divers by measuring work in the abstract. You have to get some common measure. The three divisions of the Doctrine of Being are Quality, Quantity, and Measure.

This is a crude, but in my opinion, quite adequate, example of Hegel’s method. That is what I am after. Kant and the others would know and use Quality, Quantity, and Measure. What Hegel insisted upon is that these are connected, that one developed out of the other. Quantity came at a certain time because quality upon quality does not go on being quality but at a certain stage becomes something new. Hegel takes Quality and Quantity as abstractions to represent processes present in all aspects of nature, society and thought. Water is a quality, a small stream negates the surrounding land. It is a stream because it is no longer land. If it grows and grows, it becomes a river, and a number of rivers meeting in one place can become an inland sea.

Hegel’s own categories are much more profound, of course. He says: think not of men, but of everything that exists, that has some “being". Think of the whole world not as men, land, sky, horses, air, buildings. Just think of it in its capacity of existing. Pure absolute being. Good. But when you think that, you are thinking – nothing. Pure being – pure nothing. Something emerges, it “becomes” and you have “being determinate". It has a quality. But a coin on a table negates some of the table. So that “Determinate Being” is Being-for-self but always being-for-another. Men who work are one being, being-for-self, but they are also automatically being-for-another, men-who-do-not-work. Quality means that a limit is imposed, a barrier between itself and its other.

If we take a closer look at what a limit implies, we see it involving a contradiction in itself, and thus evincing its dialectical nature. On the one side limit makes the reality of a thing; on the other it is its negation. But, again, the limit, as the negation of something, is not an abstract nothing but a nothing which is – what we call an “other". Given something, and up starts an other to us: we know that there is not something only, but an other as well. Nor, again, is the other of such a nature that we can think something apart from it; a something is implicitly the other of itself, and the somewhat sees its limit become objective to it in the other. If we now ask for the difference between something and another, it turns out that they are the same: which sameness is expressed in Latin by calling the pair aliad-aliud. The other, as opposed to the something, is itself a something, and hence we say some other, or something else; and so on the other hand the first something when opposed to the other, also defined as something, is itself an other. When we say “something else” our first impression is that something taken separately is only something, and that the quality of being another attaches to it only from outside considerations. Thus we suppose that the moon, being something else than the sun, might very well exist without the sun. But really the moon, as a something, has its other implicit in it. Plato says: God made the world out of the nature of the “one” and the “other": having brought these together, he formed from them a third, which is of the nature of the “one” and the “other". In these words we have in general terms a statement of the nature of the finite, which, as something, does not meet the nature of the other as if it had no affinity to it, but, being implicitly the other of itself, thus undergoes alteration. Alteration thus exhibits the inherent contradiction which originally attaches to determinate being, and which forces it out of its own bounds.

... But the fact is, mutability lies in the notion of existence, and change is only the manifestation of what it implicitly is. The living die, simply because as living they bear in themselves the germ of death.

That is the core of the Doctrine of Being. Something immediately involves something else. Continue with something like quality, and its other, quantity, will take form. A completely abstract something is the same as nothing, that is its other. Something “Becomes” out of nothing. It always has its limit, its barrier. And this limit, barrier, is burst through, at a certain stage, to establish the other, its other. All this takes place in the sphere of determinate being, simple quality.

Let me take an example of what the method of the Logic signifies. The proletariat politically is an undistinguished body of proletarians. Something “becomes". Some of them form a party. At once the proletariat is no longer party and proletarians. It is party and non-party, or as we say, party and mass. The party creates its other, the mass. But you can have one, two, three, four parties. One obvious way to distinguish is by size. That is not sufficient, however. For political purposes we can judge by “support", a form of quantity. But support changes. Out of support we can arrive at what in the last analysis decided support – policy. That is a form of Measure. Whenever you examine any object, you can begin by looking for its obvious distinguishing quality, the quantity of this quality, and the measure of it.

Bit by bit we go a step further, like an experienced man bringing along a virgin who has willingly consented. Grace is probably tearing her hair at the vulgarity of some of my illustrations. They are better than the perpetual water turning into steam which everybody uses from Engels. But I don’t want to leave it there. For us Doctrine of Being is a road to practise to get familiar with the method, the concrete method, the method of dealing with Hegel’s matter and manner. Do not be misled by the extract I have given you from the smaller Logic. There he is being friendly, considerate and kind. In the larger Logic he is ruthless. He puts down the most difficult, complicated idea in a clause of three words. He creates terms, three, four, five, and uses them as if they were letters of the alphabet. So let us use this interlude as training. Now for this quality into quantity business. Hegel uses the One and the Many as his illustration.

Common sense thinks one is one, and over here, and many is some, and over there. In other words. One has a special quality, and they begin there and stay there. Hegel says No. Philosophy tells us that One presupposes Many. The moment I say One, I have thereby created the category Many. In fact it is the existence of the Many which makes the One possible at all. If there were no Many, One would be whatever you wish but it would not be One meaning this one, in contrast with many others. The One therefore is repellent. To be, it repels the Many. It is exclusive, but it is not quiescent. It is actively repelling the Many, for otherwise its specific quality as One would be lost. This is Repulsion. But, all the other Ones who constitute the Many have a connecting relation with it. They thereby have a connective relation with each other; the One, by holding them all off, makes them all join together against it. But each of these is a One, too. Thus the One begins by Repulsion but creates in every other single One an attraction. Thus, the One when you begin with it is a Quality, but by examining first and following what is involved to the end, you turn up with a new category, Quantity, with the original pure and simple Quality suppressed and superseded.

Here is the complete extract:

The One, as already remarked, just is self-exclusion and explicit putting itself as the Many. Each of the Many however is itself a One, and in virtue of its so behaving, this all rounded repulsion is by one stroke converted into its opposite – Attraction.

The thing that Hegel insists upon is not to see the One as fixed, finite, limited, isolated. It is One because there are Many, and because of that the original category of One begins to assume new facets and suddenly they are the very opposite of what you began with. As Hegel knows and says you can (if you want to) make a lot of jokes about these transitions. His fundamental answer is that you have to go along with him and see where you get and what you get. Anyone who has had a class on Capital knows that there are certain types who passionately contest every sentence, every deduction. In the end they always turn up in the bourgeois camp. It is the revolution they are fighting. The Hegelian categories offer infinite opportunity for this. We, however, not only have our past traditions. We have had a very substantial introduction here, and can afford to follow him. As a matter of fact, few people challenge the broad divisions of the Doctrine of Being. I have seen these basic premises challenged, but the writer said that if you admitted those, you could not seriously oppose him after.

Now let Hegel himself speak. I give some lengthy extracts from the smaller Logic.

The transition from Quality to Quantity, indicated in the paragraph before us, is not found in our ordinary way of thinking which deems each of these categories to exist independently beside the other. We are in the habit of saying that things are not merely qualitatively, but also quantitatively defined; but whence these categories originate, and how they are related to each other, are questions not further examined. The fact is, quantity just means quality superseded and absorbed: and it is by the dialectic of quality here examined that this supersession is effected. First of all, we had being: as the truth of Being, came Becoming: which formed the passage to Being Determinate: and the truth of that we found to be Alteration. And in its result Alteration showed itself to be Being-for-self, exempt from implication of another and from passage into another; which Being-for-self finally in the two sides of its process, Repulsion and Attraction, was clearly seen to annul itself, and thereby to annul quality in the totality of its stages. Still this superseded and absorbed quality is neither an abstract nothing, nor an equally abstract and featureless being: it is only being as indifferent to determinateness or character. This aspect of being is also what appears as quantity in our ordinary conceptions. We observe things, first of all, with an eye to their quality – which we take to be the character identical with the being of the thing. If we proceed to consider their quantity, we get the conception of an indifferent and external character or mode, of such a kind that a thing remains what it is though its quantity is altered, and the thing becomes greater or less.

Then he works through Quantity and arrives at Measure. These he sums up so far:

Thus quantity by means of the dialectical movement so far studied through its several stages, turns out to be a return to quality. The first notion of quantity presented to us was that of quality abrogated and absorbed. That is to say, quantity seemed an external character not identical with Being, to which it is quite immaterial This notion, as we have seen, underlies the mathematical definition of magnitude as what can be increased or diminished. At first sight this definition may create the impression that quantity is merely whatever can be altered – increase and diminution alike implying determination of magnitude otherwise – and may tend to confuse it with determinate Being, the second stage of quality, which in its notion is similarly conceived as alterable. We can, however, complete the definition by adding, that in quantity we have an alterable, which in spite of alterations still remains the same. The notion of quantity, it thus turns out, implies an inherent contradiction. This contradiction is what forms the dialectic of quantity. The result of the dialectic however is not a mere return to quality, as if that were the true and quantity the false notion, but an advance to the unity and truth of both, to qualitative quantity, or Measure.

This is worth pondering over, it is not too difficult. There Hegel says something which he often repeats, as I have shown before. Men it seems could be as stupid then as now. He is talking about Nature where simple determinate being, quality, abounds. Measure is a very low stage of the dialectical logic. And Hegel says:

It may be well therefore at this point to observe that whenever in our study of the objective world we are engaged in quantitative determinations, it is in all cases Measure which we have in view, as the goal of our operations This is hinted at even in language, when the ascertainment of quantitative features and relations is called measuring.

Now come two splendid examples of the dialectical relation between quality, quantity, and measure:

We measure, e.g. the length of different chords that have been put into a state of vibration, with an eye to the qualitative difference of the tones caused by their vibration, corresponding to this difference of length. Similarly, in chemistry, we try to ascertain the quantity of the matters brought into combination, in order to find out the measures or proportions conditioning such combination, that is to say, those quantities which give rise to definite qualities.

Then comes a really superb passage in which you see what the Logic meant to him and how he used it. It is very long. But this is in its way an anthology and I would like it in:

The identity between quantity and quality, which is found in Measure, is at first only implicit, and not yet explicitly realised. In other words, these two categories, which unite in Measure, each claim an independent authority. On the one hand, the quantitative features of existence may be altered, without affecting its quality. On the other hand, this increase and diminution, immaterial though it be, has its limit, by exceeding which the quality suffers change. Thus the temperature of water is, in the first place, a point of no consequence in respect of its liquidity: still with the increase of diminution of the temperature of the liquid water, there comes a point where this state of cohesion suffers a qualitative change, and the water is converted into steam or ice. A quantitative change takes place, apparently without any further significance: but there is something lurking behind, and a seemingly innocent change of quantity acts as a kind of snare, to catch hold of the quality. The antinomy of Measure which this implies was exemplified under more than one garb among the Greeks. It was asked, for example, whether a single grain makes a heap of wheat, or whether it makes a bald-tail to tear out a single hair from the horse’s tail. At first, no doubt, looking at the nature of quantity as an indifferent and external character of being, we are disposed to answer these questions in the negative. And yet, as we must admit, this indifferent increase and diminution has its limit: a point is finally reached, where a single additional grain makes a heap of wheat; and the bald-tail is produced, if we continue plucking out single hairs. These examples find a parallel in the story of the peasant who, as his ass trudged cheerfully along, went on adding ounce after ounce to its load, till at length it sunk under the unendurable burden. It would be a mistake to treat these examples as pedantic futility; they really turn on thoughts, an acquaintance with which is of great importance in practical life, especially in ethics. Thus in the matter of expenditure, there is a certain latitude within which a more or less does not matter; but when the Measure, imposed by the individual circumstances of the special case, is exceeded on the one side or the other, the qualitative nature of Measure (as in the above examples of the different temperature of water) makes itself felt, and a course, which a moment before was held good economy, turns into avarice or prodigality. The same principles may be applied in politics, when the constitution of a state has to be looked at as independent of, no less than as dependent on, the extent of its territory, the number of its inhabitants, and other quantitative points of the same kind. If we look, e.g. at a state with a territory of ten thousand square miles and a population of four millions we should, without hesitation, admit that a few square miles of land or a few thousand inhabitants more or less could exercise no essential influence on the character of its constitution. But on the other hand, we must not forget that by the continual increase or diminishing of a state, we finally get to a point where, apart from all other circumstances, this quantitative alteration alone necessarily draws with it an alteration in the quality of the constitution. The constitution of a little Swiss canton does not suit a great kingdom; and, similarly, the constitution of the Roman republic was unsuitable when transferred to the small imperial towns of Germany.

That is about all we need.

Now for a little recapitulation and a jumping-off place into Essence. Being means quality, determinate being. It comes out of Nothing. It deals with the categories of other determinate beings that one determinate being automatically creates. But Measure as the last stage of such Being which creates other over there. The dialectic of Measure leads it into Essence, where being is no longer simply determinate. It is reflected. We now begin to see an object whose parts are separated by thought. One part creates an other, true, but the other is inherent in the object itself, not one object here and another over there, but the object splits into related categories that are both contained within the object itself.

This has been very quiet, very easy. The smaller Logic is worth reading on the Doctrine of Being in particular. I have purposely kept the pitch low. Just read and get acquainted. For after this we are going to begin to go places and it is going to be hectic.


Here goes then, right into the heart of it, and take the worst first. Brace yourself:

Becoming in Essence – its reflective movement – is hence the movement from Nothing to Nothing and through Nothing back to itself. The transition or Becoming transcends itself in its transition: that Other which arises in the course of this transition is not the Not-being of a Being, but the Nothing of a Nothing – which constitutes Being – Being exists only as the movement of Nothing to Nothing, and thus is Essence; and Essence does not contain this movement in itself but is this movement, an absolute Show and pure negativity, which has nothing without it that could negate it, but negates only its own negativity, which is only in this negation.

It is as tough a passage as you can have. Yet we can break its back. Just try to remember. Hegel must write this way. If he said, as we do, the labour movement this and that, or atomic energy, or the theory of the state, he would at once limit himself. The reader would think of this as politics or whatever it was Hegel had chosen. The movement would be from politics to something else, then to something else, and so on ad infinitum. Besides it would, I feel sure, limit his freedom of analysis. He examines instead an infinite number of processes, studies the relation between stages, and extracts, abstracts the essential movement. Besides, as I read him, I get the impression that from the study of phenomena and the methods of other philosophers he had learnt to handle these abstractions by themselves, and as a man does in mathematics, push them further by their own movement. So they have to be accepted as valid.

We are to take this passage all ways, worry it like a dog. What is the central idea? The thing that I want you to notice is where he says Essence does not contain a movement, but is that movement.

Imagine a spirit, a genie Ariel, a disembodied being flitting around in the spiritual void. He does not know who he is or what he is. But he wants to find out and he has been told that inside his spiritual constellation are a number of elements which periodically explode into an object, stone, flower, horse, ape, man, etc. He gets a chance in these to see what he really is. But he will know whether this is the real thing or not. If after a while he feels that this is not the real thing he dissolves it and he steps back again into a pure spirit. His only way of knowing anything about himself is to become one of the things that is in him. The day he becomes something and knows, feels, that this is it, then he is something new at last. He has we may say a notion of his true self at last. But, except as something that has become something for a while, he himself is a pure spirit, abstract, waiting in those cold regions.

