NEWS & LETTERS, January-February 2002

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives

Another look at Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND

Editor's Note

We publish here a chapter of THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY consisting of a discussion of what Marx considered Hegel's greatest philosophic work—THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND. The first piece is a letter written by Raya Dunayevskaya to an Iranian colleague on June 26, 1986(1); the original can be found in the SUPPLEMENT TO THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 10769. The second piece is an Introduction to a republication in News & Letters, May 8, 1987, of her 1960 "Notes on Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY," the text of which appears in Part II of THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY. To order the book, see the literature ad on page 8. Footnotes are the editor's except those noted as the author's.


Let me tell you some of the past from a faraway age—and I'm not talking so much about Marx (much less Marxist-Humanism), but about Hegel. Why do you suppose academics to this day refer to PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND as "chaotic," "very brilliant and profound in spots," but definitely "Hegel didn't know where he was headed"; that he didn't even have subheads once he came to "Spirit"?

It was because he didn't have the categories worked out systematically as they were in SCIENCE OF LOGIC, where it was nice and smooth and they took for granted they understood it; they certainly could repeat the categories; indeed, though it took them all the way until 1929 (having rejected the translation that was done in America by the Hegelians in St. Louis) before they published an English translation, they then appended a long and precise list of categories—128 to be exact—so that anyone can repeat them if they can memorize 128 names(2). 

We have yet to get any serious, full explanation of why there has been no reference to the fact that the year before Hegel died, he felt that he should add the three final syllogisms to the Absolute Mind. Do you know why that is? I'll tell you why. It is because we haven't understood that PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND (1807, not 1830) projected ground for the Absolutes, and they haven't understood that ground because it was the French Revolution. And Hegel was saying very passionately: "Look at what happened in France, and we haven't even developed a single dialectical category, and we are talking philosophy time and time again."(3) The whole philosophy of 2,500 years has to find a new language, and here it is. Academics had no vision then and they have no vision now. The whole truth is that between 1807 and 1831 (death) it was a matter of developing that movement, historic movement, and that vision Marx alone saw. And he saw it because he was in a new age and needed a new language to express the forces and the Reason of Revolution [as] both continuity and discontinuity of the dialectic and of the new European Revolutions (1840s). That is why a serious Introduction is really always written at the end and is at the same time an Overview, which is what Marx was doing from 1843 to 1883.



"The Spirit of the time, growing slowly and quietly ripe for the new form it is to assume, disintegrates one fragment after another of the structure of its previous world. That it is tottering to fall is indicated only by symptoms here and there. Frivolity and again ennui, which are spreading in the established order of things, the undefined foreboding of something unknown—all these betoken that there is something else approaching. This gradual crumbling to pieces, which did not alter the general look and aspect of the whole, is interrupted by the sunrise, which, in a flash and at a single stroke, brings to view the form and structure of the new world."

—Hegel, Preface to THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND [PhGB, p. 75; PhGM, pp. 6-7](4)

The most difficult of all tasks that have confronted every generation of Marxists is to work out Marx's Marxism for its age; the task has never been more difficult than the one that confronts the decade of the 1980s. We often like to quote that creatively great statement of Hegel about the "birth-time of History" [PhGB, p. 75; PhGM, p. 6]. What is important to see is that the same paragraph that talks of the birth-time of history and a period of transition is likewise one that speaks about the period of darkness before the dawn.

That is what we all have had to suffer through—the darkness before the dawn. Hegel articulated both the darkness and the dawn in the very same paragraph lucidly enough. Yet, because this appears in the Preface to THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, it looks as if it were written in anticipation of the book, whereas, in truth, the Preface was written after the whole work was completed; thus, we do not realize that the contradictory unity first became that translucent after the work was completed.

It never fails that, at momentous world historic turning points, it is very difficult to tell the difference between two types of twilight—whether one is first plunging into utter darkness or whether one has reached the end of a long night and is just at the moment before the dawn of a new day. In either case, the challenge to find the meaning—what Hegel called "the undefined foreboding of something unknown"—becomes a compulsion to dig for new beginnings, for a philosophy that would try to answer the question "where to begin?" This was the reason for a new revolutionary philosophy—the birth of the Hegelian dialectic—at the time the great French Revolution did not produce totally new beginnings in philosophy. It caused Hegel's break with romanticism. His deep digging went, at one and the same time, backward and forward as the French Revolution was followed by the Napoleonic era trying to dominate all of Europe.

