C L R James on Hegel
Notes on Dialectics: PART II
The Hegelian Logic
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.
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