09 November 2012

Living Communism

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 10a

Corporate image of a collaborative project

Living Communism

Bourgeois propaganda would have everyone believe that communism is an impossible utopia, and that class relations, as we know them now, are all-pervasive in human society, to the exclusion of every other kind of social behaviour.

But, on the contrary, the development of class relations and the State (which as Lenin says, is not only the inevitable product of such relations, but also the proof of their irreconcilability) did not expunge all previous forms of human relation.

Humans already had language, and language is a powerful, stateless system. It has no fixed centre.

There are many other examples of communistic human relations which have survived, like language, and which remain as the bulk of our social fabric. There are even apparently new kinds of communistic social structures appearing, such as the Internet.

What Andy Blunden has done in the writing that we have sampled for the sake of illuminating the questions raised in particular by Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, is to begin to theorise the communistic patterns of social activity, mediated by artefacts, that characterise human social existence in general.

This is the on-going body of humanity upon the back of which the class struggle is carried, for the time being, like the cross of Christ.

Andy Blunden’s book (from which these excerpts, downloadable via the link below, are taken) is called “A Critique of Activity Theory”. It is concerned in part with Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, or “CHAT”, but we can pass over the specifics of “CHAT”, and look at what Andy means by “collaborative projects” in these chapters.

Collaborative Projects and Artefacts

Collaborative Projects are how people do stuff. Even capitalist companies are collaborative projects (see the corporate image, above).

One characteristic that Andy Blunden identifies is that collaborative projects are always mediated by an artefact, or artefacts. Artefacts are things made by people (but words are also artefacts, by the way).

What Andy therefore begins to theorise is the social place of things, or goods, made by people. This is different from the understanding of such goods as being commodities, which is all that capitalism can manage to see them as.

Another insight of Andy’s is the way that collective agency is both expressed, and also formed, within collaborative projects. We may say that we are humanists, believing in the rational free will of social beings. But how does this actually proceed? Andy provides a description, rooted in politics, philosophy and educational theory.

Our own method, following Paulo Freire, is to have dialogue involving two or more people, centred on a “codification’, which is an artefact (text or image). This conforms to the structure of a “Collaborative Project”.

But the aim within this course on Hegel is not necessarily to follow Andy into educational theory. The aim within this particular course is to consider what may already exist under the shell of the class-divided bourgeois State, so that what will remain, if and when that State withers away, can be apparent to us now, today.

What is the living communism of today? This is the question that is being answered by Andy Blunden’s writings sampled here.




08 November 2012

New Tools for Marxists

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 10


Polynodal semi-chaotic social-system diagram

New Tools for Marxists

This is the last part, and the second last item, in our series on Hegel’s Logic. It is the late SACP stalwart Ron Press’s article “New Tools for Marxists” (see the download linked below) on the application of Chaos Theory to revolution, written in the heat of the post-1994 election moment.

History has not actually ended. Closure of this course is therefore not appropriate.

Hegel’s theories have served us well and will continue to serve. There are not two branches of philosophy. We live in a Hegelian world, no matter what the reactionaries and the post-modernists may wish to think. The unity of human history is a hegemonic idea. Science is well established and universally revered, if not always for the right reasons.

If, because of the collapse of the Soviet Union a generation ago, we are forced to conclude that the Bolsheviks failed in their revolution three generations earlier, then it is more than likely that the reason they failed was lack of philosophy.

Philosophy and the withering away of the State

The revolutionaries must have a clear philosophical theory of how the coming classless society is going to work without a state.

In “New Tools for Marxists”, Ron Press wrote:

‘“…the standard Marxist idea that society passes in a linear manner from primitive communism via class struggle to the ultimate victory when the working class replaces capitalism with a classless society is an unattainable myth. Especially when a classless society was taken to mean the establishment of order and stability, in fact stasis. The theories outlined above indicate that stasis means the inevitable sudden crossover into chaos and collapse.

‘Lenin in State and Revolution continued the work of Engels and Marx in outlining the parameters which form the basis for the definition of systems indicated by points (a) and (b). It is interesting that they did not define the form or structure which socialism will have. Lenin recognised these new structures when they emerged. He initiated the slogan “all power to the soviets”.’

Ron Press is saying that the theory of the State, and of the “withering away” of the State, in Marx, Engels and Lenin is not wrong, yet these three did not have the full theoretical means to appreciate in full how “stateless” systems can, and already do, work in nature and in human society.

The revolutionaries of today need a Hegel for today: a Hegel up-to-date.

Let’s finish with two short quotes from our late comrade Ron Press:

“In the Soviet Union the “Soviet” i.e. committee system was destroyed by restricting the bandwidth of communication, and making one node all powerful.”