In a word, the crucible of history shows that the forces of actual revolution producing revolutions in philosophy recur at historic turning points. Thus in the 1840s, with the rise of a totally new revolutionary class—the "wretched of the earth,"(5) the proletariat—Marx transformed Hegel's revolution in philosophy into a philosophy of revolution. This founding of a new continent of thought and of revolution unchained the Hegelian dialectic, which Marx called "revolution in permanence."

Just as the shock of the simultaneity of the outbreak of World War I and the collapse of established Marxism (the Second International) compelled Lenin to turn to Marx's deep-rootedness in the Hegelian Dialectic(6),  so it has become imperative to find that missing link of a philosophy of revolution in the post-World War II world.

A whole new world—a Third World—has been born. Just as the East European revolutionaries rose up against Communist totalitarianism from within that orbit, so the Third World arose against Western imperialism. This movement from practice that is itself a form of theory has been digging for ways to put an end to the separation between theory and practice. It is this movement that has rediscovered Marx's early Humanist Essays, as well as the work of his final decade where Marx predicted, in his studies of pre-capitalist societies, that a revolution could come first in a technologically backward land rather than in the technologically advanced West. It has had to struggle under the whip of counter-revolution in a nuclearly armed world.

Nowhere has this been more onerous than in the 1980s under the Reagan retrogressionism, which has been bent on turning the clock backward—whether that be on civil rights, labor, women's liberation, youth and education or children. At the same time that there is this ideological pollution and the revolutionary struggle against it, even some bourgeois Hegel scholars who opposed the "subversion" of Hegel by Marx and by today's Marxist-Humanists have had to admit: "If Hegel has not literally been to the barricades of strife-ridden cities, or explosive rural focos, he has been in the thick of current ideological combat."(7)

In its way, this, too, will help illuminate why we are publishing "Why Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY ? Why Now?" It will have two parts. What follows, as Part I, is a study of Hegel's first (and what Marx considered his most creative) work, PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND (GEIST), written as Lecture Notes for a class I gave on the PHENOMENOLOGY in the 1960s.(8) Part II, which will follow in the near future, will be an essay on the Hegelian Dialectic as Marx critiqued it in his HUMANIST ESSAYS in 1844 and continued to develop it throughout his life.(9) This is seen most clearly in Marx's greatest theoretical work, CAPITAL, especially in the final section of chapter 1, which Marx expanded on the "Fetishism of Commodities," in his last decade. It is there that a citation of what first appeared in Marx's 1841 Doctoral Thesis reveals Marx's continued deep-rootedness in Hegel.(10)


1.  It was written to the historian Janet Afary, author of THE IRANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION, 1906-11 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).

2. This "Table of Categories" is found in the Johnston and Struthers translation of the SCIENCE OF LOGIC (New York: MacMillan, 1929).

3. Not a direct quote, but Dunayevskaya's summary of his position in a dramatic form.

4. "PhGB" refers to Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY as translated by J.B. Baillie (Allen & Unwin, 1930); "PhGM" refers to the translation by A.V. Miller (Oxford University Press, 1975).

5. This phrase is taken from the revolutionary hymn, "The Internationale," composed in 1871 by the Paris Communard Eugène Pottier.

6. See "Lenin and the Dialectic: A Mind in Action" and "The Irish Revolution and the Dialectic of History" in Part IV—"World War I and the Great Divide in Marxism"—of my MARXISM AND FREEDOM, FROM 1776 UNTIL TODAY.—RD

7. See George Armstrong Kelly's HEGEL'S RETREAT FROM ELEUSIS [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978], p. 224, and my answer to his critique of my Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao in the new Introduction I wrote for the 1982 edition.—RD

8. For this study, see Part II of THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY.

9. Dunayevskaya did not live to complete her Part II of "Why PHENOMENOLOGY ? Why Now?" She did write a rough draft of it, entitled "Why PHENOMENOLOGY ? Why Now? What is the Relationship either to Organization, or to Philosophy, not Party, 1984-87?" It can be found in the SUPPLEMENT TO THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 10883-90.

10. In the section on the "Fetishism of Commodities" in chapter 1 of CAPITAL, Marx refers to Epicurus, the subject matter of his doctoral dissertation of 1841.

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