The essence is the fact that something continually becomes something else and negates it because it isn’t what the thing that is becoming wants to be. This “being” that it becomes, we know from the Doctrine of Being has “become” out of Nothing. All immediate being comes out of Nothing and can go back to nothing. The difference with Essence is that it creates a lot of different beings; they go back to nothing, but essence keeps on trying, for poor Essence is the fact that he has to keep on trying. He is a kind of being that does not rest at becoming nothing but from his very nature must keep on trying and trying again. We can now go back to the passage and concentrate on certain things.

Now we can do a loose paraphrase. (As far as Essence is concerned, the process of becoming is being, that is to say it comes from nothing, stays as being for a while and goes back to nothing, but thereby gets back to itself, which is the imperative necessity to “become” once more.) Ordinary being is the movement of nothing to being-for-other and going on, or maybe, just becoming and disappearing, and that’s that. But Essence tries again. So that the being in which Essence tries to find itself is pure Show; it does not become a quality, which becomes a quantity, which becomes a Measure, etc. No, sir. Pure Show. Absolute Negativity. Show No. 1. No good. Negated. Show No. 2. Not what I am looking for – out with it into limbo. Show No. 3. No good. Negate it. Negate them all. One day we’ll get to it (and we’ll see a lot of things which we could not see before). But for the time being Essence can truly say, “Me! I know what I am by now. I am just Negativity, becoming something and negating it. I am a movement, me. Yes, that’s it. I am movement of negation. But that isn’t all of me. One day I’ll find out.” Essence of course does not know that there is a logic to his negativity. A philosopher, a Hegelian philosopher, who was watching him through an atomic microscope would say: first he was a stone, then he was a flower, then he was a horse, then he was an ape, then he was a man. The poor abstraction doesn’t know it, but I think one day he will be an angel. That’s what all this restlessness and negativity must mean. But that of course does not concern us here.

Now from there into the labour movement.

We know what the labour movement is. It was at one time the 1848 revolutions, including Chartism, 1839-48. It took the form of the First International. It took the form of the Second International at its highest peak. The unions were also organised. There are asses who would say: the Commune, for example, took place in one city, how can you say that was a form of the whole labour movement? Think of all the millions and millions who had no connection with the Commune. Fools. Since 1917 the labour movement in country after country has repeatedly tried to imitate the Commune. Europe and Asia seethe with would-be Communards. So it is obvious that the Commune (in a single city) showed the pattern of the future – to the millions and millions in the hundreds and thousands of cities who perhaps paid little attention to the Commune – which was a form of nothing in particular. The Commune represented them.

So these forms show the labour movement going somewhere. But the 1848 revolutions, they came and went, the Commune came and went. The First International came and went. The Second International remains, but is a relic. Look at it in France – the Third Force. It is a joke. In France the two forces are De Gaulle and the Third International. Who chooses to bother himself about the Second International and Catholic workers is in the same position as those who did not understand that it was the Commune and not the apparently inert millions that was decisive for the future of Europe. Marx pounced on it.

But, as I say, these forms disappear. But the proletarian movement continues. They have an external being, and these vanish, the new external forms appear. We can always, if we are Marxists, see the form and what for the moment we will call the Essence. But the Essence is not one thing that changes. No, the form was the First International; the essence was the labour, the proletarian, the revolutionary movement of 1871, which was different from that of 1848. And we have established that the revolutionary movement today, the workers that follow Stalinism, are not the same workers who followed Menshevism. They are further advanced qualitatively, further advanced along the road of their ultimate goal.

The Commune, therefore, the First International, the 1905 struggles were just Being, they were Nothing. They did not exist, they existed, they did not exist any more. They were from nothing and went back to nothing. But their experience, what they represented was stored up. It was not lost. Essence is a movement but a movement of stored up Being. The workers under Stalinism have the experience of Leninism. “Essence we may certainly regard as past Being, remembering however meanwhile that the past is not utterly denied, but only laid aside and thus at the same time preserved.”

The reactionary Third International has, stored up in it, the past being of Leninism which is gone – it exists no longer. Philosophers, Marxists, have to trace this.

The thing that continues to move, however, is the labour movement, the revolutionary movement itself. It stored up the experience of the follies and weaknesses of Proudhonism and Bakuninism. It learnt the value of organisation. It stored up the experience of parliamentarianism, national defence, etc. It became richer and richer. (It organised the ideas too, but always as a result of the objective movement, changing, developing capitalism.)

At a given moment, this proletarian movement looks like the First International or the Commune or 1917-20. And if you stop, look at it, and be precise about it, as you have to do (remember you cannot think unless you have fixed and precise determinations), then you see that the essential movement is reflected in the form. The First International reflected it, 1915 reflected it, etc. The reflections disappear. What they reflected is stored up and becomes part of the new proletariat. This process, the disappearance of the reflection, and the new proletariat with its experience of the reflection stored up in it, starting off again, this process is Essence. The essence of a thing is the fact that it must move, reflect itself, negate the reflection, which was nothing, become being, and then become nothing again, while the thing itself must move on because it is its nature to do so. That it must move, the consistent direction in which it moves, its necessity to negate its reflections, store them up, and go on to some ultimate goal, this is its Essence. The essence of the proletariat is its movement to incorporate in itself experience of the evils of capitalism until it overcomes capitalism itself. The essence of the proletariat is not that it is revolutionary and tries a lot of different parties and rejects them because they fail. It is not “an existent substratum”. It negates not only its reflection, it does more than that, it further negates its own experiences and stores them up, so it is always further than it was before in its own special purpose. Nor does it negate in general. (The quote will show.) Its negation is a specific negation of its own contradictions, inherent in capitalism and therefore inherent in it as inseparable from and in fact unthinkable except as an opposite to capitalism. And now, sentence by sentence.

Becoming in Essence – its reflective moment – is hence the movement from Nothing to Nothing and through Nothing back to itself.

Obvious. Commune, First International, Leninism, all, as existing entities, all pure being. The proletariat had a being, a certain feeling, ideas, impulses, desires, will. It gained these in its experience, objective experience with capitalism, with its past stored-up being. This was abstract being, abstract proletarian being. But abstract being is Nothing. The Nature of being is to become determinate. Just as thought organises impulses, desire, will, etc., the proletarian party organises itself, becomes determinate in Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky, Rakovsky, the Bolshevik Party, the Third International, determinate being.

Leninism, therefore, the Third International, is a crystallisation of abstract being, which is Nothing. Leninism negates this nothing by becoming something. Then it is superseded by Stalinism. But the fact that this takes place is the essence of the proletariat. Its desires, will, impulses, needs (basically implanted in it by its position vis-a-vis capitalism) are always first abstract being, i.e., nothing, then take determinate form, then these vanish back into nothing, but their essence is stored up. The proletariat, in essence, has an Other, its reflection, but this just comes and goes.

The transition or Becoming transcends itself in its transition: that Other which arises in the course of this transition is not the Not being of a Being, but the Nothing of a Nothing; and it is this – the fact that it is the negation of a Nothing – which constitutes being.

This is an exercise in the development of the ideas of the Doctrine of Being. This passage contains the key. Read it slowly and get it:

Being exists only as the movement of Nothing to Nothing, and thus is Essence- and Essence does not contain this movement in itself but is this movement, an absolute Show and pure negativity, which has nothing without it that could negate it, but negates only its own negativity, which is only in this negation.

So that looking back we can see that we had one kind of being in quality, immediate being, which went its own way. Now we have another kind of being, Essence, which has its way, constant negativity of the Show, in which it must find itself. The rest of Essence is to trace the dialectical development of this Show, and the movement that constantly negates it. (I do not guarantee these interpretations. The point is once they are down we begin to Bet somewhere. I am not afraid of mistakes.)

So now we have Essence. It is a form of Reflection. As Hegel describes it in the smaller Logic:

This word “reflection” is originally applied when a ray of light in a straight line impinging upon the surface of a mirror is thrown back from it. In this phenomenon we have two things, first an immediate fact which is, and secondly the deputed, derivated, or transmitted phase of the same. Something of this sort takes place when we reflect, or think upon an object; for here we want to know the object, not in its immediacy, but as derivative or mediated.

Mediated. A lovely word. Hug it to your bosom. I say, we say that people’s consciousness is one thing, immediacy, an entity that we can say has “quality”. But as Marxists we know that consciousness is in essence the reflection of economic and political, i.e. social environment. The social background, therefore, is mediated through consciousness. In the doctrine of Being, quality was, if you like, mediated into quantity. In the Doctrine of Essence quality is, or rather would be a Show of something which is reflecting itself through quality. Hegel goes on:

The problem or aim of philosophy is often represented as the ascertainment of the essence of things: a phrase which only means that things instead of being left in their immediacy, must be shown to be mediated by, or based upon, something else. The immediate Being of things is thus conceived under the image of a rind or curtain behind which the Essence lies hidden.

The maestro is taking it easy. “Everything, it is said, has an Essence; that is, things really are not what they immediately show themselves. There is something more to be done than merely rove from one quality to another, and merely to advance from qualitative to quantitative and vice versa: there is a permanent in things and that permanent is in the first instance their Essence.”

That is simple enough. Why didn’t I begin with it? No. Because that simple phrase “in the first instance” covers a lot and it would have given us a lot of trouble. You would have believed you understood something which you did not. The essence of consciousness is social environment. But you get there an impression that is static. It is only because consciousness is a kind of show, which must reflect environment, and environment must go on expressing itself, forever seeking, can we call it Essence. The importance of this cannot be overestimated. If you do not see that clearly, you get the conception of trying this, trying that, trying the other. You soon say: it never seems to learn, because “it” is static. Then your essence becomes a thing. But when you see Essence as the movement, and the movement which stores up the superseded being, but yet is impelled to go on, then you have Essence in truth and in fact.

Now to know that Essence is a movement which reflects into a Show (which is dismissed) and then goes off again, to know this is only to know Essence in general. This is the beginning of Essence. Essence, a movement, moves on dialectically. The reflection and the thing reflected have their own life; they develop into different things and we trace them, and see how at each stage they change into something else. Hegel calls their most important form the Reflections of Determinations. Remember that for a long time they are creations of thought. For example, when you look at consciousness, you do not see it divided into consciousness and existence, to use Marx’s word. Consciousness is consciousness. Thought, however, makes this separation, these determinations of the object, into its component parts.

We see Leninism as a determination which reflects a certain stage of development of the perpetual movement. But Leninism is a thought-determination. There is the proletariat, in capitalist society, at a certain stage of development. To isolate what we call Leninism is a determination of thought. To isolate it as a fact and give it an independent life of its own, ah! Jesus, that is something that brings a terrible retribution. Listen to Hegel even before he begins to develop the Determinations of Reflection, telling us how certain people get stuck:

. . . the reflected determinations are of a kind different from the merely immediate determinations of Being. Of the latter it is easily admitted that they are transitory and merely relative, related to something other, while the reflected determinations have the form of Being-in-and-for-Self. They accordingly assert themselves as essential, and instead of passing over into their opposites, they appear rather as absolute, free, and indifferent to one another. They therefore stubbornly resist their movement: their Being is their selfidentity in their determinateness, according to which, while presupposing one another, they yet preserve themselves as absolutely separate in this relation.

Leninism is Leninism and Stalinism is Stalinism; the Fourth International is the Fourth International. This is giving them the form of Being-in-and-for-Self. The above extract poses the problem. There is no need to take everything sentence by sentence. A looser interpretation is here indicated. (And Hegel will sing this song for nearly five hundred pages .) If you look at the “immediate” determinations of being, you see Leninism, and you say: it will pass; things come and go. l remember the French consul in an island where I stayed who told me that the French politician Briand was a socialist in his youth, but there always arise people more to the left than you, which pushes you to the right. That idea appears to have movement, but it takes Briand and those “more left” than he as “immediates”- The reflection is external.

And Hegel (in the complete extract – I have left out some of the paragraph) says it is easy for serious thinkers to throw these external determinations aside. But when you think seriously, see the apparent being as merely reflections of essence, then these determinations become themselves essential. The Commune, the Second International, Leninism, Stalinism, etc., become “free”. They become independent of life. They live on after they are dead, and what does live on is dead – for Understanding. You see, you know you are a superior thinker. These determinations you have traced to their roots. They “presuppose” one another “of course”. Leninism is “in a way” connected with Menshevism, and Stalinism comes from Leninism. They are in inseparable connection with developing capitalism and the developing proletariat. “Of course, of course”, but yet they are kept “separate”. The individual thinker, having worked hard, overcome vulgar common sense, and established these, holds tight on to them. His creative energy is exhausted. Or his energy for organisation of concrete things is such that he throws himself into organisation within these categories. He would ordinarily do little harm. But when these marvellous, new categories were established, they came from the impulses, will, desire, etc., of people. And there are always some people who, for objective reasons, wish to stay right there. They catch hold of this individual and make him a hero. The Logic of Understanding has a base.

But there are some even more pathetic cases, and as I think of this, I am moved to tears. There is the powerful intellect and spirit which moves in categories that, once powerful in their day, now have no objective base. What wasted effort! What vain sacrifices! Hegel knew. All the time he keeps saying: “That is the enemy, thinking in the categories which were precise, but acquire independent life and do not move.” He is going to tell us about opposites and transition. That is the main content of Essence. But before he begins he says that this Understanding type of thought can strangle us before we can get started. Identity, Difference and Contradiction, especially Contradiction

We now approach the core of Hegel’s system, in the three noted above. It must not, however, be forgotten that the larger Logic is nine hundred pages in all. Take for example the question of Ground which follows these three. Ground, says Hegel, is the real self-mediation of Essence. OK. And then he is off. Absolute Ground which is further determined into Determined Ground, which he further analyses into Formal Ground and Real Ground, which finally ends up as Complete Ground. But the sub-divisions of Absolute Ground alone are (a) Form and Essence, (b) Form and Matter, (c) Form and Content. It is thirty-four pages in all. What the hell can we do with that? And yet it contains such crucial things as Form and Content, Existence, Appearance, Substance, and so on and on. You will read it for yourselves. My selections are arbitrary. We take bits. But in reality there are no arbitrary selections. My purpose, my knowledge of the Logic, my knowledge of the labour movement, my knowledge of my probable readers, are all at work deciding which bits I shall take. If my knowledge is not too superficial and my purpose not too narrow, a real insight into the Logic will be given and a real insight into the labour movement too. But we must know the limits of what we are doing. We are getting an idea of the thing, that’s all. However, when it comes to Identity and Difference and Contradiction, I think we should make some attempt to follow his abstract method, as we did to some degree in the Doctrine of Being. They are, as I say, the core.

The treatment of Identity in the smaller Logic is one of the most baffling and most irritating things in Hegel. I suspect that a thorough knowledge of the old-fashioned logic would help. In any case Hegel seems to be saying something like this: “You see that tablecloth? It is more than a tablecloth; a thorough knowledge now of a tablecloth is absolutely necessary to understand logic; let us now go on to the next section.”

