Raya Dunayevskaya, 1973
Philosophy & Revolution
Alias: Man's cognition not only reflects the objective world, but creates it. Lenin, Dec. 1914
The group of editors and contributors of the magazine Under the Banner of Marxism should, in my opinion, be a kind of “Society of Materialist Friends of Hegelian Dialectics.” Lenin, 1922
The simultaneity of the outbreak of World War I and the German Social Democracy's voting war credits to the Kaiser's government took from Lenin the philosophic ground on which he had stood, and which he had thought so impregnable. August 4, 1914, had smashed to smithereens the concepts all tendencies in the Marxist movement had held in common.
Up to August 4 all had agreed that the material conditions laid the basis for the creation of a new social order, that the more advanced the material conditions, the better prepared would the proletariat be for taking over power from the bourgeoisie; and the larger the mass Party and the more mature its Marxist leadership, the surer would be the road to revolution. The material was the real and the explanation for the ideal. To believe anything else was philosophic idealism, bourgeois apologetics, clerical obscurantism.
After that date Marxist revolutionaries were faced with a shocking new development: the Marxist leaders were the ones responsible for the workers being set against each other rather than against their real enemy, world capitalism. Making the situation even worse was the fact that these leaders were recognised as such by the entire International, Bolsheviks included, and were the head of what was then the largest mass party, the German Social Democracy. Moreover, this took place in the most technologically advanced country at that time. Confronted with the inadequacy of all previous conceptions regarding the relationship between the material base and the level of consciousness, the subjective and the objective, the universal and the particular, Lenin was forced to search for a new philosophy. Had Hegel never existed, Lenin would have had to invent him, since the Hegelian dialectic was to provide Lenin with the basis for the reconstruction of his philosophical perspective. It was not that Lenin had any doubts concerning his opposition to any “indiscriminate unity” and would not abandon the most extreme and unequivocal of slogans: the defeat of one's own country is the lesser evil; turn the imperialist war into a civil war. (This position was in conflict, however, with that of other revolutionaries of the time who, being so overwhelmed by the collapse of the Second International, considered it necessary to limit the “struggle for peace” to one which would unite all the tendencies that had not betrayed revolutionary internationalism.) Thus, for Lenin, what was needed was not to pick up the pieces of what once was, but, rather, to separate entirely from the Second International, with the creation of a Third. The events of 1914 did not cast doubt on his Bolshevik politics and organisation; what was put into question was the old materialism, lacking the principle of the “transformation into its opposite,” “the dialectic proper.” This was what Lenin was to emphasise in the Hegelian dialectic.
While other revolutionaries ran around without reorganising their thinking, Lenin was eagerly looking for a new philosophical perspective. Thus, as soon as he reached Bern in September 1914, even with the war in full force, Lenin headed for the library to grapple with the works of Hegel, especially his Science of Logic. For so uncompromising a revolutionary as Lenin to spend his days in the Bern Library while the whole world – including the Marxist movement – was going to pieces must have indeed presented a strange and incomprehensible sight. Nevertheless, for an entire year Lenin studied Hegel's Logic. And just as his slogan “turn the imperialist war into a civil war” became the political Great Divide in Marxism, so his Abstract of Hegel's Logic became the philosophic foundation for all serious writing that Lenin was to do during the rest of his life: from Imperialism and State and Revolution on the eve of November 1917, through the works written during the Revolution, to his Will.
Intercommunication between the ages makes for an exciting happening when the mind of a revolutionary materialist activist-theoretician is pitted against the mind of a bourgeois idealist philosopher, as the latter, in his labours through 2000 years of Western thought, revealed the revolutionary dialectic. So let us go adventuring with Lenin as he encounters Hegel.
At first Lenin is very wary in his approach, forever reminding himself that he was reading Hegel “materialistically,” and as such was “consigning God and the philosophic rabble that defends God to the rubbish heap.” At the same time, however, he was hit with the shock of recognition that the Hegelian dialectic was revolutionary, and that Hegel's dialectic, in fact, preceded Marx's own “application” of it in the Communist Manifesto. “Who would believe,” Lenin exclaimed,
that this [movement and self-movement] is the core of Hegelianism, of abstract and abstruse (difficult, absurd?) Hegelianism? ... The idea of universal movement and change (1813 Logic) was disclosed before its application to life and society. It was proclaimed in reference to society (1847) earlier than in relation to man (1859).
To grasp the full impact on Lenin of this reading of Hegel, we must keep in mind that Lenin did not know Marx's now famous 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts. As he read The Science of Logic, Lenin was thinking about Marx's Capital on the one hand and, on the other hand, his struggle with “vulgar materialism.” Thus, even as he was arguing with Hegel and designating the section, Being-for-Self in the Doctrine of Being, as “dark waters,” he continued to say:
The idea of the transformation of the ideal into the real is profound. Very important for history. But also in the personal life of man it is evident that there is much truth in this. Against vulgar materialism. NB. The difference of the ideal from the material is also not unconditional, not uberschwenglich.
