From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya
Grasp revolutionary spirit of the age
Editor's note: To commemorate the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we present excerpts of a lecture given by Raya Dunayevskaya in Tokyo on Jan. 2, 1966, to a group of activists and writers from Zenshin, an anti-Stalinist organization of the Japanese New Left. Her trip to Japan in 1965-66 included a speech in Hiroshima and discussions and meetings with student youth, autoworkers, anti-war activists, and Marxists grouped around the anti-Stalinist Zengakuren movement. The transcript of the lecture is in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, 9697. An edited version is included in The Power of Negativity.
The first thing I want to make very, very clear is that Hegel has a validity all his own, and I want to talk about Hegel today. I am going to take for granted instead of reiterating all the time about what Marx did or did not take from Hegel. I am taking for granted that we are Marxists and that we are proletarian revolutionaries. If I mention Marx at all, and even Lenin, it is only in passing in order to show what each of them took from Hegel and what we have to take from Hegel. But on the whole, the subject is Hegel and no one else.
The second thing I want to make clear is that, so far as I am concerned, Hegel is his major works--that is to say, Phenomenology of Mind, Science of Logic, Philosophy of Mind. I am not the least bit interested in Hegel's reactionary ideas about the state... or in how he applied his ideas. I am interested only in the actual logic and movement of those ideas which he set forth, not only as a summation of all that went before, but as both the prerequisite for Marxism and as something we have not yet exhausted. We first have to work out many of the ideas before we can transcend them.
Hegel's Phenomenology was a summons to grasp the spirit of the times. It was a demand that the philosophers give ear to the urgency of the times. It was a challenge to all philosophers who came before him, and the greatest in modern times was Kant: if we are to live up to the fact that 25 years have passed [since Kant's Critique of Pure Reason], including the French Revolution, and yet philosophy was still using their old categories, then we have to stop using the conclusions of other philosophers, right or wrong, as a pillow for our own intellectual sloth, our own attempt not to meet the challenge of the times. A new thing had happened in the world in a 25-year period which compelled a new stage of cognition. And a new stage of cognition means both a summation of what has happened up to your time and a recognition of the pull that the future has on you. It is this summons which we want to see how Hegel answered, and what it has for our day.
The greatest and first total statement was [Hegel's] Phenomenology of Mind... Hegel, despite the abstract language, is actually dealing with 2,500 years of the development of thought, mainly but not completely of Western civilization... I want to take the six stages of Hegel's development of Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, Reason, Spirit, Religion and Absolute Knowledge [in the Phenomenology and divide it] into two major stages. One will be Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, and Reason, which I consider the development from 500 BC--slave society and Aristotle as the ancient world's greatest philosopher--to Reason, which is capitalism, the French Revolution, Lutheranism, and Kant-Hegel. The second department is all the rest: Spirit, the various forms of Alienated Spirit, and why there is still alienation even though you have reached Religion and Absolute Knowledge.
In the first department, what we have all previously emphasized, from Marx forward, is the section on "Lordship and Bondage," because we recognized that Hegel is showing the lord could demand anything and the slave was completely negative, and yet the slave is the one who gets a mind of his own. The slave getting "a mind of his own" was one of the bases for Marx's great development of proletarian consciousness.
...The importance of that section is that the slave has gotten a mind of his own, but whether he will get to Reason, or to Spirit, is in question. If you become conscious, not only of the world and yourself as opposites, but of yourself as getting Self-Consciousness and going further to try and break down this division between opposites and yourself, and you are so thrilled that you have this idea, Hegel shows that it could become, in his words, "just a piece of cleverness, and not yet the mastery over reality." And because it could be just a piece of cleverness and not yet the mastery over reality, you can become just an alienated soul.
I want to take up one more thing in [the section on] Self-Consciousness... Stoicism arose because you as an individual recognized that this is a horrible society--there was universal slavery and bondage--and you couldn't overcome it. You weren't, so to speak, what we would call a mass movement to overcome it. So you as an individual becoming a Stoic was actually a rationalization, as in developing such stupidities as "a philosopher is free even though he is in chains."
Hegel shows that everything that appears great is only a further stage of alienation. Even when he comes to Reason, that will be so. The important thing about not stopping at "Lordship and Bondage" is that getting a mind of one's own is only a beginning. Hegel is showing that if you are going to master reality, you are going to have to get a lot further than that. Attempts to master it by such thought as Stoicism, even when they are correct either as individual integrity or in the criticism of the rest of society, are absolutely insufficient.
Therefore I am stressing that what came out after the slave got a mind of his own was a new stage of, so to speak, retrogression, where the intellectuals all began saying: "Oh, great, the Roman Empire is dead, but we will be stoics, or in some other form such as just behaving ourselves, we will overcome it." And even when it moved to overcoming, sparked by a real revolution--whether Hegel considers that to be Christianity or at another time the actual French Revolution--that is still not the answer. That is why I do not want to stop at gaining a mind of your own. I want to stress what Hegel saw in the Alienated Soul, Stoicism, and Skepticism, which were good little paths on the way to Reason, but they were not the answer.
