Louis Althusser 1969
Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays

Lenin before Hegel

First Published: 1971 by New Left Books;
Translated: from an unpublished manuscript, by Ben Brewster;
Source: Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press 1971;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

See Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1908) and Lenin's Annotations on Hegel (1914-15).

In a lecture now a year old, published in a small volume by Maspero under the title Lenin and Philosophy, I have attempted to prove that Lenin should be regarded as having made a crucial contribution to dialectical materialism, in that he made a real discovery with respect to Marx and Engels, and that this discovery can be summarized as follows: Marx’s scientific theory did not lead to a new philosophy (called dialectical materialism), but to a new practice of philosophy, to be precise to the practice of philosophy based on a proletarian class position in philosophy.

This discovery, which I regard as essential, can be formulated in the following theses:

1. Philosophy is not a science, and it has no object, in the sense in which a science has an object.

2. Philosophy is a practice of political intervention carried out in a theoretical form.

3. It intervenes essentially in two privileged domains, the political domain of the effects of the class struggle and the theoretical domain of the effects of scientific practice.

4. In its essence, it is itself produced in the theoretical domain by the conjunction of the effects of the class struggle and the effects of scientific practice.

5. It therefore intervenes politically, in a theoretical form, in the two domains, that of political practice and that of scientific practice: these two domains of intervention being its domains, insofar as it is itself produced by the combination of effects from these two practices.

6. All philosophy expresses a class position, a ‘partisanship’ in the great debate which dominates the whole history of philosophy, the debate between idealism and materialism.

7. The Marxist-Leninist revolution in philosophy consists of a rejection of the idealist conception of philosophy (philosophy as an ‘interpretation of the world’) which denies that philosophy expresses a class position, although it always does so itself, and the adoption of the proletarian class position in philosophy, which is materialist, i.e. the inauguration of a new materialist and revolutionary practice of philosophy which induces effects of class division in theory.

All these theses can be found in Materialism and Empirio-criticism, either explicitly or implicitly. All I have done is to begin to make them more explicit. Materialism and Empirio-criticism dates from 1908. At that time Lenin had not read, or not really read, Hegel. Lenin only read Hegel in 1914 and 1915. We should note that immediately before he read Hegel – the Shorter Logic (the Encyclopedia), then the Great Logic and the Philosophy of History – Lenin read Feuerbach (1914).

Hence Lenin read Feuerbach and Hegel in 1914-15, during the first two years of the inter-imperialist War, nine years after the crushing of the Revolution of October 1905, at the most critical moment in the History of the Workers’ Movement, the moment of the treachery of the Social-Democratic Parties of the Second International, whose practice of a Holy Alliance inaugurated the great split which was to culminate in the gigantic work of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the 1917 Revolution and in the foundation of the Third International.

Today, in April 1969, as we live through a second de facto split in the International Communist Movement, as the Chinese Communist Party holds its Ninth Congress and as preparations are being made for the International Conference of Communist Parties in Moscow, it is not at all irrelevant to reflect on Lenin in 1914-1915, reading Hegel’s Logic. It is not scholasticism but philosophy, and since philosophy is politics in theory, it is therefore politics. We have an immense advantage over Lenin in that we are not living in a world war, and can see slightly more clearly into the future of the International Communist Movement, despite its present split, and perhaps even because of its present split, despite the meagreness of our information about it. For one can always reflect.

