NEWS & LETTERS, December 2002

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives

'Philosophic foundations of the struggles for freedom'

Editorís Note

The coming year will a see new edition of Raya Dunayevskaya's work, PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION: FROM HEGEL TO SARTRE AND FROM MARX TO MAO, first published in 1973, and many times and in many languages since then.

From the large collection of her writings and notes in preparation of PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION, we have selected excerpts from her letter of Oct. 20, 1960, to Joseph Buttinger. Buttinger was an Austrian resistance fighter against Nazism, a Marxist thinker, and renowned author on the liberation struggle of Vietnam. Her letter delves into Hegel's "Absolutes," presented in his PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, SCIENCE OF LOGIC, and ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHICAL SCIENCES.

In 2003 News and Letters Committees will host a series of meetings on both PHILOSOPHY AND REVOLUTION and POWER OF NEGATIVITY. This letter can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 12327. Notes are by the editors.


Oct. 20, 1960

Dear JB:

...Though it must be very briefly, I do wish to take in all three major written works of Hegel: the PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, the SCIENCE OF LOGIC, and the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHICAL SCIENCES. As is obvious from the title of his first great work [the PHENOMENOLOGY], Hegel is dealing with APPEARANCES, knowledge as it appears in life, in history, in nations, in religion, in philosophic systems. (Later they will get worked out in his Lectures on Aesthetics, on the Philosophy of History, on the History of Philosophy, on Religion, on Law but they will lack the sweep, the thrill of the "voyage of discovery" when he saw all fields as one unified field of Absolute Reason and Freedom.)

Some detractors have been so foolish as to call the PHENOMENOLOGY a "psychology of sorts," but the EXPERIENCES [which] consciousness struggles through here (the subtitle of the work was, you know, "The Science of the Experience of Consciousness") [are of] the human spirit through some 4,000 years of civilization. The center of all six principal stages of consciousness is the PRACTICAL ACTIVITY of Reason to the point where the world and [Reason] are not two separate worlds, but unite, and each stage of unity brings with it new contradictions until Absolute Knowledge is reached. The point is he reaches that stage IN OPPOSITION TO all previous idealisms from Aristotle to Schelling for [Hegel] breaks both with slavery and introversion. The whole, the entire reality, including elements of the future or "divine," pull at the present and bring it into the FORWARD MOVEMENT of history. Of course, it is still the history of mind, but the UNIVERSAL mind as opposed to the individual, the self-development of which is, in truth, "the people."

Now if even we did not know the early works [of his] first system, which Hegel put away never to return to again, where he openly said, "The absolute moral totality is nothing else than a people" (and Marx didn't know these works and yet grasped the revolutionary impact from the dialectic in the PHENOMENOLOGY), one couldn't possibly miss that this ACTIVIST spirit IS the human spirit and therefore has TODAYíS freedom struggles in it.

You might say: but if it is phenomenal knowledge, then it must be what Marx would have designated as "superstructure." Yes and no. Yes, if you mean appearance at CREATIVE moments in history when the class struggles have not yet so sharpened as to bring the whole system down, as Art in the time of Greek city-states, classical political economy at the time of the industrial revolution, German idealist philosophy following the French revolution, etc. No, if it means the superstructure at the point of the social structure's breakdown when, as Marx put it, the ideologists became "prize fighters for the bourgeoisie" like Senior's defense of the eleventh hour(1) or the present "end of ideology" philistines(2).

Now with the SCIENCE OF LOGIC, Hegel becomes more abstract still, even in relationship to thought because now he cannot deal with how it appears in consciousness, nor even the separate disciplines, whether they be the social sciences or the natural sciences, mathematics or art, religion or biology, ethics or physics. Each has its individual categories and they all must be broken down into one single, whole-embracing one that covers them all, not to mention keeping history in mind as well.

At the risk of sounding like the most idealistic of idealists, let me say that it is good for our age that he was compelled to be that abstract, as the categories of being, essence, notion and the dozens of categories each [are] in turn subdivided as [they go] through the process of negativity. Otherwise 1. it would have been impossible to work through to the logical end the development of each stage--that is one reason Hegel insists that [the] principle of all rational knowledge is through the syllogism (SCHLUSSE)--and 2. if the concrete and epochal development had been analyzed, then it couldn't have comprised further developments beyond his time.

Of course, Hegel lived in "a birth-time of history," when three revolutions opened our machine age.(3) These not only contained in germ the contradictions of our age, but allowed that great genius the scope needed to work out these stages of self-development. Only one world of caution, if I may quote my MARXISM AND FREEDOM: Let's not ever forget that there is nothing in the mind of man, not even that of a genius, that has not previously been in the activity of common man. In a word, man's actual struggles for freedom long preceded Hegel's working out of the IDEA of freedom, and will follow until freedom is not an idea, but the reality.

