1953 letters on Hegel’s Absolutes, Part 2 of 3

November 22, 2014

From the November-December 2014 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: Raya Dunayevskaya’s May 12, 1953, letter—presented in two parts, beginning in the previous issue—is one of the historic writings included in The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism, which singled out her May 1953 letters on Hegel’s Absolutes as that philosophic moment. On the 25th anniversary of the book’s publication, we consider that a new exploration of its contents is timely for our world struggling for the survival, deepening and spread of today’s revolutions, plagued as they are by both counter-revolution and self-limiting ideologies. All footnotes were added by the editors.

Continued from previous issue

I will return to freedom, and where our age proves it has abolished the distinction between theory and practice and that which is the preoccupation of the theorists—freedom out of one-party totalitarianism—is the preoccupation of the great masses, but now I must still stick close to Hegel for when he reaches that point he goes not into paeans of freedom but an attack on all old radical parties from the Social-Democracy (Kant to Hegel) to the Socialist Labor Party (formalists to Hegel) and he does not let go until the method itself extends itself into a system.[1]

And on p. 482 he says, “The method effects this as a system of totality….This progress determines itself, first, in this manner, that it begins from simple determinatenesses and that each subsequent one is richer and more concrete.” It has not been in a straight line, but an approach both rearward and forward so that now we can see “In the absolute method the Notion preserves itself in its otherness, and the universal in its particularization, in the Judgment and in reality; it raises to each next stage of determination the whole mass of its antecedent content, and by its dialectical progress not only loses nothing and leaves nothing behind, but carries with it all that it has acquired, enriching and concentrating itself upon itself” [SLII, pp. 482-83; SLM, p. 840].

So that none of the other philosophies (parties to us) just degenerated or died, but their achievements have been incorporated in the new philosophy or party and this new has been enriched “concentrating itself upon itself” for we have that new source, the third layer.

The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism

The Philosophic Moment of Marxist-Humanism

Now watch this: “Each new stage of exteriorization (that is, of further determination) is also an interiorization, and greater extension is also higher intensity” [SLII, p. 483; SLM, pp. 840-41]. What a more perfect description of going outward with B,[2] and becoming richer inward and more intense.

“The highest and acutest point is simple personality,” continues Hegel, “which, by virtue alone of the absolute dialectic which is its nature, equally holds and comprehends everything within itself because it perfectly liberates itself…” [SLII, p. 483; SLM, p. 841]. So we are back at liberation and until the end of The Absolute Idea that will be the theme, liberation, freedom and an absolutely uncompromising, Bolshevik attack on impatience. If you are right and the Unhappy Consciousness [a section of Hegel’s Phenomenology] should somehow go as part of Abernism—and I agree with you there—then nevertheless I will not let go of Leland.[3] Just listen to the absolutely devastating analysis by Hegel, and remember Hegel does it as he has already approached freedom and we met that type when we approached independence:

P. 484: “That impatience whose only wish is to go beyond the determinate (whether in the form of beginning, object, finite, or in any other form) and to be immediately in the absolute, has nothing before it as object of its cognition but the empty negative, the abstract infinite,—or else a would-be absolute, which is imaginary because it is neither posited nor comprehended” [SLII, p. 484; SLM, pp. 841-42].

I am shaking all over for we have come to where we part from Lenin.[4] I mentioned before that, although in the approach to the Absolute Idea Lenin had mentioned that man’s cognition not only reflects the objective world but creates it but that within the chapter he never developed it. Objective world connections, materialism, dialectical materialism it is true, but not the object and subject as one fully developed—that’s what he saw. Then he reaches the last paragraph: “For the Idea posits itself as the absolute unity of the pure Notion and its Reality, and thus gathers itself into the immediacy of Being; and in doing so, as totality in this form, it is Nature” [SLII, p. 485; SLM, p. 843].

There Lenin stops—it is the beginning of the last paragraph—and he says: “This phrase on the last page of the Logic is exceedingly remarkable. The transition of the logical idea to Nature. Stretching a hand to materialism. This is not the last phrase of the Logic, but further till the end of the page is unimportant” [Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 234].

But, my dear Vladimir Ilyitch, it is not true; the end of that page is important; we of 1953, we who have lived three decades after you and tried to absorb all you have left us, we can tell you that.

Listen to the very next sentence: “But this determination is not a perfected becoming or a transition…” [SLII, p. 485; SLM, p. 843]. Remember how transition was everything to you in the days of Monopoly, the eve of socialism. Well, Hegel has passed beyond transition, he says this last determination, “the pure Idea, in which the determinateness or reality of the Notion is itself raised to the level of Notion, is an absolute liberation, having no further immediate determination which is not equally posited and equally Notion. Consequently there is no transition in this freedom….The transition here therefore must rather be taken to mean that the Idea freely releases itself in absolute self-security and self-repose” [SLII, pp. 485, 486; SLM, p. 843].

You see, Vladimir Ilyitch, you didn’t have Stalinism to overcome, when transitions, revolutions seemed sufficient to bring the new society. Now everyone looks at the totalitarian one-party state, that is the new that must be overcome by a totally new revolt in which everyone experiences “absolute liberation.” So we build with you from 1920-23 and include the experience of three decades.

But, H (Hauser, not Hegel), I have not finished yet, not that last paragraph in Hegel, nor my summation, for we must retrace our steps to the paragraph before and as we do, let’s keep in mind Marx’s last chapter of Capital (Vol. I). Hegel writes: “In so far the pure Idea of Cognition is enclosed in subjectivity, and therefore is an impulse to transcend the latter; and, as last result, pure truth becomes the beginning of another sphere and science. This transition need here only be intimated” [SLII, p. 485; SLM, p. 843]. And then he goes into how the Idea posits itself and is liberation. That, he says, he cannot fully develop here; he can only intimate it.