My explanation, as many of my explanations, undoubtedly will commit violations. But you will probably learn something from it. I have read numbers of brief explanations of Hegel and the Logic in particular, which explained nothing. That is why I am using my own method. As the translators of the larger Logic say quite frankly: “We have no doubt that we have failed to understand the thought in many places. “ I too know how easy it is to misinterpret. But that need not deter us. Now –

I look at something and in my view I get a picture of it (how I could tear that formulation to pieces!) – book, stone, horse, house, labour movement, scientific theory, dish of ice-cream. I define it to myself: I establish its identity. I can be quite precise. I say: that house, I designed it. I built it. I live in it. I know all about it. I can describe it, maybe make an inventory. That house is that house. What I write on the paper, the plans, the photographs, the memories, etc., all correspond to that house. But the conception – that house, which I think I have established so clearly, eludes me even as I establish it. The house is changing. (I am changing too, but forget that, or rather put it aside for the moment.) In two years that house will be another house: paint gone, holes in the roof, furniture waterlogged, grass growing in the patio. Instead of that house being in Class A that house has degenerated into Class C. It happened in two years, but it was in reality happening all the time. The whole existence of the house is a struggle against precisely such a degeneration. Now Hegel says, and this is the first (broad) statement of his particular Hegelian method, he says: I who know this, when I look at the house, l must say – this house is, but at the same time it is not, or to be more precise, it is and it is not what it is, it is also something else. You find it in the books as A is not equal to A. That formula is the most misleading formula that could be. Any fool can agree with it, and any fool can disagree. Simply because by itself it proves nothing. You have to take the whole of the Hegelian argument or you had better leave it alone.

For Hegel, having established the uncertain character of Identity, moves on at once to Difference. And here he is equally bold but a little easier to follow. He says that if identity implies difference, then equally difference implies identity. I do not compare a camel to a French dictionary. Those are merely things which are unlike; there is no “difference” between them. Sure they are “different”, but that is a vulgar difference, as vulgar in its way as the identity that house is house. I can seriously compare the differences of two books, two novels, two novels of the same period, two novels of the same author. Difference, difference worth talking about, can only exist on the basis of some identity. And identity conversely can only exist on the basis of difference, this house is and is not that house. And this house today is not this house tomorrow or in two years’ time.

In fact Hegel says at the moment you think, whether you know it or not, you negate the existent. “This house is worth $5,000” means it was worth more and that tomorrow it will be worth only $4000, or if the inflation goes on, $10,000, Negroes and all. If I am saying that this house is worth $5,000, was always worth $5,000 and will always be worth $5,000, for ever and ever, 1 am saying nothing, at least I am not seriously thinking. Thought has significance only when the house has relation to other houses which do not possess this priceless attribute of constantly maintaining the price.

Identity means difference. Difference means identity. And now with a leap we can get into it. Hegel says that this principle becomes important, in fact decisive, when you watch, make a philosophical cognition, about a single object. Within the identity of an object, you have to establish the specific difference, and within its specific difference, you have to establish the identity. If you have established the specific difference, the difference which belongs to the object, which distinguishes it from all other objects and their differences, then you have the Other of the object. The other is the difference that matters, the essential difference. But as it is special (essential) difference to no other object, then Other is therefore identical with its object. To find that out is to find out what makes the object move. l look at bourgeois society and I see capital, but labour is its other. In capital is essential difference, but both capital and labour are one identity.

I think myself that all this is thrilling. Let us now take this principle a little further, letting Hegel himself do most of the talking, if even I do not always use quotes. He says that this question of essential difference within every identity is the indispensable necessity for philosophic cognition. Later he will tell us when you say father, you have in mind son. Son is interpenetrated with father. Father has no meaning except in relation to son. Above has no meaning except in relation to below. If I did not mean father in relation to son I would not say father, I would say: man or baseball-player or something, but then I am looking at another object or objects. So that simple, abstract identity is a fiction, a deadly trap for thinkers.

It is of the greatest importance to recognise this quality of the Determinations of Reflection which have been considered here, that their truth consists only in their relation to each other, and therefore in the fact that each contains the other in its own concept. This must be understood and remembered, for without this understanding not a step can really be taken in philosophy.

That is how house is not merely house. House is essentially a protection against Nature. So that identical with house is its Other, destruction by Nature. House can be a fort containing soldiers. So identical with house in that connection is its destruction by artillery, etc. House can be also a source of income. So that identical with it is decline in rent. Everything has its own specific complex of relations, and the something has different complexes of relations which continue to give it a specific Other, in other words, control its movement. That is a very important aspect of dialectic. And as Hegel loves to say, dialectic is not practised only by philosophers. The real-estate merchant, the architect, all these people know the particular Other of their house very well. It is always in their concept. True the dialectic of the house is as a rule on a very low level, except in case of Florida hurricanes, fire, or runaway inflation. But that Hegel knows too. And he knows too that where you examine great social and intellectual forms in society, then you have got to remember that every object contains its Other in its own concept and every determination of thought has its other in its concept too. Labour always has capital in its concept. That is why labour in 1864 had the capital of 1864 in its concept, labour in 1948 has the capital of 1948 in its concept. Menshevism had Leninism in its concept, and Leninism had Stalinism in its concept. How Stalinism? Because as long as the new organism, socialism, had not been achieved, the revolutionary determination, Leninism, would be attacked by the reflection within it of the fundamental enemy of the proletariat, capital, and state capital within the labour movement is precisely Stalinism, as Menshevism was monopoly capital (in its stage of super-profits from imperialism) within the labour movement. You don’t know this? You cannot move a foot. It is worse. You can move but in the wrong direction.

Their truth consists only in their relation to each other. Each contains the other in its own concept. Know this. Read it in the two Logics. Reflect on it. For if you don’t, you cannot think. Their truth consists only in their relation to each other. The truth of the labour movement consists only in its relation to capital. How we have sweated to show that the truth of the First International can only be grasped in relation to the specific capital of the day, that the Second International had a similar relation, that the truth of the Third International, in relation to the Fourth International, must be the same. Understand it and remember it. Remember it. Remember that Menshevism as a political tendency in the labour movement had its precise opposite, Leninism. That is the history of the Second International, of the Second International and no other. When Menshevism reached its peak it perished and Leninism took its place. That is the way it went, and it could move no other way. The Labour movement could move from the revolutionary ideas of 1889 to 1917 only by way of an opposition, a transition through the growth of Menshevism, and by overcoming it. (We know but we have to repeat that these represented objective forces. But for the time being, let us concentrate on the process of thought.) I don’t know if you have it. A determination of reflection is identity and difference. And the difference, the Other, emerges, becomes strong, and the Identity has to overcome it, for identity is the beginning of Essence, the movement forward.

The history of the Third International is the history of the supersession of Leninism by Stalinism. Hold the movement tight. You see what was show is now more than show. It is Other which forms the heartbreaking mountain that Identity has to create and climb before it can reach the height to re-establish itself as Identity once more on a higher plane. Thus the reflections of determination must be viewed. Do not give them a free, independent life of their own. They will murder you. Look into them. See their Other, and see if when something serious appears it is not Other which is coming out. Then you know it, you can trace it, you know why it is there, and you can mobilise forces to overcome it. But if you do not see it as Difference in identity, cruel, murderous, but (given the objective forces) necessary transition, then you rush off into fantastic explanations such as “tools of the Kremlin” or the incapacity of the workers to understand politics and such like. Once more. That which ultimately becomes the obstacle over which you must climb is an Other which was inside it, identical with it and yet essential difference.

If the Fourth International is to supersede Stalinism then it must “contain” Stalinism in its concept of itself. It begins from all the things that Stalinism took over from Leninism and kept (objective forces bring out Other – different objective forces would bring out a different Other). The moment you think, or allow it to lurk in your mind that the workers are backward or deceived, you repudiate two or three decades of history and your concept contains as its opposite, Menshevism. You then fight a ghost. The British workers, the American workers are not Menshevik, neither are the workers in Norway and Sweden. A poll taken a few months ago in all the European countries showed that over sixty per cent of the populations were ready to abolish customs duties, integrate economies, etc. What was vanguardism in Lenin’s day is now an essential part of the whole populations. The Other of Menshevism was Leninism. The Other of Stalinism is an international socialist economic order, embracing from the start whole continents. Their truth consists only in relation to each other. Each contains the other in its own concept. It goes forward by overcoming this specific opposite. We have not laboured in vain. We have now (I hope) grasped without knowing what Hegel means by his great principle of contradiction. Contradiction

The most important pages in the Doctrine of Essence I have found to be Observation 3 of the larger Logic. I think when we have finished with this the hump will be behind us, though much will remain to be done.

Hegel in his tantalising way begins by talking calmly about Identity, Variety and Opposition, which he calls the primary determinations of Reflection. I preferred to talk about Identity Difference and Contradiction. Go look them up yourself if you want to. Then he says that contradiction is the root of all movement and life and only through it anything moves and has impulse and activity. Everybody, every Marxist, knows those statements.

Then Hegel does something very characteristic. He says that in regard to the assertion of some people that contradiction does not exist, “we may disregard this statement”. Just leave it. First of all he is, blessed man, not a politician. In politics you cannot disregard opponents. Secondly he cannot begin by proving such a statement. To ask him to do this is, he considers, unscientific. The proof is all that he will say and the conclusions that he will reach. If you don’t like it go your way. Then after a lot of the same panegyric to contradiction, he ends:

Speculative thought consists only in this, that thought holds fast Contradiction, and, in Contradiction, itself, and not in that it allows itself to be dominated by it – as happens to imagination – or suffers its determinations to be resolved into other, or into Nothing .

You have not got “quite simple insight” into what this means, I am quite sure when you do you understand dialectic. Until you have that simple insight you do not understand it. To get that simple insight is going to be a job. Let us get down to it.

You remember that each contains the other in its own concept. I talked about organisation and spontaneity, party and mass, politics and economics. To say that each of these concepts must contain the other is to make a profound but general statement. Much work has been done in Bolshevism to show that politics contains economics in its concept. No work, absolutely none, has been done on the others, except for some marvellous beginnings by Lenin. (The subjects of organisation and spontaneity, party and mass, were not urgent in Marx’s day.)

As I said: to say that the truth of party consists in its relation with mass, the truth of organisation consists in its relation to spontaneity, is to say an abstract truth, but still important truth, a beginning. The one concept has life and movement because of the opposition of the other. It moves because of the other, because the other moves. It cannot move otherwise. And thought must know this and hold it. Look at Hegel’s actual procedure in the Logic.

We begin with Identity. That became difference. He has now carried it to contradiction. Each is carried to its limit and so becomes a point of transition for its opposite. That is how quality becomes quantity. That is how quantity became measure.

That, then, is what Hegel is getting at by his treatment of identity, Difference, Contradiction, Variety, Opposition and his statement that contradiction is the source of all movement. When you observe what is an apparent identity, know that within it the contradictions exist, the essential differences. How will you know? In that annoying section in the smaller Logic dealing with Identity he uses a superb phrase, “Identity is the ideality of Being”. The difference is first in your head, the Idea. (I asked you, remember, not to forget this, but to put it aside.) What happens in your head when you look at something can never be a simple reflection, an ordinary identity with it. You know where it is going, what it is aiming at. It has its being, the being is concrete, but its essence is that, because of its Other, it will move in a certain direction and your Idea tells you how to search for the Contradiction. Without that you cannot think. Look at what passes in the Marxist movement today as analysis of organisation.

Trotsky, we repeat, having failed for years to understand Lenin on “organisation”, in 1917 was converted; and this is what is true, forthwith converted it into a fetish, i.e. a persistent Understanding. For that is what fetishism is. (The Stalinists did the same.) Lenin’s “principles of organisation” are today on all lips. They have become a complete abstraction, Understanding. That you can think of organisation only in relation to its opposite, spontaneity, this nobody, not a single soul, ever says a word about. I shall take this up concretely before long, but for the time being let us listen to Hegel and understand him.

He tells us first the way Imagination thinks and by Imagination (we had it a few minutes ago) Hegel means the kind of thought that deals only with what is familiar. Note what he calls it – Imagination. At first sight it seems incongruous. But I think he wants to contrast it with scientific method, analysis. In any case:

Thus although imagination everywhere has Contradiction for content, it never becomes aware of it, it remains an external reflection, which passes from Likeness to Unlikeness . . . It keeps these two determinations external to each other, and has in mind only these, not their transition, which is the essential matter and contains the Contradiction.

Note their transition. That is the essential matter. The transition shows the contradiction. Remember the growth of Bernsteinism within the revolutionary Second International in contradiction to the whole essential aim and purpose of the organisation; and after this growth the break of 1914-21, the point of the transition, when the revolutionary proletariat overcomes this and reasserts its essential purpose on a higher plane.

You nod your head and say: yes, yes, OK. I have it, I have it. Baloney. You will be a little more chastened, you will be much more chastened later, but you will be a little chastened now when you reflect that Lenin never saw this, until after, and Trotsky it can truly be said never saw it – up to 1923 at least he was singing the same old tune. So a little modesty please while we go on.

Imagination, in so far as it is revolutionary, sees Stalinism here, and “democratic socialism” over there; and never sees them, their identity or their unity as opposites. It does not see that the labour movement, being what it is in essence, the bureaucratic, criminal, organisational domination of Stalinism, will form inevitably the point of transition for another stage higher. It sees the degrading organisation and in despair (or hope) scans the horizon looking for salvation. The Hegelian dialectic keeps its eyes glued on the Stalinist organisation for it knows that the Other of it is there. Now see Hegel’s chief enemy Understanding make its bow:

On the other hand intelligent reflection, if we may mention this here, consists in the understanding and enunciating of Contradiction. It does not express the concept of things and their relations and has only determinations of imagination for material and content; but still it relates them, and the relation contains their contradiction, allowing their concept to show through the contradiction.

Understanding is the same as intelligent reflection. Understanding cannot, does not express the concept of things and their relations. Its determinations are what is familiar to it, not what is familiar in general but what is familiar to it, what once it worked out. It operates with bureaucracies which are unalterably tied to private property, and reformist internationals which always in crisis defend private property and the national state, things familiar to it. But Understanding relates these determinations – it thinks, it has perspectives. It says, “this is what it is, and this is what it ought to be.” You are able to glimpse the genuine concept. It shows through the contradiction. It is possible to have a more just, a more precise appraisal of the nature of Trotsky’s writings? And now to see what they are, by seeing still more clearly what they are not. Let us see how the true Dialectic, Thinking Reason, handles these things. This is a clause by clause section. I hope you get it the first time. We worked hard enough.

Thinking Reason, on the other hand, sharpens (so to speak) the blunt difference of Variety, the mere manifold of imagination, into essential difference, that is, Opposition.

Magnificent. MAG-nificent. Imagination sees a lot of various things, and sees them as Like and Unlike, a manifold variety. Reflection, Understanding, relates them and shows how they contradict each other. See how Stalinism contradicts a true revolutionary organisation. But Reason, Reason, catches hold of the variety and seeks out the Opposition, the Contradiction, and drives them together, ties them together, makes one the Other of the other. Then things happen.

The manifold entities acquire activity and liveliness in relation to one another only when driven on the sharp point of Contradiction.

That is it. When they are both jammed together, locked together, each in the other, that is the guarantee of their movement. When you concentrate all attention on the contradiction between Stalinist bureaucratism and the necessity of the proletariat for free creative activity, then all the phenomena begin to move. They do this only when the contradiction is at its sharpest. Hegel means that we can see the movement, only when we have clarified the contradiction – “thence they draw negativity” .

Quite so. The negativity of the free creative activity of the proletariat can only come completely into play when it is in contradiction with a concrete obstacle, something which, to release its own nature, it must overcome. It is the unbearable nature of the contradiction that creates negativity, “which is the inherent pulsation of self-movement and liveliness”.