It was this discovery of the relationship between the ideal and the material in Hegel which led Lenin to see that the revolutionary spirit in the dialectic was not superimposed upon Hegel by Marx, but was in Hegel. While reading the Doctrine of Being, he had already stressed the identity of and the transformation into opposites: “Dialectic is the doctrine of the identity of opposites – how they can be and how they become – under which conditions they become identical, transforming one into the other ...”. While analysing the Doctrine of Essence, the emphasis was first and foremost on the self-movement. As he continued with his comments on the Law of Contradiction, his stress was not so much on the identity of opposites as on the transition from one to the other and the sharpening of the contradiction on the one hand and, on the other hand, such comprehensive knowledge of totality that even causality, that bugbear of “neo-empiricism,” becomes but a “moment” of the whole:
Cause and effect, ergo, only moments of every kind of interdependence, connection (of the universal), the concatenation of events are only links in the chain of the development of matter.
NB. All-sidedness and all-embracing character of world connection are only one-sidedly, desultorily and incompletely expressed by causality.
In the final section on Essence Lenin broke with the kind of materialism and inconsistent empiricism that overstressed science and the category of causality to explain the relationship of mind and matter, even as “iron economic laws” and “essence” had constantly been contrasted to “appearance” as if thereby the totality of a problem had been exhausted. What became crucial for Lenin now was the Hegelian concept of “moments,” or intrinsic as well as external stages in the process of knowledge and history:
The essence is that both the world of appearance and the world which is in itself are essentially moments of the knowledge of nature by man, steps, changes in (or deepening of) knowledge.
Lenin also kept up a running argument with himself. Clearly, the activist, the Party man, the materialist was undergoing “absolute negativity” as he drew to a conclusion his new appreciation of the dialectic. At the same time as he mercilessly criticised Hegel's “mysticism and empty pedantry,” he also tirelessly stressed the profundity of the dialectic, “the idea of genius.” By reliving the shock of recognition Lenin experienced in finding the revolutionary dialectic in Hegel, we become witness to the transfusion of the lifeblood of the dialectic – the transformation of reality as well as of thought. By the time Lenin reached the Doctrine of the Notion – and it is here that he broke with his own philosophic past – Lenin underscored the materialist elements present in Hegel:
When Hegel tries – sometimes even strains himself and worries to death – to subsume the purposeful activity of man under the categories of logic, saying that this activity is the “syllogism,” that the subject plays the role of some sort of “member” in the logical “figure” of the syllogism, etc., then this is not only a strain, not only a game. There is here a very deep content, purely materialistic. It is necessary to turn this around: The practical activity of man, repeated billions of times, must lead the consciousness of man to the repetition of the various logical figures in order that these can achieve the significance of an axiom. This nota bene.
Lenin's Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic reveals a mind in action, arguing with itself as well as with Hegel, advising himself “to return to” Hegel, “to work out” ideas, history, science, Marx's Capital, current theories, and leaping into the Notion which he translated as “NB. Freedom = subjectivity ('or') goal, consciousness, striving NB.” Precisely because of this, the Abstract is an exciting experience also for his readers.
So strong is the illumination cast on the relationship of philosophy to revolution in Lenin's day that the challenges of our day also become translucent, exposing the ossification of philosophy, the stifling of the dialectics of liberation. It is for this that the Russian philosophers will not forgive Lenin. Hence, they have continued unabated their underhanded criticism of Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks, even on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his birth, by blurring the distinction, nay, Lenin's totally new departure in philosophy in 1914 from the vulgarly materialistic photocopy theory he had elaborated in his 1908 publication, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, toward an exaltation of the self-development of thought. Where Lenin writes, “Alias: Man's cognition not only reflects the objective world, but creates it”, Academician B. M. Kedrov, Director of the Institute of History of Science and Technology, reduces Lenin's new appreciation of “idealism” to philistine talk of semantics:
What is fundamental here is the word “alias,” meaning otherwise or in other words, followed by a colon. This can only mean one thing, a paraphrase of the preceding note on Hegel's views.... If the meaning of the word “alias” and the colon following it are considered, it will doubtless become clear that in that phrase Lenin merely set forth, briefly, the view of another, not his own.
Professor Kedrov's zeal to deny that Lenin's 1914 Philosophic Notebooks “are in fundamental contravention of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” has led him to such cheap reductionism that there is nothing left for him to do “in defence” of Lenin but to attribute to him his (Kedrov's) philistinism: “Lenin categorically rejects and acidly ridicules the slightest slip by Hegel in the direction of ascribing to an idea, to a thought, to consciousness the ability to create the world.” With this single stroke Kedrov deludes himself into believing that he has closed the new philosophic frontiers Lenin had opened.
