The Logical Influence of Hegel on Marx by Rebecca Cooper 1925


In support of the conclusion that the connection between the Marxist and Hegelian systems is for the most part a purely external and verbal rather 1 than an integral one, it may well be demonstrated that the Marxist system in every essential feature stands, though all the basic Hegelian tenets are refuted. In spite of the fact that the theory of historical materialism was probably derived very largely from certain Hegelian doctrines, it may hold true though the doctrines from which it was derived are proven false.

Now the question is, will it be possible to accept the Marxist theory while at the same time denying the validity of the three central Hegelian principles , which may be stated as follows : (1) the internality of relations, (2) the inseparability of identity and difference, (3) the partial and relative nature of all finite truths. From the language of both Marx and Engels, it cannot be doubted that they accepted these principles, and even argued for some of them vigorously. Nevertheless, it seems tome that the essential features of the Marxist theory may be stated in such a way that they are independent of the Hegelian philosophy. Principles, which when first considered, especially in the terminology of Marx and Engels, seem to fit in with the Hegelian logic, and therefore to be contrary to the accepted non-Hegelian tenets of logic, turn out, on closer examination to be but a peculiar way of stating ideas which in no manner conflict with the common-sense view of things.

When Engels speaks of the “internal connection and concatenation . of things,” “their oneness,” “inseparability,” and the like, he probably has in mind an Hegelian connection which involves the internality of relations between all things. But that he was not aware of the logical issue, and that his view really is not essentially different from any modern evolutionary conception is indicated by the fact that he credits Darwin with having “dealt the meta-physical conception of nature the heaviest blow.”[167] Thus we may believe in the evolutionary continuity of events in the historical as well as in the biological realm; we may believe that all things are related, either through direct contact, or through the intermediation of connected things; and we may believe that the merging of one historical event into the next is governed by “necessary” laws of nature, without holding also that the character of the relation-ship between these events and things is such that they are really but parts of the “One Whole.” In a sense, we may even agree that they are parts of one whole, but in the Marxist theory it may be the collective whole of common-sense, the universe as a whole, or the world considered in its entirety – certainly not necessarily the Absolute Unit of Hegel.

Part of the evolutionary, or dialectical view of things is the doctrine of opposites. The works of both Engels and Marx abound in examples of “polar opposites,” which are antagonistic, but necessary to each other. To say that these opposites exclude each other, is believed by Marx and Engels, as well as by Hegel, to be a cardinal error. Engels emphasizes the fact that it is not necessary, or even correct, to say that a thing must be either form or content, cause or effect, positive or negative; it is obvious that things may be and are, both these opposites. On the face of it, this point seems hopelessly Hegelian, but from Engels’ further explanation it becomes evident that again the real logical issue was not recognized by the Marxists. The polemic in their day was of such a different character – the evolutionary versus the static view of nature – that it is not surprising if a mere logical quibble was overlooked in the face of the larger issue in which Hegelian principles might be put to use. We may all again agree with the Marxists that the same thing can be at the same time, both cause and effect, or both form and content. But we may hold also, without in any way falsifying the Marxist view, that a thing is both cause and effect, and the like, at the same time, but from different points of view. The thing is both alive and dead, as Engels maintains, but only if the meaning of death be not too carefully defined. The difficulty in all of these cases can be avoided by making a careful distinction – but it is plain from the exposition of it already given that the Hegelian principle is not necessary to the Marxist doctrine.

Marx and Engels speak of the economic crisis and other disturbing features of the present social system as its “inherent contradictions.” They speak, too, of the “resolution” of these contradictions, of the “negation of the negation,” which is the new society, and so forth. Engels’ answer to the accusation that the Marxist hypothesis of the collapse of capitalism and the appearance of communism is based only on a purely abstract Hegelian dialectic has already been given.[168] We may call attention here to the common tendency of modern historians to refer to any epoch (and especially to any transitional period) as being from different points of view, a period of “decline and decay” of the old, and of the “reconstruction and growth” of the new. Hegel undoubtedly did much to establish this evolutionary, dynamical view of history, but this does not make it Hegelian in the sense of the peculiar and generally conceded untenable features of that philosopher’s doctrine.

The theory of truth, which seems in Engels’ works to be strongly Hegelian in character, is really, on closer inspection, the ordinary (correspondence) view, with a peculiar emphasis and manner of statement. When Engels argues so vehemently against so-called Absolute truth, or rather, as it turns out, against certain absolute truths, he was actually but upholding a relativity view of morality and thought, which is very different from the doctrine of partial truths and the One Absolute Truth propounded by Hegel. Though Engels speaks of actual truths changing, it is possible with a little variation and modification of terminology, but without any real alteration of principles, to summarize Engels’ statements on this point so that they say merely that since the opinions of people reflect their surroundings, these opinions must undergo changes corresponding to changes in the social environment. It is, then, not the true propositions which change, but the facts, to which other and later propositions are made to correspond. Engels’ argument amounts to a tirade against those who fail to recognize the changing circumstances, and who reiterates as true, propositions which are true only if intended to correspond with facts of the past.