Thus it is not a blemish, a fault, a deficiency in a thing if a Contradiction is to be found in it. That is its life.

On the contrary, every determination, every concrete, every concept is essentially a union of distinguished and distinguishable moments, which pass over through determinate and essential difference into contradictory moments.

I wonder if you have got the extreme, the unparalleled boldness of that statement. I can well imagine so many of the people we know saying, “Hegel, there is something in what you say. But as usual you exaggerate.” Every determination. Every concrete. Every concept. That is his way of saying everything has these moments, these oppositions; one of them is the opposite of what is the real, the essential nature of the organism. By its struggle against this the organism finds more of its real, its genuine nature. Writers on American political economy, writers on American history, students of Greek drama, writers on the development of unions, all of you, get this into your bones. It is not simple. Strive to see it, to see it “simply”, as Hegel said in the Introduction. If there is no sharp contradiction, then there is no movement to speak of and there is stagnation, a compromise. That is the only reason why there is compromise and stagnation – because the contradiction is not sharp enough.

The paragraph isn’t concluded yet, but I propose to stay here for a while. First of all, listen to Hegel again, in the smaller Logic. Just as he approaches the climax of his work, his exposition of the Absolute Idea.

In the course of its process the Idea creates that illusion, by setting an antithesis to confront it; and its action consists in getting rid of the illusion which it has created. Only out of this error does the truth arise. In this fact lies the reconciliation with error and with finitude. Error or other-being, when superseded, is still a necessary dynamic element of truth: for truth can only be where it makes itself its own result.

If you had to write this, you would know the bowed admiration with which I read phrases like “necessary dynamic element of truth” to describe error; and the majesty, the completeness of the phrase “truth can only be where it makes itself its own result”. The proletariat itself will smash Stalinism to pieces. This experience will teach it its final lesson, that the future lies in itself, and not in anything which claims to represent it or direct it.

This is the thing that people glibly write as thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Who ever understood that? Maybe a lot of other people understood it well and I was just dumb. But it took me a long, long time to see it, to get it in my bones, to get “simple insight” into it everywhere, in everything. What am I saying? The thing constantly evades me, but I chase it. A few things of great importance can be said at once, one general, and one particular.

By this doctrine, Hegel gets rid of that tendency to ignore reality or to be overwhelmed by it, which is always lurking around to hold our movement by the throat. He had the utmost contempt for people who tried to brush away the harsh, the cruel, the bitter concrete, the apparently unadulterated evil. This is the way, and the only way that truth and the good come. Thus he could say that the real was rational. However evil reality might be, it had its place, its function in the scheme of development.

The great idealist, the man of World-Spirit, etc., did not depend on World-Spirit concretely to teach people anything. Therefore he was the last man to expect people to be inspired, to see the light, to “recognise” that “we” were right all the time, or worst of all to be “educated” by a few gifted people. In fact he believed that Spirit, conscious knowledge, was only the province of a few philosophers. As far as great masses or classes of people learnt anything, they learnt it concretely in struggle against some concrete thing. Hegel’s doctrine was reactionary but that isn’t what concerns us here. What does concern us is this. He would have laughed to scorn the idea that any party would teach the masses free creative activity. He would have said instead: they will find themselves inevitably up against such a system of oppression, bureaucracy, manipulation and corruption within their own arena, their own existence, that they will have to overcome it to live, and free creative activity can only come into existence when it is faced with something that only free activity and free activity alone can overcome. That is the point of transition to a higher stage of existence. There is no other. The Stalinist bureaucracies thus become a stage of development. Free creative activity becomes immeasurably more concrete in our heads. Our notion of socialism changes and we see the harsh reality differently.

And finally, note that the Logic itself moves by just this method of opposition, transition, timeliness. His analysis of identity, variety, opposition, ground, actuality, etc., particularly in the Doctrine of Essence, always represents, as he tells us, pairs of correlatives. One of them becomes overwhelming, it threatens to disrupt the whole process, the other overcomes it, and we find ourselves further on. That is how identity splits into difference; difference appears just as variety, but variety, variety, variety all over the place makes no sense; the manifold variety either disintegrates into craziness (and this happens; it means only that the object as such comes to an end) or this manifold variety crystallises into opposition. And so on. I think we got some place. Back now to the rest of the page. I attach great methodological importance to this page. Among other reasons I have it on my conscience for the way I am jumping from place to place and the still bigger jumps I am going to make. (Hegel would not be too angry. He would say: This impertinence of James, this undoubted evil is a necessary point of transition to some people so that they will read the whole book.) The thirty pages of Ground which I shall probably skip are on my conscience. But this page happens to say a great deal which will cover Ground (I hope). So here goes. I think I shall write freely and then quote lengthily.

Every concept there has these opposing movements. One becomes objectionable, evil, and this forms the bridge, the transition, for the real nature of the concept, to show itself. But when this overcoming does take place, what happens? The new thing is a resolved contradiction. It is, isn’t it? Bernsteinism has been overcome. That contradiction is resolved. But inasmuch as the complete nature of the organism has not been revealed, i.e. socialism has not been achieved as yet, Leninism contains a new contradiction. Now this thing (forgive me, philosophical friends – for Christ’s sake, I need no forgiveness, I have just seen that Hegel himself calls it “thing”) . . . now this thing that is always producing contradictions, resolving them, and then finding new contradictions, this is the subject or the concept. It is not yet the complete, the concrete Absolute, i.e. the proletariat, self-conscious, self-acting, beginning the real history of humanity. The Russian workers were not that in 1917. It is therefore finite, as yet limited. Therefore contradictory. It still has negation before it. The finite, limited multiplicity, the manifold of which it consists, has a certain identity, a unity. But it constitutes a variety, and this variety can be seen to form itself into an opposition; we have a contradiction. But at any rate it is unified once more ready for the business of further splitting up and further negation. (You remember the last extract from the Phenomenology?) These stages of unification of resolved contradiction when Essence prepares for negation show us what is the real nature of the thing – its Ground. The fact that it keeps on finding higher and richer Grounds, that is its Essence. Whenever it sets up a good strong concrete stage of resolved contradiction we can see what is its Ground.

On the contrary, every determination, every concrete, every concept is essentially a union of distinguished and distinguishable moments, which pass over through determinate and essential difference into contradictory moments.

It is true that this contradictory concretion resolves itself into nothing – it passes back into its negative unity. Now the thing, the subject, or the concept is itself just this negative unity: it is contradictory in itself, but also it is resolved Contradiction; it is the Ground which contains and supports its determinations. The thing, subject, or concept, as intro-refracted in its sphere, is its resolved Contradiction; but its whole sphere again is determinate and various; it is therefore finite, and this means contradictory. Itself it is not the resolution of this higher Contradiction; but it has a higher sphere for its negative unity or Ground. Accordingly, finite things in the indifferent multiplicity are simply this fact, that, contradictory in themselves, they are intro-refracted and pass back into their Ground.

Here comes now a superb piece of analysis, the maestro at his best. I shall again refrain from clause-by-clause analysis, difficult as it is. I shall interpret freely and you will have the passage. Matthew Arnold in a famous piece of criticism says that you should know certain passages in poetry by heart and let them act as a test and touchstone of other poetry. The method has its dangers, but on the whole it is good. With the Logic it is even more so. You must have some passages that you will read and re-read. They are more than a test. They are a handrail. With the more intricate passages, being busy with other things, I forget what I know. I patiently have to re-educate myself. These long quotations, in a context, with examples of familiar material serve this purpose too. You begin to understand and to use the Logic when you read these and begin to dig with them into material of your own. Ground: the Proof of the Absolute

We have been (continues Hegel) inferring the necessity of an essential, continuous, infinite movement from watching and analysing a fixed, limited series of determinations. We shall have to examine this procedure later. But we must remember that we do not make this inference because the being, the determination, persists, becomes a Ground, breaks up, becomes another Ground, being much the same all the time. Not at all. It is because the limited, finite, determination constantly collapses and transcends itself that we can infer continuous motion.

Let us stop here a minute. It is not one International that tries a certain form, and when this fails, tries another form, and when this fails, tries another form (not the same people of course, but the same organisation). No. We could not draw any conclusions from that. The First International is one entity. It collapses. A new one is formed, and this shows us the Ground of these formations. It has the same aim and purpose as the first, though now enriched, developed, concretised. That collapses. A new one is formed. Thus whatever form it may accidentally take (contingency) we can see that it posits something fundamental to it, i.e. shows that this something will appear in the course of negation of the finite.

In ordinary thinking the Form, the constantly appearing Internationals, seem to be the Ground of our idea of a fully developed, concrete, international socialism some day. The Absolute Idea exists because the finite concretions keep appearing. No, says Hegel (and he is right as I shall demonstrate in a moment). The Absolute conception exists precisely because the finite Internationals are always collapsing. The first commonsense thinking says: the continued appearance of Internationals shows that there is an Absolute. The Hegelian dialectic says: the fact that all these Internationals lack so much, struggle and collapse, this is the proof of the existence of an absolute. We do not add the different ones and come to a conclusion. No. As we watch them striving, failing but always incorporating, we recognise that they are expressing a movement to something prior to their contingent appearance.

I have a suspicion that I have vulgarised this somewhat: you will read for yourself. Hegel is dealing here with a strictly philosophical problem and what I have written is horatory. I don’t mind really because he is going to come back to this and by the time he is finished with it, all our opponents will shrink from argument. I feel confident that the truth of the philosophical problem posed is contained in my vulgarisation, and that Hegel has this at the back of his head. You cannot prove inevitability or certainty merely from repetition of the concrete.

You cannot prove inevitability or certainty from a constant series of empirical facts, however often repeated. That the sun has risen every day for a million years is no proof that it will rise tomorrow. For absolute certainty you must have a philosophical conception, which has its own unshakeable basis. Hegel sought logical tightness in the World-Spirit. Marx found it in his philosophical concept of the nature of man-activity. I take Hegel to be saying here that Essence is a movement and we can be sure it is seeking an Absolute because every form is finite, seeking something further. But if your proof of the Absolute is the merely finite appearance, then every limitation, every collapse that is not an immediate and obvious resolution of contradiction into Ground is a terrible blow. But to jump a little, if you have Absolute in your head, for this is what it amounts to, then the

finitude, limitations, etc., become stages of advance, and above all advance in thought. It is obvious that involved here is the inevitability of socialism. We have seen this weakness which Hegel is warning against in the last few years so near home and in such high places that we can spend a little more time on this.

Hegel knew that you had to have a certainty that did not depend upon limited fixed determinations and categories. It had to depend on something else, and this, in the last analysis, is what drove him to World-Spirit. Elsewhere ’¡ we have treated the inevitability of socialism as a necessity of logical thinking in dialectical terms. But it is wise to recall here that this necessity of having some ultimate goal between your present stage as the twin poles between which your thoughts must move, this also is the product of experience. Philosophers and great men of action have always thought in that manner. Few things are more amusing that the passage from Corinthians, I.15, which is read at Episcopalian burial services. St Paul’s “inevitability of socialism” was that the dead rise again. It seems that some tired radicals in Corinth had sneered at the comrades there, asking them: You believe in the resurrection of the dead? How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come? Paul unloosed all his forces and it is a tour de force of gorgeous rhetoric, sophistry and passionate conviction. He said point-blank: Let this go and everything else goes.

The Puritans were the same. It was ordained, they said. Same with the philosophers of the eighteenth century. Just get rid of the reaction and the reason inherent in all things will take over. It is the merit, not the weakness of Hegel, that he saw the necessity of giving this a solid logical foundation. The empiricists call it teleology, religion and all sorts of abusive names. I have dealt with them in Dialectical Materialism and the Fate of Humanity, and shown the contradictions in which they find themselves.

Here is the final extract.

The nature of the true inference of an absolutely necessary Essence from a finite and contingent entity will be considered below. Such an essence is not inferred from the finite and contingent entity as from a Being which both is and remains Ground, but, as is also implied immediately in contingency, this absolute necessity is inferred from a merely collapsing and self-contradicting Being- or rather it is demonstrated that contingent Being passes automatically back into its Ground, where it transcends itself – and, further, in this retrogression it posits Ground in such a manner only that it makes itself into the posited element. In an ordinary inference the Being of the finite appears as the Ground of the absolute: the absolute is because the finite is. The truth, however, is that the absolute is just because the finite is self-contradictory opposition – just because it is not. In the former meaning an inference runs thus: The Being of the finite is the Being of the absolute; – but in the latter: The Not-being of the finite is the Being of the absolute.

I hope you get it. I think it is a beautiful example of Hegel’s method. This is all we can do: give some idea of what Ground is and why it is necessary. Essence is a movement. It is the analysis of Ground which tells us exactly what that movement is: Our abstract little spirit who didn’t know what he was by his futile becomings was by degrees establishing some Ground. If you want more Ground, there it is.

Review and Leninist Interlude


I feel guilty as hell. We are now only at p. 80 of Essence. I pass by Ground looking firmly at the other side. Substance, Necessity, Reciprocity, all of them I am going to pass by. I shall make some strictly ad hoc notes on Appearance and Actuality, and then over to Notion. But let us review a little and then look for some help. We are dealing with thought. We learnt to look at the quality of a thing and its dialectical movement into something else. We then saw that when we looked at it, what we saw was not a photograph, an identity. No, we saw difference within identity and identity within difference. We saw too that in our heads was an Idea which enabled us to distinguish the specific differences. We saw the importance of Contradiction, the fundamental relation of good and evil, truth and error, the process of transition. The object does not move into something else; it shows the Other contained in it. We are learning how to examine an object and how to examine thoughts about an object. Is Ground the next transition after Contradiction? Does Appearance arise inevitably out of Existence? I doubt if Hegel would maintain all that in detail. These determinations in Essence are, it must be remembered, Determinations of Reflection. They are creations of thought, but creations which reflect the object, enable us to take it apart and put it together again, and first of all in our heads. We are going to the concept of Notion – the notion of the thing. We worry it as a dog worries a bone. That is what Essence teaches.

But before we take up the concepts of Appearance and Actuality we would do well to see what a remarkable intelligence, trained in the same sphere as we have been trained, made of the Logic, and examine his thinking with this in view. We need a little rest. Essence is the hardest part of the Logic, says Hegel, and we still have a long way to go.

Lenin in 1914 found himself in Zurich, with the world that he had known and his categories breaking to pieces. He did not get excited and start to make the revolution by himself. He had a policy and he fought for it, but he recognised that everything was in a melting pot. He wrote above all Imperialism and State and Revolution. He studied the Phenomenology of Mind, and he worked at Hegelian Logic. He made notes on the Logic. We have extracts and comments. Sidney Hook once told me that there wasn’t much to them. Quite right. For him, there wasn’t much. The Marxist movement swears by. . . Plekhanov. I remember on my journeys between Missouri and New York stopping at Washington and Rae, calling out an at-sight translation from Lenin’s Russian notes and my scribbling them down. I still have the notebook. That they are not published means one thing – contempt for the masses. Yes, precisely. They don’t need it, they are not up to it. And therefore the party does not need it. Only when you have respect for the masses do you have respect for the party. There is nothing in these notes for Hook the academician. There is plenty for us in seeing what struck the mind of the great revolutionary as he read, with the years of Russian Bolshevism stored up in his mind and the perspective of world revolution before him. There is space for only a few things. But they stand out.