The paradox of Lenin’s attitude before Hegel can be grasped by contrasting two facts:

1. First fact

In 1894, in What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are, Lenin, who had clearly not read Hegel, but only what Marx says about Hegel in the Afterword to the second German edition of Capital, and what Engels says about Hegel in Anti-Dühring and Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, devotes a dozen pages to the difference between Marx’s materialist dialectic and Hegel’s dialectic! These twelve pages are a categorical declaration of anti-Hegelianism. The conclusion of these twelve pages (in a note) is, and I quote, ‘the absurdity of accusing Marxism of Hegelian Dialectics’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 1, p. 174n.). Lenin quotes Marx’s declaration that his ‘method is thedirect opposite” of Hegel’s method’ (p. 167). As for Marx’s Hegelian formulations, the very ones which occur in Capital, in particular in Volume One Part I, which Marx himself signalled as the result of his having ‘coquetted (kokettieren) with the modes of expression peculiar to Hegel’, Lenin settles accounts with them by saying that they are ‘Marx’s manner of expression’ and relate to ‘the origin of the doctrine’, adding with much common sense that ‘the theory should not be blamed for its origin’ (p. 164). Lenin goes on to say that the Hegelian formulations of the dialectic, the ‘empty dialectical scheme’ of the triads, is a ‘lid’ or a ‘skin’ and that not only can one remove this lid or skin without changing anything in the bowl uncovered or the fruit peeled, but indeed they must be uncovered or peeled in order to see what is in them.

May I remind the reader that in 1894 Lenin had not read Hegel, but he had read Marx’s Capital very closely, and understood it better than anyone else ever had – he was twenty-four – so much so that the best introduction to Marx’s Capital is to be found in Lenin. Which would seem to prove that the best way to understand Hegel and the relation between Marx and Hegel is above all to have read and understood Capital.

2. Second Fact

In 1915, in his notes on the Great Logic, Lenin wrote a statement which everyone knows by heart, and which I quote: ‘Aphorism: it is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!’ (Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 180 – Lenin’s exclamation marks).

For any superficial reader, this statement obviously contradicts the statements of 1894, since instead of radical anti-Hegelian declarations, here we seem to have a radical pro-Hegelian declaration. Indeed, it goes so far that, if it were applied to Lenin himself, as the author of remarkable texts on Capital written between 1893 and 1905, he would appear as not having ‘understood Marx’, since before 1914-1915, Lenin had not ‘thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic’!

I shall leave the conventional commentators to extricate themselves from this little ‘contradiction’, but I doubt whether they will make much progress with it, however much they declare, as good commentators on other texts of Lenin’s, that ‘contradiction’ is the universal motor of all progress, including the progress of understanding....

For myself, I state that I subscribe word for word to this second declaration of Lenin’s just as I do to the first. I shall explain this directly. Lenin was quite right to say that to ‘understand Capital’, and especially, as he has the genius to point out, its first chapter, i.e. the extraordinary Volume One Part I, extraordinary because it is still Hegelian, not only in its terminology, but also in its order of exposition, it is essential to know Hegel’s Logic through and through and for good reason.

I can reduce the paradox of this second fact, of this second declaration of Lenin’s straightaway by pointing out that it is preceded (a page earlier in the Notebooks) by another very interesting formula only a few lines before. Lenin declares, in fact, that ‘Hegel’s analysis of syllogisms ... recalls Marx’s imitation of Hegel in Ch. 1’. This is a re-phrasing of Marx’s own diagnosis: his ‘coquetting’ with Hegel. If the cap fits, wear it. This is not me speaking, but Lenin, following Marx. In fact, one cannot understand Volume One Part I at all without completely removing its Hegelian ‘lid’, without reading as a materialist, as Lenin reads Hegel, the said Volume One Part I, without, if you will forgive the presumption, re-writing it.

This brings us directly to my central thesis on Lenin’s reading of Hegel: i.e. that in his notes on Hegel, Lenin maintains precisely the position he had adopted previously in ‘What the “Friends of the People” Are’ and ‘Materialism and Empirio-criticism’, i.e. at a moment when he had not read Hegel, which leads us to a ‘shocking’ but correct conclusion: basically, Lenin did not need to read Hegel in order to understand him, because he had already understood Hegel, having closely read and understood Marx. Bearing this in mind, I shall hazard a peremptory aphorism of my own: ‘A century and a half later no one has understood Hegel because it is impossible to understand Hegel without having thoroughly studied and understoodCapital"!’ Provocation for provocation; I hope I shall be forgiven this one, at least in the Marxist camp.