“But if there is a lesson to be drawn from the study of complexity it is that a complex system given a very “simple” goal (in our case the well being of humankind) develops its own best methods of operation and organisation. Solutions emerge from the system itself.”

Solutions emerge from the system itself.

Hegel could have said that.




05 November 2012

Lenin on the Theory of Knowledge

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 9a

Pablo Picasso, 1937: “Guernica”

Lenin on the Theory of Knowledge

The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge

Lenin’s 1908 “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” is a full-length book, but a difficult one to include under any particular category. It is a polemic against Ernst Mach and his Russian followers, whom Lenin said had little to distinguish themselves from the 18th-century subjective idealist Bishop Berkeley. This controversy does not seem quite so important today as it may have been in 1908, but it is still useful.

Our text from Lenin’s book is “The Criterion of Practice in the Theory of Knowledge” (download linked below).

It begins: “We have seen that Marx in 1845 and Engels in 1888 and 1892 placed the criterion of practice at the basis of the materialist theory of knowledge.” This shows up some of our difficulty in the field of Marxian philosophy. As the footnote says, Lenin is referring to Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845) and to the works by F. Engels: Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy” (1888) and the “Special Introduction to the English Edition of 1892” of his “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”.

The latter pamphlet is made out of excerpts from Engel’s “Anti-Dühring”, while the “Theses on Feuerbach” are part of “The German Ideology”, a book written between 1845 and 1847 by Marx and Engels and then abandoned “to the gnawing criticism of the mice”.

Karl Marx had a Doctorate in Philosophy but he did not, as a “Marxist”, write a book of philosophy as such, except insofar as his long “Capital” project could be taken as philosophy, and there are indeed some philosophical statements here and there among the preparatory works and in the three originally-published volumes of “Capital”.

So, what is linked from this post comprises the major part of the overtly philosophical work of Marx, Engels and Lenin. It is a tiny amount when compared to the world’s literature on philosophy.

It is therefore clear that the classical literature does not provide us with a full, exclusively Marxist exposition of philosophy. Perhaps this is fitting, because Marxism is after all not outside of the main stream of learning. As we have seen, it is a continuation of, as well as a reaction to, Hegel’s work, while Hegel’s work stands in a similar relation to Kant’s, and so on.

Taken together, all this means that for the philosophy that is necessary for revolution, the revolutionaries will have to go beyond Marx and Engels, and study the full discipline of philosophy, its history, its development and its meaning. This is exactly what Lenin began to do in the early 1900s.

In “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” Lenin quotes Hegel several times in passing, and briefly, though not in this particular chapter. It would seem that Lenin’s interest in Hegel really only got going later, at about the time (1914) when he prepared his ‘Conspectus of Hegel’s book “The Science of Logic”’. The Lenin Philosophy Archive on MIA is here.

Lenin is saying in this short chapter that that the test of truth is practice, and this provides us with a continuity in relation to our previous instalment, from Ilyenkov.

The next part will be the last in this Hegel series.

Picture: Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”. Picasso was the most distinguished painter of the 20th Century, and a communist. His famous mural depicting the fascist aerial bombing of the Spanish village of Guernica is now at the United Nations.




01 November 2012

Ascent from the Abstract to the Concrete

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 9

Pablo Picasso, 1908: “Three Women”

Ascent from the Abstract to the Concrete

There is no a priori humanity, or presupposition of humanity. There may be a God, or not. What is human is not given, but is made, by humans. We are made as humans by the knowledge that we continue to get, through labour, and to share, socially.

The knowledge that humanity has accumulated, altogether, is science. Objective things-in-themselves that are parts of the universe become known through labour and are thereby brought into that sphere which is humanity. So, the Object becomes part of the Subject.

Similarly, thoughts and decisions become facts of a social and political kind and become objects of science, including Scientific Socialism. In this way, Subject becomes Object.

These reversals, inversions (or “reciprocal actions” as Clausewitz might have called them), are critical transformations and are noticed and incorporated into the philosophy of Hegel and of Karl Marx.

We cannot say that everything is thought, and we equally cannot say that everything is matter; and to say that reality is an unqualified mixture of thought and matter is only to enter a hall of mirrors.

Hegel creates an escape from this maze into a better, and dynamic, form of understanding.

Hegel’s solution is to demonstrate how the movement takes place, not once and for all, but constantly. In the previous part of this course, Andy Blunden’s lecture explained it like this:

“The categories of Being which come into being and pass away, continue to come and go indefinitely. The succession of oppositions which overtake one another in Essence continue to generate polar opposite pairs of determinations. As these unfold, a new form of social practice develops self-consciousness, with a succession of new qualities, new entities, new relations, both incidental and necessary, registered in thoughts and purposive activity and representations, and judged, and people may draw from these experiences a more concrete understanding of the new social practice as it develops. So in terms of time, all these relations are happening at the same time, although there is a logical dependence of the later categories on the former.”