Being the genius of the concrete that he was, however, Lenin himself pinpointed the precise place where the new philosophic frontiers opened themselves for him. On January 5, 1915, with the World War on full blast, he wrote to the Granat Encyclopaedia (for which he had written the essay “Karl Marx”), asking whether it was still possible to make “certain corrections in the section on dialectics.... I have been studying this question of dialectics for the last month and a half, and I could add something to it if there was time....” Lenin had begun his Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic in September 1914. The essay is dated July-November 1914. The Abstract was not completed until December 17, 1914. As his letter to Granat shows, he felt dissatisfied with his analysis of the dialectic. In her Memoirs Krupskaya notes that Lenin continued with his study of Hegel after completing the essay on Marx. But the best witness of just when he felt he had made the breakthrough is Lenin himself, not only in letters, but in the Abstract itself.
No sooner had Lenin designated the first section on the Notion by saying, “these parts of the work should be called: a best means of getting a headache,” than he also emphasised the following: “NB. Hegel's analysis of the Syllogism (I-P-U, individual, particular, universal, P-I-U, etc.) is reminiscent of Marx's imitation of Hegel in Chapter I”. Lenin proceeds with his comments on the close relationship between Marx's Capital and Hegel's Logic:
If Marx did not leave a Logic (with a capital letter), he left the logic of Capital, and this should be especially utilised on the given question. In Capital, the logic, dialectic and theory of knowledge of materialism (3 words are not necessary: they are one and the same) are applied to one science, taking all that is valuable in Hegel and moving it forward. (Volume 38 LCW p. 353)
Long before he arrives at that conclusion, Lenin feels the need to separate himself, first from Plekhanov, and suddenly even from his own philosophic past. Three aphorisms quickly follow one another:
(1) Plekhanov criticises Kantianism (and agnosticism in general) more from the vulgar materialistic than the dialectic materialistic point of view.... (2) At the beginning of the 20th century Marxists criticised the Kantians and Humists more in Feuerbachian (and Buchnerian), than in an Hegelian manner.
It is impossible fully to grasp Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, none of the Marxists for the past half century have understood Marx!! (p. 340)
The epigones who deny that Lenin was also thinking of himself must explain what Lenin meant by the additional remark alongside the first two aphorisms, i.e., “Concerning the question of the criticism of modern Kantianism, Machism, etc.?” Was it not his own Materialism and Empirio-Criticism which dealt so extensively with “Machism”? The point is not, of course, simply to mention names for their own sake, much less to investigate whether the aphorisms contain exaggerations. No one had written more profoundly than Lenin on Marx's Capital, especially on Volume II, and Lenin certainly did not mean that all students of Capital must first labor through the two volumes of The Science of Logic. What was crucial was Lenin's break with old concepts, which is nowhere more sharply expressed than in his commentary that “Cognition not only reflects the world, but creates it.” Because that shows just how far Lenin has travelled from the photocopy theory of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Academician Kedrov went into his philistine reductionism. Unfortunately, “the West's” built-in deafness to Lenin's break with his philosophic past – where cognition was assigned no other role than “reflecting” the objective, the material – has produced an intellectual incapacity to cope with Communist emasculation of Lenin's philosophic legacy.
Lenin had not, of course, diverted either from Marxist materialist roots or from his revolutionary views on class consciousness. Rather, Lenin had gained from Hegel a totally new understanding of the unity of materialism and idealism. It was this new understanding that subsequently permeated Lenin's post-1915 writings in philosophy, politics, economics, and organisation. Always stressing the concrete, Lenin interpreted Hegel's remark about the “non-actuality of the world” to mean: “The world does not satisfy man, and man decides to change it by his activity.”
As we see, Lenin had not soared into abstraction in gaining a new appreciation of idealism. It is simply that in this new understanding of Hegel, the notion of the Absolute Idea has lost its sinister connotations. This is due neither to Lenin's conversion from a revolutionary materialist to a “bourgeois idealist,” nor to any acceptance of a Hegelian concept of God or some self-unfolding “World Spirit.” Rather, Lenin saw that although Hegel dealt only with thought-entities, the movement of “pure thought” does not just “reflect” reality. The dialectic of both is a process and the Absolute is “absolute negativity.” Lenin's grasp of the second negation, which Hegel called “the turning point,” led Lenin to question Hegel's diversion to the numbers game, i.e., whether the dialectic is a “triplicity” or “quadruplicity,” with the resulting contrast of “simple” and “absolute.” Lenin commented: “The difference is not clear to me; is not the absolute equivalent to the more concrete?” thus interpreting both absolute and relative as developmental “moments.”
When Lenin finished reading The Science of Logic, he was no longer disturbed by the notion of the Absolute Idea's “going to nature.” Instead, he claimed that, in so doing, Hegel “stretches a hand to materialism.” He writes:
It is noteworthy that the whole chapter on the “Absolute Idea” scarcely says a word about God (hardly ever had a “divine” “Notion” slipped out accidentally) and apart from that – this NB. – it contains almost nothing that is specifically idealism, but has for its main subject the dialectical method.... And one thing more: in this most idealistic of Hegel's works there is the least idealism and the most materialism. “Contradictory,” but a fact!