Another word of caution: Marx could and did save the Hegelian dialectic from its idealistic trap when HEGEL couldn't work through the negativity of labor, and not just of thought. Marx had to break from arguing with intellectuals and thus moved from the history of thought (political economy in his case) to the history of PRODUCTION RELATIONS. But he didn't throw [the history of thought] "to the winds," not even bourgeois thought; he merely moved it over, to the end of all volumes of CAPITAL, instead of at the center of CAPITAL.(4)

As for proletarian thought, there is never any sharp division between action and thought. When he said that philosophers had interpreted the world, but what was needed was to change it, he certainly didn't exclude thought.(5)

But to return to Hegel, and his CONTEMPORANEITY--the process of becoming and passing away, of negation and yet retention of all previous systems of philosophy as the truth of their day as well as error as a dynamic of the forward movement of mind...[contains a] pregnant sense of RELATIVITY of all fields of knowledge as well as all historic periods of man's actual development that has anticipated Einstein's theory of relativity. This, DESPITE the fact that the actual sciences Hegel dealt with have long since been proven wrong. In that respect I certainly agree with Haldane who, in his Preface to the SCIENCE OF LOGIC, writes:

"It is a mistake to suppose that Hegel deduces nature from his categories. Thought for him does not make a thing. It is exemplified in Nature in the form of externality. But mind in this abstract form is not yet actual. It only becomes so in a logical development later when both Logic and its other, Nature, become actual for the first time....It is the same single process throughout. Nature and thought imply each other, but neither creates the other"(6).

As you see, I've plunged into the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHIC SCIENCES which consists of what is known as the "Smaller Logic," PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE, and PHILOSOPHY OF MIND. Now the "Smaller Logic" is an abbreviated SCIENCE OF LOGIC (using "abbreviate" in the Hegelian tradition of abbreviating a whole span of historic development into a single category), with something new added. That something new is [the chapters on] the Three Attitudes to Objectivity, which are not present in the SCIENCE OF LOGIC. Here he again "abbreviates" all systems of philosophy into but three different relations to the objective world.

When he reaches PHILOSOPHY OF MIND, he again summarizes, this time very badly, his own PHENOMENOLOGY as well as PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT. But it doesn't matter, not only because you have these worked out in full in separate volumes, but because they are taken only as forms of appearance before you come to the real objective, Absolute Mind, which, if you recall my letters on the Absolutes(7), was equated by me with the new society.

Now it is this self-developing subject as real--the masses who can and do change the world--which creates the philosophic foundations for dealing with the underdeveloped countries in our era: 1.both because the problems there and the problems underlying Hegel's thought at the beginning of the machine age have SIMILARITIES in [the] development of consciousness, and 2. because of the great DISSIMILARITIES because our age is the age of absolutes, which Hegel only reached at the end [of his works].

HOW Hegel labored so patiently through all stages of self-development, alienation, negation, fulfillment, realization--so that he reached that stage that has become such good sport for our empiricist philistines and pragmatic opportunists--I'll never "really" know.

But what seems to me obvious, as I look at the American worker confronted with the absolute of Automation and compelled to raise the questions about the breakdown of the division between manual and mental [labor]; or as I sense the Vietnamese peasant recognizing the totalitarian Plan, even when garbed in Marxist phraseology; or see the African and the Hungarian, VERY NEARLY SIMULTANEOUSLY, raising the question of the Humanism of Marxism in opposition to the Russian [Communist Party] stand [against] "idealistic Hegelianist tone" as "inadequate for our age"--what seems to me obvious, I repeat, is that the self-development of mind is so close to the self-development of freedom as destiny of man that the future begins to pull on the present so strongly that it propels it forward. In that way, the ideal becomes real and in that way, and that way only, was Hegel impelled to an Absolute.

If it had not been the "pull," there could not have been a dialectic method which still has the "answers." Or so it appears to me...


(1) Nassau Senior, a 19th century economist who argued against shortening the working day on the grounds that profit was generated in the eleventh hour of work.

(2) A reference to Daniel Bell's THE END OF IDEAOLOGY.

(3) The Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution.

(4) A reference to Vol. IV of CAPITAL, THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE, which Marx had originally envisioned (in the 1863 draft) as being part of Vol. I of that work.

(5) Marx's phrase (in the THESES OF FEUERBACH) was: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it."

(6) See J.B.S. Haldane's Preface to the SCIENCE OF LOGIC, translated by Johnston and Struthers, 1929.

(7) See Dunayevskaya's "Letters on Hegel's Absolutes" of May 1953, in THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY.

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