In reading on Quality in the Doctrine of Being, Lenin writes in very large writing:





This obviously hit him hard. He wanted it stuck down in his head, to remember it, always. He makes a note on it as follows:

At the basis of the concept of gradualness of emergence lies the idea that the emerging is already sensuously or really in existence, only on account of its smallness not yet perceptible and likewise with the concept of the gradualness of disappearance.

Let us look up the extract itself:

The gradualness of arising is based upon the ideas that that which arises is already, sensibly or otherwise, actually there, and is imperceptible only on account of its smallness; and the gradualness of vanishing on the idea that Not-being or the Other which is assuming its place equally is there, only is not yet noticeable; there, not in the sense that the Other is contained in the Other which is there in itself, but that it is there as Determinate Being, only unnoticeable. This altogether cancels arising and passing away: or the In-itself, that inner somewhat in which something is before it attains Determinate Being, is transmuted into a smallness of external Determinate Being and the essential or conceptual distinction into a difference external and merely magnitudinal. The procedure which makes arising and passing away conceivable from the gradualness of change is boring in the manner peculiar to tautology; that which arises or passes away is prepared beforehand, and the change is turned into the mere changing of an external distinction; and now it is indeed a mere tautology. The difficulty for such Understanding which attempts to conceive consists in the qualitative transition of something into its Other in general and into its opposite; Understanding prefers to fancy identity and change to be of that indifferent and external kind which applies to the quantitative.

Understanding once more gets the blows. This is a passage of great importance and Lenin has summarised it perfectly with his LEAP LEAP LEAP LEAP. The new thing LEAPS out. You do not look and see it small and growing larger. It is there, but it exists first in thought. Thought knows it is the object. You haven’t to see it (though if you know it is there you can see signs and point them out). Hegel is bored to tears at people who keep looking for external signs and “the mere magnitudinal” as proof. Lenin did not fasten on this for nothing. He said: “Turn the Imperialist War into Civil War.” How many sincere opponents of imperialism recoiled in horror. “Too rash, too crude, not now.” (Trotsky was among them). Lenin would not budge. The socialist movement against imperialism would establish itself on the concrete transition – the opposition to the monstrous evil of the war. He didn’t have to wait to see anything. That was there. It would LEAP up.

I was particularly struck by this in Lenin. Hegel is very irritating. He sticks to method. He does not shout. But every single one of his transitions involves a leap. He talks very quietly about impulse, etc. But you can go on reading for a long time and not get the true significance of the leap. I did not emphasise it. He held on to it.

On the Doctrine of Essence, Lenin fastens on to precisely the same thing. Look at this remarkable note on Observation 3.

Movement and “self-movement” (NB this. An independent spontaneous, internally necessary movement), “alteration”, “movement and life”, “principle of every self-movement”, “impulse”, (drive) to “movement” and to “activity” – opposite of “dead being” – who would believe that this is the core of “Hegelianism”, of abstract and abstruse (difficult, absurd?) Hegelianism. We must uncover this core, grasp it, “save” unveil, purify it – which Marx and Engels have also accomplished.

That is something vital. Self-movement. Spontaneous activity. We shall meet them again. You wait. This is what we must hold on to, grasp, “unveil, purify”. We can say that we have done some. This movement, activity, spontaneous, internally necessary. The man of organisation knew what moved the world, especially the social world. Hegel could write about thoughts for decades, but this was the drive, and it made LEAPS (four of them at once).

On Observation 3 see notes among other things:

NB 1. The usual perception comprehends the difference and the contradiction but not the transition from one to the other, which however, is the most important.

We shall come back to Lenin again. But let us sit and write in large print on our notes: LEAP, SPONTANEOUS ACTIVITY, SELF-MOVEMENT, etc. etc. Where he wrote it four times, we should write it forty-four. The past point from Lenin is important not only in itself but for us, in this study. And it comes right in here.

These last notes of Lenin that we must take up will be rather lengthy. That is because they have tremendous value for us, (a) in themselves as a review of the past, (b) as teaching the interconnectedness of the various parts of the Logic and the underlying unity of the method at all stages, (c) illuminate the closing parts of the Doctrine of Essence yet to come, (d) show us the Hegelian method of thought and action of Lenin: i.e. of a revolutionary and (e) prepare us for the last historical stage of this essay: Lenin’s own work, for which and from which alone we can jump off and fly for ourselves.

That is a mouthful but every bit of it is juicy. And I hope no one is impatient. Let us see where we are. We did the Doctrine of Essence up to Ground. We discussed the question of how you arrive at Inevitability, the Absolute. We promised to take up only Appearance and Actuality as two further stages of the Notion. We then went into a Leninist interlude and review. We saw Lenin’s emphasis on the LEAP (four times); and on constant movement, spontaneous internally necessary self-activity . We noted that the whole Logic itself, the continuous transitions from this Ground to that Ground, to the other Ground to Complete Ground, was just this continuous self-generating, spontaneous activity, though the activity had a certain order which it was the business of thought to organise in accordance with the laws immanent in it, i.e. the laws of its own development. Good. We are now about to take up a note of Lenin’s which opened up a formidable perspective of benefits, both for the past review and future developments. Who now is tired can take a rest, and after a nap, can start off afresh. Let’s go.

The note itself is very slight. It arises from Section I of the larger Logic on Quality. It says:

The idea of the transformation of the ideal into the real is profound; very important for history. But also in the personal life of a man, it is evident that in this there is much truth. Against vulgar materialism. NB: The difference between idea and material is in any case, not unconditional, not extravagant.

That’s all. I looked up the section and glanced through it again. It is some hundred pages long. It is in the Doctrine of Being, mind you, the first section, in fact, the real beginning of the Logic.

Hegel is grappling with words that he always has in mind, finite and infinite. What is the true infinity? “Finite” is a fixed, limited determination or category. The infinite is not simply something that is beyond the finite. That he says is nothing, a bad infinite. (Get your thinking muscles in order. Sit up and take notice). The infinite is not something in general that is beyond what we know as actual. It is the fact that what is beyond the finite comes back, and accomplishes a return to the finite and keeps on doing this, that makes it a true infinity. The beyond, the infinite, is not abstract or indeterminate Being, something we know nothing about, our old monster, Nothing. It, the infinite, the beyond, is self-related Being, because to come into existence at all the infinite is going to have to negate the finite. It is thus a negating force. And whatever negates is something present. If we may here use a metaphor: Infinite is the Other of the finite. But Infinite is not negation in general. It is the bad infinite which negates the existing and puts nothing in its place. That is vague fancy, caprice, and nonsense (or mere reflection). Socialism is not a vague, rosy-coloured picture of infinite beauty and truth and love, something beyond our miserable life. Socialism, the beyond, is the concrete negation of what we have – Stalinism. The overcoming of Stalinism is the next stage of infinity – and for my part the working class today when it overcomes Stalinism, i.e. the “capitalising” of the concept of the proletarian party, that working class, having overcome this, is truly socialistic. For that matter when it overcomes its main enemy, capital, and the brutalities of fascism, inflation, imperialist war, the destructive, the class elements in modern industry, that is socialism – the only infinite that there is. But why does the infinite for some people remain a Beyond, a far distant? And then comes a knock-out blow. That is in the last analysis, “based on the fact that the finite as such is held fast as existent.” That is the mentality which sees socialism in the far distance and is really chained to the idea that what the workers want is a higher standard of living, “a full dinner-pail”, “peace”, “security”, “full employment”. All he has done is to hold fast to the existent, making it tolerable by patching up the holes. That is the next stage of socialism. Shachtman is that type complete. The opposition, the socialism that lies in the struggle and overcoming of Stalinism is beyond him. But that does not exhaust the type. At the other end of its scale is Trotsky. He holds fast to another type of existent, the world of 1917. After twenty-one years of the Russian revolution all he could say was: revive the soviets; revise the plan in the interests of the toilers; free the unions. If Shachtman is Imagination, which thinks only with what is familiar, Trotsky is Understanding, which thinks only with what is familiar to it. To both, the next stage is excluded. Yes, to both of them. And precisely because of that, the present eludes them. Thus early, at the beginning, in Quality, in the Doctrine of Being, Hegel was saying, in general, on a very abstract level, what he will be saying on a more developed level in Essence, and on a still higher level in the Doctrine of the Notion.

Here then is the complete extract. The phrase “progress to infinity” is characteristic of those who do not see the real nature of infinity. They see infinity as a straight line. Hegel says it is a series of circles, each circle, however, including and yet excluding the previous circle, thus:

This infinite is the accomplished return upon itself. As such it is self-relation or Being; but not abstract or indeterminate Being, for it is posited as negating negation; and thus it is also Determinate Being, for it contains negation as such, and, therefore, determinateness. It exists, and exists as a Determinate Being, present and before us. It is only the bad infinite which is the beyond, because it is the negation, and nothing more, of the finite posited as real; it is thus abstract and first negation; it is determined as merely negative, and is without the affirmation implicit in Determinate Being; and if held fast as mere negative it is even supposed to be non-existent and beyond reach. But to be thus beyond reach is not its glory but its shame; which, ultimately, is based on the fact that the finite as such is held fast as existent. That which is untrue is beyond reach; and it is evident that such an infinite is the untrue. The image of the “progress to infinity” is the straight line, the infinite still remaining at its two limits and there only where the line is not; now the line is Determinate Being, which passes on to this its contradictory, that is, into the indeterminate. But as true infinity, turned back upon itself, it has for image the circle, the line which has reached itself, closed and wholly present and having neither beginning nor end.

Now having said this he proceeds to say the most astonishing things, for those who think in terms of common sense. He says, for example, that it is not the finite, the fixed limited, concrete, which is real. It is the Infinite which is real. And I trust no one reading this is so dumb as not to be aware that this is the very point we dug into on Ground where we discussed the Absolute in terms of the Being and Not-Being of the finite. Yet that is Volume II, page 70 about, and this is Volume I, page 162. There are some four hundred pages in between. Isn’t this fellow marvellous? And far away in the centre of Volume II he will come back to it again, and end up once more with it in the final section, on methods of inquiry, or the Idea of Cognition. He himself practises the continually enlarging circles.

True infinity thus taken, in general, as Determinate Being opposed affirmatively to abstract negation, is Reality in a higher meaning than is that infinity which before was determined as simple; it has here received concrete content. It is not the finite which is the real, but the infinite; and thus Reality is further determined as Essence, Notion, Idea, and so forth. It is however, superfluous to repeat these earlier and more abstract categories, such as “Reality”, when the more concrete has been reached, and to employ them for determinations more concrete than these are in themselves. A repetition, such as is made when we say that Essence or the Idea is the Real, has its reason in the fact that, to uncultivated thought, the most abstract categories, such as Being, Determinate Being, Reality, and Finitude, are the most familiar.

I leave that to you, and hurry on to the last passage:

Here there is a more definite reason for recalling the category of reality, for the negation to which it stands in the relation of affirmative is here the negation of negation: it is thus itself opposed to this reality, which is finite Determinate Being. Negation is thus determined as ideality; that which partakes of the ideal nature is the finite as it is found in true infinity, as a determination or content, which though distinct does not exist independently, but only as moment. Ideality has this more concrete meaning, which is not fully expressed by negation of finite Determinate Being.

Yes. The real is only a moment, though fixed, limited, finite, in the Ideal. Don’t ignore it. It is “distinct”. But it has no independent existence. Identity now has a more concrete meaning, and it is not sufficient to say that the Infinite, the beyond will negate the finite: socialism will do away with all this in general. No, sir. That only means that you have not done away with all this and cannot see the forces that are doing away with it. But there are some people who do not understand this. Hegel continues:

But with relation to reality and ideality the opposition to finite and infinite is taken in this manner, that the finite is taken as real and the infinite as of ideal nature; and such, indeed, and only such, the Notion is later on taken to be; whereas Determinate Being in general is taken as real.

You may try to change the phrasing to help them. You can’t. They “remain fixed in the affirmative Determinate Being of the finite. “

That is the aim of the Logic, for the thousandth time: how to keep out of the fixed, limited, finite categories. Hegel is doing just this, in a constantly more concrete manner, page after page. That is all. But what an all! To get out of the clutching hands of fixed categories. It isn’t easy. Precisely because we have to get them fixed and precise before we can do anything. We can remain fixed in them when they are grabbed on to by people who are objectively satisfied to remain there.

Worse still, we can remain fixed in them when they no longer exist. The result is complete frustration, and blindness to reality. Within those categories Trotskyism works. Stalinism, however, has found the objective basis for those categories as fixed and static, finite and limited forms. (I have been searching for this for weeks and I have it). Stalinism has found the objective basis for the fixed categories of Leninism. Hence it operates on a material basis. The games it played with Trotsky over socialism in a single country were the concretisation, the stabilising of its ideology- For Stalinism, this was a real ideology. For Trotsky it was in essence a fiction without any reality.

Now we can go ahead and select a few sentences which contain the core of Hegel’s Ideality.

The proposition that the finite is of ideal nature constitutes Idealism.

You see here the close connection between the ideal and the real. The real is constantly creating an ideal which tomorrow becomes the real and so on.

Hegel curses those people for whom the ideal is in their own heads and their own caprice. How he hates them.

By that which is “of ideal nature” the form of imagination is meant primarily; and this name is given to whatever is in my imagination in general, or in the concept, in the idea, in the fancy, and so forth; so that it comes to be counted equivalent only to fancies – imaginations which are not only distinct from the real, but are supposed in their essence to be not real.

Hegel has no use for that. The idea for him is in such close connection with the real that you cannot separate them. A genuine ideal today is the real of tomorrow. And that is the way life, and the logic, move.

So we go back to Lenin’s modest but pregnant note about Hegel. The transformation of the ideal into the real is profound, very important for history. You remember in Dialectical Materialism and the Fate of Humanity I quoted a section from an old article in the New International showing how ideal became real, etc., owing to the aims and objective consolidations and compromises of classes and sections of classes. But this very thing will become in time for us the basis of long overdue theoretical investigation and then concrete practical politics. We have now (a) reviewed the past, (b) seen the interconnection and underlying unity of the parts of the Logic. We promised also to (c) illuminate the closing parts of Essence yet to come – the rest will have to wait. On now to the last parts of the Doctrine of Essence. (After terrible hours of labour, I am feeling pretty good. I think we have got some place, and are on the road to some better places).

Appearance and Actuality

Now, having leapt over Ground, and taken a vacation with Lenin, we find ourselves in Appearance. I want to take up Appearance for a particular reason.

One of our most important pieces of work is the exposure of the analysis of the Stalinist parties as “tools of the Kremlin”. We say that it is true that they are “tools of the Kremlin”. But that, we say, is only the appearance of things. We say that in essence they are a product of labour and capital at this stage, as Menshevism was a product of labour and capital at that stage. We clinch it by saying: if there had been no Russian revolution, no Kremlin, but capitalism had continued to degenerate without being overthrown by socialism, then there would have appeared such a party as Stalinism, preaching revolution, ready to join up across national boundaries with other workers, repudiating private property and national defence, but mortally afraid of the workers and rushing for protection and refuge to a larger imperialism, bureaucratic, corrupt, monolithic, reflecting capitalism in its stage of state capitalism. Our opponents continue with these “tools of the Kremlin”. It is disgusting. Yet, curiously enough, they do not call the present Mensheviks “tools of Washington”. They have Lenin to go by and they at least try to relate these to labour and capital – falsely, but at least they try.