Now you will recall that that is precisely what Marx does in the [chapters on the] accumulation of capital when he reaches the laws of concentration and centralization of capital and socialization of labor. He says he cannot develop these, but he can give an intimation, and this intimation turns out to be that: 1) the ultimate would be centralization of capital “in the hands of one single capitalist corporation”;[5] 2) that it would not matter if that occurs peacefully or violently; 3) but that with the centralization grows also the revolt, and it is not just any revolt but one that is “organized, united, disciplined by the very mechanism of capitalist production.”[6]

RD head in hand editedH, are you as excited as I? Just as Marx’s development of the form of the commodity and money came from Hegel’s syllogistic U P I [Universal-Particular-Individual], so the Accumulation of Capital (the General Absolute Law) is based on The Absolute Idea.

Remember also that we kept on repeating Lenin’s aphorism that Marx may not have left us “a” Logic, but he left us the logic of Capital [Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 319]. This is it—the logic of Capital is the dialectic of bourgeois society: the state capitalism at one pole and the revolt at the other.

At one stage we tried to divide socialization of labor from revolt, the former being still capitalistic, and the latter the beginning of socialism.[7] We didn’t get very far because that socialization was capitalistic but revolt liberates it from its capitalistic integument. Marx, however, dealing with the dialectic of capitalist society, did not make the negation of the negation any more concrete, but, on the contrary, in the last chapter returns to the origins of capitalism.

Now we are ready to return to the last few sentences of the Logic ending with, “But this next resolution of the pure Idea—to determine itself as external Idea—thereby only posits for itself the mediation out of which the Notion arises as free existence that out of externality has passed into itself; arises to perfect its self-liberation in the Philosophy of Spirit, and to discover the highest Notion of itself in that logical science as the pure Notion which forms a Notion of itself” [SLII, p. 486; SLM, p. 843-44].

(Please, Hauser, can you get a hold of a copy of Philosophy of Spirit or is it Mind? I am brazen enough to want to swim there too. I have an instinct that we couldn’t get very far there when we tried it before because we equated Mind to party, but now that I believe the dialectic of the Absolute Idea is the dialectic of the party, I feel that Mind is the new society gestating in the old, and I feel sure we could get a lot of very valuable dialectical developments there, and what is so significant about that also is the building of the new within the old makes it possible to stop jumping from high point to high point but rather to follow concretely since this new is in the daily struggle.)

Somewhere in the letters about Lenin’s Philosophic Notebooks it is stated that Lenin was aware of the gap between his Universal (“to a man”)[8] and the concrete Russian proletariat, where we are more aware of the identity of the Universal and the concrete American proletariat.[9] What, further, these two years of our organization showed was the high stage of social consciousness of the new layers attracted to us: they practice in the paper before they join and yet they appreciate leadership. Perhaps I’m stretching but I feel that in the Absolute General Law when Marx was developing the dialectic of bourgeois society to its limit and came up with the revolt “united, organized, and disciplined” he also set the limits to the dialectic of the party which is part of bourgeois society and will wither with its passing as will the bourgeois state. It appears to me when objective and subjective are so interpenetrated that the preoccupation of the theoreticians [and] of the man on the street is can we be free when what has arisen is the one-party state, the assertion of freedom, “personal and free” and full liberation takes precedence over economics, politics, philosophy, or rather refuses to be rent asunder into three and wants to be one, the knowledge that you can be free.

Do you remember the letter of May 20, 1949: “We are poles apart from Hegel but very close to him in another respect. As materialists we root man in his environment, but now that the real history of humanity is about to begin, the Hegelian concept of speculative reason comes to life with us, as never before, though on our basis.”[10]

W. [Raya Dunayevskaya]

[See second letter here.]

[1] G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic, Vol. II, translated by W.H. Johnston and L.G. Struthers (MacMillan, 1929), p. 480; quotations in this letter are from this edition, hereafter referred to as SLII. Page numbers are also given for the translation by A.V. Miller (Humanities Press, 1969), hereafter referred to as SLM, in this instance p. 838.

[2] “B” refers to Charles Denby’s Indignant Heart, first published in 1952. A greatly expanded book was published in 1978 as Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal (Boston: South End Press); a new edition was published in 1989 by Wayne State University Press.

[3] Martin Abern was one of the founders of U.S. Trotskyism. Leland was the organizational secretary in 1951-52 of Correspondence Committees, the independent organization formed by the Johnson-Forest Tendency when it left the Socialist Workers Party.

[4] In the 1974 pamphlet Dialectics of Liberation, which excerpted the 1953 letters, the phrase, “where we part from Lenin,” is underlined, and double vertical lines are alongside this paragraph.

[5] This is quoted from Chapter 25, “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,” of Capital, Vol. I, the chapter in which Marx explains “the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.”

[6] Marx revisits the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation in Chapter 32, “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation,” where he writes of “the revolt of the working class…disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.”

[7] In a letter to Dunayevskaya of June 24, 1949, C.L.R. James wrote, “There is a deep problem, philosophical and all-inclusive around ‘socialization of labor.’ Socialization of labor is a capitalist category. I have thought of this almost continuously. The socialism is the revolt.” See The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #1647

[8] In his “Report on Revising the Programme and Name of the Party” of March 8, 1918, Lenin wrote, “Every citizen to a man must act as a judge and participate in the government of the country. And what is important to us is to enlist all the toilers to a man in the government of the state.” Dunayevskaya later pointed out that it would have been correct to translate the Russian phrase—which is simply translated as “all” in the translation linked to in this footnote—into “to a man, woman, and child.”

[9] This refers to James’s letter to Dunayevskaya of May 20, 1949. See The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #1614.

[10] Quoted from the same letter just cited, in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #1613.

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