As for the Hegelians, they can carry on with their philosophical rumination in Hegel, Ruminator of all Ruminations, i.e. the Interpreter of all the Interpretations in the history of philosophy. At any rate, as good Hegelians, they know that History is over and that therefore they can only go round and round within the theory of the End of History, i.e. in Hegel.

After all, it is not just roundabouts that go round and round, the wheel of history can go round and round, too. The wheel of philosophical history at least, which always goes round and round, and when it is Hegelian, its advantage, like the advantage Pascal attributed to man over the reed, is that itknows it’.

What, when, was so interesting to Lenin in Hegel’s Great Logic?

In order to answer this question, we must first learn to read Lenin’s notes on his reading of Hegel. This is a truism, but one from which, of course, hardly anyone draws the necessary, but elementary, conclusions. We have to believe that none of the commentators of the Notebooks on Hegel have ever themselves kept a book of notes on their own individual reading.

For when one takes notes, there are notes whose function it is to summarize what one has just read, and there are notes whose function it is to assess what one has just read. There are also notes that one takes, and notes that one does not take. For example, those who are prepared to compare the text of Hegel’s Great Logic with the text of Lenin’s notes cannot fail to observe that Lenin almost completely ignores the Book on Being, leaving hardly any comment on it other than summarizing notes. This is surely strange, i.e. symptomatic. These same readers cannot fail to remark that the notes become abundant (and not just the summarizing notes, but also the critical notes, usually approving but occasionally disapproving) when Lenin comes to the Book on Essence, which clearly interests him considerably; and that Lenin’s notes become very abundant for the Book devoted to Subjective Logic and very laudatory on the Absolute Idea, the Chapter on which Lenin, amazing though it may seem, regards as practically materialist.

I cannot go into all the details, although they are essential, but I attach the greatest importance to a critical, i.e. a materialist, reading of Lenin’s Notes on his reading of Hegel, in order, first, to say how Lenin reads Hegel, then, to say what primarily interests him in Hegel, and finally, to attempt to say why.

I. How Lenin Read Hegel

He read Hegel, and the phrase constantly recurs, as a ‘materialist’. What does this phrase mean?

First, it means that Lenin read Hegel by ‘inverting’ him. What does this ‘inversion’ mean? Simply the ‘inversion’ of idealism into materialism. But beware! In practice this means not that Lenin put matter in place of the Idea and vice versa, for that would merely produce a new materialist metaphysics (i.e. a materialist variant of classical philosophy, say, at best a mechanistic materialism), but that for his reading of Hegel, Lenin adopted a proletarian class viewpoint (a dialectical-materialist viewpoint), which is something quite different.

In other words, Lenin did not read Hegel in order to set Hegel’s absolute-idealist system back on to its feet in the form of a materialist system. For his reading of Hegel he adopted a new philosophical practice, a practice which followed from the proletarian class viewpoint, i.e. from the dialectical-materialist viewpoint. What interested Lenin in Hegel was above all the effects of this dialectical-materialist reading of Hegel, i.e. the effects produced with respect to a reading of passages from Hegel which deal primarily with what is called the ‘theory of knowledge’ and the dialectic.

If Lenin did not read Hegel according to the method of ‘inversion’, how did he read him? Precisely according to the method he described as early as 1894 in What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are with respect to the reading of Capital Volume One Part I: by the method of ‘laying bare ‘. What is valid for the reading of passages from Marx contaminated by Hegelian terminology and the Hegelian order of exposition in Capital is obviously valid a fortiori, a hundred times a fortiori, for Hegel himself. Hence the radical laying bare. A central passage in the Notebooks says this in so many words:

Movement and ‘self-movement’ (this NB! arbitrary (independent), spontaneous, internally-necessary movement), ‘change’, ‘movement and vitality’, ‘the principle of all self-movement’, ‘impulse’ (Trieb) to ‘movement’ and to ‘activity’ – the opposite to ‘dead Being’ – who would believe that this is the core of ‘Hegelianism’, of abstract and abstrusen (ponderous, absurd?) Hegelianism?? This core had to be discovered, understood, hinüberretten, laid bare, refined, which is precisely what Marx and Engels did (op. cit., Vol. 38, p. 141).

