C L R James on Hegel
Notes on Dialectics: PART II
The Hegelian Logic
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).
Contents | Hegel on Being | next excerpt