Lenin did not feel the kind of excitement that he had experienced in reading the Logic when he turned to Hegel's History of Philosophy. But it is in this stage that he completed the break with Plekhanov:
NB. Work out: Plekhanov probably wrote nearly 1,000 pages (Beltov + against Bogdanov + against Kantians + basic questions, etc., etc. on philosophy [dialectic]). There is in them nil about the Larger Logic, its thoughts (i.e., dialectic proper, as a philosophic science) nil!! (LCW Vol 38, p. 354)
Lenin had not, of course, come with a blank mind to the study of The Science of Logic. Naturally his aphorism about none being able to understand the first chapter of Capital who had not understood the whole of the Logic is not to be taken literally.
Of course, even when he was a philosophical follower of Plekhanov, who never understood “the dialectic proper,” he was a practicing dialectician. Of course, the actual contradictions in Tsarist Russia prepared him for all these new conceptions of the dialectic. What was new was the scope, the universality, the internationalism. This time he was concerned not only with Russia, but with all the international problems of imperialism, and with the selfdetermination of nations on a world scale, and above all, the dialectic as transformation into opposite, the significance of the relation of philosophy to revolution. As a matter of fact, when he first insisted that the transformation of the ideal into the real was “profound, very important for history,” Lenin was still in the Doctrine of Being. But where to all Marxists, including Engels, Being meant commodity exchange, to Lenin it meant not letting mechanical materialism erect impassable barriers between ideal and real. Not that we need fear that in Lenin's new evaluation of idealism there is either “sheer Hegelianism” or Maoist voluntarism. The reader's adventuring comes from having become witness to Lenin's mind in action, which saw ever new aspects of the dialectic, at every level, be it in Being or Essence. Indeed, in the latter sphere, it was not the contrast of Essence to Appearance that he exalted but, as we saw, self-movement, self-activity, self-development. It was not so much essence versus appearance as it was that the one and the other are “moments” (the emphasis is Lenin's) of a totality.
Lenin had not stopped at Essence, not because he was “smarter” than Engels, but because he lived in a totally different historic period. Because the betrayal of socialism came from within the socialist movement, the dialectical principle of transformation into opposite, the discernment of the counter-revolution within the revolution became pivotal; the uniqueness of dialectics as self-movement, self-activity, self-development was that it had to be “applied” not only against betrayers and reformists, but also in criticism of revolutionaries who would look at the subjective and objective as two separate worlds. And because “absolute negativity” goes hand in hand with the dialectical movement of the transformation into opposite, it is the greatest threat to any existing society. It is this, just this, which accounts for Russian theoreticians' attempts to mummify rather than develop Lenin on the dialectic.
As against the Russian theoreticians' vulgar materialism, so great is Lenin's new appreciation of dialectics that even his references to “clerical obscurantism,” a “sterile flower,” are expanded to mean “a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge.”
The last quotation was from Lenin's only article specifically on the dialectic, as against Lenin's comments in the margins of the quotations from Hegel. Though likewise not prepared for publication, “On Dialectics” at least has never been treated as mere “jottings.” It is the last word we have from Lenin's strictly philosophic commentary of the crucial 1914-15 period. Lenin had not prepared his Philosophic Notebooks for publication, and in this resided his philosophic ambivalence. Because Lenin seemed simply to have continued with his economic studies, political theses, organisational work, and because the factional polemics continued unabated, Lenin's heirs were not prepared for the imperative of facing a most confusing, totally contradictory double vision: on the one hand the known vulgarly materialistic Materialism and Empirio-Criticism; on the other hand endless references to dialectics – the dialectic of history, the dialectic of revolution, the dialectic of self-determination covering the National Question and world revolution, the dialectic relationship of theory to practice and vice versa, and even the dialectic of Bolshevik leadership to theory, to the self-activity of the masses, especially as directed against imperialism. It may be asked, How could anyone conceive that the “philosophic naturalist,” who for a long period accepted even “Machists” into the Bolsheviks just so long as they accepted “Bolshevik discipline,” would now be under the spell of what he called “the dialectic proper,” that this, just this, would become Lenin's underlying philosophy?
But the greater truth is that Lenin was fighting not only the betrayers, but also Menshevik internationalists and Rosa Luxemburg and “the Dutch” (Pannekoek, Roland-Holst, Gorter) and the Bolsheviks abroad. And he had to do it on a subject upon which the Bolsheviks previously had agreed “in principle” – self-determination of nations. Furthermore, it had begun with the economic subject of imperialism, and he had just appended his signature to the Introduction of Bukharin's work on the subject. Why did he then embark on his own study? It is ironic indeed that the very philosophers who try to confine Lenin to “economics,” “the philosopher of the concrete,” do not bother at all to grapple with the Leninist methodology of these “concretes,” Imperialism, Self-Determination of Nations. It is to these subjects we must tum also to illuminate the new dialectic appreciation of Marx's Capital, not just as economics, but as logic – defining the work now as, “The history of capitalism and the analysis of the notions summing it up” (p. 353).
