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