This movement is an ascent from the abstract to the concrete.

What is “concrete”? It is the unity and interaction of the parts of a system. It is a dialectical unity-and-struggle-of-opposites. In philosophy, “concrete” has nothing to do with being fixed, hard or permanent. In philosophy this word has a special meaning.

Our main document in this part is “Hegel’s Conception of the Concrete” from Chapter 2 of Evald Ilyenkov’s “Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital”. Ilyenkov (1924-1979) was a first-class Soviet philosopher. The full Ilyenkov Archive on MIA is here. Here are a couple of quotes from Ilyenkov:

“As we know, Hegel was the first to understand the development of knowledge as a historical process subject to laws that do not depend on men’s will and consciousness. He discovered the law of ascent from the abstract to the concrete as the law governing the entire course of development of knowledge.”

“In reality, the immediate basis of the development of thought is not nature as such but precisely the transformation of nature by social man, that is, practice.”

Picture: Pablo Picasso’s “Three Women”. “Cubism” in visual art was a conscious attempt to represent the relationship of the abstract and the concrete on a two-dimensional surface.




31 October 2012

Subject, Object and Idea

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 8


Subject, Object and Idea

Our course on Hegel is in ten parts. It is not exhaustive. It is designed, like all the Communist University Courses, to stimulate dialogue, in the belief that the kind of learning that we seek is the social and political kind of learning that happens in groups.

This part will contain only one item, which is the eighth of Andy Blunden’s ten 2007 lectures on Hegel's Logic. It contains several quotations from Hegel, and there will be more in this post, below. We are not abandoning the main CU principle of relying on original writing and (as a rule) avoiding secondary commentators.

Hegel is indispensible because, among other things:

  • Without knowledge of the historical Hegel and Hegelianism, it appears as if Marx and Engels came from nowhere, whereas the history of ideas is continuous, and dialectical
  • Without knowledge of Hegel’s way of thinking, and in particular his Logic, some of Marx, especially parts of Capital, appears obscure, incomprehensible or even weak and “illogical”
  • Modern philosophy all descends from Hegel or from reactions to Hegel; it is incomprehensible without Hegel (i.e. not just Marx, but all of Hegel’s successors)
  • The revolutionary battle must be won in philosophy as much as anywhere else, if not more so
  • Hegel’s is the philosophy that we need for our revolutionary practice

Hegel is difficult for us because:

  • His work appears at first sight to be voluminous, self-contradictory and obscure
  • The body of scholars that maintain Hegel’s position in public thought is too small, and conflicted
  • Hegel offers a real transformation, which is in itself a difficult thing to accept and to internalise

The last line of Andy Blunden’s lecture Subject, Object and Idea (download linked below) contains the following:

“No-one else has produced anything that can rival [Hegel’s] Logic; and he left no room for imitators.”

And the first line of his second-last section of this lecture, “Hegel’s critique of the individual/society dichotomy” Andy Blunden writes:

“So what we have seen is that Hegel presented a critique of all aspects of social life by an exposition of the logic of formations of consciousness, which does not take the individual person as its unit of analysis but rather a concept. A concept is understood, not as some extramundane entity but a practical relation among people mediated by ‘thought objects’, i.e., artefacts.”

Quite so. Hegel presented a critique of social life. All of Hegel’s “Beings”, “Essences”, “Notions” et cetera, all the way up to and including “The Idea” and “The Spirit”, are ways of understanding people as social creatures (or “political animals” as Aristotle called them).

This is from the “Shorter Logic”:

“The Idea is truth in itself and for itself - the absolute unity of the notion and objectivity. Its ‘ideal’ content is nothing but the notion in its detailed terms: its ‘real’ content is only the exhibition which the notion gives itself in the form of external existence, while yet, by enclosing this shape in its ideality, it keeps it in its power, and so keeps itself in it. The Idea is the Truth: for Truth is the correspondence of objectivity with the notion - not of course the correspondence of external things with my conceptions, for these are only correct conceptions held by me, the individual person. In the idea we have nothing to do with the individual, nor with figurate conceptions, nor with external things. And yet, again, everything actual, in so far as it is true, is the Idea, and has its truth by and in virtue of the Idea alone. Every individual being is some one aspect of the Idea: for which, therefore, yet other actualities are needed, which in their turn appear to have a self-subsistence of their own. It is only in them altogether and in their relation that the notion is realised.