Empiricists who have no method are incapable of recognising method in others. To this day they consider all the “Marxist” economic analyses of imperialism so similar that they deem the dispute on national selfdetermination that was going on during the same period as “only political.” In truth, the very first thing that Lenin's Notebooks on Imperialism (begun directly after completion of his Philosophic Notebooks) discloses is that it is by no means limited to the economic study of the latest phase of capitalist development, but includes also the outline of articles on the war itself, on the National Question – and on “Marxism and the State,” which later became State and Revolution.
Even when one looks only at the “strictly economic” as published by itself in 1916 – Imperialism, A Popular Outline – the methodologies of Lenin's and Bukharin's works show that they are poles apart. Thus, as opposed to Bukharin's concept of capitalist growth in a straight line, or via a quantitative ratio, Lenin's own work holds on tightly to the dialectical principle, “transformation into opposite.” The key point in tracing the subject's self-development instead of an “objective” mathematical growth is that you thus see the simultaneity of the transformation into opposite, of competitive capitalism into monopoly, and part of labor into an “aristocracy of labor.” Above all, you become conscious that this is but the “first negative.” The development through this contradiction compels finding the “second negative,” or as Marx expressed it, going “lower and deeper” into the masses to find the new revolutionary strata.
Thus, Lenin held that just when capitalism had reached this high stage of “organisation,” monopoly (which extended itself into imperialism), was the time to see new, national revolutionary forces that would act as “bacilli” for proletarian revolutions as well. Where Lenin saw in the stage of imperialism a new urgency for the slogan of national selfdetermination, Bukharin vehemently opposed the slogan as both “impossible of achievement” and “reactionary.” Nothing short of a direct road to socialist revolution would do for him. This plunge to abstract revolutionism in place of working with the concretely developing revolutionary forces, which Hegel would have considered a manifestation of jumping to the “absolute like a shot out of a pistol,” and which politicos called “ultra-leftism,” Lenin called nothing short of “imperialist economism.”
On the surface that designation sounds absolutely fantastic since it is directed against a Bolshevik co-leader. Since, however, Lenin continued to use it against Bukharin and against all revolutionaries, including “the Dutch” (whom he in the same breath characterised as the “best revolutionary and most internationalist element of international Social Democracy”), we must here probe deeper into the dispute.
Long before Lenin's final battle with Stalin, whom he accused of “Great Russian Chauvinism” and for whose removal he asked from the post of General Secretary, Lenin became uncompromising in his struggles with Bolsheviks. His point was that the right of self-determination was not only a “principle” (to which all Bolsheviks agreed), but “the dialectic of history,” a force of revolution which would be the catalyst for socialism:
The dialectics of history is such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real power against imperialism to come on the scene, namely, the socialist proletariat. (LCW Vol 19, p303)
That little word, dialectic, kept springing up also because Lenin recognised an old enemy, “Economism,” which never understood the mass revolutionary struggle. All revolutionaries had fought Economism when it first appeared in Russia in 1902. It had then been easy to recognise as the enemy because the Economists openly tried to circumscribe the activities of workers, limiting these to economic battles, on the ground that since capitalism was “inevitable,” “therefore” political battles were to be left to the liberal bourgeoisie. But here they were in 1914, in an imperialist war, and revolutionaries were rejecting the national struggles of colonial and oppressed peoples on the ground that selfdetermination was “impossible” of achievement and “therefore,” as Bukharin put it, “utopian and reactionary,” and would only “divert” from the struggle for “world revolution.”
This super-internationalism, as far as Lenin was concerned, only proved that the World War had “suppressed reason,” blinding even revolutionaries to the fact that “All national oppression calls for the resistance of the broad masses of people....” Not even the great Irish Rebellion changed the abstract revolutionism of these internationalists who were busy looking at “imperialist economy” instead of the self-mobilisation of masses. Lenin fought them, branded their thinking as “imperialist economism,” not because they were not “for” revolution, but because they were so undialectical that they did not see that out of the very throes of imperialist oppression a new revolutionary force was born which would act as a catalyst for proletarian revolution.
Dialectics, that “algebra of revolution,” has been on many great adventures since Hegel created it out of the action of the French masses and thereby revolutionised metaphysics. What had been, in Hegel, a revolution in philosophy, became, with Marx, a philosophy of revolution, a totally new theory of liberation – the proletarian revolutions of 1848 culminating in the Paris Commune of 1871. Lenin's rediscovery of dialectics, of self-activity, of Subject versus Substance at the very moment of the collapse of the Second International, simultaneously disclosed the appearance of counterrevolution from within the Marxist movements and the new forces of revolution in the national movements. Moreover, these new forces were present not only in Europe, but throughout the world as well. What Lenin's economic study of imperialism revealed was that capitalism had gorged itself on more than a half billion people in Africa and Asia. This was to become a totally new theoretic departure after the Bolshevik conquest of power, expressed as the Thesis on the National and Colonial Question presented to the Third International in 1920. Even while the holocaust was most intense and Lenin stood alone, he refused to retreat an inch to abstract internationalism. The outbreak of the Easter Rebellion in 1916, while proletarians were still slaughtering each other, showed the correctness of his position on the self-determination of nations.