What are we to understand by this metaphor of ‘laying bare’, ‘refining’ or ‘extraction’ (a term used elsewhere), if not the image that there is in Hegel something like a ‘rational’ kernel which must be rid of its skin, or better no doubt, of its superimposed skins, in short of a certain crust which is more or less thick (think of a fruit, an onion, or even an artichoke). Hence the extraction needs to be laboriously laid bare. Sometimes, as in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea, the materialist kernel reaches almost to the surface, a mere laying bare is enough. Sometimes, the skin is thick, it is tangled with the kernel itself, and the kernel needs to be disentangled. In either case, a labour involving more or less transformation is necessary. Sometimes there is only the skin: nothing at all to retain, everything has to be discarded, there is no rational kernel. Thus in the Book of the Great Logic on Being, and in all the passages containing, directly or indirectly, what Lenin calls ‘mysticism’ (e.g. where logic is alienated into Nature), Lenin writes furiously: ‘stupidity! foolishness! incredible!’, and he rejects outright ‘nonsense about the absolute. I am in general trying to read Hegel materialistically: Hegel is materialism which has been stood on its head (according to Engels) that is to say, I cast aside for the most part God, the Absolute, the Pure Idea, etc.’ (p. 104).

Thus a rather special method. The inversion is simply an affirmation of the partisan position of the proletariat in philosophy: the inversion of idealism into materialism. The real operation, the real work of materialist reading consists of a quite different operation:

1. the rejection of a mass of propositions and theses with which nothing can be done, from which absolutely nothing can be obtained, skins without kernels;

2. the retention of certain well-chosen fruits and vegetables, and their careful peeling or the disentanglement of their kernels from their thick skins, tangled with the kernel, by real transforming work. ‘One must first of all extract the materialist dialectics from it (the Hegelian galimatias). Nine-tenths of it, however, is chaff, rubbish’ (p. 154).

What a waste! This has nothing to do with the miraculous ‘inversion’.

II. What is it that Interests Lenin?

What is it that Lenin retains from Hegel and re-works?

Here I could go on for ever. I shall group my points under the two chapter headings which are the most important in my eyes, and, I believe, in the eyes of every careful reader of the Notebooks. The first deals with Hegel’s criticism of Kant, the second with the Chapter on the Absolute Idea.

A. Hegel’s Criticism of Kant

This never fails; whenever Lenin finds a criticism of Kant in Hegel’s text, he approves. And especially when Hegel criticizes the Kantian notion of the thing-in-itself as unknowable. Then Lenin’s approval is categorical and even lyrical:

Essentially, Hegel is completely right as opposed to Kant. Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract ...does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, of a law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely. From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature, consigning God, and the philosophical rabble that defends God, to the rubbish heap (op. cit., Vol. 38, p. 171).

Here Lenin is merely repeating Engels:

In addition there is yet a set of different philosophers – those who question the possibility of any cognition, or at least of an exhaustive cognition of the world. To them, among the more modern ones, belong Hume and Kant, and they have played a very important role in philosophical development. What is decisive in the refutation of this view has already been said by Hegel, in so far as this was possible from an idealist standpoint (‘Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy’, Marx-Engels: Selected Works, London, 1968, p. 605).

How are we to interpret this attitude? We should note carefully that when Lenin approves of the fact that Hegel criticizes Kant from a Hegelian viewpoint, he certainly does not approve of the Hegelian viewpoint 100 per cent, but he does approve 100 per cent of the fact that Kant is criticized, and, let us say, approves of a large part of the arguments behind Hegel’s criticism of Kant. This is really an obvious point: it is possible for two people to be in agreement against a third party for different reasons, more or less different reasons.