“The individual by itself does not correspond to its notion. It is this limitation of its existence which constitutes the finitude and the ruin of the individual.” (Shorter Logic, §213)

Not only does Hegel produce a thorough working-out of the relation of the individual to society, but he also unifies the Subject-Object dichotomy with the rest of the social logic. Without Hegel such unification would be impossible, and we would be left with nothing but nonsense like this cartoon:


To conclude this opening to the discussion, let us return to something we have quoted before. It is from an afterword of Karl Marx’s concerning the very work “Capital” that Lenin says cannot be understood without Hegel’s “Logic”:

“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

“The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago [but although] I openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker… with him [dialectic] is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”

The great Marx was arguing against Right Hegelians and anti-Hegelians at that stage, and in defence of Hegel. Unfortunately this saying of Marx is sometimes taken to mean that Marx had somehow “refuted” Hegel, demolished him and sent him into the dustbin of history, whereas the opposite is the case. Marx “openly avowed [himself] the pupil of that mighty thinker”, and certainly followed Hegel in believing that such “refutations” do not happen. In the Marxian as much as in the Hegelian world, the past is contained in the present, and is not lost.

Marx’s remark could lead to another error. It is clear that Marx is not saying here that he, Marx, stood Hegel on his head. He says that Hegel stood dialectic on its head. In fact, as we have seen, Hegel’s method involves constant reversals and Marx follows Hegel in that respect. So Marx might have better confined himself to saying that Hegel stood dialectic on its head once too often. We cannot say that all the reversals must be taken out of Hegel because it is largely in this way of reversals that Hegel is able to achieve the unprecedented transformations that he does undoubtedly achieve; and likewise with Marx himself. What we can say is that sometimes Hegel makes mistakes and offers a reversal that we may reject. But even then we should not be too hasty. Andy Blunden says:

“We should take [Hegel] at his word when he says that Spirit is the nature of human beings en masse. All human communities construct their social environment, both in the sense of physically constructing the artefacts which they use in the collaborating together, and in the sense that, in the social world at least, things are what they are only because they are so construed. The idea of spirit needs to be taken seriously. It may seem odd to say, as Hegel does, that everything is thought, but it is no more viable to say that everything is matter, and if you want to use a dichotomy of thought and matter instead, things get even worse.”




28 October 2012

The Subject and the Syllogism

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 7a

Syllogism

The Subject and the Syllogism

“The Notion is the principle of freedom, the power of substance self-realised. It is a systematic whole, in which each of its constituent functions is the very total which the notion is, and is put as indissolubly one with it. Thus in its self-identity it has original and complete determinateness.

“The onward movement of the notion is no longer either a transition into, or a reflection on something else, but Development. For in the notion, the elements distinguished are without more ado at the same time declared to be identical with one another and with the whole, and the specific character of each is a free being of the whole notion.” (The Shorter Logic, The Notion §160-1)

Lenin in “The State and Revolution” writes about the true theory of development. He is referring to the dialectical logic of Hegel. This is not the theory of “service delivery”, or of the “developmental state”. It is the theory of how humans, taken all together, became what they now are, and how they continue to develop as humanity as a whole, into the future.

What are we getting from our studies of Hegel? One thing we are getting is a theory of development that can help us to make sense of “developmental” state, which is otherwise little more than a “buzz word” in our times.

So, for example, in the quotation above we may substitute the word “nation” for the word “notion”, and it makes sense, and is compatible with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ statement in the Communist Manifesto that “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

We have also noted that Karl Marx used Hegel’s ways and means to work out what became “Capital”, the most influential book in history.

We have got pointers or signposts which will help us as we continue to read, study and discuss.

Do we all need to fully master Hegel at once? No, but as a Party we do need a significant number of the communists to have mastered Hegel. The knowledge of Hegel needs to be kept alive by a virtual collective of communist scholars.

The rest of us need to be constantly moving towards a better understanding of Hegel. We need at least to have an appreciation of why we have to have some understanding of Hegel if we are properly to understand Marx; and in this course we have probably achieved that much, at least, by now. We need to appreciate that for the Party, Hegel is indispensible, and not a disposable option. That is why this ten-part course on Hegel is one of the twelve Communist University Generic Courses and must remain so.

The Subject

The downloadable study text for this instalment (see below) is Andy Blunden’s seventh lecture, on The Subject in Hegel’s Logic.

What is “The Subject”? In philosophy in general, the fundamental question is the relationship between human Subject and the material Objective universe. Simply put, life is a dialectical unity-and-struggle-of-opposites between Subject and Object, where the one cannot exist without the other. Paulo Freire is eloquent about this, notably at the end of Chapter One of “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” where he writes, among other things:

“A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.”