As against using the conclusions of other philosophers as a pillow for intellectual sloth, or as against the Alienated Soul and Stoicism, Hegel is showing a new movement of history. There was an actual revolution. It broke down everything, smashed it to smithereens and started something new. And the people who did this great thing (Robespierre and the others) recognized Reason as their deity. And yet what happened? Why did the Terror follow? Why did Napoleon follow? Why didn't we yet get to the Millennium? Hegel sees Reason as a very new high stage, but [neither it nor] Spirit, which is our next department, answers or kills off all the alienations of society. It just brings them to a higher stage. So Reason ends this first great department of the Phenomenology on this movement from 500 BC to the French Revolution.
Now we come to Department II, the central core. The alienated soul, Hegel says, has moved to a higher development, an Alienated Spirit. The higher development is that man has achieved this revolution, but he begins to identify himself either as faction or as person with the revolution, and from now on the State is more or less on order. [Hegel has] a tremendous attack on the state--never mind that he was a Prussian philosopher. He attacked it thoroughly, totally and completely--even any future state that would come between the person and his development.
There isn't a single person on our stage today, whether you take Mao, Fidel Castro, or any other person, that you cannot find described in the [section on] Alienated Spirit It is about what happens when there is a new revolution and yet somehow there is a transformation in the relationship between reality and thought in such a way that you begin to identify yourself with the state or with one single faction. You begin to have as big a Reign of Terror in thought as the revolution had--a Reign of Terror in thought against the other, the new opponents, etc. And the new opponents even include religions, although Hegel was a Christian.
His criticism of what he called "the discipline of culture" [PhGB, pp. 507-610; PhGM, pp. 296-363] is the foundation for Marx's criticism of the superstructure. Hegel was not a proletarian revolutionary, but he criticized all culture as having been very good for fighting against superstition and that sort of thing, but it now has imprisoned us by what Marx called the fetishism of commodities. I would go so far as to say that Hegel's three volumes on the Philosophy of Religion are the greatest attack on the so-called vanguard party that we have ever seen. Hegel does with the church, though he is a Christian, what we want to do against the Stalinist party. He is saying, "Look at that, Christianity came in because finally we saw that, as against only a few being free, like those who were great enough to be philosophers, Jesus insisted that man as man is free. But this one little Church, the Catholic Church, said they were the only interpreters and would not let us have a direct contact with God."
Whatever his excuse is, we have a lot to learn from Hegel, not merely to transcend him. Here he is supposed to be a Christian, a Lutheran that corrected such excesses both in the Catholic Church and the Terror of the French Revolution, and yet Hegel comes down and says [Religion] is not it--I have to go to philosophy. That is the basis for all the attacks on Hegel as being a hidden atheist--and, by golly, he was. But the point that we are trying to stress by now being in Department II, is that Spirit is still alienated and in the discipline of culture. Religion [the next stage after Spirit] has been perverted and man, not the Church, must decide as to what will finally evolve. It brings us to the final stage of Absolute Knowledge.
He comes to Absolute Knowledge and says: Look, this is history. This has moved in such and such stages as the phenomena of the spirit of man. Now there is also the science of this spirit, whether in religion or in actual science, and these will unite to form Absolute Knowledge. The Absolute Knowledge of science and history uniting as one becomes the transition point for the Science of Logic and the Philosophy of Mind, because everything always ends in some Absolute. One is Absolute Knowledge in the Phenomenology, then we have Absolute Idea in the Science of Logic, and then Absolute Mind in the Philosophy of Mind. But it is always moving in this direction...
Now Hegel comes to the Science of Logic and begins to talk not in stages of consciousness--as in the Phenomenology, which had just flowed out of him under the impact of the French Revolution--but in actual philosophic categories. Each category takes up a whole stage of civilization in the same manner as each stage of consciousness does. Because we are hurried in time I am not going to deal with either Being or Essence. I will go directly to "The Doctrine of the Notion," and especially its last section, "The Absolute Idea." "The Doctrine of Notion" or of Freedom is in actuality the objective and subjective way to get to the new society...
Both Marx and Lenin, even though Lenin went further in the Absolute Idea, happened to have stopped in the Absolute. Marx said on the one hand it doesn't mean anything because Hegel returned to a closed system of thought, but on the other hand it does mean something because Marx was always returning back to it. But as it happens [Marx's 1844 "Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic"] cuts off at a certain paragraph at the very beginning of the Philosophy of Mind, the section which begins on the Absolute. When Marx finishes [his analysis of] the Phenomenology of Mind, he tries to take it from a different angle. He goes through Hegel's whole system, quotes two paragraphs from the Philosophy of Nature [and then goes] into the Philosophy of Mind, where the manuscript breaks off. And that is the problem of our age.