For Lenin, as for Hegel, Kant means subjectivism.[1] In a quasi-Hegelian phrase, Lenin says that the transcendental is subjectivism and psychology. And naturally we are not surprised to find that Lenin occasionally compares Kant with Mach. Hence Lenin is in agreement with Hegel in criticizing Kant from the point of view of objectivism ...but what objectivism? We shall see.

In any case, he delights in Hegel’s criticism of the thing-in-itself. An empty notion, he says, in agreement with the Hegelian formulation, it is a myth to claim to be able to think the unknowable, the thing-in-itself is the identity of the essence in the phenomenon.

In Kant, Ding an sich is an empty abstraction, but Hegel demands abstraction which corresponds to der Sache (op. cit., p. 92).

In this dual theme: the categorical rejection of the thing-in-itself – and its counterpart: the existence of the essence in the phenomenon, which Lenin reads as the identity of the essence and the thing-in-itself (the essence identical with its phenomenon), Lenin is in agreement with Hegel, though the latter would not say that the ‘reality’ of the thing-in-itself is the essence. A shade of meaning perhaps, but an important one.

Why is it important? Because Hegel’s criticism of Kant is a criticism of subjective idealism in the name of absolute idealism, which means that Hegel does not stop at a Theory of the Essence, but criticizes Kant in the name of a Theory of the Idea, whereas Lenin stops at what Hegel would call a Theory of the Essence.

Here we see ‘in the name of what’ Lenin criticizes Kant’s subjectivism: in the name of objectivism, I have said. This term is too easily a pendant of the term subjectivism for it not to be immediately suspect. Let us say rather that Lenin criticizes Kant’s subjectivism in the name of a materialist thesis which is a thesis conjointly of (material) existence and of (scientific) objectivity. In other words, Lenin criticizes Kant from the viewpoint of philosophical materialism and scientific objectivity, thought together in the thesis of materialism. This is precisely the position of Materialism and Empirio-criticism.

But it enables us to reveal a number of important consequences nonetheless. Let us run through them.

The critique of Kant’s transcendental subjectivism contained in the selective reading in which Lenin ‘lays bare’ Hegel entails:

1. the elimination of the thing-in-itself and its reconversion into the dialectical action of the identity of essence and phenomenon;

2. the elimination of the category of the Subject (whether transcendental or otherwise);

3. with this double elimination and the reconversion of the thing-in-itself into the dialectical action of the essence in its phenomenon, Lenin produces an effect often underlined in Materialism and Empirio-criticism: the liberation of scientific practice, finally freed from every dogma that would make it an ossified thing, thus restoring to it its rightful living existence – this life of science merely reflecting the life of reality itself.[2]

This is the categorical limit dividing Lenin from Hegel in their criticisms of Kant. For Lenin, Hegel criticizes Kant from the viewpoint of the Absolute Idea, i.e. provisionally, of ‘God’ – whereas Lenin uses Hegel’s criticism of Kant to criticize Kant from the viewpoint of science, of scientific objectivity and its correlate, the material existence of its object.

This is the practice of laying-bare and peeling, of refining, as we can see it at a point where it is possible: Lenin takes what interests him from his point of view from the discourse which Hegel is pursuing from a quite different point of view. What determines the principle of the choice is the difference in viewpoints: the primacy of science and its material object, for Lenin; whereas, as we know, for Hegel, science, meaning the science of the scientists (which remains in the Intellect), has no primacy: since in Hegel science is subject to the primacy of Religion and Philosophy, which is the truth of Religion.

B. The Chapter on the Absolute Idea

We move from paradox to paradox. I have just said that what interests Lenin in Hegel is the criticism of Kant, but from the point of view of scientific objectivity – and not from the point of view of its truth, which, to be brief, is represented in Hegel by the Absolute Idea. And yet, Lenin is passionately interested in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea, which he sees as almost materialist:

It is noteworthy that the whole chapter on the ‘Absolute Idea’ scarcely says a word about God (hardly ever has 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. The sum-total, the last word and essence of Hegel’s logic is the dialectical method – this is extremely noteworthy. 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! (op. cit., p. 234).