The first page of Andy Blunden’s lecture gives depth to this basic understanding of The Subject and then introduces a Hegelian elaboration of The Subject. This may typify the difficulty of Hegel: Just when you thought that you had secured yourself to a firm philosophical rock, Hegel seems to be taking a hammer to it and setting you adrift again. Please do not fear: nothing is going to be lost.

Nor are we in the realm of mysteries. On the contrary, what we find is that Hegel is providing ways to think about quite familiar things, which may not have been in the realm of philosophy before, like The Judgement of Solomon, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, and we can add, the South African Freedom Charter. Hegel is making a theory of how these determined movements forward can and do, in Hegel’s words, “emerge out of the throng of disputation”.

Hegelian philosophy, as obscure as it may seem, turns out to be the only philosophy that can help us with the actual political life we lead.

Almost at the end of this lecture Andy Blunden says:

“…the notions, judgments and syllogisms of the section on Subjectivity, render themselves as typical of the forms of consciousness encountered within such formal organisations. Lenin’s insistence in 1901 that to be a member of the Party an individual had to participate in one of the Party’s branches or activities is rational in this light.” (Read it! This is one occasion when the introduction will not suffice without the reading of the actual text.)

Earlier, Andy had written:

“[Hegel’s] Doctrine of the Notion is made up of Subject, Object and Idea. The Idea is the unity of Subject and Object, the process in which the objectification or institutionalization of the Subject continues to drive the development of the active and living subject. This development of the Subject itself, the inner development of the subject which continues within and alongside its objectification, has the form of the movement towards an all-round developed relation between individual, universal and particular.”

So we can note that there is a connection between Notion, Subject and Object, and then that the development of the Subject involves the individual, universal and particular, which three are soon reduced to “I”, “U” and “P”; and all this moves towards an articulation of socio-political behaviour which is practically useful to the point of being indispensible.

Syllogisms

Andy Blunden goes into the question of Hegel’s specific “syllogisms” very carefully, so we can simply recommend that reading. But what is a “syllogism” as such? And what is different about Hegel’s syllogisms, as compared to other ones?

One difference is that Hegel’s syllogisms are all made up of one each of “I”, “U” and “P”; Individual, Universal and Particular. Andy Blunden shows very well what that means.

But syllogisms in general are also typically like the “Socrates” syllogism ("All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.") - a tight, undoubtedly true series of two premises and a conclusion, where because the premises are true, therefore the conclusion must also be true.

There are other syllogisms where the conclusion does not necessarily fully “follow” from the premises. Such a syllogism may appear to be a “non sequitur” (Latin for “does not follow”), or at least as a possible “non sequitur”. Andy Blunden gives several examples of such “deficient” syllogisms in his lecture.

Are such half-true syllogisms any use? Yes! Hegel has found a way to make use of them, and this way of Hegel’s works because of the distinction between Individual, Universal and Particular.

It is a bit like “approximation” in mathematics. When the student first comes across it, approximation appears to violate and betray everything that was hitherto taught about truth and certainty. But when approximation is done scientifically it creates a degree of certainty out of uncertainty that cannot be got in any other way.

So it is with Hegel’s syllogisms.

We are now getting very close to the precise reference for Lenin’s remark that: “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.” It should not be too difficult to find in Marx’s Capital a lot of syllogisms of the Hegel type, which are only understandable in the Hegel way.




26 October 2012

The Philosophy of Right

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 7


The Philosophy of Right

In the second paragraph of his Preface to the Philosophy of Right (download linked below) Hegel wrote: “A compendium proper, like a science, has its subject-matter accurately laid out … its chief task is to arrange the essential phases of its material.”

This much can apply to our “Communist University”, in relation to this course on Hegel, and to the other 11 courses (see above for the full “compendium”).

But Hegel wants to emphasise where his own compendium becomes the exception to the general rule, so in the next paragraph he says:

“This treatise differs from the ordinary compendium mainly in its method of procedure. It must be understood at the outset that the philosophic way of advancing from one matter to another, the general speculative method, which is the only kind of scientific proof available in philosophy, is essentially different from every other… True, the logical rules, such as those of definition, classification, and inference are now generally recognised to be inadequate for speculative science. Perhaps it is nearer the mark to say that the inadequacy of the rules has been felt rather than recognised, because they have been counted as mere fetters, and thrown aside to make room for free speech from the heart, fancy and random intuition… In my Science of Logic I have developed the nature of speculative science in detail.”

And Hegel says that he is now going to apply this new kind of Logic in his new book on the Philosophy of Right, of which this document is the Preface.

Is it the Philosophy of Right and Wrong? Or is it the Philosophy of Rights, as in Human Rights? You be the judge.