One of the central points in the Absolute Idea, just before Hegel reaches what we call the "second subjectivity," is a sentence which reads, "The self-determination in which alone the Idea is, is to hear itself speak..." The self-determination of ideas also has various stages of development and breaks into two. There is a movement from practice--that is where I get my [category of] movement from practice, [whose self-determination] is to hear itself speak. It comes, so to speak, elementally in the proletariat, as instinctive. And there is a movement from theory which doesn't come so elementally and may have many pitfalls. At this point, where the theoreticians have to listen to the masses--[where Lenin] said self-determination of nations--the question is how will the two unite?
...Everybody says that Hegel is supposed to stand for Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis--and that is a lot of nonsense. He doesn't stand for any such formal triad. He says it could be three, four, or five. Since every beginning is a result of some other mediation, he says, "I have shown you the Doctrine of Objectivity, and of Subjectivity, and I am talking of the unity of the theoretical and the practical idea." He says in essence that the unity occurs in subjectivity alone, therefore it isn't really your first negation of the thing, but the second negation [which is decisive]...
Marcuse's, and the other academic Marxists', approach at this stage is to give up, run away, and I will show you the basis that they run away from. They think they are great materialists when they do it, but they are not. They say the Absolute Idea is the result of the fact that mental and manual labor were so far separated, and it was a pre-technological age that Hegel (and Marx even) lived in. They say [that with the Absolute Idea] Hegel ran back, so to speak, to what was before [the beginning of industrialization]. I completely and totally disagree with that, because Hegel ran back to what he was before on the state, not on the Absolute Idea... Marcuse, because he considers himself a Marxist (and academically he is one), is trying to say: 1) The Absolute Idea is pre-technology. 2) We have to forget that part and take reality. And to him reality is that the proletariat is impotent and has not made the revolution Marx had predicted. 3) He does recognize the second [kind of] subjectivity, but he interprets it as the intellectual who will do it and bring you to the new stage. It is against these three serious arguments that I want to show what I feel is the problem of the Absolute Idea.
I want to discuss it all within what we call "the historic barrier." In other words, you come to all you can say because history does not present you with new problems. On the other hand, why is it that certain people who are not as great as Marx or Lenin, but, by living in a different historic age, are compelled to deal with these problems?... The truth is that [before Marxist-Humanism] the intellectual, including the Marxist intellectual, had not been able to break down either the humanism of Marx or the fact that [Marx's 1844 Manuscripts] broke off at the Absolute Idea. The new stage for the few of us who were trying to do it came from the masses. It was the miners' strike [of 1949-50], all this upheaval in [and after] World War II.
Hegel has a word for it. He says that it is only the concrete--when he talks about the compulsion of thought to proceed to these concrete truths--that demands a new stage in philosophic cognition. The compulsion comes only when your philosophic categories just don't answer what has come from below. Hegel, the idealist, recognizes that fact, while these so-called materialist Marxists, including the highest of them, Marcuse, do not.
So I want to end on what I began--to give ear to the urgency of the times and the summons to recognize the spirit of the age by recognizing that this second [kind of] subjectivity must again be broken into two: 1) What the proletariat is going to do. They are going to do it anyway; we better begin listening. 2) The other is what theoreticians must do. Their task isn't ended because the impulse comes from below. They have to first begin to work it out, and not just to satisfy with quick political answers. And the working out of that subjectivity of the theory of our age of the Absolute Idea, in the concrete form of philosophy, theory and politics, means that we are just beginning. There is no point in saying anything about realizing philosophy if we haven't done that. That is our age and that is why that is going to be the central point of Philosophy and Revolution.
1. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind (London: Allen & Unwin, 1931) [hereafter referred to as PhGB], p. 240; Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977) [hereafter referred to as PhGM], p. 119.
2. "Spirit in Self-Estrangement: The Discipline of Culture and Civilization" is the second main subdivision of the section on Spirit.
3. A reference to the Jacobin terror during the French Revolution.
4. For further discussion see Dunayevskaya's Nov. 21, 1963, letter to Erich Fromm in News & Letters, Feb.-March 2008.
5. Hegel, Science of Logic (New York: MacMillan, 1929), Vol. II, p. 467; Hegel, Science of Logic (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1969), p. 825. The concept of a "second subjectivity" is based on Hegel's discussion in "The Absolute Idea": "The transcendence of the opposition between the Notion and Reality, and that unity which is the truth, rest upon this subjectivity alone. The second negative, the negative of the negative, which we have reached, is this transcendence of the contradiction. . . ." (pp. 477-78, 835, respectively).
6. On this strike and its part in the birth of Marxist-Humanism, see Phillips and Dunayevskaya, The Coal Miners' General Strike of 1949-50 and the Birth of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.
Published by News and Letters Committees