In 1914-15 Lenin turned to the study of Hegel, the “bourgeois idealist philosopher.” Whatever the reason, it certainly was not in order to discover the driving forces of revolution. Yet Hegelian dialectics was more useful in making sense out of the action of the masses' taking fate into their own hands in Ireland in 1916 than the debates on the National Question with his Bolshevik colleagues.
In 1917 the opposition to national self-determination should have ended. In fact, it only took on a new form. This time Bukharin contended that it was no longer possible to admit the right of self-determination since Russia was now a workers' state, whereas nationalism meant bourgeois and proletarian together, and “therefore” a step backward. In his admission that in some cases he would be for it, he listed the “Hottentots, the Bushmen, and the Indians.” To which Lenin replied:
Hearing this enumeration I thought, how is it that Comrade Bukharin had forgotten a small trifle, the Bashkirs? There are no Bushmen in Russia, nor have I heard that the Hottentots have laid claim to an autonomous republic, but we have Bashkirs, Kirghiz.... We cannot deny it to a single one of the peoples living within the boundaries of the former Russian Empire.
Bukharin, for whom all the questions from “selfdetermination of nations” to state-capitalism were “theoretical” questions, may not have suffered from Russian chauvinism. But he created the theoretical premises for Stalin, who did turn the wheels of history straight back to capitalism. At the last moment – too late as it turned out – Lenin broke totally with Stalin and, theoretically, refused to depart in his debates with Bukharin from that single word, dialectic, as the relationship of subject to object, dialectics as the movement from abstract to concrete. In place of the mechanistic bifurcation of subject and object, Lenin joined the two in a new concrete universal – TO A MAN.
Abstract revolutionism was the methodological enemy. Bukharin's theory of state-capitalism, the obverse of his theory of economic development under a workers' state, is that of a continuous development, a straight line leading from “unorganised” competitive capitalism to “organised” state-capitalism. On a world scale it remains “anarchic,” subject to the “blind laws of the world market.” Anarchy is “supplemented by antagonistic classes.” Only the proletariat, by seizing political power, can extend “organised production” to the whole world. The fact that Bukharin believes in social revolution does not, however, seem to stop him from dealing with labor, not as subject, but as object.
It is necessary to take a second look at what Lenin called “dialectic proper” in order to sense the divergences between the two Bolshevik co-leaders which would lead Lenin to write in his Will that Bukharin had never understood the dialectic. Were we even to limit ourselves to a merely quantitative measurement of Lenin's notes on the three books of The Science of Logic, there would be no mistaking that the crucial concept in Lenin's new grasp of the dialectic was anchored in its development in the Notion: seventy-one pages of Lenin's Abstract of Hegel's Science of Logic are devoted to the Doctrine of the Notion, as against thirteen pages on the Prefaces and Introduction, twenty-two pages on the Doctrine of Being, and thirty-five pages on the Doctrine of Essence. Moreover, it is in Notion that he broke also with his own philosophic past, as he burst forth into aphorisms, against not only Plekhanov but all “Marxists” who, for the past half century, wrote Lenin, had analysed Capital without having first studied The Science of Logic in its entirety. What now became decisive for the whole, for the separate books, for the individual categories, was the concept of second negativity, which Hegel had defined as “the turning point of the movement of the Notion.” Here Lenin noted that not only was that the “kernel of dialectics,” it was also “the criterion of truth (the unity of the concept and reality).”
Hegel's conclusion that “the transcendence of the opposition between the Notion and Reality and that unity which is the truth, rest upon this subjectivity alone,” had become, for Lenin, the pivot around which all else revolved. Put differently, by the time Lenin was reaching the end of The Science of Logic, far from fearing subjectivity as if that meant, and could only mean, petty-bourgeois subjectivism or idealism, he now wrote: “this NB.: The richest is the most concrete and most subjective.”
As we saw when he was on the threshold of the Doctrine of Notion, he was delighted with Hegel's definition of it as “the realm of Subjectivity or of Freedom,” which Lenin rephrased as “NB. Freedom = Subjectivity ('or') End, Consciousness, Endeavour NB.” In a word, there was no further doubt in his mind that it was not the category of Causality that would illuminate the relationship of mind and matter. Instead, Freedom, Subjectivity, Notion (“or” free creative power, selfdetermination of nations, self-activity of masses, the self-thinking Idea, i.e., continuous revolution) were the categories by which one gained knowledge of the real world and therewith proved also the objectivity of cognition. Thus, at the end of Section Two, on Objectivity, Lenin called attention to “the germs of historical materialism in Hegel,” “Hegel and historical materialism,” “the categories of logic and human practice.” By the time he reached Section Three, The Idea, Lenin wrote with abandonment, as if cognition were the “creator” of the world, not because he was subject to any such fantasies, but because he was experiencing the exhilaration of a new shock of recognition that the real history of humanity is being worked out in the Doctrine of the Notion. Having put an equals sign between Notion and man – “The notion (= man)” – Lenin interrupted the quotation he was copying from Hegel to call attention to the fact that Hegel himself had used “subject” in place of Notion: “But the self-certainty which the subject [here suddenly instead of Notion] has in the fact of its determinateness in and for itself, is a certainty of its own actuality and the non-actuality of the world....” which Lenin translates as “i.e., that the world does not satisfy man and man decides to change it by his activity.”