How are we to explain this paradox?

Ultimately in a fairly simple way. But before doing so, I must go back a little.

Last year, in a paper I read at Jean Hyppolite’s seminar, I showed what Marx owed to Hegel in theory. After critically examining the dialectic of what may be called the conceptual experiment carried out by Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts, where Feuerbach’s theory of the alienation of the Human Essence underwent a Hegelian injection, precisely the injection of the process of historical alienation – I was able to show that this combination was untenable and explosive, and in fact it was abandoned by Marx on the one hand (the Manuscripts were not published and their theses were progressively abandoned later), while on the other it produced an explosion.

The untenable thesis upheld by Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts was that History is the History of the process of alienation of a Subject, the Generic Essence of Man alienated in ‘alienated labour’.

But it was precisely this thesis that exploded. The result of this explosion was the evaporation of the notions of subject, human essence, and alienation, which disappear, completely atomized, and the liberation of the concept of a process (procès or processus) without a subject, which is the basis of all the analyses in Capital.

Marx himself provides evidence of this in a note to the French edition of Capital (this is interesting, for Marx must have added this note three or four years after the appearance of the German edition, i.e. after an interval which had allowed him to grasp the importance of this category and to express it to himself). This is what Marx wrote:

The word ‘procès’ (process) which expresses a development considered in the totality of its real conditions has long been part of scientific language throughout Europe. In France it was first introduced slightly shamefacedly in its Latin form – processus. Then, stripped of this pedantic disguise, it slipped into books on chemistry, physics, physiology, etc., and into a few works of metaphysics. In the end it will obtain a certificate of complete naturalization. Let us note in passing that in ordinary speech the Germans, like the French use the word Prozess (procès, process) in the legal sense [i.e. trial] (Le Capital, Editions Sociales, t.I, p. 181n.).

Now, for anyone who ‘knows’ how to read Hegel’s Logic as a materialist, a process without a subject is precisely what can be found in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea. Jean Hyppolite decisively proved that Hegel’s conception of history had absolutely nothing to do with any anthropology. The proof: History is the Spirit, it is the last moment of the alienation of a process which ‘begins’ with Logic, continues with Nature and ends with the Spirit, the Spirit, i.e. what can be presented in the form of ‘History’. For Hegel, quite to the contrary of the erroneous view of Kojève and the young Lukács, and of others since them, who are almost ashamed of the Dialectics of Nature, the dialectic is by no means peculiar to History, which means that History does not contain anywhere in itself, in any subject, its own origin. The Marxist tradition was quite correct to return to the thesis of the Dialectics of Nature, which has the polemical meaning[3] that history is a process without a subject, that the dialectic at work in history is not the work of any Subject whatsoever, whether Absolute (God) or merely human, but that the origin of history is always already thrust back before history, and therefore that there is neither a philosophical origin nor a philosophical subject to History. Now what matters to us here is that Nature itself is not, in Hegel’s eyes, its own origin; it is itself the result of a process of alienation which does not begin with it: i.e. of a process whose origin is elsewhere – in Logic.

This is where the question becomes really fascinating. For it is clear that Lenin swept aside in one sentence the absurd idea that Nature was a product of the alienation of Logic, and yet he says that the Chapter on the Absolute Idea is quasi-materialist. Surprising.

What, in fact, is the status of Logic in Hegel? It is double: on the one hand, Logic is the origin itself, that which it is impossible to go back beyond, and that with which the ulterior process of alienation begins. Hence this process of alienation does seem to have a Subject: Logic. But when we examine closely the ‘nature’ of this Subject which is supposed to be Absolute, precisely in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea, we find that it is the origin negated as an origin. This can be seen at two points in particular.