The importance of our analysis is obvious. It enables us to characterise Stalinism as a stage of transition – we are not in the ridiculous position of explaining why these “tools of the Kremlin” for no God-damn reason fasten themselves on the Kremlin. We place the responsibility on capitalism. We paint them objectively and not subjectively.

So much in general. In particular, we rid ourselves of the Russian hangover. “Socialism in a single country” originated from Russia and has never held the slightest interest for the world proletariat – never. I remember the days when we nourished ourselves on the illusion – I said it often – that when the workers understood at last that the communist parties were merely agents of Stalin’s foreign policy, they would turn to us. Everybody knows this truth now. They turn to the Stalinists more than ever. The whole method of thinking was wrong. Socialism in a single country did not “produce” communist parties that turned to their own bourgeoisie. That socialism could not be built was as great an abstraction as Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. It was a continuation of his old struggle with Bolshevism, by this time corrupted under Stalin. All this, the theory of the permanent revolution, the whole debate about socialism in a single country, the masses would turn to us when they understood, etc., all this is the purest subjective thinking with no objective contact with reality. “Tools of the Kremlin” is Appearance, the specific labour organisation of the epoch of state capitalism is Essence. That is only in general. Let us arm ourselves with some dialectical logic.

Essence is a movement. This movement has to appear. Its immediate appearance Hegel calls Existence. Something exists, but it is transitory, unimportant, mere Show, until it persists and becomes Appearance. Appearance is existence which has become “essential”

Essence accordingly is not something beyond or behind appearance, but just because it is the essence which exists – the existence is Appearance (Forth-shining).

But you have to be careful with appearance. You cannot dismiss it – this is only a mere appearance. Hegel says:

Appearance is in every way a very important grade of the logical idea. It may be said to be the distinction of philosophy from ordinary consciousness that it sees the merely phenomenal character of what the latter supposes to have a self-subsistent being. The significance of appearance, however, must be properly grasped, or mistakes will arise. To say that anything is a mere appearance may be misinterpreted to mean that, as compared with what is merely phenomenal, there is greater truth in the immediate, in that which is. Now in strict fact, the case is precisely the reverse. Appearance is higher than mere Being, a richer category because it holds in combination the two elements of reflection-into-self and reflection-into another: whereas Being (or immediacy) is still mere relationlessness, and apparently rests upon itself alone. Still, to say that anything is only an appearance suggests a real flaw, which consists in this, that Appearance is still divided against itself and without intrinsic stability. Beyond and above mere appearance comes in the first place Actuality, the third grade of Essence, of which we shall afterwards speak.

In the history of Modern Philosophy, Kant has the merit of first rehabilitating this distinction between the common and the philosophic modes of thought. He stopped halfway however, when he attached to Appearance a subjective meaning only, and put the abstract essence immovable outside it as the thing-in-itself beyond the reach of our cognition. For it is the very nature of the world of immediate objects to be appearance only. Knowing it to be so, we know at the same time the essence, which, far from staying behind or beyond the appearance, rather manifests its own essentiality by deposing the world to a mere appearance. One can hardly quarrel with the plain man who, in his desire for totality, cannot acquiesce in the doctrine of subjective idealism, that we are solely concerned with phenomena.

A good passage. Worth working over. But its importance for us is both theoretical and practical. Theoretical because we have just been saying at some length that the real is only a moment of the ideal. Good. But that was in general. Now Hegel is saying that the whole world is Appearance but that Appearance is a manifestation of Essence. And when he warned us that the real was real “distinct”, he now warns us that appearance is no “mere” appearance. It if were, it would be a show (one of the cheap kinds of show, for Hegel, blast him, has many “shows”). The warning means: you must relate appearance to Essence.

A salutary warning! “Tools of the Kremlin” is the only way in which Essence could appear in the contemporary world. It was not this appearance by chance. This is the truest value of Hegel. He makes you wrestle with the problems, probe into them, see deeper and more complicated relations (which, however, tend to a greater simplicity), and help you to re-examine the object. A true appearance is one that must be that way. Doubtful? Let’s see.

If a bureaucracy is convinced that capitalism as it has known it is hopeless and helpless, if it feels the pressure of the revolutionary masses, if it lives in mortal terror of the mass upheaval which seems to it to mean chaos and the destruction of civilisation, then with its own bourgeoisie offering no perspective, it must turn to another. It must turn to the revolutionary proletariat or to the bourgeoisie. In fundamental crisis there is no other place for it to go. It therefore turns to the opposite major imperialism. It creates an idealised version of its patron, it fastens upon what it thinks will make clear to its followers the necessity of supporting it. It becomes its advocate, it adopts its ideology; in its own defence it becomes defender of its patron.

The proof of this can be seen by observing those who oppose the Russian regime. Stalinism has one phrase for them: “tools of American imperialism”. In all the satellite countries and in Russia no doubt the opposition which is not able to turn to the revolutionary masses but finds the Russian regime intolerable has fundamentally the same attitude to American “democracy” and “industrial power” that the opposition, the Stalinists in the Western world, have to Russian “planned economy”. Were it not for the merciless totalitarian regime, we should find in all probability the opposition leadership in Russia and certainly in the satellite countries, such as it may be, as bold, as fanatical, for “democracy” as the Stalinists are for “planned economy”.

”Planned economy” seems to be something new and is more in harmony with the present stage of capitalism, but the opposition is as fanatical as the Stalinists are, and given the opportunity of time, American money, and the freedom the Stalinists have in the democracies, the leaders would create an ideology and a practice which would enable their enemies to call them “tools of the White House” in the same way that the Stalinists are called “tools of the Kremlin”. They could do this very well without advocating the return to private property of heavy industry. It is precisely for this reason that Stalin allows nothing in, not a peep of even a foreign newspaper. Opposition to the regime which is not revolutionary must seek the ideology of the opposing imperialism. This is the logical movement. It is, however, as a logical movement always is, modified by all sorts of circumstances. An old, historically powerful country like Britain, with its own deeply-rooted traditions and a powerful and united working class, cannot preach “Americanism” as the Stalinists preach Stalinism. The labour bureaucracy, however, acts in subservience to American imperialism in all important matters. De Gaulle, that powerful trumpeter of French nationalism, has now become a genuine American admirer. But in weaker countries like Rumania, Hungary, etc., the opposition to Stalinism is without this combination. The socialists are for “American democracy”, and combine this with proposals for nationalisation .

So that appearance is no mere appearance. It is the only way in which in the present complex of conditions Essence can shine forth. And Hegel means precisely that. Otherwise Appearance is not Appearance. It is show or Existence or some damn thing. But when its quality grows and grows until it settles down into Appearance, then you have something. And as you learn to read the larger Logic and his pages upon pages of apparently abstruse and mystifying jargon, you will find him forcing you to see movement, pattern, connection, order, inevitability where formerly you saw nothing or mere chance.

The implications of all this are enormous for thought in relation to the modern world. The idea that the Russian revolution attracted so many fades into the subjectivity that it is. This relation of Appearance and Essence teaches us to see that it is hopelessness in capitalism and hopelessness in the revolution which drove anti-capitalists to the Moscow bureaucracy. They found an objective basis and function and fought off their enemies. That is why the defeat in Germany in 1933 and the coincident degradation of the masses strengthened American imperialism. Each group boasted its own “nationalisation” or “democracy”, some combining both, but knowing where the emphasis lay. These were the traps laid for the masses. Trotsky’s arguments on socialism in a single country not only led to false conclusions. It cut him off from any serious possibility of examining what was taking place in Western Europe.

It is impossible to stay here now and examine all the implications. Let us go on with Hegel. He says that after Appearance the next stage is Actuality, and he tells us what Actuality is. When Appearance is no longer the expression of Essence but assumes an independent existence of its own, and Essence too comes out in its own name and right, then we have Actuality. The veils are torn away, two totalities face each other. Hegel writes: There is no transition.

In actuality this unity is explicitly put, and the two sides of the relation identified. Hence the actual is exempted from transition, and its externality is its energising. In that energising it is reflected into itself: its existence is only the manifestation of itself, not of another.

There is now no internal transition, no reflection. Fundamental forces are in conflict in the open. In Actuality, essence, the movement to realisation, is seen plain. Appearance that was, the way Essence used to shine forth, is now something in its own right. In the organism we have been following, the proletariat, Actuality is as plain as day to a dialectician. The movement of the proletariat, its seeking after the realisation of its potentialities is plain, even Shachtman can see it. But the bureaucracies, the organisations, the parties, these no longer express the movement. They have now acquired an independent existence of their own within the totality. The conflict is at its most acute. There is no transition. There is due now the total reorganisation into something new. As Marcuse remarks in Reason and Revolution, the category of Actuality means merciless struggle.

I have to leave it to you to work out with Hegel how a stage like Actuality expresses itself in Substance, then in Causality where, contrary to Understanding which perpetually sees cause here and effect there, Hegel sees cause as measurable only by effect. This cause is that effect. But that effect is another cause. Effect is incited into action by cause. But cause too is incited by effect. You cannot separate them. The opposing units are jammed too tight. From causality, the step is easy to action and reaction, what Hegel calls Reciprocity. It is a more intensive stage of Cause and Effect. Of Reciprocity Engels writes: “What Hegel calls reciprocal action is the organic body, which therefore forms the transition to consciousness, i.e. from necessity to freedom, to the idea: see Logic II, Conclusion.’’

And under the stress of this violent pressure back and forth, for neither can give way, the organism boils over into the Notion. It knows itself for what it is. That stage is not far off for the proletariat.

As you work through Substance, Possibility, Necessity, Contingency, etc., do not handicap yourself by trying to fit every paragraph into some phase of the development of the proletariat to socialism. It is not necessary. Hegel examined all the available material of his own day, in all the major spheres of nature and society to abstract this essential blueprint. What we should do is to note what he says about Actuality and the Idea. He wants you to keep them as close as you kept Appearance and Essence. He warns against making any great separation between Actuality and Idea. They are close. We should remember that today. His comment is easy, colloquial, very different from that in the larger Logic. It nevertheless says what he wants to say. Note how the Idea hugs the Actuality – the ideal and the real (you remember our interlude with Lenin?) in the abstract generalities of Being have now become more concentrated in the more developed sphere of Essence.

Actuality and thought (or Idea) are often absurdly opposed. How commonly we hear people saying that, though no objection can be urged against the truth and correctness of a certain thought, there is nothing of the kind to be seen in actuality, or it cannot be actually carried out ! People who use such language only prove that they have not properly apprehended the nature either of thought or of actuality. Thought in such a case is, on one hand, the synonym for a subjective conception, plan, intention or the like, just as actuality, on the other, is made synonymous with external and sensible existence. This is all very well in common life, where great laxity is allowed in the categories and the names given to them: and it may of course happen that e.g. the plan, or so-called idea, say of a certain method of taxation, is good and advisable in the abstract, but that nothing of the sort is found in so-called actuality, or could possibly be carried out under the given conditions.

But when the abstract understanding gets hold of these categories and exaggerates the distinction they imply into a hard and fast line of contrast, when it tells us that in this actual world we must knock ideas out of our heads, it is necessary energetically to protest against these doctrines, alike in the name of science and of sound reason. For on the one hand Ideas are not confined to our heads merely, nor is the Idea, upon the whole, so feeble as to leave the question of its actualisation or non-actualisation dependent on our will. The Idea is rather the absolutely active as well as actual. And on the other hand actuality is not so bad and irrational, as purblind or wrong-headed and muddle-brained would-be reformers imagine. So far is actuality, as distinguished from mere appearance, and primarily presenting a unity of inward and outward, from being in contrariety with reason, that it is rather thoroughly reasonable, and everything which is not reasonable must on that very ground cease to be held actual. The same view may be traced in the usages of educated speech, which declines to give the name of real poet or real statesman to a poet or statesman who can do nothing really meritorious or reasonable.

Between us, it is very meritorious and reasonable when Hegel discusses these things in that way. The translators of the larger Logic say that at times in that work he seemed to be obscure and mysterious in his language for sheer devilry. But here he is quiet and easy.

This for us is the end of Essence. We have seen it grow from Show, we dug into its Ground (we didn’t dig too deep), we skipped over to Appearance. We saw in Actuality the different elements come out into the open. Henceforth no compromise is possible. War to the end. Another time, you will see the philosophical investigations and method which Hegel used to get this. You will tackle perhaps the fascinating problem of how this philosophical development took place, and how it compares to an intelligent man unphilosophically examining an object and learning more and more experience. You will see later how gifted individuals, expressing their own psychosomatic idiosyncrasies proved unable to go further than a certain stage in thought, and how classes, or sections of classes made them their spokesmen. All this is for the future. But now we have, in accordance with out practice, to use Essence, lift ourselves a stage, just one more stage further. I propose to do two things: (1) examine Lenin’s work, for until we go through that and make it our own, we cannot go on; (2) after doing that step forward a little, in general, on our own, keeping well within Essence. When you read Cause and Effect in Essence, a very high stage of Essence, you will remember that in the Logic Hegel had also expounded on Cause and Effect, in general, stage by stage, step by step. That I have learnt.

The Doctrine of the Notion

The Doctrine of the Notion is Subjective Logic, the logic of Mind, of thought itself. In the Doctrine of Being, we dealt with thought as it watched and felt the influence of simple determinate objects. In Essence we examined a more complex process, objects were “reflected” by thought into thought determinations representing parts of the object; transition from stage to stage. Now we go over into the Notion. The object is no longer plain and simple being. It is no longer divided into thought-determinations. It is a whole once more, but a whole enriched by our previous wrestling with it. And the object being now a whole, thoroughly examined, the examination moves over not to the logic of thought in relation to the object, but to the logic of thought itself, of the concept, as a concept.

And so too the notion may, if it be wished, be styled abstract, if the name concrete is restricted to the concrete facts of sense or of immediate perception. For the notion is not palpable to the touch, and when we are engaged with it, hearing and seeing must quite fail us.

But Hegel insists, the notion is concrete, a “true concrete” for thought though it is, there has been incorporated into it all the wealth of being and essence “merged in the unity of thought”.

The previous doctrines had a triple movement. Thus the Doctrine of Being moved between Quality, Quantity and Measure. The Doctrine of Essence moves between Identity, Difference and Opposition (which passes back into Ground); there is a relation between Quality and Identity; between Quantity and Difference; between Measure and Opposition (or Ground).

In the Doctrine of Being the dialectical movement was confined to transition into something else. In the Doctrine of Essence the dialectical movement is confined to transition into something which belonged to the very thing we were examining – “the something else” is the something itself; but its Other, we dug it out. All these are connected together, opposition, higher stages, etc. I shall not do a damned thing about that. This is not a summary of exposition of the Logic. It is an introduction to the Logic, an illustration of how we should use it, and a demonstration of its validity.