Lenin related the central categories of the Notion – Universal, Particular, Individual – to the methodology of Marx in Capital, “especially Chapter I.” Lenin's whole point was that, as against the quantitative Measure in the Doctrine of Being and actual (i.e., class) Contradiction in Essence, what we need to hold tight to in the Doctrine of Notion is development as absolute mediation of Universal and Particular.
That is, we need to be undaunted in the fight for selfdetermination when capitalism has become imperialism; for the destruction of the state machine when the bourgeois state has reached its highest form of organisation in the state organisation of the economy. Above all, we need a new concrete universal that is at one with individual freedom when the elemental outburst of revolution overflows the historic stage.
Though the theoretical preparation for revolution seemed clear from the political works that followed his unpublished Philosophic Notebooks, the disputes among Bolsheviks revealed that, in truth, none of the underlying philosophy was understood. With his stress on dialectics, Lenin kept trying to make clear his conviction that theoreticians must bring dialectics to the masses. Once the masses, instead of just some select philosophers, grasped the dialectic, the unity of theory and practice would be achieved, not alone in cognition (Absolute Idea), but as Marx had spelled it out, “the development of human power which is its own end,” and as Lenin concreted it, production and the state must be run by the population “to a man.” Hence the insistence that the Editorial Board of Under the Banner of Marxism consider themselves “Materialist Friends of the Hegelian Dialectic” and publish quotations directly from Hegel. We shall see, in returning to the theoretic disputes with Bukharin, that Lenin felt compelled to bring that little word, dialectics, even into his Will. Tugging at him as he lay dying was the reality of what he designated the Communists' “passion for bossing” and “Communities” (Communist lies).
Despite the fact that Bukharin played no small role in the revolution, his concept of revolution was so abstract that all human activity was subsumed under it. Thus he was inescapably driven to preclude self-movement, which was precisely why labor remained an object to him. As an object, the highest attribute Bukharin could think of assigning labor was its becoming an “aggregate.” People were referred to as “human machines.”
That a revolutionary intellectual had become so entrapped in the fundamental alienation of philosophers in a class society, identifying men with things, was a phenomenon that lay heavy on Lenin's mind as he wrote his Will. So completely did Lenin disagree with Bukharin's method of presentation that even when he agreed with the specific points, he felt it necessary to criticise them. Thus, there was certainly no disagreement about the major achievement of the Russian Revolution – the destruction of bourgeois production relations. But when Bukharin tried to make an abstraction of it by trying to subsume production relations under “technical relations,” it became obvious to Lenin that Bukharin simply had failed to understand the dialectic. Therefore, when he quoted Bukharin's Economics of the transition Period to the effect that “once the destruction of capitalist production relations is really given, and once the theoretical impossibility of their restoration is proven ... ,” Lenin replied with “ 'Impossibility' is demonstrable only practically. The author does not pose dialectically the relationship of theory to practice.”
The most difficult relationship to work out once state power has been gained is precisely this relationship of theory to practice, for it was not only on the National Question but especially in relation to the working masses that a gulf opened between the Bolsheviks in power and the working people. And the party was surely to degenerate: “to think that we shall not be thrown back is utopian.” What Lenin feared most was that the sudden “passion for bossing” would take command. Unless they practice the new concrete universal, “to a man,” they will be doomed:
Every citizen to a man must act as a judge and participate in the government of the country. And what is important to us is to enlist all the toilers to a man in the government of the state. That is a tremendously difficult task. But socialism cannot be introduced by a minority, a party.
This is not the place to analyse the actual objective transformation of the workers' state into its opposite, a state-capitalist society, or Stalin's usurpation of power. Of all of Stalin's “theoretical” revisions, what is relevant to our subject is his perverse concept of partiinost (“partyness”) in philosophy, which he and his heirs attributed to Lenin. Fortunately, there exists a most comprehensive and scholarly work on the relationship of Soviet philosophy to science which explodes the Communist and the Western ideologist myth of “partyness in philosophy” in Lenin:
In order to achieve this interpretation one must also disregard the fact that the original sources, including Materialism and Empirio-Criticism itself, never suggest what [Bertram] Wolfe and the Soviet scholars attribute to Lenin. The sources show that he had a political aim in writing that book, but it was not to join the philosophical and political issues that Russian Marxists were arguing about; it was to separate them....