When reading Marx’s Capital, we too are apt, like Hegel’s contemporaries, to fall back upon the old-fashioned method of inference and formal reasoning”, i.e. the pre-Hegel method. Whereas Marx is using the Hegel method, so that if we are not aware, then we may be seriously baffled by some of what Marx is arguing as he “advances from one thing to another”.

This is why we study Hegel in the first place: So as the better to understand Marx.

The linked document of Hegel’s is readable and full of good things to discuss. Therefore it can stand as a discussion text without more elaboration.

But one thing that we can usefully say at this moment is that Hegel is clearly investigating, as a philosopher, how it is that people's minds become made up about things, both as individuals and as society, and how it is that minds are later changed again. This is how politics is done. Hegel’s work is of direct, practical interest to political people.

“The ingenuous mind adheres with simple conviction to the truth which is publicly acknowledged. On this foundation it builds its conduct and way of life. In opposition to this naive view of things rises the supposed difficulty of detecting amidst the endless differences of opinion anything of universal application.”

In the next instalment of this part we will take one more of Andy Blunden’s lectures, and in the next part, take the remaining three of Andy’s lectures, for what is in them that can help us with Marx.

In the final two lectures we will look at other commentaries and relevant texts, including from Evald Ilyenkov, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and Ron Press.




19 October 2012

From Ontology to Dialectics

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 6a


From Ontology to Dialectics

From Being, through Essence, to Notion. We have been through this sequence once with Andy Blunden. Now he takes us through it again. Click on the link below to download two of Andy’s lectures, compiled together.

Did you ever wonder quite what makes Quantity turn into Quality? Hegel gives a much fuller explanation of this than Engels did in “Anti-Dühring”. Not that Engels was to blame. How was he to know that his own brief works would be more familiar to posterity than those of his master in philosophy, Hegel?

Ontology is a philosophical word for the way things follow one from another. The illustration above is a computer person’s visualisation of “ontology”, for the purposes of designing computers and software.

Hegel undermined the idea of ontology. Andy Blunden explains how, and why, it can’t just be “one damned thing after another”.

In the second of Andy’s two lectures, Andy moves into the “Essence” part, where we are dealing with dialectics in the Hegel way.

Andy Blunden’s lectures need little introduction, because they contain enough that is clear and could be understood and discussed by any study circle.

We must move through the material. The next time we pass along this road we will recognise many landmarks that we have noted this time, and next time we will also notice some more that we did not see this time.




18 October 2012

Excerpts on Essence and Notion

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 6


Excerpts on Essence and Notion

Andy Blunden’s two lectures, for which he chose the excerpts from Hegel that are attached and downloadable via the link below, begin with Being and go via Essence, to Notion, a journey that we have already taken with him once. Hegel also makes the same trip twice, once in the Shorter Logic, and another time in the Science of Logic.

So let’s just say that repetition is no bad thing when it comes to study.

We will return to Andy’s marvellously illuminating lectures in the second instalment of this part of our course on Hegel, but let us note for now part of the quote from Hegel’s “Shorter Logic” that Andy gives in the beginning of the first of these two lectures. Says Hegel:

“Most commonly the refutation is taken in a purely negative sense to mean that the system refuted has ceased to count for anything, has been set aside and done for. Were it so, the history of philosophy would be, of all studies, most saddening, displaying, as it does, the refutation of every system which time has brought forth. Now although it may be admitted that every philosophy has been refuted, it must be in an equal degree maintained that no philosophy has been refuted. And that in two ways. For first, every philosophy that deserves the name always embodies the Idea: and secondly, every system represents one particular factor or particular stage in the evolution of the Idea. The refutation of a philosophy, therefore, only means that its barriers are crossed, and its special principle reduced to a factor in the completer principle that follows.”

And then at the end of the two Andy Blunden lectures, he writes: “Development is the struggle of opposites which do not disappear”.

This is the unity-and-struggle-of-opposites that we have picked up from Marx and Engels but which actually comes from their predecessor, Hegel, in exactly the manner that Hegel describes in the quotation above it.

It is wrong and doubly wrong to say that Marx and/or Engels refuted and did away with Hegel, as some have said and many more have assumed was the case. Hegel remains, and will always remain, “a factor in the completer principle that follows”.

Now frankly, in the Communist University, we would love to find in any book the most concise, lucid passage, and if possible a single paragraph or sentence, that gave us the whole content of the book summed up. Through Clausewitz, Marx, Engels and Lenin we have sought and found the richest and most concentrated “short texts” to use for the stimulation of our dialogues.

Equally frank is Hegel, a very careful man, who has warned us from the start that he does not want us to be doing any such thing with his work.