But we should be prepared now to look for a triple movement in the Notion. It is there, and these divisions are very old in the examinations of thought. They are Universal, Particular and Individual. Then Hegel is going to spend long pages on Judgment, on the syllogism: All men are mortal, Gaius is a man, therefore Gaius is mortal. He pursues them into all their different shapes and forms, but they are not abstract, formal, finite, fixed, limited. He shows how they developed out of one another, by contradiction, etc., using all the laws he has worked out in the objective logic. Take the Judgment. When you say, “a house is good, according to its character”, you make one sort of judgment; when you say “the house, if of such and such a character, is good”, you have developed that judgment and so on. He has four main classes of Judgment, the Judgment of Inherence, the Judgment of Subsumption, the Judgment of Necessity, the Judgment of the Notion; but the Judgment of Inherence, for instance, is divided into the Positive Judgment, the Negative Judgment, the Infinite Judgment; and each of the others has its three divisions. I have not worked through the Judgments, but I know that the Judgment of Inherence corresponds to Quality in the Doctrine of Being and to Identity in the Doctrine of Essence; that the Judgment of Subsumption and Necessity correspond to Quantity in the Doctrine of Being and Difference in the Doctrine of Essence. The same with the syllogism and so on. Hegel says, in ordinary logic books they tell you, here are these forms: apply them or learn them or do something with them. He says: they didn’t just fall from the sky, they each came from somewhere, at a certain stage of development; they moved to higher and more complicated forms, they proceeded to these higher forms by a certain process. In Dialectics of Nature, Engels has what is in my modest opinion a very satisfying passage on the Judgment.

Now if you have been paying attention you will now know what the Doctrine of the Notion is about; it deals with this development of the standards of consciousness as such. You remember the Preface and the Introduction to the Phenomenology, the thing tested and the testing thing. Notion deals with the testing thing – the apparatus of thought. And despite all Hegel’s raptures about how now we are in the blue sphere of the World-Spirit, etc., in the Subjective Logic he traces as logically objective a development as you could wish. But it is well to remember that we are in the realm of thought. Its destructive character is development, by which Hegel means that it shows only what is immanent in it, for example, the plant is developed from its germ. Nothing appears in the plant which is not contained in the germ. Identical twins show that very clearly. At fifty they often look exactly alike, which means that their germ contained all that they afterwards became. Hegel is saying that whereas in the Doctrine of Being the thing changes into something else, but something else which though “else” is really a part of it, it reflects an interior other; in the Dialectic of the Notion, the small thing, the abstract beginning, constantly expands and develops into broader and broader, more concrete, a more rich, more complicated, more all-embracing stages, which were in it from the very beginning. Thought, remember? Thought. Ideas as ideas.

With this very modest contradiction we can now begin. I shall interpret freely and then stick the passage down. Nowhere, not even in Marx, have I been so thrilled at the sheer logical divining and interpretative power of the human intellect. If you want to try it out yourself the passage is on p. 242 of the larger Logic where he is taking up the Particular; he has already dealt with Universal. We haven’t to deal specially with Universal. We are familiar with it. State is a universal – it embraces every kind of political government. It is entirely concrete. It is entirely abstract. Such another is “the revolution”. Another universal is socialism. It means everything. Yet it means nothing in particular.

Socialism, then, is a Universal (in thought, mind you, a concept). It is as a germ, it contains a lot of things in it. This germ takes determinate form, a particular form. This is its being, as for example in The Communist Manifesto or in the Manifesto of the First International. The Notion as Universal becomes a determinate notion. But in the Doctrine of Being when nothing became something, it was a simple “immediate”. Not so in the Notion. When the Universal of socialism becomes determinate, this is no simple immediacy. It is “equal to itself”. It is a form of mediation which is absolute. (You have to feel this.) It is not there only waiting to be transformed into some Other. True it contains Intro-Reflection or Essence. It is not going to stay there forever. It will change, it will move. But to give some rough examples: when Marx wrote his concepts down and defined them, he did not do this looking to see contradictions in them, from which he would find a higher truth. No, that was determinate socialism. Leninism as concept and doctrine was concrete socialism. You see this in the distinction between the bourgeois revolution and the proletarian revolution (examples only). The bourgeois revolution in Russia as Lenin saw it, aimed at doing something which would create, unloose the possibility of the proletariat organising freely (as in Europe) and struggling for socialism. That was a transition. But the proletarian revolution is the proletarian revolution. It is not fundamentally a transition to anything else. True it has at a given time weaknesses, defects; these will be removed. But it is posed in its own right. It is a mediation, it does not comprise the Universal in its full totality, but it is an absolute mediation. It is the Notion in “principle”, a word Hegel uses often in this section, and he says that any Notion whose particular form is not the Notion in principle is no good. It is “barren”. Now comes a brilliant use of dialectic, which will give amazing results. Socialism is a Universal which in 1864 takes a determinate, concrete form. But, says Hegel, it is “clothed” in the Universal. The determinate form, what Marx writes, has certain weaknesses, defects, “differences” with the Universal. He and everybody else who has any sense knows that. The doctrines are concrete but they are not complete socialism. But they are written in terms of the Universal: this and that and that are socialism. Therefore the doctrines of 1864 become content and the Universal becomes form, and therefore abstract. In the pure Universal it is just absolute negativity, socialism which we know will have to negate and negate until it finds it total realisation. But when it finds in principle a determinate content, this content is determinate, which makes the Universal in it abstract.

Here is the complete paragraph:

The determinateness of the particular is simple as principle (as was seen); but it is simple also as moment of totality – as determinateness against the other determinateness. The Notion, in so far as it determines or distinguishes itself, points negatively at its unity and takes the form of one of its moments (which is of ideal nature) of being: as determinate Notion it has a Determinate Being in general. But this Being no longer signifies bare immediacy but Universality – immediacy which through absolute mediation is equal to itself and equally contains the other moment, Essence or Intro-Reflection. This Universality which clothes the determinate is abstract Universality. The particular contains Universality as its Essence; but, in so far as the determinateness of the difference is posited, and thereby has Being, this Universality is related to the difference as form, and the determinateness as such is content. Universality becomes form in so far as the difference exists as the essential- whereas in the purely universal it exists only as absolute negativity, and not as difference which is posited as such.

Now to go on. The first sentence I cannot understand – give me a few moments – but after that it is plain sailing. (Why all this excitement? Because just over the page Understanding gets a going over, is exposed, in a manner that does the heart good.) In the determinate Notion, the Notion is outside itself. It is socialism, the pure negativity. But it is determinate. Marx’s doctrines, ideas, are concrete enough. They will appear in the Commune in a few years. And though there are differences between socialism, as a pure universal, and socialism in its determinate form, yet there is no other socialism and the identity is close enough. But the identity is merely “immediate”. It is not the totality, in 1864, not the full, complete idea. (Today we are much closer to this. One world, international socialism, etc.)

In itself, it is this completeness as the germ is in itself the plant. It is for itself, in the determinate form, for itself in principle. But although there is mediation, there are going to be further stages, yet these stages are not “posited”, the main business is not to develop what is inherent and bound to appear. The main business is what is. But precisely because we are dealing with something in principle, the content has the form of indifference to its Universality. It is not the totality. OK. But it is not, as in the Doctrine of Essence, unable to move a step without looking back to see what it reflects, and looking forward to see what will come. Sure we are going to mediate, but this thing here and now is good enough for us.

And now, my friends, we approach. Let the maestro speak for himself now and we shall trail along behind. (You will get some shocks, though.)

This is the proper place also to mention the circumstance which has caused Understanding latterly to be held in such small esteem and to be ranked after Reason – namely the fixity which it imparts to the determinatenesses, and hence to the finitudes. This fixity consists in the form of abstract Universality which has just been considered: by virtue of it they become immutable.

Trotskyism, seeing that Second (reformist) International and Third (revolutionary) International and enemy-of-private property bureaucracy were embodiments “in principle” of socialism, of the Universal, which they undoubtedly were completely failed to study p. 244 of the Logic and recognise that these, concrete as they were, were yet abstract Universals in the sense that Hegel has so carefully explained. They were only a form. They were not totality. And precisely because they were abstract Universality, they could become fearfully fixed and ferociously finite. The very fact that they are Universals is what gives them their toughness and their staying power. In simple Being and reflective Essence, movement is easier.

For qualitative determinateness, and Determination of Reflection, exist essentially as limited, and, in their barrier, have a relation to their Other; they thus contain the necessity of transition and passing away. But Universality (which they have in Understanding) gives them the form of Intro-Reflection, which withdraws them from the relation to other and renders them imperishable.

Socialism! A world socialism, a revolutionary international an international that is reformist, my God ! These are not perfected examples, but they are not ordinary manifestations. These are Universals. And so Understanding gets stuck with them. Universals they were, but limited Universals. As Hegel says, Understanding pays these things a respect which belongs only to the “pure” Notion and only to a determinateness which was itself Universal.

Now in the pure Notion this eternity belongs to its own nature, and so its abstract determinations would be eternal essentialities only according to their form; but their content is not adequate to this form, and consequently they are not truth and imperishability. Their content is not adequate to the form, because it is not determinateness itself as universal; that is, it is not as totality of the differentia of the Notion, or not itself the whole form . . .

Now I don’t know, but it seems to me that Hegel, having examined phenomena and totalities of all kinds, has here extracted the process of the thought of Understanding in a manner which makes us see our problems in a new and infinitely richer light. There are others coming which will startle and illuminate us. But Hegel is a dialectician. There is not only difference, there is identity, there is a connection. See how Hegel, who has been belabouring Understanding, now shows us that it has an indisputable – yes, sir – indisputable place in dialectic:

Understanding then represents the infinite force which determines the Universal, or conversely imparts fixed persistence through the form of Universality to what in determinateness has in and for itself no stability; and it is not the fault of understanding if no further progress is made.

That is clear enough. Understanding then even in the Notion is the kind of thought which determines the Universal. It is a positive quality. It says: boys, this is it. Look how this embodies the Universal. See how it represents socialism here, and there, and over there. See how this reformist International is reformism incarnate. Understanding in fact is genuinely revolutionary, and in the establishment of a determinate Universal, you cannot tell the difference between it and Reason. Reason in fact uses Understanding for this purpose. (Isn’t this wonderful ! The arriere-pensee, the things I am saying and not saying.) But Understanding is overwhelmed by these magnificent principled determinatenesses. He wants to settle down now and get to work. When Universal begins to wish to get out of this Particular, Understanding rages furiously. This, my friends, he says, is Universal. It has faults, but it is Universal. At last, when Understanding can stay there no longer he moves, but to do what? He says: “My friends, we have no troublesome thinking to do. The plans are here. The great architect of our now regrettably degenerated Universals, he left us the final blueprints. All we have to do is to push aside the impostors and ‘erect the old structure afresh’.”

Understanding then imparts “fixed persistence”. But, says Hegel, and this is salutary if totally unexpected:

It is a subjective impotence of reason which allows these determinatenesses to count in this manner, and is unable to lead them back to unity through the dialectic force which is opposed to this abstract Universality, that is, through the peculiar nature (in other words, the Notion) of these determinatenesses.

Here are two ideas of substantial importance for us. Reason leaves poor Understanding stuck in its finitudes. Subjective Reason is responsible. It is too weak to overcome the gap. The effort has to be made. And how? By seeing the peculiar nature, i.e. the Notion of these fixed, limited determinatenesses. That is plain enough. The Notion is a free, creative working class, a working class which is not what it is in capitalism. The determinate Notion does its best, but when this is exhausted you have to get back to socialism, to your Universal of the beginning, and thus get rid of an exhausted, finite, limited particular. A new particular is needed.

Understanding is mischievous. That is correct.

It is true that through the form of abstract Universality understanding gives them what may be called such a hardness of Being as they do not possess in the spheres of Quality and of Reflection; but by this simplification understanding also spiritualises them and so sharpens them that they receive only at this extreme point the capacity of dissolving and passing over into their opposite.

Understanding, by its obstinacy, its sticking to the finite categories, prepares them for the stage where they must be dissolved and pass over into their opposite. Bear in mind that the Universal uses a particular. When that particular is no good it throws it over. That particular perishes.

The highest maturity or stage which any Something can reach is that in which it begins to perish.

It is at this stage that subjective Reason is compelled, COMPELLED, to intervene. We shall need that idea often.

But this is the peculiar property of the Notion.

Understanding commits the blunder of blunders by making the determinate Notion imperishable. The only thing imperishable is the Universality of the Notion. That quality belongs to the Notion alone

and consequently the dissolution of the finite lies expressed in it itself, and in infinite proximity.

It is the Universal which makes it clear that finite categories are going to be destroyed, principled though they are.

This Universality immediately argues the determinateness of the finite and expresses its inadequacy to itself. Or rather, the adequacy of the finite is already given; the abstract determinate is posited as being one with Universality, and as not for itself alone, for then it would be only determinate, but only as unity of itself and of the universal, that is, as Notion.

The general argument is clear. If not, work it out yourself.

Says Hegel, “The ordinary practice of separating Understanding and Reason must therefore be condemned in every respect.

Understanding has its place. It is the abuse of the fixed, limited category which is criminal. And Hegel plays on a sad but salutary note. Understanding, by carrying the thing to the heights it does, thereby prepares the way for Reason to make the jump. If you are not able to say that our very principled category, nationalised property, and a principled category it can seem to be, if you are not able to say: “In view of what socialism is, I have to repudiate this category and get back to fundamentals and create a new criterion,” if you cannot do that, then you persist in the determination and end by making false determination the means by which you destroy everything.

I don’t see how any reasonable person can deny this much: that Hegel, faced with the workers’ state theorists, would be able to say, “I know those people. I have seen that sort of thing happen dozens of times. I wrote about it in the Notion.”

But that is not all. The Notion has, you remember, a third division, Individual. You remember the three, Universal, Particular, Individual. The individual is the same as Actuality. The concrete. (But we are dealing with thought, the concrete is the concrete stage of thought.) As I see it, we have socialism, the Universal, looking for somewhere to place itself. Marxism, in general, puts forward a general programme. Let us form an International of such and such principles. That is a Particular. But on 14 May 1871, Karl Marx not in general but concretely wrote a document about the Paris Commune, and expressed certain concrete ideas, proposals, and forecasts. In the sphere of thought this document is a concrete, an Individual.

Now the Particular is midway between the Universal and the Individual When you move out of it, you can move out of it, either back to the Universal – then the Universal, disregarding the particular, “ascends to higher and highest genus” – or you “descend” (Hegel’s word) into the concrete Individual. I hope the point is clear. And then comes a superb statement:

At this point the divagation occurs by which abstraction leaves the road of the Notion and deserts the truth.’

This is precisely Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. The concrete struggle in Russia he ignored. Was it a bourgeois revolution? Lenin said it was and concretely waged proletarian war against the liberal bourgeoisie and the Mensheviks, their agents. His programme, his ideas, his Notion of socialism, yes, of socialism, could find its deepest profundity precisely because of that concreteness. But Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution? Hegel immediately, immediately nails it. At this point he said occurs the divagation from the truth. And what form does it take?

Its higher and highest universal to which it rises is but the surface which has less and less content.

Precisely. The permanent revolution had no content at all. The only concrete thing that came from it was the fact that it drove Trotsky always towards the Mensheviks and against Leninism, in all the long, hard, difficult years in which Bolshevism was hammered out. He scorned the concrete. As Hegel continues:

The Individuality which it scorns is that profundity in which the Notion comprehends itself and is posited as Notion.