There is not a trace of partyness in the Philosophic Notebooks, not even the old concept of “the party of idealism” or the “party of materialism.” What we are concerned with is not the monstrous myth of partyness in philosophy, but rather, the duality of the philosophical heritage. Far from publicly proclaiming his philosophic repudiation of Plekhanov, or his break with his own philosophic past, Lenin advised Soviet youth to study “everything Plekhanov wrote on Philosophy ...” and he reprinted his own Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. We need not bother here with simplistic explanations of these actions such as the one offered by an ex-Old Bolshevik when he wrote: “And yet Lenin did not have the courage to say openly that he had thrown out, as useless, some very substantial parts of his philosophy of 1908.” The reason for the “privacy” of his Philosophic Notebooks is at once more simple and more complex, and has nothing to do with an alleged lack of courage. The tragedy lies elsewhere, deep in the recesses of time, revolution, and counter-revolution. Too short were the years between 1914 and 1917, between 1917 and 1923. Too daring was the November Revolution in Russia, and too many the aborted and missed revolutions elsewhere. Too overwhelming were the concrete problems of this great historic event, objective and subjective, including what Lenin called cultural backwardness. The pull, therefore, was for “stage-ifying.” When to study what? First one read Plekhanov, then Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Lenin himself, however, continued his Hegelian reading even at the height of the famine. He was so moved by Ilyin's book on Hegel that, though the author was both religious and an enemy of the Soviet state, Lenin intervened to get him out of jail.
The duality in Lenin's philosophical heritage is unmistakable. But how can that excuse the failure to grapple with the Philosophic Notebooks on the ground that they are mere “jottings,” “had never been intended for publication,” and therefore it would be no more than “idle speculation” to conclude that Lenin wished to follow one road rather than another? No one can explain away the truth that where Plekhanov's concentration on materialism led him to the materialists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Lenin's “jottings for himself' led him to concentrate on dialectics, Hegelian dialectics, for all Marxists. It is impossible to explain away the clear public tasks he set for the editors of the newly established philosophic organ, Pod Znamenem Marxizma (Under the Banner of Marxism), to work out a “solid philosophical ground” which he spelled out as
(1) The systematic study of Hegelian dialectic from a materialist standpoint, i.e., the dialectic which Marx applied practically in his Capital and in his historical and political works. (2) Taking as our basis Marx's method of applying the Hegelian dialectic materialistically conceived, we can and should treat his dialectic from all sides, print excerpts from Hegel's principal works.... (3) The group of editors and contributors of the magazine Under the Banner of Marxism should, in my opinion, be a kind of “Society of Materialist Friends of Hegelian Dialectics.”
This was 1922, the year of his most intense intellectual activity, which stretched into the first months of 1923 and the last of his great battles against the top leadership. Most of all, it was against Stalin's brutal, rude, and disloyal acts, mainly against the Georgians, that is, once again on the National Question – “scratch a Communist and you will find a Great Russian chauvinist.” Not accidentally, Bukharin held the same position on the National Question.
As Lenin lay writhing in agony – not just physical agony, but agony over the early bureaucratisation of the workers' state and its tendency to “move backwards to capitalism” – he took the measure of his co-leaders in his Will. What is relevant here is what he says of Bukharin:
Bukharin is not only the most valuable and biggest theoretician of the party, but also may legitimately be considered the favorite of the whole party; but his theoretical views can only with the very greatest doubt be regarded as fully Marxian, for there is something scholastic in him. (He has never learned, and I think never fully understood, the dialectic.)
Clearly, “understanding the dialectic” had become the pons asini for Lenin. It was not an abstraction when it was used to describe the chief theoretician of the party. Clearly, “not understanding the dialectic” had become crucial. As the head of the first workers' state in history, witnessing the emergence of bureaucratisation and national chauvinism, of Bolshevism and non-Bolshevism being so permeated with an administrative mentality as to call for the statification of the trade unions, and the chief theoretician's views being non-dialectic and therefore not “fully Marxian,” Lenin saw all these traits developing and creating problems because, in their totality, they tended to stifle rather than release the creative powers of the masses. Nothing short of sensing this danger would have prompted Lenin to take such sharp measure of those who led the greatest proletarian revolution in history.
It is the nature of truth, said Hegel, to force its way up when its “time has come.” He should have added, “even if only in a murky form.” But then he could not have known how much a state-capitalist age can excrete to make it impossible to see the truth even when it surfaces. No conspiracy was needed between “East” and “West” to keep Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks out of the reach of the masses – and then work to make it “beyond” their understanding. It is in the nature of the administrative mentality of our state-capitalist automated age to consider Hegelian philosophy to be the private preserve of those “in the know” while letting it remain “gibberish” to the uninitiated. And although in the “East” they bow before the founder of their state and in the “West” sneer at Lenin's non-professional status as a philosopher, both poles find it convenient to keep apart what history has joined together – Hegel and Marx, Hegel and Lenin. With the death of Lenin, there waited in the wings that terrible twin trap: at one end a theoretic void, which Leaders stood ready to fill with Alternatives, and at the other end a new statist lifeline of capitalism.