Be that as it may, the four excerpts that Andy Blunden picked out on this occasion may be the closest we come to a short text from Hegel, in his own words, which would go towards fulfilling Lenin’s insistence that we must “thoroughly study and understand the whole of Hegel’s Logic.”

They cover Action and Reaction, Content and Form, Notion, and Development.

There are many cards in the Hegel pack. These four are as near to being a “full house” as we are likely to find. Not forgetting that our first business with Hegel is to understand what Marx got from Hegel.

Hegel is not always obscure. The following is clear enough:

“Real works of art are those where content and form exhibit a thorough identity. The content of the Iliad, it may be said, is the Trojan war, and especially the wrath of Achilles. In that we have everything, and yet very little after all; for the Iliad is made an Iliad by the poetic form, in which that content is moulded.

“The content of Romeo and Juliet may similarly be said to be the ruin of two lovers through the discord between their families: but something more is needed to make Shakespeare's immortal tragedy.”




12 October 2012

Extracts about Being, Essence and Notion

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 5a


Extracts about Being, Essence and Notion

This is the halfway point in our course on Hegel. Our mission is to thoroughly study and understand the whole of Hegel’s Logic. How are we getting on?

Thanks to Andy Blunden’s lecture we got an overview of Hegel’s Logic in the previous post. In his next two lectures, Andy returns to the sequence Being-Essence-Notion in more detail.

What have we been doing so far? We have not been reading whole books of Hegel. We are not at the stage where we can, as Tony Buzan would have it, skip over the difficult bits and come back later to fill in the gaps. We are still in the situation where, when reading Hegel, we find that most of it is incomprehensible, and only intelligible in spots, here and there. So we are making a virtue of that, and:

  • We are taking mostly relatively short spots of Hegel, learning how to handle them, and beginning to absorb them, and to become familiar with them.
  • We are also looking for any kind of overview material, including contents pages, as well as material like Andy Blunden’s summarising lecture on Being, Essence and Notion. The overviews will give us clues as to where to locate the small pieces that we are picking up.
  • We are not forgetting, also, that this is the Communist University, and that what we do here is to set things up for live dialogue between real people. We have done so, and we will continue to do it. It remains for the recipients of these posts to organise their Freirean dialogues around the material.

Today’s main item consists of eleven short extracts from various works of Hegel that are given by Andy Blunden in broad support of his lecture on Being, Essence and Notion. They are from the Shorter Logic, the Philosophy of Right, the Phenomenology, the Science of Logic and the History of Philosophy.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to make some provisional general remarks.

Hegel describes a movement through history that does not discard the past but treats it as a component part of the present and of the future.

Further: “[Hegel]’s supreme merit, as far as ethics and social and political philosophy are concerned, is that the concrete universal explicates affirmative intersubjective relations and makes possible an account of social institutions that is a third alternative to abstract atomic individualism and collectivist communitarianism.” [Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition, p. 112, Williams 1997]

If all this is so then Hegel has given us a way of seeing life that was not available before, and is better than what was before.

Hegel does not lean on any “a priori”, presupposition, or Prime Mover. Hegel shows how creation of something from nothing is a daily occurrence. It is commonplace, and nothing is lost, and accumulated quantity will generate qualitative change.

This new vision clarifies things that Euclidean geometry and its logical cousins cannot clarify, or even see at all.

Hegel talks of Spirit, and is classified as an Idealist, and was followed by noisy “materialists” such as Feuerbach.  These and other things, not least of them the shear difficulty of reading Hegel directly, have led people to misunderstand Hegel, who does not oppose the material against the spiritual. On the contrary, Hegel solves the contradiction between material and spiritual.

In Hegel, the human is both the creator, and the created.

“Materialists” think that they have solved the dichotomy of mind and matter by awarding priority to matter. But all this does is to replace a divine creator with an inanimate one, thus perpetuating a “Big Bang” type of theory and continuing to fail to explain creation as a constant, continuing and necessary presence.

In this way “materialists” become a version of what they thought they had overthrown. They continue to lack a strong theory of development, progress, or revolution.




11 October 2012

Being, Essence and Notion

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CU Course on Hegel, Part 5

“Immediacy”: Unselfconscious Being

Being, Essence and Notion

The three divisions of the Logic

Lenin wrote: “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital… without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic.” Our mission, given by Lenin, is therefore to thoroughly study and understand the whole of Hegel’s Logic.

We soon find that there are actually two Logics: The Shorter Logic, and The Science of Logic; but they are similar, and are both divided by three main headings:  Being, Essence and Notion.

This time we are going to reverse the order and take Andy Blunden’s lecture as the main item, simply because Andy has done a great job.