If anybody can understand this, we can. Trotsky soared into the thin abstractions of the permanent revolution. Nothing came of it. Nothing. And it was Lenin’s concrete theories, dealing with the actual, the Individual, from which came all the wonderful insights and illumination which enriched the notion of socialism.

The Notion is concrete. It is thought but it is concrete. It is a judgment, a decision, an action, an intervention. It is not knowledge in the head for the sake of the head. Matter, society, acts by impulse, makes its knots, the knots form old categories, old categories make new categories, new categories clarify matter and society, for thought teaches me intelligent action. The categories are the highest form of matter, at any rate inseparable from matter, the form of today, which will be content tomorrow because it is content already, content posited. Without this concreteness the Notion gets no place. You cannot apprehend it by abstraction. Abstraction remains motionless without individuality.

Life, Spirit, God, and also the pure Notion cannot therefore be apprehended by abstraction, because it keeps off from its products Individuality, the principle of singularity and personality, and thus reaches nothing but universalities lacking both life and spirit, colour and content.

Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution was precisely lacking in these. Lenin it was who got from the concrete life, spirit, colour, content. But it is not only the struggles of 1905-17. The struggles of today illuminate these absolutely incredible analyses of Hegel, incredible because so universally valid. The official Fourth International has no concept whatever of socialism. All Trotsky can say about Russia after twenty-five years is: revise the plan, reinstate the soviets. He has learnt nothing. The same old content, no life, no spirit, no colour. And we, have we any special life, spirit, colour? That others will have to judge. I shall go at that problem before we are done. But I repeat now as we said in The Invading Socialist Society: If you reprint State and Revolution, The Threatening Catastrophe, Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? and The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, you get a clearer picture of concrete socialism, concrete perspectives, concrete action for the workers to follow than in all the writings of the Fourth International for twenty-five years.

Hegel is remorseless. And I constantly marvel at the amount of work he must have done to get the thing down so pat, in abstractions. He continues as follows to tear Understanding apart:

You cannot escape the consequences of the Notion. A Notion is a Notion. It embraces all the parts and they are inseparable. Understanding first of all gets Universalities lacking all colour, content, life and spirit. But these products of abstraction which have scorned the Individual, the concrete, are individuals themselves. Understanding takes the concrete and makes that into a Universal. It therefore sees the Universal only as determinate Universality: and therefore the concrete, the Individual, which it has elevated into this position has taken upon itself the tremendous task of determining itself (self-relation). For this the concrete thus pushed up into the situation of Universal is quite unfitted.

Does this sound rather abstract? Not to me. We have seen nationalised property, the concrete in Russia, taken and pushed into the position of Universal. What socialism is, what it aims at, what it means for me, all that has gone by the board. That has become the purest abstraction: the workers’ parties competing peacefully in their soviets, the plan revised in the interests of the toilers, etc. etc. When you protest, you are invited to observe how much coal, steel, oil, and literacy there is. You point out that in 1928 when they were back at the 1917 level there were only maybe a few thousand, or even more, in concentration camps, etc. But every time the coal, steel, etc., are increased, the totalitarianism and the corruption increase, and so we have a graph. As production under planning increases, so every bourgeois evil increases until we have fifteen to twenty millions in concentration camps, forced labour camps, etc., and such a monstrous state as no mortal had ever imagined. It is surely time to think about socialism – examine what we meant by it and we mean by it. No, not for them. The whole thing revolves around nationalised property and if, if nationalised property continues to preserve the bureaucracy and commit these monstrosities, then shall we at last go back to re-examine our universal, socialism? By Christ, no. Finish away with Marxism instead. Throw it out. It has failed us. Nationalised property remains master of the field.

Here is the extract, judge for yourself:

But the unity of the Notion is so inseparable that even these products of abstraction, while they are supposed to omit Individuality, are individuals themselves. It raises the concrete into Universality, and takes the universal only as determinate Universality: but then this is just Individuality which has resulted in the shape of self-relating determinateness. Consequently abstraction is a separation of the concrete and an isolation of its determinations: it seizes only individual properties and moments, for its product must contain that which it is itself.

You get the last sentence? This Abstract Universal tears up the concrete into pieces. It takes isolated pieces of it, and with this as the basis of its thinking all it can now produce is what it took up and made into a Universal. That is the whole procedure of the workers’ statists. Germain thinks only in terms of nationalised property, plan, dual character of the bureaucracy. He could say: in Poland nationalisation had taken place before the Russians came in. The Russians destroyed the power which the workers had their hands on and brought back elements of the bourgeois class. All Germain has to say is: it is or is not nationalised property exactly and behold at any rate the dual character of the bureaucracy. His Universal is not the careful elaboration of the basic concept which Marx and Engels made after any event – Marx on the Commune, Lenin in State and Revolution. No, sir. His Universal is now nationalised property and all its products bear that stamp.

See now what happens. This Universal has taken up the concrete, the Individual, into itself, pushing the real Universal into the thin air of the most abstract of abstractions. The individual as content and the Universal as form are distinct from each other. You remember that at the beginning the Universal entered freely into the First International. That programme, that conception was not perfect, but such as it was you could talk about in terms of socialism. You took the Universal as a form in which you placed, worked out the particular content which you had. You remember too that this made the Universal abstract, but an abstraction which “clothed” the particular content. But here Universal as form is one thing. Content is another. Not even Germain can use the terms of socialism to describe the Russian barbarism, and nobody today has the nerve to say any more that the proletariat in Russia is the ruling class. The Universal of Understanding, of Germain, is not absolute form. It cannot even talk in terms of those absolute necessities of socialism, workers, power, independent action, workers as masters of themselves, in fundamental opposition to capitalism, where the industrial system is their slave-driver. No. Germain cannot do it except as an abstraction. However inadequate the First International was, as a conception, it could “clothe” itself in these things. (This I take to be the general sense of the passage. The original should be looked up in the German.) But as we continue the examination we see finally that this abstract Understanding has produced a peculiar kind of Universality. By making it so abstract and then tying it up with the concrete, the abstract Universal itself has become a concrete.

Here is the extract:

The distinction between this individuality of its products and the Individuality of the Notion is that, in the former, the individual as content and the universal as form are distinct from each other – just because the former does not exist as absolute form, or as the Notion itself, nor the latter as the totality of form. But this closer consideration shows the abstract itself as unity of the individual content and abstract Universality, that is, as concrete – which is the opposite of what it is supposed to be.

And in 1948 we do not operate in the void. The moment you lose the socialist Universal, no power on earth can save you from state-capitalist barbarism.

Now for the final passage. It offers us a good opportunity to sum up. Remember the movement of the Notion is development. It is free power. It is thought, mind you, the concept seeking fulfilment in thought. The Communist Manifesto, theManifesto and Programme of the First International, Marx on the Commune, Lenin in State and Revolution. This is the concept developing itself. Lenin’s State and Revolution is a particular form of the Universal as is the programme of the Communist International and the 21 points. But the Individual concrete is the day-to-day laws, decisions, articles, decrees, speeches, etc. That is the concrete, the individual notion. So that the Universal of socialism and the particular form of State and Revolution become concrete in the individual acts, ideas, places, programmes and conflicts etc. The abstract is the soul of the Individual, the concrete. Why? Because without the Universal and Particular, the concrete makes no sense. This is an advanced case of the relation between the Idea and Actuality which we dealt with in the Doctrine of Essence.

Here is the extract:

But Individuality is not only the return of the Notion into itself; it is also immediately its loss. In Individuality it is in itself; and, because of the manner in which it is in itself, it becomes external to itself and enters into actuality. Abstraction is the soul of Individuality, and, as such, is the relation of negative to negative; and it, as has been seen, is not external to the universal and the particular but immanent; and they through it are concrete, content, and individual. And Individuality as this Negativity is determinate determinateness, is distinguishing as such; through this introReflection of distinction it becomes fixed; the determining of the particular takes place only through Individuality, for it is that abstraction which now, as Individuality, is posited abstraction.

I advise you to be in no hurry. Read the passages over and over again, especially the difficult ones. Familiarise yourself with them. There is a great temptation. It is to read these, get only a general idea, and then fasten on to what is familiar – the purely social and political analysis that I make following these technical sections. If you do that you will never learn to handle the Logic. Work at these technical passages for what they teach but also as exercises, until they sink in, and you begin to think in those terms.

We now have to do one last passage from this Introduction to the Notion. Do not be misled by my hopping and skipping and jumping as I have to do, into forgetting that the internal consistency, the structural logic of the logic itself is marvellous. Development into development, in general, then split into its parts, and the development of the first gone over again, but now at a higher level and a deeper penetration, to explode, leap into something higher, whereupon the old processes gain new depths, etc. This is precisely logic. It is not life, i.e. history. And only when logic is a logical, impeccable movement, can you then deal with the innumerable manifestations of life. This I can only mention and motion to here and there in passing. But to demonstrate that, no, not me.

So before he ends the Notion in general, Hegel goes back to something which has always concerned him. He began it in the Doctrine of Being – Quality – with the real infinite and the dead infinite. He went back at it in the Doctrine of Essence in Ground, and the Being or not-Being of the Finite as the basis of Ground. Now he has shown us how the Universal takes a particular from in the Particular and becomes concrete in the Individual- You cannot understand the Individual unless you see it as a concreting of the Universal, and positing further abstraction of the Universal because from it the Universal will find the basis of still further abstractions. For the Individual is going to move on. Now:

The individual, then, as self-relating negativity, is immediate selfidentity of the negative; it is-for-self. In other words it is abstraction which determines the Notion, according to its moment (which is of ideal nature) of Being, as immediate. Thus the individual is a qualitative One or This.

He takes it back to quality, the Doctrine of Being. Now remember your Doctrine of Being:

According to this quality it is, first, self-repulsion, by which process the many other Ones are presupposed; and secondly, it is negative relation against these presupposed others; and, in so far, the individual is exclusive.

But – as Rosa Luxemburg used to write – attention! Universality must watch its relation to these concrete Ones. Universality is a moment of the concrete, the Individual. But it is not merely an element of the Individual.

If by the universal is meant that which is common to more than one individual, then the beginning is being made from their indifferent persistence, and the immediacy of Being is mixed with the determination of the Notion. The lowest possible image of the universal in its relation to the individual is this external relation of it as a mere common element.

You say that whatever form a concrete workers’ state may take, it is distinguished always by nationalised property. It is the lowest possible form of the Universal. The rest of the section takes this up in detail. Hegel, particularly here in the Notion, insists that Individuality is posited “not in the external but in a notional distinction” – nationalised property is to be seen in the light of your notion of what socialism is. Don’t do that. Don’t make the mistake of taking this concrete, this merely common persistent element as the Universal! You then will, as sure as day, end by making it all your notion. Then you say: the world has now reached a stage where capitalism can no longer continue. From this you say that this economy must obviously be nationalised and planned. You then say that if the Russian bureaucracy continues for a long time, after the war, it is obviously the precursor of a new ruling class. Then we have to agree that the Marxist expectation of socialism is a Utopia. That is where you land in thought and we are dealing with thought. That Trotsky as an individual would have thrown himself on the side of the masses and would have repudiated pessimism and defeatism in the heat of the class struggle, that we haven’t to argue about. But the whole methodology had within it the destruction of the basis on which he stood. For he stated most precisely that the Russian bureaucracy would restore private property. So that although the time of its continuance is not too important (the world situation being what it is) the obvious determination of the bureaucracy to maintain nationalised property and fight another world war for it, this, eats at the heart of those who insist on carrying on Trotsky’s method. He made a finite into an infinite. He took the being of the finite and made it into an Absolute. He took a moment of the Universal, and made it into the Universal itself. Whence these tears. Hegel is not finished with this by the way. In his last section of the Idea of Cognition, he takes this finite and finite, being and not-being of the Absolute, common persistence in the Notion and finally lays it to rest in a masterly display on the Definition. But I can tell you in advance that I shall leave out the Definition. Too much is involved.

And now before we go on, do me a little favour, friends. Just sit down and read this whole previous section over. No? OK. As Marx said in the last paragraph of the Critique of the Gotha Programme, do what you like now. I have saved my own soul.

Leninism and the Notion

The discerning reader (the sceptical reader we may ignore, the hostile reader we are striking murderous wounds at in every paragraph), the discerning reader will now be saying: “Amazing, I agree. This Hegel seems to have worked out a way by which men, once they slip off the rails, can be seen to follow as if bewitched certain patterns of thought. Your illustrations directed against Trotskyism certainly illuminate Trotskyism. But on the whole, this, valuable as it is, is in this instance negative. You say, for instance, Trotsky’s Universal is without colour, content, etc. – pure abstraction. What is yours, using the dialectic method? Show me how you, by not ascending to “higher and highest genus” but by sticking to Individuality enrich your Universal. You say, Lenin did in Russia before 1917. I agree, more or less. I am a discerning reader. I see that you are working up, stage by stage, a positive position. I think it is about time that we paid more attention to that and less to Trotskyism.”

Correct on the whole, but only on the whole. But we are now going to settle down to a concrete and not a general exposition of dialectical thinking which will show us the Notion in action. The proof will be the result. And to set all doubt at rest, let me say here at once: I propose, step by step, to build up a positive line of development, I have been doing this, which will end in an unmistakably concrete Notion of socialism as Universal and the revolutionary struggle today, and tomorrow, not tomorrow in general, but our tomorrow. This work would be useless, in fact reactionary (I cannot stay to explain) if it did not do that. But the correct method of doing that is the method I am following. It will be easier for those who follow after. I am starting from scratch.

But this job is preliminary to that. Patience. Patience. Patience. Work your way in. We have to get a notion of socialism, the notion of 1948. But we have to work through Leninism. Today our movement is not beyond Leninism. The proletariat is far beyond the proletariat of Lenin’s day. But our movement is not. To get beyond him, we have to go into and through him. But the process demands, for us, the complete, the patient exposure of Trotskyism from all sides. We are not finished with that. Learn from Hegel. Learn how to go back and back and back again to Understanding, until the method becomes part of the structure, the structure of the mind. Strive to get “quite simple insight” into the whole business. You will read the Logic and find out things for yourself. If you haven’t the time or energy for that great task, read these extracts, over and over again, working out the interpretations, making new ones, getting to know them almost by heart. It would be a catastrophe if you read this with the idea that it was only a justification, a preparation for our concrete theories. Worse still, if when it was all over someone said: “Good. Now what do we do now. How do we put it into practice in the class struggle?” God help us, that attitude would be pretty awful. I don’t think any of us will have it.

But I am writing en famille and as these ideas strike me, I put them down. I am a bit nervous, you see, that as we expand our theory, and clarify ourselves politically, all the work on the Logic will seem to have been done with this purpose. Enough of that. Logic for theory, but at this stage also, for us, logic for logic’s sake.

This being said, however, we can now move in the theoretical sphere. We are now equipped to tackle Leninism, the highest point of our movement so far. We have to mount to that height to move on into the infinite, the uncharted infinite that faces us.

If the discussion rages around the political conclusions as such, and not around the political conclusions in lgical terms, then, immediately at least, the time has been wasted.

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