Firstly, at the beginning of the Logic, which negates what it begins with from the very beginning, by immediately negating being in nothingness, which can only mean one thing: the origin must simultaneously be affirmed and negated, hence the subject must be negated from the moment that it is posited.

Secondly, in Hegel’s famous thesis that the Absolute Idea is simply the absolute method, the method which, as it is nothing but the very movement of the process, is merely the idea of the process as the only Absolute.

Lenin applies his materialist reading to this double thesis of Hegel’s. And that is why he is so fascinated by the Absolute Idea. He thus lays bare and refines this notion, too, retaining the Absolute, but rejecting the Idea, which amounts to saying that Lenin takes from Hegel the following proposition: there is only one thing in the world which is absolute, and that is the method or the concept of the process, itself absolute. And as Hegel himself suggested by the beginning of Logic, being = nothingness, and by the very place of Logic, origin negated as origin, Subject negated as Subject, Lenin finds in it a confirmation of the fact that it is absolutely essential (as he had learnt simply from a thorough-going reading of Capital) to suppress every origin and every subject, and to say: what is absolute is the process without a subject, both in reality and in scientific knowledge.

As this proposition breaks through, i.e. constantly touches the surface, or rather the skin, all that is needed is to lay it bare to obtain the Marxist-Leninist concept of the materialist dialectic, of the absoluteness of movement, of the absolute process of the reality of the method: to be precise, the concept of the fundamental scientific validity of the concept of a process without a subject, as it is to be found in Capital, and elsewhere, too, in Freud, for example.

The materialist thesis of the material existence and of the objectivity of scientific knowledge thus finds a confirmation which is both radical and disconcerting here in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea. Completely disconcerting for a reader of Hegel who has not read Marx, but completely natural for a reader of Hegel who has read Marx. I would even say, completely natural for anyone who, without having read Hegel, could speak of him in complete ignorance, i.e. in complete knowledge of the situation, in the strongest sense – like the twenty-four-year-old who, in 1894, wrote the twelve pages on Hegel that I have discussed.

With these comments as starting-point, I ask you in your turn to try to re-read Lenin reading Hegel, and to tell me if the shocking proposition I put forward a moment ago is not the very truth:

A century and a half later no one has understood Hegel because it is impossible to understand Hegel without having thoroughly studied and understoodCapital ‘.

Thanks to Lenin, we can begin, not to read or to interpret, but to understand the Hegelian philosophical world, while transforming it, of course.

Allow me to recall that this divination of Hegel by Lenin, and then his reading of Hegel, were only possible from a proletarian class viewpoint, and with the new practice of philosophy that follows from it. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from this for the present and the future. For all in all the situation in 1969 is less serious for the International Marxist Workers’ Movement than it was in 1915 – which does not mean that the task is not immense – it is only less difficult, despite appearances. On one condition, which Marx demanded of his reader, on the threshold of Capital: that he has the courage to ‘think for himself’ and about what is in preparation, even at moderate or long distance, what is in preparation among the masses, for it is they and not the philosophers who make history.

April 1969


1. ‘Hegel charges Kant with subjectivism. This NB. Hegel is for the “objective rationality” ...of Semblance, “of that which is immediately given.”’ (op. cit., Vol. 38, p. 134).

2.Sehr gut !! If we ask what Things-in-themselves are, so ist in die Frage gedankenloser Weise die Unmöglichkeit der Beantwortung gelegt [the question, in thoughtlessness, is so put as to render an answer impossible] ...This is very profound: ...the Thing-in-itself is altogether an empty, lifeless abstraction in life, in movement, each thing and everything is usually both “in itself” and “for others” in relation to an Other, being transformed from one state to the other’ (p. 109). ‘In Kant [we have] “the empty abstraction” of the Thing-in-itself instead of living Gang, Bewegung, deeper and deeper, of our knowledge about things’ (op. cit., p. 91).

3. Among others.