The Marxist system is by no means incompatible with an absolute theory of the nature of the good. The critical side of Marxism is not really concerned with the nature of the good as such, or in itself, but rather with actual moral codes disclosed by history, regarding specific types of action. The practical side of the theory as a revolutionary philosophy, on the other hand, finds its surest theoretical support in a realistic view of the good as something objective, absolute. Then, armed revolution and the proletarian dictatorship are ethically justified as necessary means toward the end of the greatest amount of human, happiness. This end, it holds, is not only consistent with a purely working class point of view, but depends upon it. The class struggle allows no compromise – either the workers or the capitalists must win completely. And a modern Utilitarian ethics requires that it must be the masses of the workers who are victorious.

The independence of the definitely economic side of Marxism from any necessary connection with Hegel’s philosophy is proved by the fact that Marx himself when occasion demanded, gave a presentation of the economic the-ones in which appeared not a trace of Hegelian terminology or principles.

Marx’s two pamphlets, Value, Price and Profit, and Wage, Labor, and Capital, written for working class consumption, and containing (though in brief form) all the essentials of the economic theory, are a standing proof of the reality of this logical independence.

It is not the purpose of this study to prove in detail the merely verbal, external character of the numerous points of contact between Marxism and Hegelianism here disclosed. A bare suggestion of the possibility of divorcing the economic theories will not, however, be out of place.

To select only the more outstanding points, it may in the first place, with very little difficulty, be shown that the much emphasized pair of “polar-opposites”; use-value and exchange-value (or value), are quite needlessly so designated. They appear, having the same fundamental meaning, in the works of Adam Smith, Ricardo, and others, and their unnecessarily Hegelian form in Marx’s works can be explained only by the author’s whim to “coquette” with Hegel’s modes of expression. It is obvious that any two important aspects, or phases of an object may be spoken of as in a sense identical – they are qualities of one thing; and at the same time, different – they are not the same quality.

In much the same manner, it is wholly unnecessary to the meaning of value in its relation to exchange-value to refer to the latter as the “phenomenal form,” the “mode of expression,” the “form,” and the like, of the former. Many scientific theories, (including the Einsteinian) involve this distinction between an entity considered absolutely, and in its relation to other things (which may be either frames of reference or other commodities, or anything else under the sun).

It is more difficult, in a few words, to dispose of the Hegelian features of Marx’s treatment of the universal equivalent, and the various “contradictions,” and relations of exchange. But, when Marx speaks of the universal equivalent as solving the contradictions of the commodity and the exchange relation he is merely saying (what any economist will tell you) that only through money is exchange (as contrasted with barter) made possible at all.

Regarding the Marxist exchange cycles and their presentation in the form of Hegelian syllogisms, it is perhaps sufficient to point out how perfectly natural it was for a close and sympathetic student of Hegel to treat in this highly artificial way a relationship involving two different terms, or types of commodities which appear in two main types of economic exchange, one type of commodity assuming the dominant role in one form of exchange relation and the other being dominant in the remaining form. In the exchange act for the purpose of acquiring ordinary consumption goods, the commodity (C) is the more important and Marx expresses this by having it appear twice in his formula; while in exchange for productive purposes, it is obvious that money is of prime importance, and appears two times in the formula. It is of the utmost significance that the central, the most characteristic, and original feature of the Marxist theory of value, namely, surplus value, involving the accumulation of capital, should have been admittedly anomalous to the Hegelian formulae employed.

The comparison in the preceding pages between the main points of the Marxist theories and the philosophy of Hegel has not always laid bare any very close relation. It has been necessary to trace down many apparent relations to find a few real ones, and of the real relations, some, most of them in fact, are what might be called accidental, rather than necessary.

Marx, thoroughly trained in Hegelian dialectic, a member of the group of Young Hegelians, deliberately and consciously employed the method of his teachers when it came to presenting his newly acquired views. The Hegelian then it is undoubtedly there, though in varying degrees in different works; and in general both the method and the phraseology of the school of Hegel were used most in Marx’s early works, and employed less and less as time went on. More specifically, in the earliest works, on economics, especially, there is much Hegelian method and terminology, and very little, though possibly some, Hegelian content. Historical materialism, however, is much more dependent upon Hegel’s actual philosophy; it embodies much of the Hegelian content, and comparatively little of the Hegelian phraseology, though in this there is resemblance to Hegel’s own more popular works. The Marxist histories themselves do not even suggest Hegel. All the most fundamental features of the two sides of the theory, for instance, the economics and the philosophy of historical materialism, may be stated and have at times been stated, in language entirely free from the encumbering Hegelianism.