There is a movement from Being, through Essence, to Notion. This is not to deny the importance of the argument and the detail, but to say that what distinguishes Hegel’s Logic is that it shows how things develop from nothing to something. It is not a static philosophy of positions and definitions. Nor is it an owners’ manual for the mind.  It is a science of creation, and development. The beginning is Being, which is “immediate” with as yet no past and no future. Hence our illustration of the unselfconscious puppy-dog, above.

The following are extracts from Andy Blunden’s lecture, finishing with a reference back to Marx’s Capital, that may assist readers to get a quick overview of Andy’s overview of Hegel’s “Logic”:

“I should mention here as an aside that all Hegel’s major works have the same structure: he identifies the simple concept or notion which marks the unconditioned starting point for the given science, and then he applies the method, the model for which is given in the Logic, in order to elaborate what is implicit in the given concept; he develops ‘the peculiar internal development of the thing itself.’ 

“So, the Logic begins with a critique of Being, what is contained in the concept of ‘Being’. The Logic is really the study of concepts; so, the Concept is the truth of Being, whilst Being is the Concept still ‘in itself’. The Third Book of the Logic is the Doctrine of the Notion (or Concept which is same thing), that is, the Concept for itself. But in the Doctrine of Being, the Concept is still just ‘in itself’. 

“If there is to be some thing amidst the infinite coming and going, the chaos of existence, the simplest actual thing that can be is a Quality, something that persists amidst change. And if we ask what it is that changes while it remains of the same quality, what changes when the thing still remains what it is, then this is what we call Quantity. But a thing cannot indefinitely undergo quantitative change and remain still what it is, retain the same quality; at some point, a quantitative change amounts to a change in Quality, and this Quantitative change which amounts to a Qualitative change, the unity of Quality and Quantity, we call the Measure of the thing.

“Thus there are three grades of Being: Quality, Quantity and Measure. We apply these categories to things that we regard as objects, the business of the positivist sociologist, the observer. Even a participant in a not yet emergent social change or sociological category, has to play the role of sociologist to be conscious of it. 

“Essence is reflection… When people reflect on things, they do so only with the aid of what they already know. So reflection is a good term. It is new Being, reflected in the mirror of old concepts. It’s like what Marx was talking about in the “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”:  

‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.’ (18th Brumaire, I)

“The third part of the Logic is the Doctrine of the Notion. Notion is a translation of the German word Begriff which is also translated as ‘concept’. 

“The Doctrine of the Notion begins with an abstract notion, and the process of the Notion is that it gets more and more concrete. 

“The first section of the Notion is Subjectivity, or the Subject. And here for the first time we get a glimpse of Hegel’s conception of the subject: it is not an individual person in any sense at all, but a simple element of consciousness arising from social practices which implicate the whole community, reflected in language, the whole social division of labour and so on. 

“The process of the Doctrine of the Notion is the abstract notion becoming more and more concrete. This process of concretization takes place through objectification of subjectivity, that is, through the subject-object relation. The first thing to grasp about the Object, which is the second division of the Doctrine of the Notion, is that the Object may be other Subjects, Subjects which are Objects in relation to the Subject or Subjects which have become thoroughly objectified. Objectification is not limited to the construction of material objects or texts; it’s a bit like ‘mainstreaming’, or being institutionalized. The process of development of the Subject is a striving to transform the Object according to its own image, but in the process the Subject itself is changed and in the process of objectification becomes a part of the living whole of the community.

“The unity of Subject and Object, the third and last grade of the Doctrine of the Notion, is the Idea. The Idea can be understood as the whole community as an intelligible whole, it is the summation of the pure essentialities of a complete historical form of life. It is the logical representation of Spirit, or of the development and life of an entire community, in the form of a concrete concept. 

“So the starting point of a science is the Notion which forms the subject of the science, not Being. This is worth mentioning because there is a widespread fallacy about the relation between Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Logic. Some writers have put Capital up against the Logic, and in an effort to match them, start by equating the commodity relation with Being, on the basis that the commodity relation is the “simplest relation” or on the basis that the commodity relation is immediate. But the first thing to be done in a science, according to Hegel (and Marx followed Hegel in this), is to form a Notion of the subject, the simplest possible relation whose unfolding produces the relevant science. In the case of Capital, this abstract notion, the germ of capital, is the commodity relation. In the case of the Philosophy of Right, it was the relation of Abstract Right, that is private property. The problem of the origins of value or of the commodity relation is a different question, and Marx demonstrates his familiarity with the Doctrine of Essence in the third section of Chapter One, where the money-form is shown to emerge out of a series of relations constituting historically articulated resolutions of the problem of realizing an expanded division of labour.”